By the time you read this, Dave Beck will be celebrating his 85th birthday. In case you don’t know of him, Dave has spent the last few decades as Salt Spring’s go-to appliance repairman/philosopher king while living off the grid in a log cabin deep in the heart of the south end on Ruckle Park property called “the pea-vine.”
Nobody asked me, but over 20 years ago I wrote a short piece about a fictional island character who may or may not have been modelled on Dave. With tongue firmly in cheek, I give you the following to honour Dave on his birthday.
They say there are three human-made phenomena on the face of the earth which are visible from outer space. One is the Great Wall of China. The second is the massive forest clear-cut in central British Columbia. The third is the collection of discarded stoves, fridges, washers, dryers and other broken appliances which are slowly rusting out in Murphy’s back orchard and which line both sides of the half-mile long logging road leading to his log cabin.
It seems strange that Murphy, who despises technology with all its trappings, and who will tell you (whether you’re interested or not) that “if you can’t do it by hand, it don’t need to be done,” has eked out a modest living as the island’s appliance repairman.
Oh yes, Murphy has the knack. He can fix just about anything. He just takes his time about it. Maybe he’ll show up today. Maybe not. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe not.
Martha had played the “waiting for Murphy” game for longer than she would like to remember. Calling his shop and not getting an answer. Leaving dozens of messages and no call-backs. Driving around the island, asking at all the coffee shops. Searching for where his pickup might be parked. Constantly asking, “Anybody see Murphy?”
And when she does find him, being assured that he will come round Tuesday morning and then Tuesday morning becomes Tuesday afternoon and then Wednesday and then the weekend for sure and pretty soon it’s next Tuesday and still no Murphy and doesn’t she know better and what IS the point, anyway?
And then there is the rare instance when he does show up and it’s always a bad time because she’s just going out the door or he forgot his tools or he needs to order a part from the city and yes, her washing machine is now in pieces but he’s just going back to his cabin because for sure he has the exact same model somewhere out in the yard and he can pull the timer switch out and it will be a lot cheaper than ordering a new part and, besides, they made them so much better in the old days, but you shouldn’t be using a machine anyway and that looks like mighty fine apple pie, Martha, don’t mind if I do and, by the way, would she mind if he left an old hot water tank on her deck for a couple of hours because he needs the room in the back of his truck to load a second-hand fridge from just down the road. And she knows if he walks out the door, that she might not live long enough to see him again but yet she believes him again and lets him go and now she will be cooking meals on the wood stove the whole sweltering summer or washing the diapers by hand in a plastic bucket or stringing fish line from nails pounded into the wooden posts and beams in the kitchen so she can hang laundry and she knows that next winter that goddam hot water tank will still be sitting out on her deck.
One day Martha’s ship came in. An old aunt she didn’t even know about had died in Arizona and left a little something for all her nieces and nephews. It was by no means a fortune you could retire on, but there was enough there to buy a fairly late model all-wheel-drive Toyota, some new clothes that actually had tags for you to cut off and labels you could read, and a brand new washer and dryer.
She ordered a matching Viking washer and dryer set by phone direct from Eaton’s in Victoria. The catalogue described them as top of the line with essential features such as “extra rinse cycles” and “automatic electrostatic inhibitors.” She agreed to the two-year extended warranty option which covered both parts and labour. The very next day the delivery truck backed down the driveway, and the two deliverymen wearing clean, blue, ironed coveralls unloaded the appliances from the truck.
They dollied them into the mudroom, removed the cardboard packaging, installed and tested the machines, and cleaned up after themselves. As they were leaving, the taller of the two handed her a clipboard and asked her to sign a form which stated that she had been satisfied with the “Eaton’s customer service.” As he waited for her to sign, he noticed the hot water tank sitting on the deck. “We’ve got a hot water tank sale at the warehouse this month, in case you’re interested.”
For 18 months all went well. Every time Martha threw a load into the washer, she thought of not having to find Murphy and a smile washed across her face. Then, one day, she heard a CLUNK and the machine would not spin. Where had she put that receipt with the date of purchase and the extended warranty? After nearly four hours of looking through every cupboard drawer, shelf and cabinet, she found the missing document covered in dust and cobwebs on the floor behind the fridge. She checked the date on the warranty and, yes, the machines were still covered.
She phoned the main Eaton’s store in Victoria and was put through to Appliances. The manager asked for her name and the date of purchase. She was put on hold and forced to listen to Herb Alpert music while he checked on the computer. What seemed like half an eternity later, he was back on the line.
“I’ve got you right here on the screen and everything looks in order.” he informed her.
“I’m so relieved,” Martha answered. “I was so sure that there would be a problem and I would have to wait. When can you send a repairman?”
“We’ll get somebody over right away. You won’t even have to wait for the ferry. We’ve got a man on contract over there who services all the Gulf Islands. Maybe you know him. The name’s Murphy.”