Usually I like August. It beats January. Actually, it beats any month that contains the words “a chance of snow.”
This August my 20-year- old washing machine, having overheard me discussing my despair at the high cost of sending a kid to college, decided it was time to go to the great appliance store in the sky. The only real surprise is that it lasted almost exactly twenty years – a new record for any mechanical device I’ve ever owned. Okay, my manual typewriter has lasted longer, assuming you never need to type the letter “e”.
I knew it was coming. Oh, the warning signs were clear, starting about a year ago when the washer tried to climb the basement stairs.
We were sitting in the living room, watching “Lost” with that slack-jawed “what the heck is happening?” look most “Lost” fans get (what an appropriate name for a TV show). Suddenly the washer went into spin cycle and we heard a banging that sounded exactly like a huge mechanical monster was trying to climb up the wooden basement stairs.
I turned to Jillian. “Have you let any homicidal robots into the house lately? Borg? Terminator? Cylons?”
“Does Nancy Pelosi count?” she asked.
“Yes, crazed cyborgs count.”
“Not that I recall.”
It turns out the washer was marching across the concrete floor of the basement, something that I assume it wasn’t designed to do. Maybe Skynet is using me to practice on, while it prepares to take over the world using teapots that think. Speaking of which, my teapot has been acting suspiciously of late. Possibly I’ve crossed my tea once too often.
As time went by the washer started getting steadier legs, and marching further across the room with each spin. At first I thought the only thing saving us was that it couldn’t climb the steps, like the old Daleks from “Doctor Who.” Then one day I heard it stop, and ventured downstairs to discover the washing machine had actually unplugged itself.
Talk about a clichéd science fiction ending.
Clearly it was only a matter of time before the washer shook itself apart, and that’s exactly what happened. Its death helped me sleep better – the only way that thing could have been scarier would be if we’d painted a clown face on it. However, there was still the matter of washing our clothes.
I tried hanging them outside, dousing them with soap, and waiting for a rainstorm. It didn’t work nearly as well as you’d think.
I tried hanging them from my car’s spoiler and driving real fast through puddles. Counter productive.
I tried breaking into the homes of other people and using their washers, but they kept breaking. The washers, not the people.
I tried washing them in the stream behind my house, but there is no stream behind my house.
Apparently I griped about this problem a little. Okay, I griped about this problem a lot, because one day my daughter’s boyfriend showed up and went straight down to the basement. My basement’s a scary place – that’s where the inflatable Santa lives, after all – but Vinnie fearlessly tackled the chore of fixing my washing machine.
I peeked downstairs to discover a mechanical house of horrors – he’d gutted the machine, peeling back its metal hide and throwing parts across the room. Freddie Krueger never did a better job on sexually active teenagers.
An hour later he sent my daughters out for a copy of Peddler’s Post, a magazine that basically acts as a regional garage sale for people to sell their junk – um, stuff. He made one phone call – one – then jumped up and said, “Let’s go.”
Sure enough, there it was, on the front porch of a home in the middle of Nowhere, Indiana – a mid 70’s era Maytag washing machine, which needed nothing more than a new belt. They built them solid, back then. They built them heavy, back then. It was approximately 56.7 times heavier than my old washing machine (which was actually ten or fifteen years newer than my new one. Jeez, it’s like trying to follow “Lost” all over again.) The hardest part of the whole day was hauling that gargantuan hunk of metal into the house and down the stairs. If that one ever dies, it’s staying there.
There was one scary moment when it wouldn’t start, but Vinnie reached in and made a tiny adjustment to the button that keeps it from spinning when the lid is open – and, for twenty-five bucks and change, I have a working washing machine again.
Look, I have talents. Really, I do. But I’ll never understand the talent of someone who can tear apart a machine and know what he’s looking at, and I’ll never understand the talent of someone who can track down another machine and actually tell whether it’s worth buying. I stand in awe. There’s no way I could afford a new washer, so Vinnie’s ingenuity in recycling a proud old workhorse has saved me from years of studying my neighbors’ schedules, picking locks, and doing laundry in the dark.
I walked away from the experience knowing that the rest of August would go better.
Three days later a bad head cold laid me out, and the weekend after that I was crippled by screaming back pain. What else would you expect, with the August I had?
But at least my clothes were clean.