“You gotta keep a constant lookout for black widows. They just love to string their nests under these things.” Fifty-one-year-old Jerry Frude is crouched behind a 1972 Whirlpool washing machine tilted forward on a pile of old clothes in a garage in Serra Mesa.
He is running his hand beneath the bottom and back legs of the machine. “Black widow bites you, you’re out of work for a while. Never happened to me because a guy told me how to check for 'em. You take a screwdriver and run it across the web real slow. If it crackles, it’s a black widow. You look for the sucker, and you kill it before you start working. The females are the dangerous ones. They’ve got the red spot on their belly. They’ll crawl right up your sleeve while you’re replacing a pump. I’ve killed quite a few.”
The garage, like the rest of the client’s house, is heaped with junk. Small paths have been cleared from the front door through the living room and dining room, winding into the garage, where the washer and dryer sit beneath a shelf piled with more junk. An antique bottle of Stuart’s Liquid Blueing (“for whiter clothes, swimming pools, white or gray hair — add a few drops to rinse water”) dances with empty tobacco tins along the shelf every time Frude turns on the portable water pump he invented and carries with him on house calls.
The eclectic mass of bric-a-brac includes plastic Christmas decorations, magazines, bicycle wheels, pots and pans, rotting onions and oranges in mesh bags, swim fins, aluminum foil roasting pans, pie tins and Mason jars, and in the comer a makeshift closet hung with military uniforms from World War II and a coal miner’s helmet.
In the kitchen and dining room, the tables and chairs are buried beneath blankets, shoes, a globe, sleeping bags, odd items of clothing, and boxes of crackers. The air in the kitchen is redolent with cooking smells and must, pipe tobacco, and the sunless, dusty smell of a widower’s long hours in front of the television, with frozen dinners and weak tea.
“Dogs are another thing,” Frude is telling Mr. G. the former Marine sergeant and long-time postal worker who has put in the call to Frude Appliance.
“Oh. brother,” agrees the former mail carrier, drawing on a pipe filled with apple-scented tobacco that obscures the odor of mildew and stagnant water in the garage.
“Both jaws, man. Right in my cheek.” Frude works quickly removing the suspect pump and the snapped rotor belt. Perspiration stands out on his forehead beneath thin, sandy brown hair. His clear-framed glasses slide by degrees down his nose toward his mustache. “It was one of those, whaddaya call ’em. Dobermans? See, that’s why
I never open any sliding glass doors to anybody’s back yard, say, if I have to shut the water off outside the house. First I ask if there’s a dog. I forgot a couple of times. I was at this woman’s house, and she had her little daughter playing in the back yard. I didn't see the dog, just the girl, so I go boppin' out there to shut off the main, and here comes this thing gonna protect the little girl, and he chomps onto my rear end, and I'm yellin’, and the woman comes out and calls the dog off. He had bitten right on my handkerchief, so that slowed him down a little bit.
“I went into the bathroom and pulled my shorts down, and I was bleedin’. This woman is apologizin' up one side and down the other. She called me later and said. ‘We want you to go to the doctor and have it checked out,’ so I did and they paid me. Had some stitches put in back there.”
Mr. G reminisces about various dog bites on his rounds once upon a time and concludes the subject by cautioning against any dogs that are introduced with the phrase. He doesn’t bite. “Those are the ones you gotta watch.”
Jerry Frude has been at Mr. G’s in the past. Many of his customers are repeat business, but even so, Frude hands them two pieces of paper at the door. One is a sheet with the words GETTING ACQUAINTED across the top; beneath that are the words YOUR REPAIRMAN, JERRY IS THE OWNER. In the upper right-hand corner of the page is an eight-year-old photograph of the serviceman and business owner, sans glasses and with longer sideburns. It is the same photo that appears in his Yellow Pages ad. A cartoon bubble is drawn from Frude’s silhouette and reads, I’LL GIVE YOU PROMPT PERSONAL SERVICE!
The rest of the page is a list of biographical material and selling points; * attended University of Wyoming on a 4 yr. scholarship. * was factory trained in appliance repair. * has over 20 yr.s experience in this field. * lived in San Diego since 1967. * married over 25 yr.s, with 4 children. The list goes on to include the selling points: repair guarantees, parts, deliveries and resales of reconditioned “top quality" appliances. The first sheet also includes a map indicating the 25-year location of Frude Appliance in Kearny Mesa and a $10.00 off purchase of appliance coupon.
