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Maybe we werent supposed to have a microwave oven

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The microwave oven repairman from Sears is about this close to having his own key to our house. He's been there four times already this fall, and the microwave that used to just have a fan that didn't work, now doesn't work at all.

And, just to make it more aggravating, the light stays on, even when the door is closed. Oh yeah, it growls if you shut the door. So we just leave it open.

I know what you're thinking, but this is not going to be a case of hysterical Sears-bashing because we're big fans of the giant retailer at our house. Besides the microwave, we have all kinds of other appliances and mechanical contraptions that came from Sears: A dual-fuel range in the kitchen, a dishwasher, a clothes dryer, a barbecue grill and a treadmill - and we love them all.

I can tell you from experience that it's hard to get through a whole day without using a microwave oven. We realize that every time we start to put a cup of cold coffee or some leftovers in our sad little over-the-stove model and it just growls at us. With its stupid light on.

It all began with a routine service call. Because the maintenance agreement we have on the microwave was due to run out in November, we thought, hey, let's get somebody out to check this baby out while it's still free. So I called the toll-free number that's on the side of all the Sears repair vans cruising around the neighborhood pretty much all the time.

'Welcome to Sears,' said the perky lady's recorded voice on the phone. 'What type of service would you like?' she asked, just before rattling off a quick sentence in Spanish which I think meant, 'There will be blood in the streets tonight.'

'For parts or repairs, including appointment scheduling, say 'repair center,'' said the nice lady. 'For questions about a warranty or a protection or maintenance agreement, say 'warranties.' For home improvement services, including siding, windows, doors, kitchen remodeling, heating and cooling systems or carpet cleaning, say 'home improvements.' For your nearest Sears store, or Sears parts and repair center, say 'Sears locations.' For anything else, say 'other departments.' For assistance, say 'help.' To hear this list again, say 'repeat.''

What I figured out was, if I kept responding to these lists of choices long enough, an actual human being would eventually come on the phone and talk to me as if I were, well, also a human being.

Now, this was no longer the perky sounding woman who asked all those other questions, but whoever belonged to the new voice was polite and professional sounding.

From that point on, the making of the service appointment was a snap - until we agreed on a day and the voice said the technician would arrive at my house some time between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

When I pointed out that my spouse and I both have jobs and neither one of us could really blow a whole day waiting for a van to come, the person in Nebraska, or India or Uranus - wherever that voice was coming from - did say I was free to specify whether morning or afternoon would be preferable, but they could not, of course, actually promise they would hit that window.

On the first visit by the repairman, it was determined that our microwave was running fine. When I asked about the fan, he checked and discovered that, because the unit was not installed properly (and looked like it might fall off the wall at any minute), he would have to come back another time after we had it installed correctly.

So we did that.

When he came back the second time, he discovered that, indeed, the fan did not work. He ordered a part and left.

When the part came in, he returned for a third time, but no one was there (because we had a mix-up about when the appointment was that time), so he left again.

I made another (fourth) appointment, and this time my wife spent the entire morning waiting, but no one came. When I called the perky recorded lady again, it turned out they didn't have an appointment listed for that day. They said it was the following Tuesday, not a good day at my job, but I decided to go with it anyway.

That Tuesday, after I waited 5½ hours, the repair guy showed up at 1:30, put in the new part and vamoosed.

That night was when we discovered the microwave didn't work at all, that the light stays on all the time and that it growls when you shut the door. The fan does work, though.

At this writing, he's due back on Saturday, between 1 and 5 p.m. - maybe. We, being cockeyed optimists, are hoping the fifth time will be the charm.

Former editor of the Lake Oswego Review and former managing editor of the Beaverton Valley Times and The Times, serving Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood, Mikel Kelly handles special sections for Community Newspapers and contributes a regular column.