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Monday, July 27, 2009

Life Picks Up The Pace . . . Too Soon!

So, I get back to the US on Saturday morning, about 36 hours after leaving from back home. I am thinking I need a vacation to recover from this "vacation" given the state of my stomach, but it is not to be. My friend from San Diego is visiting me with his family starting Wednesday, so it is time to get to work doing chores around the house.

Even on the way home from the airport, my wife set me to work, buying groceries. Once I get home, there is no time to relax and take it easy. I call my brother and parents to tell them I have reached home safely. Then, I start unpacking. Everything has to be put away right away because we can't have stuff lying around when my friend shows up in a couple of days.

Then, I went through 15 days of accumulated mail and decided what needed followup and what could be junked. After that, I finally get some time to get on the internet to check my email. I had about 320 unread emails in my account and I had barely made a dent in this during my short internet sessions at my parents' neighbor's place. I also start posting all the blog posts I had worked on as text files on my computer, one by one. Getting the formatting right, making sure I had links to other posts and outside links, all pointing to the right places and then posting them online takes a lot of time. I had about 20 posts ready to go, and it took me about 4 hours of working on the computer on and off to get them all posted finally.

Then, I put together a quick blog post relating my wonderful adventure getting back to the US. At this point, I have not even worked on my travel log yet (usually it takes priority over everything else after any kind of trip, but I guess I was too eager to get rid of the blogging backlog before getting to other things). Right when I thought things were finally settling down, my wife called me from the kitchen and told me that the dishwasher had stopped working.

This is a Whirlpool dishwasher that we have had for just over 5 years now. It stopped working about 3 months back. No symptoms, no warnings, no nothing. It just up and decided not to work. The electronic control panel on the door has these lights that are supposed to light up based on the buttons you press. Instead, a couple of lights flash on and off, but nothing else happened when I pressed any button. I went online and did some research, found technician manuals that talked about diagnostic cycles and whatnot, but nothing worked. I called an appliance repair place, and they sent over a technician. He dismantled the control panel from the dishwasher and told me that it needed to be replaced. He also said it would cost me $300 or so.

Now, the dishwasher had been bought for only about $450. I decided that $300 was too much to spend on an aging dishwasher, so I just paid him his diagnostic fee of close of $100, asked him to put the dishwasher back together as he had found it, and sent him on his way. That weekend was then spent on research into dishwashers, ultimately culminating in the purchase of a brand-new one for about $600. The store was going to deliver and install it the middle of the next week. In the meantime, we were going to do the dishes by hand.

While we were waiting for the new dishwasher to be delivered though, the old dishwasher suddenly came alive and started working fine again. This was most inconvenient. We thought it would die again, so even though we used it, we did not do anything about the order for the new dishwasher. I was hoping in one corner of my mind for the dishwasher to die again sometime soon every time I switched it on over the next couple of days. But the thing just refused to die, so I reluctantly called up the store and canceled my order for the new dishwasher the day before they were supposed to deliver and install it. I just couldn't bear the thought of junking a working dishwasher!

Fast forward 3 months to the day I come back from vacation, and the dishwasher again decides to pack up. The symptoms are the same as before. Flashing lights, random activity that can not be controlled from the control panel, etc. We decided to see if the dishwasher would rise from the dead again overnight, so we did not do the dishes by hand on Saturday.

On Sunday, there were more chores to do. I had to wash and dry 4 loads of laundry. Then came the vacuum-cleaning of the entire house, including using various attachments to clean the corners of the walls with the ceilings, etc. After lunch, we had to go shopping to pick up gifts for my visiting friend and his family. We returned home late in the evening. After waiting for the dishwasher to start behaving itself, I found that the dishwasher had still not started working. So, I spent the next hour or so washing all the dishes by hand. Washing dishes by hand is so unusual in my house that we don't even have a proper drainer for washed dishes. So, the process involved taking all the dishes out of the dishwasher and stacking them in the sink, washing and rinsing them in the sink, then loading them back in the dishwasher to drain and dry.