The second sheet is a brief contract or “Repair Estimate Agreement” that begins, “1 hereby acknowledge that I have requested Frude Appliance to enter my home for the purpose of checking my appliance in order for them to give me an estimate of repairs. If I should decline the estimate of repair. I promise to pay them a service charge of $_before the technician leaves.”
Mr. G has signed the sheet agreeing to a $ 19.95 service charge, and Frude has offered an informal estimate of $ 136.14 to replace the pump, inlet water valve, and belt. "Go ahead,” Mr. G nods into a cloud of pipe smoke.
“Do what you gotta do, you betcha.” Frude explains. “See, the valve’s not seating. You've got a calcium magnesium build-up in that valve. The little plunger's not closing all the way off when the plunger comes down on it. It’s seeping water through the valve into the tub. Now we need a four-port, two-layer pump, and that’s a little more expensive, but I’m gonna knock off ten percent.”
Mr. G nods and draws on his pipe. “We haven’t had any maintenance on that thing since we bought it from you...what was that? Eight years ago.” Mr. G seems to remember something, perhaps triggered by the word “we.” “You remember the Missus. Well, we lost her last July.” “Oh, I’m sorry. I remember her,” Frude says, looking up from his work.
“She had breast cancer,” the older man continues. “They took one breast first and then the other one, and then she had a brain tumor. She exhausted her chemotherapy and radiation, and she was in a lot of pain. That last month was hell."
“You’ve been through it, haven't you?” Frude “ asks rhetorically.
The conversation shifts to fishing, something that Frude is enthusiastic about. Beyond the garage door, in the back yard is a great white shark made of chicken wire and crepe paper. The eight-foot replica is a project of Mr. G’s daughter and her friend. He is unsure of the purpose of it, but it provides a conversational pivot about sharks and fishing. The two men compare notes on great -white sightings.
Frude discusses one of his customers with whom he became fishing buddies. “He had nine world records, and this guy was no bullshitter. He had papers from the Fish and game commission with the weights of the fish on there and everything. He taught me more about fishing than I ever dreamed of. He was a pretty heavy boozer, but he could fish you right out of the water. Caught a 360-pound tuna once with an 18-pound test line. I met him doing a repair out of his house. We went out albacore fishing once, and we brought home 38 albacore. I’m not kidding.”
Frude describes himself as “an average middle-class family man and businessman. I consider myself successful due to the fact that I’ve been married 30 years today and in business for 23 years without filing chapters 11 or 13, without having any major failures of any kind.”
Frude is a former painter and photographer whose earliest ambition was to be an industrial designer. “I've always got something going, you know? If it isn’t painting or photography, it’s inventing something; if it isn't that, it’s building something at home. If it isn’t that, it’s fishing out on the ocean. It’s whatever I feel the whim of at the time. I would rather have been an industrial designer, but I was in the wrong place in the world. Wyoming. I’m very happy with my life, though. Why would I not be happy? I don’t have failures that are devastating to a lot of guys. It’s a matter of getting your priorities down.”
On the radio in the living room, Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians are singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The voices are youthful and reverent. This is followed by “Bridge over Troubled Water,” which manages to sound patriotic as well as religious.
“Wait a minute, wait a minute,” Frude’s voice echoes in the washer tub. He cannot be seen behind the Whirlpool. “Mr. G, you better come in here...Where’d he go? I’ve never seen anything like this in 25 years."
Mr. G appears, literally, in a cloud of smoke at the door between the kitchen and the garage. “Sounds like bad news.”
“It is." Frude stands, leans across the washer, and brushes a stray lock of thin hair from in front of his glasses. He folds his fingers together to illustrate something. “In your transmission in here, you have about four gears of different sizes. One of them has busted a tooth off or something like that. Everything works and functions for a short interval until that gear catches up to where it won’t mesh, and then it locks everything up in the transmission. What held the belt until it crisped up from the friction was the pulley, and then it burnt the other pulley out. So it was your transmission, not your pump. It was the same identical symptom though. I can give you a thousand cases where it was always the pump. Maybe you’re one out of 4000.”
Mr. G is nodding stoically, a past master at receiving bad news.
“Your machine right now is not worth squat. Either I can bring you out a machine for half the cost of a new one, with a one-year limited warranty, take this one and put another transmission in it, or junk it out for parts. Or I’ve got an old one, about the same vintage as this, for $139 or I’ve got a fairly new one for $229. So you’re talkin’ about $90 more.”
