So, in the suburban family life files, living on one income with the kids, house, and dog, we’ve finally entered into large appliance maintenance hell. This is when you have to pay hundreds of dollars on fixing old appliances and cars because you cannot afford to buy new ones, but you can’t exactly afford to fix the old thing either.
Today’s crisis involved the clothes dryer.
After ten years and living through four household moves, the heating thing-a-ma-jig and the motor finally gave out. So, spousal arguments ensued between the idea of spending money to fix the damn thing or to buy the cheapest new dryer out there and hope it’s not a lemon. The former option would at least give us a few more years of use until I found more paying work and could afford an upgrade to a better dryer. The latter option might have us buying another one in a few years anyway. The math of fixing vs buying gave me a headache, but the bottom line was, either way most of it was going on the credit card.
So, I called the repair guy. Unfortunately, I’ve already developed a fine working relationship with the repair guy over the washer and the oven. His name is Jose.
Jose arrived and took the thing apart. As it was laid out on the floor of the hallway that I refer to as my laundry room, Jose showed me the motor and the drum, which were both in obvious decay.
On his way into the garage to find the gas line, Jose noted that we had a “pony bike.” This is a child sized, but very real motorcycle. It looked like a miniature Kawasaki. This was not the subtle and cute European motorbikes that go about ten miles an hour. This was an actual, mini road chopper. It was a bad idea when they made these things. I mean, really — little kids on real motorcycles, speeding along at 50 mph? And it was an even worse idea when my husband found and bought this one at a garage sale for $40.
“The boy can learn to ride it to school!” he said, referring to our 7 year old son.
“I don’t think so,” I said.
It languished in the back of our garage for two years, until Jose spied it.
“Ah, you have a pony bike!” he informed me, excitedly.
“Yes, we’ve only used it once.” I said.
“They don’t make those anymore.”
I gave him a sideways look. He was enthused.
“Do you want it?” I asked him.
“Yeah, are you interested in making a trade?”
He stared at me for a minute. This concept was foreign to him.
Let me interject here that I live on a somewhat affluent street in a somewhat affluent neighborhood in the most affluent county in my state. People don’t generally bicker with gardeners and repairmen over a couple hundred dollars.
I drive an old grey mini-van and have no flowering shrubs in my yard. I wear solid color shirts and capri pants a lot. I appear to most as a rather uninspired middle class, conservative mom. These people don’t know me very well.
The back story is longer than I’d prefer to go into here, but I will say that I don’t have a job at the moment and am trying to write a novel. . . and that I am the descendent of Armenian merchants and traders. I grew up seeing some of the best hagglers in the world in action, namely, my mother and grandmothers. Over the years, my negotiating abilities might have waned a bit, but when the chips are down, we revert to our ancestry.
“Yeah,” I said. “I’ll trade you your labor costs for the bike.”
I knew Jose was a one-man shop. He didn’t know what to make of this offer. He was still staring at me, doing the math in his head. Brand new, those pony bikes cost around $700. He charged about $60 per hour labor and would be here more than two hours doing the work.
“You order the parts direct?” he asked.
“Done.” I said and held out my hand for him to shake – the old world way.
Now, the dryer works, my credit is good, and the bike is out of my garage.