That darn 3 percent

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Sue Ellen Ross – The Southern Yankee

While taking some engineering courses at Purdue University many years ago, I came across a piece of information that has had a profound bearing on my life.

Plant Production & Layout was the topic in one particular required class. This was back in the day when I had aspirations of an engineering career (until I realized that mathematical formulas and my temperament did not mix.)

The professor was discussing manufacturing policies and procedures and I was beginning to fall asleep. Until I heard the word ‘defect.’

“During any particular turn of manufacturing, you will encounter a defect rate,” he said. “From thumb tacks to automobiles, this usually amounts to at least 3 percent, if not more.” That’s the nature of the production world, he added.

And also the nature of life, I found out.

Now we all know that nothing is perfect all the time, and that out of a batch of 100 hair dryers, there may be one with a malfunctioning cord. But we never think we will be the one to get the lemon.

As the saying goes, ‘when life hands you lemons, make lemonade.’

I’m sure everyone has stories of bad things happening to good people in a short amount of time. Such was the case with one of my neighbors. He had bought so many blemished items in the course of one year that he was making lemonade all the time.

A lawnmower with uneven blades, a dishwasher that flooded the kitchen each time it was turned on, and a child’s bicycle that had a cock-eyed steering column were only his first month’s supply of lemons. The rest of the year garnered at least a half dozen more big-ticket items that did not perform like they were supposed to.

I know his pain.

Although I my luck wasn’t quite as bad as his, there was one month in my life that tested my patience to the most extreme level.

After purchasing my very first new clothes washer and dryer combo, I was smug in the knowledge that this brand was the best in the world. After all, they even made a commercial about their lonely repair guy because the appliances never broke.

Yes they do. And some of them before their two-month birthday. Both the washer and the dryer.

That same week, we had purchased a van since our family was outgrowing the small car we owned. I won’t bore everyone with the long and involved details, but the bottom line was that this purchase ended up costing more in frustration and anger than any high-rate interest loan ever could.

The van visited the dealer four times, they wouldn’t replace it (this was before the Lemon Law was enacted) and we had to trade it in and go through all the paperwork of buying a new car over again.

I guess bad luck does come in three’s, like the old saying. I thought of this as I received my third lemon of the month.

This third sour fruit came in the form of a piece of furniture.

I had saved for many months to purchase a wooden curio cabinet, complete with mirror back. When it was delivered (three different times,) I learned my last lesson in the fine art of patience.

The first cabinet wasn’t stained correctly, it was actually three different colors of brown.

The second cabinet had a wavy, very visible, defective mirror.

The third cabinet would not stand straight, no matter what I did. The delivery men and I finally gave up and folded cardboard to slide under so it would not be leaning toward the floor.

I no longer worry about defective merchandise.

I know it is still out there, but so is the other 97 percent.

SUE ELLEN ROSS is a reporter for L’Observateur. She may be reached at (985 652-2545)