Mr. G decides to go with a new one. Frude arranges to return that afternoon after a few more house calls and bring the new machine. Mr. G promises to clear a space for Frude to wheel the old machine out, but once inside his small
Volkswagen truck, full of tools and parts, Frude says, “I know I’ll come back here and end up cleaning his garage so I can bring in the new machine. He can't move all that junk by himself.”
The address of the oldest single-owner/operator appliance repair business in San Diego is a storefront in Convoy Plaza in Kearny Mesa that is mostly unused. Very little of Frude's business comes through the door. The bulk of his clients contact him on his portable phone. On the shop’s walls are sun-bleached posters of sunsets, butterflies, sheep, and clowns. Along one wall rest a dozen washers, dryers, and refrigerators; and beneath a macramé owl hang agitators and electrical heating elements for ovens.
In the backroom workshop. Frude leans back in his desk chair. The cellular phone he carries everywhere sits in front of him on the desk next to a computerized chessboard. Frude challenges the computer to games during downtime, when he is neither on the road nor at work in the shop. Next to his desk is a low shelf containing children’s toys, coloring books, and games. Above the shelf is a bumper sticker that reads, “I (heart) JERRY’S KIDS.” Pinned to one wall is a photograph of a 27-foot trimaran that Frude designed. Behind him are more washers, dryers, and refrigerators in various stages of cannibalization and restoration; and nearly half the room is given over to racks of machine parts, stored paints, enamels, glues, washers, bolts, belts.
Possibly thinking of the lonely Maytag repairman — does Frude have any employees, or does he work alone?
“Well, I have help, usually, but my daughter has a sick baby right now. I’ve been in here for 16 years. For a long time it was just me and my wife. I would go out and do a couple of service calls, and my wife would answer the home phone, which was tied into the office phone. I would open up about 10 and work on some appliances. If calls were slow. I’d work on appliances all day out of here. If the calls came in, I’d have my wife zip on over here — we lived closer back then — and she’d fill in in the store. Later on she got burdened with children and so forth. We have four. Then I hired some young guys to come in.
‘There were all kinds of guys that would have liked to come in and work here. I’ve had guys call me and ask if they could come in and work for free, to learn the trade. I turned ’em down because 1 don’t need any more competition than what I’ve already got.”
Frude’s conversation wanders down tangential avenues but usually returns after colorful digressions. “But that lonely Maytag repairman thing? That’s funny. I was a Maytag dealer for four years, and it was one of the busiest times of my life. It's not that Maytags break down a lot, it’s just that there are a lot of them out there. They’re the best washer on the market, but I would run into Maytags that were 20, 25, 28 years old and never had a service call. But everything that’s mechanical has a problem eventually. When I became a dealer, my service calls went skyrocketing. So much for the lonely Maytag repairman.”
As to how Frude got into this line of work he says, “I had no intention of gettin’ into this business, had no idea about it whatsoever. I walked into a Sears store up in Santa Barbara applying for a job. They gave me an aptitude test, and they said, ‘Wow, you scored real high on this test, and would you be interested in being a service technician?’ I said, ‘Doin’ what?’ and he said. Repairin’ appliances.’ I said, ‘You sure you got the right guy? I don’t know anything about appliances. I didn't put that down on the application.’ He said, ‘Well, we’ll send you to school.’ ’’ Frude laughs at this recollection.
“I told them, ‘No, no. no, you misunderstand, I’m married. I’ve got two children, I can’t go back to school. I’ve already been to college, I studied art, that’s it.’ Well, he said, ‘We’ll pay you.’ I said. ‘You’ll pay me full wage to go to school?’ and he said yep, so I said fine, and that’s how this all started.
“The major hard part of it is diagnosis. I’ve had electrical engineers, like, from Convair, call me and say, ‘I need a timer for my washer. Come on out and bring a timer with you.’ I’ll say, ‘How do you know it’s a timer?’ They’ll say, ‘I already checked it. I’m an engineer for blah-blah-blah.’ So I go toddling out there, and what’s wrong with the washer? Well, it won’t drain. It’s not getting a proper signal from the timer so obviously it needs a timer, right? Wrong. I turn the machine over and here the pump is frozen solid. The pulley won’t turn. I mean, these guys can fly missiles to the moon, but when it comes to repairin’ their washers they don’t know jack squat.”
When asked about the unusual nature of his mom-and-pop business, in light of the full-page ads in the Yellow Pages for outfits with names like Same Day Appliance, Service Today, Same Day Service, and All-County Major Appliance Repair, Frude smiles knowingly, the possessor of an inside joke.
