Spotlight on Mr Blog

This month we’ll be exploring the archives of friend of the site, Mr. Blog’s Tepid Ride a bit.

We open with the first of a trilogy of pieces, in which BMJ2K ventures out in search of a knob.

Mr Blog's Tepid Ride

Knobs for Noobs

Some of you may know that for the past two weeks I have been on a quest to replace an air-conditioner knob.

I woke up one morning and, bleary-eyed and wobbly, I wandered over to the a/c to turn it off. My a/c has two knobs- one to turn it on or off and control the fan strength, and another to control the temperature. To turn off the a/c I needed to turn the leftmost knob to the right. I grabbed the rightmost knob, which was already as far right as it would go. “Uh,” I thought. Somehow the thought went through my mind that it must be stuck. So I used all of my sleepy, weary strength to turn it to the right. The shaft of the knob crumbled and the rest of the knob came off in my hand. “Uh,” I thought, and went back to bed with the knob laying on the floor.

I reawakened a few hours later, very cold. I was sure I turned of the a/c, didn’t I? So when I found the broken knob a few things came to mind: “Uh?” and “Was that what I did this morning?”

This wasn’t the important knob- the a/c was already at full temp. I didn’t need it to turn the a/c on or off. But I broke it and it needed to be fixed.

My first thought was to fix the knob. I know how to do this. I had the knob and the two broken pieces (one had to be fished out of the a/c’s frame.) I took some modeling putty and filled the stem. I put a toothpick in the middle to use as a handle. After the putty hardened a bit I smoothed it on the outside and placed the broken pieces on top. The putty would act as a base to properly place the broken pieces in the correct position. I then used Testors modeling glue to adhere the pieces back into place. After a few hours drying time I brushed a thin layer of epoxy on the outside of the stem. The next day after it was dry I gently pulled the putty out of the knob, using the toothpick, being careful not to put any stress on the newly-solid knob. The knob looked good. I took an x-acto knife to scrape out any loose putty and trim an edge of rough glue and it was done.

I waited another day to let it totally dry and solidify and then I slowly placed it back on the metal piece sticking out of the a/c. It fit snugly. Deep breath. Now the test. I turned it, gingerly, to the left. Didn’t move. I used a little more strength, a little more, there it goes- snap! It crumbled in my hand. “Uh.”

So my next step was to buy a replacement knob. My first stop was Home Depot. I know that store well. We had tangled in the past. Despite owning the reputation of having everything anyone could possibly need to put in a tub, sod a lawn, or furnish a castle, I had trouble there a few years back finding some hex screws. On another occasion I could not buy their advertised drill because, as explained by an associate, “it doesn’t exist.” My father’s battles with their Mill Basin store are legendary, with them actually encouraging, no, forcing him to shoplift. I went there with low expectations.

My first stop was their furniture knob and handle section. They didn’t have what I wanted, but I wasn’t expecting to find it there, it was just a short detour on the way to the appliances section. They had a lot models of a/c, and filters galore, but no replacement knobs. I went to the electrical area with, frankly, little hope. I was right, no knob. My next move was going to be very logical. I was going to snag a knob from one of their floor models.

That isn’t shoplifting- I had the broken knob in my pocket and I was just going to make a switch. Floor models get treated rough anyway. Knobs break all the time. I was really just correcting a mistake- this floor model should have a broken knob. And since I should have a new knob, this was a win-win move. Karma.

Or not, since all the floor models were either A- missing knobs or B- digital and didn’t have knobs to begin with. So I left Home Depot.

Home Depot is for poseurs anyway. Real guys go to their local hardware stores. A good hardware store will have anything- Japanese ball joints, metric window screens, socket wrenches with unusual flanges, and those little things that let you stick a polarized plug into a non-polarized outlet and risk a deadly fire. I knew a good hardware store on Cropsey Avenue. They’d have it.

No they didn’t. The store had new owners. It still looked like a good hardware store, but I don’t think much of hardware stores that also sell needlepoint kits and yarn.

Boro Park. Home to dozens of little independent electronic stores. Many of them are the ones always being investigated by channel 2 or channel 5 news for selling rebuilt products as new. I’d shopped there before. They’d sell their shoes if you made the right offer. Those stores are actually pretty good if you know how they operate and what you are looking for. I’d find the knob there.

Out of three stores, I found one guy who was willing to sell me the knob from the air conditioner sitting on a shelf, under a gray-market CD player and a layer of dust. Clearly, this a/c had been there since the parting of the Red Sea. It was old, it was not going to sell, but the knob matched.

Twenty dollars. He wanted twenty dollars for the knob. I offered five and I knew I was overpaying by $4.65. He didn’t want to haggle, he didn’t want to compromise, he wanted twenty dollars. His reason? Without a knob he would have to sell the a/c for less and maybe not sell it at all- who would want an a/c missing a knob? I pointed out that it looked filthy and wasn’t going to sell at all. He pointed out that it was in good condition. I asked him to plug it in and let’s see. He said that he had his hot plate plugged in and he pointed to it. It was as dusty as the air conditioner.

“You cook on that?”
“Soon,” he replied.

It was time to reassess my strategy. I was on my way to Elizabeth New Jersey the next day, to shop at Jersey Gardens. I knew that I wouldn’t find the knob there but it was just down the road from IKEA, the Swedish Superstore. Maybe, just maybe…..

IKEA had a ton of build-it yourself bookcases and some tasty Swedish meatballs in their ultra-clean food court but I left without anything but a “fleurgin,” or a “stzl,” or whatever they called the small set of mugs I bought. I always loved the Swedish Chef on The Muppet Show and I bet he never needed an air conditioner knob.

I was running out of options. Reluctantly, I went online to buy one. This is not how men do things. We men build things, we hunt out replacement parts, we do it ourselves. We don’t buy stuff online unless it is 35% off and free shipping from Amazon. But I didn’t have anything else to do.

The GE website had it. It was $3. This wasn’t so bad. After all, I already offered a guy five. What got me was the shipping- $3.95. It was more than the knob! I would rather go and pick it up myself from wherever they are than spend that. It isn’t the money, it is the principle. That is just a rip-off. Well, I had to order it, and to be smart I ordered two. This knob weighs a couple of ounces. Shipping for one was $3.95. To stick another in the box and ship two cost $5.95. Two dollars more! The knobs were $6 and the shipping was another $6, so two knobs cost me $12. What a racket GE has going.

They came about four days later in a giant envelope that could have easily contained thirty or forty of these things. I am sure that the envelope weighed more than the knobs. OK, it was a padded envelope, but $6 for that? And to add insult to injury the website said they would ship FedEx but the regular mailman brought them. So the actual shipping cost about $1.80 for postage and 98 cents for the envelope.

So know I had the knob, but something wasn’t quite right. It was about 1/16th of an inch too big. Not a lot, just enough to be noticeable. It also had a small dot molded into the face. The original knob did too, but this dot was painted black and the original was unpainted. Not a big deal, but just enough to bug me.

But when I put it on it fit snugly and turned like a dream.

The extra knob is safely in my toolbox.

There is a lesson here. Something about perseverance, or maybe something about technology and obsolescence. Perhaps there is a moral here about big business.

I just think that when you read this you’ll realize that I had a lot of time on my hands and nothing better to do.

But bottom line- I got the knob.