And through all of this, I was not feeling 100% alright because my stomach was still not entirely normal. It was not that it was impossible to get everything done in my physical condition, but it was just not very comfortable. There was always a vague sense of discomfort in my stomach that would not go away regardless of whether I sat down, walked around, stood in one place or lay down. It was best to just ignore the discomfort, but it was always there, reminding me that parts of my body were starting to conspire against me in my old age!

Finally, Sunday was over. Luckily, I got a pretty decent night's sleep. I woke up early on Monday morning because on the way to work, I had to stop at an auto mechanic's place about a problem with my van. Now, this van is about 10 years old and it is starting to show its age. It has rust spots on the bottom that are spreading up the sides. That is more of an image issue than a substance issue, but it did have a substance issue also: its air conditioner had stopped working a month or so back. I am not really sure when it stopped working, but I noticed it only when I switched it on for the first time on the first hot day of the year and got nothing but hot air out of the vents.

The mechanic I took it to at that time could not find any leaks during the inspection, so he filled the system with refrigerant and added a dye to it so that he could examine the system in the future and locate the leak based on where the dye had leached out. Ended up costing me about $300. At least the air conditioner put out cold air when I switched it on. When I drove back from the airport on my return home, I found that the air conditioner was not effective once again, so this stop at the mechanic's was to ask him to locate the leak and fix it if possible.

I got to the mechanic right when he opened at 7:30 AM. It took them about 15 minutes, but they found out where the leak was and presented me with a bill of $800 to fix it. I told them to give me the estimate and I would think about it and get it done soon, but truth be told, my mind was already made up when I heard that number: the van was not going to get its air conditioner fixed. I had already wasted $300 on the diagnosis and I was not going to start throwing good money after bad. In fact, I started seriously considering getting rid of the van and getting a different vehicle.

But, that would involve a lot more research too. First things first though. As soon as I got to work, I started working on my options for getting the dishwasher replaced. I settled on a nice Bosch dishwasher that had good reviews online, then located a local store that had it on sale. I called them up and asked them when they would be able to deliver and install it. They promised next day delivery and installation, and as far as I was concerned, if it was before my friends and his family showed up, it was fine with me. I placed the order right away, thinking there goes another $750!

Work was a whirlwind of catching up with emails, attending myriad meetings, etc. I hardly had time to think about a replacement vehicle, leave alone start doing research on it. Finally, I was ready to leave work around 6 PM, and made my way back home through the maddening traffic. I was booked into all kinds of meetings for the next couple of days also, and then my friend shows up and I am sure I will be sucked into all kinds of activities with them until the weekend.

This is a friend who hasn't visited me in several years, so I was ecstatic that he was finally visiting. But life sometimes makes fun of you by screwing with the timing of things in weird ways. I am sure my dishwasher conking out, my van's air conditioner conking out, my father needing a bypass (necessitating my trip back home in the first place), and my friend visiting me within a week of my return from that trip, are all just a coincidence, but I can't help wondering if it really was. Maybe there is a cosmic conspiracy afoot to drive me insane by throwing more things at me than I can handle at the same time!

As they say, when it rains, it pours! Part of it could have been avoided if I hadn't succumbed to the temptation of saving some money, and had actually replaced the dishwasher when it had first broken down. My problem was that I thought it was just a fluke that the dishwasher had broken down at that time. I fully expect an appliance like a dishwasher to work for about 10 years at least, so when it came back to life, I thought its breakdown was just a cosmic conspiracy to get me to waste money by replacing it unnecessarily. I thought I had gotten the better of that conspiracy by not falling for it. Little did I realize that it was just a precursor to a much bigger conspiracy that involves a bunch more things happening at the same inconvenient time! Now, I have the dishwasher to deal with, my friend's visit to handle and my vehicle replacement to worry about. In the middle of August, my brother-in-law and family plan to visit for a week. In September, another relative of my wife's wants me to take her to Peru to visit Macchu Picchu. And I have no clue what is getting ready to blindside me at work while all this is happening!

Just when you get used to a slow and steady pace in life, life decides to throw some fastballs your way. I am sure once this is all over and I am looking forward to something exciting, life will become slow and boring once again. Life never fails to disappoint me, though only a masochist could get excited about that, I guess!

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