“I’m glad you brought that up.” He opens the Yellow Pages to the appliance section and runs his hand over the huge ads for repair services. Frude's own modest display ad is buried 11 pages into this section — the ads appear in order of size and not alphabetically. “This whole thing is kinda like a Hollywood stage setting. It’s unbelievable when you actually find out what’s goin’ on.
“You open the first page and we have a full-page ad, and we have a picture of a woman in the top left-hand comer, and it says, ‘Family owned and operated since 1974.’ Down here at the bottom, they’ve got three technicians’, pictures with blue-ribbon awards, ‘Best Tech’ this and ‘Best Tech’ that, and they show trucks and three different phone numbers here, and you're dunkin’ to yourself. Man. this is a big outfit. They got three different locations, and look at all the trucks and the'guys.’ Go to the next page. Another almost full-page ad. They’ve got five different phone numbers. Let’s keep goin’. Now we got a full-page ad with four phone numbers, TierTasanta, San Diego, Mission Hills, Coronado. You’re goin’, ‘Wow, where are the little guys?’
“You know what this is? You call all four or five numbers, and one person answers. It’s the same office. It’s not a store. There’s one guy or gal sittin’ in this office. They don’t sell parts, they don’t sell appliances, they don’t stock anything. The telephone company will allow them to have these different phone numbers for different areas and they call-forward ’em.
“These guys came into San Diego — I’m talking two or three large corporations — from Albuquerque — about six years ago. Up until then. I had the largest ad in the Yellow Pages for ten years. I’ve got customers who told me nightmare stories about their dealings with some of these companies. I’ve found that what is going on is this. This company comes, takes out a full-page ad, and starts taking bulk amounts of calls. Probably the guy who is running this never fixed an appliance in his life. All he’s gotta do is go out and hire four or five guys that say they know appliance repair. Now he can hire a guy who is really good and pay him $25 or he can hire a guy who just says he knows what he’s doing and will take $7 an hour. There aren't a lot of guys who are going to ask the $25, because if they feel they are that good, they’re in business for themselves.”
At this point Frude pauses and reaches for a cigarette in an odd, transparent plastic cylinder that holds some dozen filtered cigarettes in spring-loaded niches, not unlike bullets in a revolver. Frude unscrews the top with a small screwdriver and removes a cigarette. He lights it and continues.
“There are very few guys who are well rounded, that can handle just about any calls that come in. one right after another, without having to do call-backs. By call-backs I mean you didn’t do it right, you gotta go back.”
“So these companies hire four or five guys, high school dropouts or just out of high school or something. They couldn't read a schematic much less draw one. These companies seem to zero in on elderly women for some reason also. I got a call from a woman like that. I gave her an estimate on an oven, to put in a thermostat control. In the neighborhood of $120 to $130. She said go ahead and do it, so I had to reschedule the call, get the part, and come back a few days later with it. I’m just about finished puttin' the whole thing together, and she says, ‘Well, Mr. Frude. are you still gonna do this for the same price?’ I looked at her and said, ‘What do you mean?' and she said. ‘You told me it was going to be $125 the other day. Is it still going to be the same price today?’ I said, ‘Oh, yeah, we agreed to that. You signed the estimate and I’m bound by that. Why?’ and she said, ‘It’s just that the other guys wanted so much more money than you. I don’t understand how you can do it for so much less.' She said the last outfit wanted $450. I said. ‘To put a thermostat control in?’ she said, ‘Yeah, but I told them I couldn’t afford it. I’m on Social Security. So I paid them the service call charge and called you. I thought because you were smaller, you might not be as expensive.’ ”
Frude pauses here to take two calls in succession on his portable phone, jots down addresses, and puts out his cigarette.
“So I asked her how much the service call was, and she said — I think at that time it was something like $35. I asked her who this outfit was, and she showed me one of those full-pagers in the book. Well, time goes by, year after year, and I hear these stories one after another. Companies charging $600 to put in a water heater. A water heater only costs a hundred bucks or so!”
“The way I see this working,” Frude says, “here’s a guy who doesn’t know very much about how to fix appliances, okay? He goes through the motions of checking the appliance out, turns to the customer, and gives them an exorbitant amount of money for an estimate. He knows they’re not going to go for it. He’s already got them locked into a service charge. They can’t back outta that because California code says he’s entitled to that. The code doesn’t say, ‘If he’s right.’ Good or bad diagnosis, he’s entitled to the service charge. Now he does this eight hours a day, how much money you think this guy brought in without doing any work?”’
