We have a new refrigerator!
It's been an emotional roller-coaster, this Great Fridge Transition. We knew the old one was living on borrowed time--16 years' worth, to be exact. (The average life span for a fridge is 13 years.) For years, the condenser (compressor?--the motor) would kick in with a terrifying groan, one that we presumed meant I am consuming enough kilowatts to light most of Flatbush. But spending more than $600 to shave a few bucks off your electric bill is the sort of choice you make when you have, well, more than we usually do. The fridge went on the critical list over the weekend, just as I was attempting to store a mountain of freshly grilled meat, salad, etc. for a luncheon I was catering the next day. At 2 a.m., as I prepared the last of it, there was a sinister silence. Under the strain of the first real heat and excessive door-opening, Old Reliable just gave up. An hour later, as I frantically downloaded Smart Refrigerator-Buying Tips from the internet and prayed a lot, I went downstairs and checked...it was back on, rumbling weakly. The temperature crept down out of the "give-everyone-salmonella" range, and I was spared having to phone my poor Tenant in the wee hours for the insane favor of stuffing his fridge with tandoori chicken. But the time had come to pull the plug.
Which brings us to the insanity of refrigerator-shopping. Our goal was simple: replace one 18-cubic-foot top-freezer model with another. If it had a few nice new features or was more energy-efficient, that'd be a bonus. But after one trip to Sears and another to Lowe's, I realized I had entered Appliance Hell. As several salespeople sheepishly confirmed, there's been a sort of industry-wide Hummer-ization of the whole refrigerator concept in the 16 years since we bought our first fridge for the CrazyStable. The big brands like Whirlpool, GE, and Frigidaire (which may all be owned by the same evil multinational conglomerate) have clearly turned their attention to the sexy monsters in custom McMansion kitchens. Gargantuan "side-by-sides" (two doors) rule, and they've got everything: custom icemakers, gelato dispensers, penguin feeders, you name it, clad in brushed titanium, Olde Englishe cabinetry, or whatever. Meanwhile, your basic budget-model white/bisque/or black top-freezer refrigerator has declined in quality--crispers made of brittle plastic like a cheap shoe-storage box from the 99-cent store, shaky shelves, and still that mysterious "leather-look" surface that catches kitchen dirt and grease so efficiently.
And then there's my need to take the editors of Consumer Reports and flay them alive. Anticipating the Great Appliance Die-Off, I have kept up a $5-a-month subscription to the Consumer Reports testing-and-recommendations site. Well, you can download all their "best bets" and "quick picks" like a good little scout, but be prepared: In the wilderness of Appliance Land, you are unlikely to find more than one model whose serial number remotely resembles those in the printout you have geekishly clutched in hand. But wait, it gets worse: You can't trust CU's numbers...not even for the dimensions of the appliance. (Which were the most important criteria of all in our tight Chinese-puzzle kitchen layout--an inch off and the sucker would have to go back on the truck.) I even sat poring over Lowes' manufacturers' catalogs, and the CU specs didn't line up with those in the book.
Fed up with my worthless research and the creepy, indolent salespeople at both Sears and Lowes, I headed for A&B Drimmer, the indie local dealer on Coney Island Avenue where we've always scored well for CrazyStable appliances. Their sales staff is pure Flatbush, generally manic, Orthodox, and dedicated to getting you what you want fast. Our salesman spoke Yiddish, Hebrew, Spanish, and Russian (and English), all of which he'll use in a typical day; he pointed to a nice Frigidaire with a better-than-average build and finish and arranged next-day delivery, all while noshing his lunch out of a plastic clamshell. Now, that's more like it.
The transplant surgery was a massive operation, not done yet, involving total removal of the hutch and its contents as well as the stuff in the fridge (ruthlessly edited--no ancient jars of half-used condiments going back in, no sir). More importantly, it meant cleaning the unseen valleys of death behind the fridge for the first time in....ahem, a long time. Let's put it this way: Quentin Crisp was right that after 5 years, the dust doesn't get any worse. We fished out the usual assortment of cat treasures, including several hazelnuts, and discovered that, no, Lexi was not hallucinating mice in the bottom of the hutch. The whole tear-out process brought back vivid memories of the day in 1991 when we finally got the kitchen up and running--when the tiles and the paint job were new, and the cabinets hadn't lost 10% of their mass to Cocobop's vigorous manicure workouts. Now the new Frigidaire (bisque) is up and running, and all that remains is to put the entire kitchen back together again. I feel like making an ice-box cake!
Thanks to French bloggeuse Zoe for that nifty image up top.