Extreme Appliance Makeover

Our intrepid writer may have been in the Holy Land, but his mind was at home, in his new kitchen

The other day in Gaza, I was thinking about refrigerators. The mayor of Sderot was too busy to talk--understandable, given the craziness there between the recent missile attacks and the twin observances of Memorial and Independence Days in Israel. So, I used the unexpected free time to try to size up the appliance situation in Gaza.

Let others salivate in exquisite jewelry boutiques or lose themselves in the aisles of exotic fashions--I'm a sucker for two kinds of retail experiences in foreign climes: hardware stores and office-product shops. The day before in Kiryat Malachi, after lunch in a tiny Tunisian restaurant, I was able to satisfy my office-product-supplies yearnings at a shop next door. I scored a dozen lined student notebooks for 10 shekels (about $2.50). That left only the itch to explore hardware stores. In the end, all I found was a helpful ACE hardware store in Sha'ar Hanegev, about six kilometers east of Gaza City. There is, I am happy/sad to report, a worldwide consistency to the shelves of the global (but locally owned) ACE empire.

OK, why are refrigerators on my mind? Because in the past year, I have managed to achieve a dream not consciously dreamt: the rehabilitation of a perfectly good kitchen. It just sorta happened. Here's how.

For most of my adult life, I never had a dishwasher. There came to be a certain Zen-like quality to the end of meals in the handwashing of dishes. Momma couldn't ever imagine how I lived without a dishwasher (or an electric knife, for that matter), and the first and second exes also felt it was a bit primitive. When I moved into the River Road house, it was a move up in the world measured by appliances, and I became the owner of a 20-plus-years-old Harvest Gold Kitchenaid dishwasher. It matched the Harvest Gold GE electric stovetop, the Harvest Gold electric GE wall oven, the Harvest Gold GE fridge and the yellowish single-basin sink. The second ex replaced the latter five or six years ago with a two-sink stainless-steel model, and we inherited a refrigerator (Desert Tan) not long after that. More about this refrigerator in a moment. I've never liked cooking on electric stoves and had great hopes four years ago when the button-console on the rangetop exploded and shorted out one night, but the American Home Shield folks sent someone who could actually replace the console, and I had to also then keep the stove.

Happily, though, there was no way they could salvage the dishwasher when it began spewing water on the floor during some wash cycles. The door seals were gone and the hinges slightly sprung. The repairguy pulled it out, shook his head and advised me to go for the Whirlpool option when I replaced it. A week later, American Home Shield had a shiny, new, black model delivered, and it was in use the next day. Fast-forward a few months--to four days before Thanksgiving, in fact--when the oven decided to give up its electric ghost. It made easy the decision about cooking a turkey. Due to the holiday, the replacement service wasn't quite so fast. But the same gentle repairguy appeared, shook his head and said he couldn't fix it--even if I did have a 20-year-old owner's manual for it. Two weeks later, a glistening black Kenmore with convection (!!!!) was in the wall and nicely roasting a leg of lamb.

I should have left well-enough alone. But the old dishwasher's waterspews had caused some of the ancient vinyl floor tiles to loosen. Around the same time, I met a professional handyman who has expertise with all manner of home repair, plus a great sense of humor and a very healthy ego. He does have this habit of getting something torn up and then explaining that he can't proceed any further until he reads that particular chapter in the appropriate Time-Life series, but, hey! Johnny is honest, hardworking, reliable, imaginative, economical and cleans up after himself when he's done. I'd give you his last name and cell number, but I have too many projects ahead. Maybe later.

Anyway, Johnny took a look at my floors, shook his head and offered a great deal on removing and replacing it with ceramic tile. I accepted immediately. Then, he said, while I'm at it, why don't you replace the old yellow countertops?

Sometimes, I'm a guy who can't say "no." The next day we were at Home Depot choosing tile, and then to Lowe's to get countertops. The tile excursion went slickly. The countertop process at Lowe's subsequently proved to be a tiny nightmare of lost orders, incorrect instructions and constant excuses, and my first experience at Lowe's became my last. In the end, the countertops were installed, as were a new black Amana gas cooktop and hood (replacing the old electric GE model that had kept on ticking), a shiny black double-sink and a new garbage disposal.

The ceramic-clad floors are cooler and lighter and the black appliances look great in the context of the adobe walls, the wood cabinetry and the tile highlights. Andrew tells me it is like being in a brand-new kitchen. I wouldn't know, of course. I left on this trip the day after everything was in place.

I can't wait to get back and try it out. But I'm bothered by one thing. The fridge is still Desert Tan, and my mood is black. Hence my focus on appliances here and abroad. Johnny says I can get a spray can of glossy black from ACE, but I expressed my doubts. He says he'll take care of it as soon as he gets to that chapter.

I know we'll get it completed and in shape. If you want to come have dinner, drop me a note, and let me know.