Frude waits for the implication, in dollars, to sink in. “I'm talkin' in the house ten minutes. Forty dollars a service charge? Sixteen, 18 calls a day? So the owner, the guy who started this company, at the end of the day is looking at these four so-called service technicians, each bringing in a handful of $40 checks. Each guy drops about $800 on the boss’s desk. That’s $3200 at the end of the day. No call-backs, of course. No problems with the state. Occasionally someone might call the Better Business Bureau — maybe. Nothing illegal about it. Somebody should do something about this!”
Aside from the University of Wyoming, where Frude earned a B.A. in art, and his training at Sears in Santa Barbara, where he learned to repair ranges, washers, and dryers, he also studied at Southwestern College, where he expanded into refrigeration six years ago. “My number-one aspiration when I was young, in college, was to be an industrial designer. I was an art major, but they didn’t have much of a school for design — nothing at all for industrial design. I got married right out of college and moved to San Diego. I got hooked on sailing and photography. I designed and built a 27-foot-long trimaran. It took me three years. Then I sold that and bought a 21 -foot power boat and got into fishing, which is my big thing now.”
Frude lives in Lakeside with his wife, son, and three daughters. He proudly displays photographs, most of which he took. His family is a strikingly attractive quartet of blond females and a 14-year-old all-American-looking heavy metal fan. Frude leafs through his family album and recounts tales of fishing on the high seas and scuba diving expeditions, well documented with photos that seem not at all amateur.
Pointing to pictures of his home, he says, "We’ve got three horses, two dogs, we got eight cats, two parrots, three chickens, four fish...I don’t know what all. We’re livin’ in a zoo." An idyllic, rustic zoo on a prime patch of county real estate, by all evidence. “My next 20 years is dedicated to my wife and what she wants to do now. I’ve spent a lot of time doing what I wanted, and now it’s her turn.” Frude betrays no evidence of martyrdom or self-sacrifice. He is as genuinely proud of his home and family as many men would be of an especially canny business deal or financial coup.
Frude takes another call, and it is time to hit the road. “Sounds like a pump and belt in Linda Vista. See if I’m right. Time me. My record is 14 minutes from diagnosis to completion.” He grabs his cellular phone and the odd cylindrical cigarette container.
“Oh, this?” He leaves through the rear door, where his Volkswagen mini-van is parked, and gets in, starts the engine. “It’s one of my inventions.” He holds up the transparent plastic cylinder that contains cigarettes in vertical rows. “You see, as this rotates around when I have a battery in it, it’s precisionally timed on these slots. You see the window here?" Frude indicates a narrow opening in the plastic. He pulls out onto Convoy Street and drives past the burger joints, taco stands, software emporiums, and Japanese noodle houses. “In the morning you get up, and you take your cigarettes, and you say to yourself, ‘How often do I want a cigarette?’ Say you’re like me, you can't control yourself. I’m high strung. With my patented cigarette monitor, you can dispense yourself 20 cigarettes at 34-minute intervals or, say, 17 cigarettes at 40-minute intervals... 14 cigarettes at 48-minute intervals, a variety of combinations. This rotates 360 degrees in a 12-hour cycle. However you time it, when the cigarette comes around to the window, this little bell at the top rings, and that’s when you reach for the smoke.”
Frude sets the cylinder into a holder he has next to him on the car door. He continually bypasses his own system by unscrewing the top with the small screwdriver and reaching for a cigarette when he wants one.
Driving through a maze of identical-looking streets in Linda Vista, Frude pulls to the side and studies his written directions. “I’ve been to this woman’s house before, but it’s been a while." He cruises slowly past houses with Vietnamese children playing basketball in driveways and an elderly woman watering her lawn with a trickling hose. The woman seems to remind him of something.
“Did you see my first one? My first cigarette monitor? It was that green metal thing on the floor with the red light on the top.” Frude is referring to a metallic box that was on his workshop floor. One might assume it was a kind of appliance-testing device or possibly an electronic shoeshine kit. About a foot tall and a foot and a half wide. It was the prototype for the streamlined version of the monitor.
