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Commentary: Plans to fix sink go down drain in big-box retailer

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William Carter

William Carter is a retired longtime Franklin city employee and published author. He may be contacted at wcarterfranklin@aol.com.

All I wanted was a kitchen sink. 

Our old one was leaking around the basket strainer and it was an easy repair. I’d done it before. But, as is the norm now, it seems that the people who run all of the companies that make standard, everyday things such as kitchen sinks don’t like the idea of someone like me fixing them when they break.   

They either want you to buy a whole new “thing” or have a “professional” come into your home — usually carrying a clipboard — to look at your distressed item before informing you it can’t be fixed and that you need a new “thing” that they will gladly provide at a mark-up from the company that makes the “thing” and then install it according to a schedule that in no way coordinates with the time you want the “thing” fixed or installed.   

They will then charge you a $112 “service call” fee that covers the cost of new clipboards and their expert assessment that the broken thing you already knew was broken is, indeed, broken.  

I could probably come up with some convoluted, economic circle-of-life metaphor here, but I won’t. It’s already frustrating and infuriating enough to know that “planned obsolescence” — the common practice by more and more manufacturers of products designed to become obsolete — is a real thing created to separate consumers from their money and, even more insidious, to keep our landfills stocked with kitchen sinks that have only minor leaks around the basket strainer. 

On a more personal level regarding this weird, new economic way of life, I’m affected more than I ever thought I would be because I have morphed into one of those old, retired guys who likes to fix things. I’m now the guy I swore I’d never become when I was an 18-year-old idiot who planned to play lead guitar for AC/DC and didn’t know the difference between a miter saw and a masonry bit.   

I am now one who “putters around” with things, and I am pretty damned proud of it. There are enough screw drivers in my shed that I can start throwing them away after using them only once and still have hundreds left. And I have a saw for every day of the week.   

I’m a window-screen-fixer and a spice-rack builder and know the inner workings of our vacuum cleaner on an intimate level. When asked, I have given advice to younger neighbors on lawn care and raised beds and how to sharpen pruning shears.   

I also yell/cuss at squirrels a lot, have no tolerance for music recorded after 1979, think “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me” on NPR is just funnier than hell and eat supper at 5 p.m. before going to bed at 7:30. These are mere side effects, I keep telling myself, of becoming a world-class, old, retired, puttering-around type of guy. 

When I heard Love-Weasel cussing at the sink, I cried “I’ll fix it!” Then I jumped up and drove to the gigantic hardware store a few miles away with the synapses of my puttering-around nerves on high alert as I debated with myself whether to use an adjustable wrench or channel-locks. 

But the piece I needed wasn’t there. A guy in an orange apron told me so, and he was pretty sure they didn’t even stock it anymore. He then gestured at the mile-long wall of new sink displays and informed me that the piece I wanted was included in the kits — along with everything else — but I would have to buy an entire new sink to get it.   

He shrugged when I told him my old sink was fine and that all I wanted was to fix it. Then, after craftily distracting me with a sale display of screwdrivers, he vanished. 

I sent a couple of pictures to Love-Weasel and we picked out a new sink and I decided to come back early the next morning and buy one. 

When I say early, I mean old-retired-guy early in that I was standing with my nose pressed against the automatic doors 10 minutes before they swooshed opened at 6 a.m. The person who opened the door scurried away before I could greet them, and I was seemingly alone among those vast canyons of merchandise. 

In the plumbing neighborhood, the sink we wanted gleamed among others on the display wall, but the shelf beneath it was empty of boxes containing that particular sink. I did, however, spot one on the top rack, about 87 feet above me. I sighed and went to look for help. 

“Excuse me,” I said to a woman hurrying past with her head down. She was wearing an orange apron and was the only other human being I could see within the 34-square-acre area. 

The woman visibly flinched and then eyed me with a look of such abject horror on her face that I almost fled in fear of whatever it was I was beginning to suspect was standing behind me. 

“I need that sink up there,” I told her, pointing toward the heavens, “but somebody is going to have to get it down for me.” 

She grimaced and began to back away. 

“But, but they didn’t schedule anyone for this department this morning,” she moaned, clawing at her face. 

“Um, I still need the sink,” I told her. “If you show me where a ladder is, I’ll get it myself.” 

“No!” the woman said, as if I — a perfect stranger — had asked for DNA samples from all of her grandchildren. “No! You can’t do that! Insurance won’t allow it!” 

A guy in an orange apron darted by and pretended to be invisible, but the woman stopped him and in an admirable display of buck-passing, told him what I wanted.  

He screamed silently before sighing heavily and then informing me that they didn’t schedule anyone for that department this morning, but if I really, really needed him to, he’d go get a ladder. The woman grinned maniacally at avoiding helping a customer and, in a puff of smoke, vanished into thin air. 

“Yes, please,” I said to the man in the orange apron. I hold up my debit card.   

Dismayed, he walked away, presumably to get a ladder. 

And, yes, if you’re wondering, I’m still here, alone in a vast canyon of plumbing supplies, waiting for the guy with the ladder to come back. 

All I want is a kitchen sink.

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