Monday, September 20, 2010

'Nuff Said

The Knight Life
by Keith Knight

The Washing Machine

In late July, 13 months after the expiration of the warranty--and a month after the American Express extended warranty had expired--our Kenmore washer quit working. The error code on the LCD display translated as a water inlet problem, but nothing the manual suggested worked.

The repairman who came (in early August) diagnosed a broken pressure switch. With parts and labor, we were out nearly $300. Three cycles later, the machine stopped working again.

The same technician came Aug. 12. This time, he said two circuit boards were bad. He didn't have them, so he'd have to order them. With labor, we'd be out nearly $800.

Added to what we'd already spent on the first repair, the cost was starting to approach what we'd paid for the machine. And when you pay that much for a washer, you expect it to last a long, long time. Here's what happened after my wife wrote the president and CEO of Sears:

Sept. 10 -- Call from Sears Executive Offices. Woman offers to issue retroactive one-year extended warranty. She makes a Sept. 13 service appointment; assures us she'll call after repairman's visit.

Sept. 13 -- Repairman does not have parts required, knows nothing about extended warranty. Call woman from Executive Offices. No answer, leave voice mail. Call several times over next several days. No response.

Sept. 15 -- Call Executive Offices emergency response number. Woman who answers promises to e-mail original woman who called; promises response within 24 hours.

Sept. 16 -- Call Sears Home Services. Warranty is on file! Make appointment for Sept. 28.

Sept. 17 -- Call Sears Home Services: Will repairman have parts? Request parts be ordered.

Sept. 20 -- Call Sears Home Services. Have parts been ordered? Service order has note about parts. Will they guarantee repairman will have parts when he comes? Transferred to different department. Learn technician must order parts. Explain I have parts numbers. Ask what point to tech coming out again just to order parts? Put on hold. Woman comes back, says she's found a way to order the parts. Tearfully express my thanks.

Sept. 23 -- Parts arrive. One good thing about this--practicing my Spanish at laundromat.

Sept. 28 -- Repairman scheduled to come between noon and 4 p.m. Call Sears at 3:30 p.m. Advised repairman running late. Repairman calls at 4:16, advises he will call when on his way. Wife calls Sears at 7:30 p.m. Advised that repairman tried to call but received no answer. Check voice mail; no message.

Sept. 30 -- Still waiting to hear from Sears Executive Offices. Repairman arrives; replaces parts. Two hours after repairman leaves, attempt to run clean cycle as per his instructions. Washer reports F27 error code. Call Sears Home Services, advised repairman can come Friday or Monday. Call Executive Offices, leave message I'm renting pickup truck, loading washer, and leaving outside front door of Sears store in mall.

After this, I stopped taking detailed notes, but the woman from the Sears Executive Office who'd first called finally called back. At first, she said she'd replace the machine, then after she checked, she found out Sears' policy was to try one more time to repair it.

The service tech came on or about Oct. 1, and replaced the water pump. It worked for several cycles and quit again. Alas, however, we were not to get our new washer because the very first service call back in August didn't count on Sears' three-strikes policy.

The same tech came out Tuesday and made an emergency order for three new parts and a service appointment for Oct. 28. The parts came Friday and I called Sears Executive Offices and got the appointment date changed to Saturday.

I'm waiting for him as I write this. This time, they promise, we get a new machine if the repairs don't work.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Norman Rockwell's America

Over at his blog, Little by Little(hales), my long-time friend Bret Littlehales recently posted a paean to painter Norman Rockwell. Bret and I have known each other since high school and, in that time, he's compiled an enviable list of accomplishments. He's a formidable photographer and an accomplished blues harp player. (You can read about his recently released CD here.)

Bret's not too shabby a writer, either. I'd been to see the Rockwell exhibit at the Museum of American Art at about the same time he did, but reading his comments on Rockwell's technique, I realized how much I'd missed. Of course, I was with my 9-year-old, and before we went to see Rockwell's paintings he'd had to endure the exhibit of photographs by Allen Ginsberg at the National Gallery of Art.

I suppose I don't really have to tell you which exhibit my son liked best.

I agree with Bret that Rockwell's technique was extraordinary. Rockwell seems always to have done work for hire, however, and I've always wondered what he might have done had he invested that technique in some pure product of his heart. Interestingly, the work in the exhibit comes from the collections of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, two Hollywood craftsmen as concerned--as was Rockwell--with creating striking images as with keeping people coming back for more.

But that doesn't explain my growing sense of unease as I walked from painting to painting. I was halfway through the exhibit before I asked myself, "But where are the black people?" As it happened, I was in front of a magazine illustration from the '20s or '30s featuring two boys, one of them black. It was, I think, the only depiction of African-Americans in the show.

Of course, Rockwell began his career in 1913 (he was just 19!), a time when black Americans rarely appeared in popular art as anything other than caricatures. And it's true that he did include images of black men and women in his later work. One of his most famous, and most moving, paintings is of
6-year-old Ruby Bridges on her way to integrating a New Orleans elementary school. It's about as far from the coon stereotype hanging in the Museum of American Art as you can get.

Maybe it's just my growing sense of paranoia--justifable, I submit, given the latest assault by Newt Gingrich on President Obama or given nutcases like the one my friend Eileen Pollack interviewed for a piece about the militia movement. An IT professional, he's presumably smart enough to know better, yet he believes "President Obama is going to make an end run around the Second Amendment by requiring every bullet in America to be inscribed with a traceable serial number"--but I found it significant that the Rockwell exhibit was packed and that virtually all of the visitors were white.

I suspect many found Rockwell's paintings comforting. And how could they not, in the confusing, polyglot nation that is America in 2010? In contrast, Rockwell showed us an America as American as, well, apple pie. In his country of barefoot boys and
pig-tailed girls, honest, thick-fingered workingmen don't fear speaking their minds at town meetings, and tough, road-weary truckers are decent enough to be moved by a grandmother and her grandson saying grace in a diner.

It's hard not to be moved, too. And, in the end, if it's true Norman Rockwell didn't really show us as we truly are, it's also true that he showed us as we,
deep inside our secret hearts, want to be--a nation of values, a people of possibilities. A few good movies from the 1930s and '40s do something similar: The Best Years of Our Lives, say, and, less successfully, Since you Went Away. We could do worse than to remember and celebrate that, amidst the idiocy and the name-calling of this fractured, fractious political season.