“My mother contracted Alzheimer’s disease a few years back. She smoked for 55 years. I brought her home with me to live. I figured she had enough to deal with without quitting smoking cold turkey on top of it. I would get up in the morning, and I’d give her a pack of cigarettes before I left for work. Come home, she’s out of cigarettes. ‘Jerry, I’m out of cigarettes. I’m a wreck!’ On my day off I’d notice she’d do the same thing two hours after I gave her a pack. ‘Where’s the rest of your pack?’ I’d say. ‘I don’t know.’ I’d go in her trailer and she'd smoked ’em all in two hours! She couldn’t remember. She was smokin’ herself to death, maybe five packs in a day!
“So I said to my wife, ‘What am I gonna do? She’s already got Alzheimer’s, and with cigarette withdrawal. I’m gonna have a fruitcake on my hands. She’s goin’ into a panic.’ I went out to the shop and thought about a way I could mechanically dispense cigarettes to her. I spent about three months taking various parts out of refrigerators and dishwashers, and that’s what that thing is. It’s the timer out of a dishwasher, an icemaker unit that makes and dispenses ice, and adapted that to a loading device. Of course, I had to build it like a tank, because I figured she’d get in there and destroy it. Then I had to have signal lights so she’d know it was on and another light that says, okay, here comes a cigarette. The cigarette would drop into this little trough in the back, and the light would go on, and it would beep. She said, ‘Jerry, I just love that little cigarette maker you’ve got!’ ” Frude laughs uproariously as he steps from the car and rings the doorbell on his second call of the day.
The woman who answers the door seems to know Jerry. She is an attractive blonde in her late 40s or early 50s, and she shows Frude into the rec room adjacent to the garage. Between the two rooms is the small laundry area the size of a walk-in closet. Frude seems to be appraising the problems he’ll have maneuvering the machines in order to work on them. “One of the difficulties you have to contend with when you’re a repairman," he would later say, “is space. Confined areas. If you’ve got claustrophobia, you’ve got a problem. And not everybody is as courteous as this woman, who had her husband move that dryer out.”
The woman introduces her son, a tall, muscular blond with a bunny tattoo on his upper left bicep. Frude nods and smiles, goes back to examining the dryer. "You say the heat is going out on this?” He shakes his head from side to side as if that makes little sense. “A heat element doesn’t go out intermittently, it goes out all at once or it doesn’t, you know what I mean?”
Without waiting for a reply. Frude bends at the knees and begins wrestling the dryer away from the wall. With a few practiced and economical manipulations, he has the dryer pulled forward and tilted at an angle he seems satisfied with. He removes a plate, loosens some bolts, and the tumbler drum comes away a few inches to reveal an air vent clogged with an accretion of old lint. “See, what happens is that a lot of times people will let this go for so long without changing it that they eventually go to pull it out and it catches, leaving half this mess in there. That’ll block that whole exhaust vent, and it’ll affect your drying as if you’re only getting half the heat you need.’’
Frude removes another housing plate with a quick flourish of his electric screwdriver and announces, “The heat element is good. It’s just the vent needs cleaning probably. I’ll give you an estimate of $42. Without the dryer plugged in, I can’t guarantee that. You might have bad contacts in the timer. But that’s how it looks to me so far."
The woman agrees to the estimate, and Frude sets to work. The rec room has a pool table at its center. The room is decorated with mirrors advertising beers. Coors, Budweiser, Miller Lite. Several posters featuring young women in swimsuits and more beer logos hang along the walls, and in one comer is a real slot machine that pays off $30.
When Frude finishes with the dryer in a matter of minutes and plugs it in. his diagnosis seems to be borne out. A clutch of ancient lint lies on the carpet in testimony to Frude’s accuracy, though he apologizes for the mess.
"That’s all right, that’s all right.” The woman seems visibly relieved that the used dryer she bought does not need expensive rehabilitation. “There’s the washer too. This got stuck on a cycle and it wouldn't empty. It started to smell like it was hot.”
“Burnt rubber?” Frude inquires, wrinkling his nose as if to illustrate the smell and indicate sympathy at such a distasteful symptom of machine failure.
The woman nods. “The machine is 21 years old"
“Belt and pump,” Frude says with confidence. “No problem. Flat-bottom pump. Got one in the truck. Chances are it’s worth repairing, but I’m not a guru. I can’t tell the future." He pronounces guru with the accent on the second syllable.
“We’ve always been real happy with your repairs,” she says. “Go for it. I’m a gambler anyway,” she says and laughs indicating the slot machine.
Frude again calls the situation correctly. He breaks his own 14-minute record in removing and replacing both pump and belt. The entire job for parts and labor on two machines comes to $146.65. The woman seems to feel it is well worth it. She confessed she had budgeted over three times that amount to replace one or both machines.
