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Salmon in the night
Warm fridge, cold heart

If your electricity is out for six days will your frozen salmon defrost and come back to life? Alas, no. At least not in my experience. In my little house in the woods where a mere drizzle can cause a blackout, this time it was 100mph winds, 150ft trees down and six days in the dark.

The result was that the contents of my refrigerator were reduced to a science fair experiment I could have titled "creating new life from old cheese."

When the power came back on my wife and I went to the supermarket to restock the fridge. By the time we got home, the power was out again. Luckily I'd learned that one of my neighbors, who lived on the other side of the woods where they did have power, didn't believe in frozen food. This left plenty of room for our food to sleepover at her house until our power was restored.

A month later, when I'd been lulled into the false sense of security that comes with having uninterrupted electricity for an entire month, I went to get a piece of salmon from the freezer. I opened the freezer door and the light went on—good sign. But the salmon felt like salmon body temperature instead of frozen solid. Not a good sign.

That's why, later that same evening, I was walking over the river and through the woods to my neighbors house again—carrying a bag of frozen salmon in the moonlight. My biggest fear at this point was being mugged by raccoons. I also worried my neighbors would wonder who was skulking around with salmon.

I could see myself ending up in my small town newspaper's "Sheriff Calls" column. These generally consist of things like, "Last Thursday evening, a man complained of three cows running down main street. The deputy lead the perps to the dairy. 'They might have gotten away, except for all that mooing,' he stated."

But I made it to my neighbor's freezer unscathed and unreported, successfully assisting my salmon migrate, only this time downstream.

I got back home and asked my wife to find the refrigerator extended warranty we'd been paying for 12 years. This involved her searching through her unique filing system that, coincidentally resembles something raccoons might use. Her "system" has no particular order I can detect, yet she always claims there's a method to her madness and then in her maddening way proves it by finding anything in mere moments.

So we called for service and the next day two men arrived at the front door looking not unlike service station attendants from the 1950's with their names, Jose and Lenny, embroidered on their shirts.

Jose had the unconcerned attitude of someone who'd been doing this for 25 years. His trainee partner, Lenny, had the confused look of someone who'd been doing this for 25 minutes.

Jose could figure out what was wrong with a refrigerator just by staring it down (and the fridge would blink first, too). But Lenny seemed to have confused Jose's years of experience and piercing glare with the idea that he, too, could just stare at the appliance and divine it's problem. Instead, he just stared. Blankly.

Jose prodded him into action. "OK, where do you start?" Lenny bit his thumb. "With the coils..." Jose prompted.

I winced. I hadn't cleaned the coils since the Reagan administration. Lenny wanted to pick up the refrigerator to clean them, but Jose held up his hand and said, "Make it easy on yourself. Be lazy. Be smart." Lenny stared.

"*Feel* the coils," Jose said, with the calm and authority of Yoda. Lenny felt the coils then looked like R2D2 with a dead battery. "Are they warm?" Jose asked. Lenny shook his head. "Remember the next step? Clean the coils," Jose sounded as if he'd been through this with Lenny 48 times before.

At last something Lenny was good at. He was a genius at cleaning the coils. He shoved a long tool that looked like a bottle brush from "land of the giants" under the freezer while deftly using a shop vac for suction. It was almost like watching ER, except in this case there was no blood, just so much dust it was less like a dust bunny and more like a dust kangaroo.

Lenny stood back proudly, packed up to leave, and announced, "That should be it." I started at him like he was an appliance. "Are you sure?" I asked, worried, because while he was cleaning Jose has taught me "Refrigeration 101."

Jose sighed. "No, we're not done yet. What do we check next?" It was all I could do to keep from waving my hand because I knew the answer. In the previous five minutes I learned how to diagnose a major refrigeration problem: In this case, there was a vibration and it rarely stopped compressing, the coils were cool instead of warm so that meant it was a low-level leak in the evaporator coils—of course!

Lenny coughed and spit up a dust joey. Jose instructed, "Call and order the part," with a patience that someday soon should earn him saint status—the patron saint of appliances. I'll be the first to buy a Jose medallion.

"It's EXP." Lenny whispered to Jose. That sounded exciting, even though I had no idea what it meant. It just sounded fast and perhaps even furious. But no, it meant that the part was no longer made. OK, so perhaps just furious.

Jose explained that since we had a service contract, if they couldn't fix it, they'd have to buy us a new refrigerator. Not so furious anymore. The new fridge we chose had a bright white and blue interior—a nice change from the old one's chrome and smoke plastic disco-inspired look.

A mere five weeks later the new refrigerator arrived. It had a great new feature—a handy pull-out freezer on the bottom. It also had a great big dent in the side. The linebacker delivery guy said, "I've got a tip for you—if you don't want the dent, they have to give you another one." I had a tip for him, too, a $20. So now when world events get me steamed, at least I know where to put my head—I mean the freezer.

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One Final Word

Perhaps the lesson of all this is that if something's not working you have to keep at it to get people to do the right thing. Even after your freezer defrosts and things in the world start to heat up.

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The SchoomozeLetter is ©1998-2005, Daniel Will-Harris, all rights reserved. If you'd like to use any article on the web or in print, please ask for permission. If you're an agent or publisher looking to publish these pieces, just drop me a note.