Thursday, January 10, 2013

I Just Wanted a Simple Plug-in Lamp


I do not do things mechanical well. I have not mastered most of the electronic devices many people take for granted. And I recently learned I don’t even plug in lamps very well. Let me explain.

I have a very small space in which to work on my novels, novellas, and short stories, and proper lighting is a bit of a problem. For years, I’ve had a wall-mounted, plug-in lamp with a moveable elbow that adjusts back and forth so I can have light whether I’m slouching (as I am now) or sitting at the desk with proper posture (well, I’m doing that now, although it won’t last very long).

Some time back, I switched all my light bulbs from nice, soft, energy-intensive incandescent bulbs to those ugly, twisted luminescent, energy-saving monstrosities. The problem was, I had a three-way socket in the lamp, but a bulb that worked only at one setting. So for a couple of years, I’ve had to twist the thing-a-ma-jig that turns on the light three times before it came on. A year ago, it started requiring four turns. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps the lamp developed a fourth setting.

Then a month ago, I had to turn the switch six times before it lit. Well, you can guess the rest. Last week it didn’t matter how many times I turned the switch…no light. I tried the bulb in another lamp to make sure it wasn’t the problem. It worked fine. Ergo, the lamp was shot.


Too bad. I liked my lamp. It had served me faithfully for a long time. I had created and sold sixty short stories, a novella, and five novels by the light of that lamp. Now I had a problem, I had a deadline on another novel, so I couldn’t afford to go maudlin over a brass lamp I’d bought it for $20 from one of the big box stores. Man up, Don, and go spend another $20.

Yeah, right. I went to Lowe’s where I thought I’d bought the lamp years ago. Couldn’t find another one like it. The closest I came was a somewhat similar one that cost a heck of a lot more than my original $20. So I bit the $42 bullet…and then took a bigger bite. I paid $10 for a big, ugly, twisted three-way bulb. Problem solved.


Another thing I don’t do well is follow written instructions for assembling things. Anything at all. After I pulled everything from the box and tore open all the little pouches holding screws and bolts and other mysterious things, I noticed something sort of odd about one of the instructions. “TURN OFF ALL POWER TO THIS AREA BEFORE PROCEEDING.” Really? Just to plug in a lamp. Another thing, why did I need electrical tape to wall-mount a lamp and plug it in? And why didn’t my lamp have a cord?

Aw, crap! The store had sold me a lamp to be wired into a wall circuit. Didn’t the clerk know I just wanted to plug it into a socket? Come to think of it, I probably didn’t tell him.


I did what I should have done in the first place: I took a minute to think about my problem. Then I got out my phone book (yep, I still use them…they’re not electronic) and found a couple of retail lamp shops that also advertised repair work. I phoned the closest one, and a very nice woman asked some intelligent questions and said that while the shop had some new lamps similar to what I described for around $200, she suggested I bring mine to the shop for a simple socket change at a cost of $14.75 plus tax. When she added the repair could probably be done while I waited, I thought this was precisely the way to solve my problem.

I collected the useless new lamp I’d bought, found the receipt from Lowes, and raced over on San Pedro NE near Coronado Mall to the lamp retail and repair shop. I sensed a problem when I entered. There were a number of customers in the small shop, and they were all looking at $200 lamps, not a $14.75 repair job. Nonetheless, the woman who’d talked to me on the telephone took my lamp into the back to see what she could do.

Moments later, she reappeared, saying the lamp could be repaired, but it was a more difficult job than she had anticipated. The price would be the same, but she couldn’t promise my lamp before the day after tomorrow. Still under the spell of spending $14.75 plus tax versus $42, I told her to write it up.


I had no sooner pulled out of the shop’s parking lot than I came face to face with the reality that I wouldn’t be able to work on my novel for the better part of three days. How could I live with that? Conclusion: I couldn’t.

I headed straight for Wal-Marts, Targets, and a couple of other places in a vain hunt for an acceptable substitute before thinking of Home Depot. Maybe they had a lamp like my old one for $25.00 or so (to allow for inflation). Well, they had one (with a pewter finish rather than brass), but it came to $37.00, including tax. In my panicked mode, I bought the lamp.

After pulling out of their parking lot, I faced up to the fact that I had two lamps plus my original waiting to be repaired. And at this point, I had $93.75 invested in replacing a $20 lamp.

So I set out to correct the situation. Lowes accepted my return and gave me back $42. Then I raced home and dialed the repair shop. The same woman accepted the fact I’d sort of “found” a lamp (okay, so I lied to the nice lady and said a neighbor had given me one he wasn’t using) and agreed to tear up the repair order. Another $14.75 recouped. Now I was down to one lamp at a cost of $37 plus a big, expensive bulb. I glanced at my watch. And it had only taken me six hours to do it.


The woman at the lamp repair shop agreed to fix my old lamp at her expense and donate it to a charity provided I would bring in the rest of it (shade, wall mounts, etc.). Feeling very noble, I took them in the very next day.

However, the experience reminded me of another personal failing. I don’t repack boxes very efficiently. When I had returned everything to Lowes, it required the box the lamp came in plus a plastic bag filled with things I couldn’t stuff back in it.

I really miss my late wife. She could fix everything from broken dishwashers to balky dryers. Me, I just look at them and call a repair man. She would probably have popped out the old socket and sent me to the store for a $5 replacement. Of course, I would have come home with the wrong one and had to make two more return trips to get the proper one.

Think I’ll stick to writing.

Next week: Maybe we’ll take a look at some of the New Mexico locations featured in THE BISTI BUSINESS.

New posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

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