The next call is also in Linda Vista. Frude pulls up to the San Diego Center for Children on Judson Street. “Dishwasher job,” he announces.
The center is a home for children with emotional or behavioral difficulties. “Sometimes you got these rambunctious kids all over the place underfoot. This might be interesting,” he says. But only one child is present, a girl about seven years old doing social studies homework. Another blond woman in her late 40s is a staff member at the center and explains to Frude that the machine is not cycling properly. While Frude gets on the floor and examines the dishwasher, the staffer continues to make spaghetti sauce for, it appears, a dozen or so people. Children’s art is taped to the walls everywhere, and the small girl is humming, rapping Hammer’s ‘Too Legit to Quit” while she reads a textbook and makes entries on a lined piece of paper with meticulously formed letters.
“Have electrical workers been into this thing messing with the wiring?" Frude asks. The woman says she does not know, and Frude shrugs. “I've got to see if I’ve got the parts back at the shop. I’ll have to come back to this one.”
The woman asks Frude if he will make another call at the center’s branch in Mira Mesa to look at a faulty dryer. Frude nods and writes down the address. On his way out the door, he waves at the woman and the girl. The girl gets up from her chair and does a couple of dance moves. “You can’t touch this!” she shouts and seats herself again at her homework.
At the center in Mira Mesa, Frude gestures around the grounds, the low, barracks-like structures and school buses. “Some of the kids here can get pretty hairy. One kid snuck out into a repair truck one time and stole an ice pick. They found it in his room under a pillow.”
Frude knows his way into the laundry area well. He turns on one of the dryers and immediately hears the squealing. He pulls it away from the wall and removes panels with a pop rivet tool and Snap ring pliers. He sets up a running commentary of diagnosis as he works.
“The right rear roller has a vibration to it when you spin it. It’s an oilit bushing. Those things are designed to release lubricant as friction is applied, and they get hot. You see, the oil is actually impregnated in the metal, and so it is self-lubricating for quite a long time. It actually weeps oil out of itself, but when the oil is completely dispensed out of it, it will start squealing. The pulley on this has the same thing, an oilit bushing. They’re famous for squeaking once they get dry. It appears as if the pulley is that way, the right rear roller is that way, but at the same „ time we got front glide pads here that are like Teflon. The front of the drum rides on these, and they’re worn about 60 percent or so....”
As he works, Frude considers advice he might bestow on an appliance repair hopeful just starting out in the business. “First I would tell him or her to go get a good general education and lean toward mechanical or electrical sciences. Then get a job, period, doing anything and on evenings or weekends go to an appliance store and learn about appliances. Then he has to go out and hope to God somebody will hire him. If nobody hires him, then he’s got to do what I did — take an ad out in the paper and take a chance on somebody hiring him. You gotta be able to withstand pressure. I'm talking about people standing over your shoulder ’cuz they’re puttin’ their money out for what you know. They stand there watchin' every move you make, especially if you’re young. They expect you to know what the hell you’re doin’.
If you don’t, if you go into something and it’s the first time you ever saw it, right away your heart starts pumpin' and your brain starts gettin' mixed up. You’re thinkin’, ‘Uh-oh, this guy’s gonna start askin’ me any minute what the problem is, and if I don’t have the answer. I’m in trouble. I’m gonna look foolish.’ So you gotta withstand that kind of pressure. You gotta appear knowledgeable and remain courteous. You gotta treat people decent. A lot of guys are not that way. If they don’t like the questions you’re askin’, they’ll get real indignant and shut you right down. Especially over the phone.”
Over coffee at a nearby Denny’s, Frude reminisces. “Once when I was workin’ for Sears, I went out on this call. I got there and unloaded my tools and started walkin' to the front door when this woman comes over from across the street and asks me if I’m the repair guy. I say yeah, and she says, ‘Well, Mrs. Walker isn’t here now. She told me to let you in.’ I told her okay, and she opens the garage door with a remote control. Now inside the garage was another paneled room they had partitioned off for the laundry. So I get in the garage door, and she pushes the remote and the door comes down. We go in the little laundry area, and I get down and start to work on the washer, and I hear the other door close, you know, to the little room I'm in. This woman was about 28 or 29 years old, and she’s in this little space with me, and I'm down on my knees when I feel this hand on the top of my head. I kind of flinched a little bit, and she said, 'You had some lint on your hair.’ I said. ‘Oh, thank you.’
