Monday, July 18, 2011


UIIt all started because my little house doesn't have window screens.

Here in this tropical climate there are many bugs and many of those get into the house because there are no screens.  As a result, remains of dead bugs in spider webs have been accumulating in the corners of all the rooms and windows.  Not a pretty sight.

Lacking a full-size vacuum cleaner, I decided some time ago to attack the problem by buying a battery-operated hand-held vacuum cleaner.  This was easier said than done.  After looking in several Big-Box-Equivalent stores, I finally found one last Dustbuster® in a large hardware store and bought it.

One must understand that the custom of selling large and small appliances here is to sell the floor model, and then have several employees of the store re-pack the floor model into the original carton.  I'm not sure why this is.  Perhaps it allows the stores to keep less inventory.  In any case, Panama seems to be a "What you see is what you get" place to buy appliances.  And the buyer must beware, in case a previous customer has returned a defective item which the retailer has put back onto the shelf for re-sale.

Not that I'm into buying a lot of things.  But I decided to make an exception and get that Dustbuster because all those dead bugs were giving me the creeps.

After getting home with the Dustbuster, it became apparent that this particular unit had been returned.  The box had been sloppily sealed with packing tape.  I hoped that all the parts were there.

But no.

After charging the battery, I tried the Dustbuster on some especially bad dead bugs, and noticed that the bits of insect debris were ejected directly into my face through the housing of the motor.


So I went on-line to the Black & Decker website and after much searching found this model, which was sold only in Latin America.  That should have told me something.

I then found an expanded parts diagram and determined that the filter was missing:

The construction of the filter was not apparent in this simple line drawing.  Here is a close-up:

Hmm, still not very informative.  So I ordered one on-line, hopeful that my problem would soon be solved.

That was about two months ago.

It turns out that the part was back-ordered from China (as in slow-boat-from).  Finally about a month ago I received an e-mail that the part had been shipped.

Nothing arrived in my Mailboxes Etc mailbox.

After what seemed like an interminably long wait, I inquired at Mailboxes Etc and asked them to trace the order.  It turns out that the shipper had failed to put my unique MBE box number on the shipping label, even though I had clearly put it as part of the shipping address, and the package was stuck in the mail forwarding depot in Miami.

That taken care of, the package finally arrived and I picked it up today, flushed with excitement that I would finally get to use my Dustbuster and be rid of all those ugly dead bugs in the corners of my house.

But, alas, it was not to be.  They shipped the wrong part.

Instead of a simple foam filter, I got a large heavy metal piece with a clamp that weighed more than the Dustbuster itself.  I dread what the MBE fee will be on this one.  And the Dustbuster was still useless.

Total cost so far (not counting the cost of the Dustbuster):  $3.50 for the part, $12.50 for Black & Decker postage, and probably $20 for MBE postage.

I was not going to take this lying down.  I debated whether or not to re-order the part, but figured there would be a sizable chance of the wrong part arriving again.  So in a fit of common sense, I decided to take matters into my own hands and go to the nearest hardware store.  Armed with my Google Translate machine translation print-out, I said to the clerk that I needed flexible foam.

He showed me a can of aerosol foam insulator:

Not what I needed

I drew a little diagram of a rectangle with many holes in it.  He showed a glimmer of recognition and quickly retrieved a piece of flexible foam from across the room:

Now we're talking.
Cost:  $1.00.
Then I referred to the Google Translate print-out and said I needed a utility knife to cut the foam.  He produced several models for me to choose from, and I selected the least expensive:

This is the actual kind of knife I bought - not that it matters,
but I wanted a little visual variety in this otherwise boring blog.
Cost:  $.90.

I got home with the foam and the knife, drew an outline of the opening in the Dustbuster on the foam with a marker, and cut out the opening with the new knife.  Then I used the knife to slice the foam into several thinner sections.  I figure there is enough foam to make a lifetime of filters.

And now the Dustbuster works great.

There are several lessons to be learned from this little exercise.  Mainly, one should rely on ingenuity to get by in the first place.  This is true in Panamรก, but also anywhere in the world.

This was an expensive lesson for me.  I hope you can profit from it.  And now I will enjoy my mostly bug-free house.


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