WE'RE LIVING IN MACHINE HELL at our house.
I noticed something was wrong shortly after Christmas when the children and grandchildren went back to New York and I was processing what eventually became 23 sequential loads of laundry.
Whenever I went into the laundry room to do a washer-dryer transfer I found the clothes floating in a dark sea. The “on” light was “off.” I dialed a spin cycle and turned the machine back on. As long as I did this two or three times for every load, I got the job done, and I didn’t have to bother the live-in handyman, who has become the shoemaker in the aphorism about the shoemaker’s children.
Then, on day last week, Mr. Handy did the laundry.
“The washing machine is broken,” he said. “Have you noticed?”
He found the manuals and the warranty information, and we tried to determine what year we bought the machine, a Maytag/Neptune stacked washer-dryer combo.
“It was the year I went to New Jersey for a graduation," John said, "and while I was gone, you got someone to gut the laundry room. You gave away the old washer and dryer.”
“They weren’t old.” (This is an effective tactic I use often: divert attention away from the big fault by exposing vulnerability in a little fault. It usually works.)
“Most of this stuff the warranty covers expires after five years.”
“Okay, 2010? We bought this long before then. That was the year I started working for the musuem, the year after you won the poker tournament and we went to Cyprus."
"Which of Mike’s kids graduated when we tore out the laundry room's closets? I think it was after David but not as recent as Josh. Matt’s graduation? And he just graduated from Rutgers? Or was that last year?”
“What about 2007?”
“I rented the office that year, and I think it was the year the creamery went bankrupt."
"We know it wasn’t 2002; that summer, we fixed up the yard from the cattle in the storm thing the winter before….”
“What about 2005? You wrote the book, we went to Mexico.”
“Wait! We bought the ironing basket in Morelia. It was because we had installed the built-in ironing board. It was 2005. Well done!”
“Ten years ago. Nothing is covered.”
John went upstairs, researched the parts, watched a video on YouTube, read several pages of caveats about Magtag Neptunes, returned to the laundry room and pulled the machine out from the wall and into the middle of the room.
Have you looked behind your washing machine lately? Believe me, it’s not dinner party conversation.
I swept the floor and John took the machine apart. A few hours after he fixed it, the fan on the furnace died.
Earlier in the month, all the knobs on our ix-year-old KitchenAid gas stove broke and fell off. One knob is less broken than the others. We rotate it around the burners as needed, which is every few minutes when we’re cooking for company.
I searched the knob's part number on the ‘net so we could replace them. Five knobs: nearly $300. For $300, we will rotate the survivor.
Meanwhile, random pieces of the 20-year-old refrigerator fell off, without warning. Fortunately, the result is only ugliness: whatever function these pieces were intended to perform doesn't seem to have any affect on keepig the food cold.The seven-year-old dishwasher complains a lot, but we’re ignoring it.
When I inherited the farm, all the appliances were at least 25 years old; at least one, the stove, was considerably older. It had all its original knobs. They were not made, as the KitchenAid ones are, of plastic and what looks like duck tape. Everything machine in that house, when I moved in, worked well. For about two months. And then, within days of each other, the washer, the dryer, the refrigerator, and the stove died. Sizzled and fizzled.
Ed Matthews, our local electrician, was philosophical about it.
“I’ve seen this happen before,” he told me. “Someone new in a house, and everything quits.”
I suggested that it could be related to an energy field. Since our bodies have an electrical system, and since the previous occupant of the house had been 92, maybe my energy field – I was 49 – was too hot for the old motors.
Ed shook his head and left the room.
Some items, of course, are perverse and never break. We’ve been waiting throughout our entire marriage for the huge Sony television set with the big rear-end to die so we can haul it to Eel River Disposal and get a flat screen with high-definition like everyone else. We don’t even remember who brought it into the marriage; neither of us can recall buying it. The possible provenance is a B-movie plot: the Sony is a relic from a previous living arrangement, or a spying device (“How does John get his bread crusts so perfect?! We have to know!”). Or, we’ve been chosen, like all those abductees in Eastern Oregon in the ‘50s, to show aliens how human live on Planet Earth.
The Sony tv is an exception. Large appliances are not built to last. We are. Medical technology is keeping us alive seemingly forever. At the current ratio of machine degradation to body enhancement, we can expect to ultimately own over a dozen washers and a dozen dryers and a dozen stoves and a dozen refrigerators before our own warranty expires.
We work to earn the money to buy the machines to do the other work so we can do all the things we want to do -- the fun stuff. Like whatever it was we did in 2007.