“She was smilin’ at me and there was no mistake what was on her mind. Young as I was, I knew what was goin’ on. Nothing happened, but only because I didn’t, uh, endorse her in any way. I was workin’ for Sears Roebuck, and I would have been open to lawsuit, not to mention, she had no way of knowing what I already had at home.” Frude winks. He is referring to his wife.
“I’ve had women offer to pay me in ways other than money, if you know what I mean, but I’m just not that way.
“Three or four months ago I had a girl my daughter’s age answer the door in a towel. She said, ‘I was just takin' a shower.' Now I had just talked to her 20 minutes ago, and I told her I was comin’ right over, so she knew what she was doin’. She had her boobs in my face, just inches away, while I was tryin’ to work, and she’s askin’ me all these personal questions. She made a point of tellin’ me that her boyfriend was at work. While I was writing up the receipt, she bent over her counter and this robe she had put on fell down and she just left it that way. I just put my hand over my eyes and looked out the window. You get these little things. A woman doesn’t just come right out and say something like a man does.
“When you go into people’s homes, you’re letting yourself into all kinds of things. You see every aspect of life. I used to go down to North Park and East San Diego, and, boy, was that a mistake. That ended real fast. I’m talkin' about Logan Heights and workin’ on this one refrigerator in this apartment complex that was cockroach city. I took the panel off this refrigerator, and there must have been a thousand of the things. I’ve been in houses that looked like the city dump. Paths 12 inches wide through three-foot piles of junk and trash and just things. It’s like walkin’ into the Twilight Zone sometimes.”
Talking about his college days and his art, Frude recalls, “I did a sculpture of this girl based on Joan of Arc. It kind of took the place of this girl I was in love with, about 17 years old. When she broke up with me. I took the statue, and in the middle of the winter, 20 below zero. I drove up to this mountain where we used to park. There was a tower up there, and I climbed up and set the statue up there as a sacrificial type thing. I guess. I climbed back to the bottom and sat there with a fifth of whisky and got totally annihilated. I sat there for 10, 12 hours in the middle of a blizzard. This was in Laramie, Wyoming, the Rocky Mountains. I had come to the end of my emotional rope. I was devastated, you understand? The police came up there and found me in the morning. They saved my life.
“Frank Lloyd Wright once was out in the country somewhere with his grandson, and he said to him, ‘I want you to take a look around you. You see the mountains, the trees, the clouds, the grass, flowers, birds? In a man’s life, he’s got to question, Who is God? Will I ever see God? I gotta tell you, look around you. This is the only body of God you will see in this life.’ That hit real firmly with me. He’s saying that there is a God number one, and secondly, that you will never see God, but that if you open your eyes, he’s all around you. Everything he’s created is under your nose. As an artist I was always trying to recreate things, landscapes especially. My religious feelings were brought out in my artwork. Trying to duplicate God himself was what it boiled down to, trying to imitate the Creator, become the Creator. You’re trying to go through in some way what God went through. Trying to duplicate shadows, light reflections, microscopic...life. Out of nothingness. With art and photography, you can delve into that as much as you want to. You see it in art, sometimes unsuccessfully, but....
“What it boils down to is that when I go out and do a repair nowadays, I do it as if I were the repairman for myself.
“As far as formal religion, I converted to Catholicism after ten years of marriage. I told my wife, ’This is your ten-year anniversary present. We’ll get married in the church.’ In order to do that, I had to take whattyacallit, a seminar..or instructions with a priest. This guy was a young Jesuit priest. You know where he is right now? He’s in the Vatican. Anyway, I’d meet with him once a week, and we’d talk religion. One thing he said. I’ll never forget, he said, 'Jerry, I’m gonna explain to you what God wants of you, what’s expected of you. All people should know this, and very few churches come right out and say this to individuals, but this is it. You’re a family man. You have children and a business.
"'What God expects of you is to live your life as an example to others and to your family. God doesn’t expect any more than that. Live your life as an example. What you want your children to be, you be also — now. Then they in turn will become that. That’s how it works.’”
Still in a philosophical mood, Frude drains his coffee, declines another, and leans back in his chair. He clasps his hands behind his head and muses, “I guess I’d like to go out in my sleep. In the middle of a beautiful dream about being in the South Seas sailing and fishing. I got that 2000-pound marlin on my line, and I'm in the cockpit, and I got him three foot from the back of the boat with a man there ready to gaff him. That’s when I want to go out. Not doin’ it necessarily, just dreamin’ about it. You understand?”