An unsavory exchange of letters
Originally appeared in Esquire, September, 1975, Vol. 84, page 68+. Copyright: John Irving.
G.R. Richardson
Cormorant Bay Road
East Nest, Maine
25 June 1975
Groh Typewriter Co.
Z. Groh, Prop.
45 Mt. Auburn St.
Cambridge, Mass.

Dear Mr. Groh:

     Shortly before my summer vacation (I teach at Harvard), I brought you my typewriter, a Gojmerac portable with a German keyboard.  Though admitting the rareness of Gojmeracs in America, you claimed you would have no difficulty repairing the typewriter.  You said the trouble was "almost sure to correct itself" after undergoing your Standard Cleaning Service.  That trouble, by the way, concerned the malfunction of the ribbon-reverse system.  The ribbon would not reverse, would not rewind itself, would only stretch taut and rip free of the spool, frequently twisting into unmentionable knots so that the busy writer would have to stop writing, untangle and rewind the ribbon, mess up his hands and smudge his paper.  When I picked up the typewriter, you assured me that this had been fixed.  And I took the typewriter with me to my summer home in Maine.  And now I discover that it is not fixed at all (the ribbon spools weren't even properly installed), and here I am in very rural Maine for the whole summer with a Gojmerac that has to be rewound by hand every time you type to the end of a spool-- which has already happened, incidentally, in the course of this letter!
     I am not only a teacher at Harvard, but I am, sadly, a writer; that is, I write every day-- ten, twenty pages a day sometimes.  Do you have any idea how inconvenient this is?  That your Standard Cleaning Service cost me twenty dollars and is "fully guaranteed" does me little good here.
     I want to tell you a story, Mr. Groh.  I want you to know how tenaciously I represent the consumer's cause in the struggle against the shoddy indifference that is everywhere.  I want you to understand the hardiness of the enemy you have inspired.  I am your enemy, Mr. Groh-- I am the enemy of every vile business, large or small, that preys on the average customer's sloth and meek acceptance of outrageous service, of parts being constantly out of stock, of inept repair work and absurd costs per hour for what is incredibly referred to as "labor".  I'm going to tell you about my most recent victory-- at least, a moral victory-- over a company far larger and more powerful and even more devoted to evil habits than is your own.  I once owned, Mr. Groh, a stove which was engendered by Humble Wright.  A tiny spring snapped off the oven door, Mr. Groh, and a Humble Wright Service Man came and told me he was not in the habit of carrying door springs with him when he went to look at ovens that had lost theirs, and I would have to check with the vast and mysterious Service Center to make sure there was a door spring in stock.  There wasn't.  The Service Center Lady droned: "What is the model and serial number of the item, please?"  Two or three weeks for any order; I was appalled, but I ordered.  A week later the door hinge became jammed and I realized the oven would probably need a new hinge-- also not in stock, also two or three weeks away.  I asked at that time if there might be
more parts in need of replacing-- unseen and lurking in the crannies of the door: bolts that hold the hinge in place, little screws that hold the springs, and should I order these?  (What is the model and serial number of the item, please? a mechanical voice asked.)  Yes, it was thought that I should order other parts.  But how can I, I wondered; I didn't know what those other parts might be.  The Service Center Lady informed me that I could once again call a Humble Wright Service Man to come look at the stove, but of course I would then have to pay for a second service call-- and a third, finally, when all the necessary parts were available for installation.  I was unaware that I had been charged for that first "service call" (nothing had been serviced!), and I hung up the phone feeling trapped by incompetence, dependent on stupidity, forced to rely on other people's error-strewn ways and even expected to be grateful that the hinge and springs existed (in Chicago).  I bought another stove, another brand, Mr. Groh-- one which in the long run will probably prove to be no better.  I borrowed a friend's truck, Mr. Groh, and I asked for the bodily help of several friends; there are always friends willing to help you when you when your aim is to get even with a company who has disappointed as many people as has Humble Wright.  We drove the truck with the old stove in the dead of night to the Service Entrance.  I removed the metal patch with the model and serial number on it, but the stove was still very heavy and the four of us had a hard time wedging it against the Service Entrance Door.
     In the morning, the local manager of Humble Wright called me (I had asked to speak to him twice before in my conversations with the Service Center Lady, but his name is apparently not released so easily to the public).  The manager was cheerful; he told me his name, he said he was married, he mentioned the ages of his children.  He said he understood I had been upset at the service policy as it applied to a certain stove whose oven door was jammed.  Correct, I said.  But didn't I think it was childish, he asked, to simply inconvenience the hired help by wedging my stove against the Service Entrance Door?  I did not tell him that I didn't think it was childish at all, and that if I had known his name and address I would have struck higher up on the employment scale.  I simply asked him why he assumed that the stove was mine.  "Oh, come now, Mr. Richardson," he said.  "We know about the oven door-- this stove has a jammed oven door."'  And do you know what I asked him, Mr. Groh?  In my most mechanical voice, in my best imitation of the standard mindless response that is regardless of the question, I said, "What is the model and serial number of the item, please?"
     It was not worth Humble Wright's time, Mr. Groh, to press the matter further.  I would like to think that the stove is still there, a kind of demonstration model of their general crumminess.  But I suspect they took four of their least deft servicemen off their service routes for the fifteen minutes required to dump the thing.
     But, do you see, Mr. Groh, the tedious lengths to which I am willing to go?
     I will be sure to bring you this typewriter in the fall when I return to Cambridge, my fingers begrimed with ink, my appreciation for the rareness of Gojmeracs in America wandering-- if, in the meantime, I can resist driving the long hours in the dead of night and delivering it to you through your display window.

Very sincerely yours,
G.R. Richardson

2 July 1975

Dear Mr. Professor Richardson,

I in the mail your letter got.  I see you a problem with the ribbon are still having.  I try reverse several times-- for me, it work.  I am sorry I didn't get all taken care of.  I good service try to give.  When I fail, I money back send.  Here it is, my check inclosed.  I hope we still friends can be.  I am sorry nobody knows Gojmerac in State of Maine.  When you back, I fix.  Please don't to me do what you to Mr. Wright did.  I try and try again.  Hope in State of Maine your weather good.  Here you know is shitty.

Very Best Greetness!
Z. Groh