October 15, 2019

Revenge of the Dishwasher

Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.

From what I've tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice,

I think I know enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice.

                          — Robert Frost

My world — aka the house I live in — is under attack by configurations of ice (pools of water) and fire (hellish, heat-blasting fans to dry up those pools). And I don't know which is worse.

It all started, innocently enough, with a glitch in an every-day appliance: my dishwasher. Maybe I've been watching too many reruns of Futurama, or my newest favorite robotics sci-fi drama, Extant. But I'm beginning to believe the machines we live with have feelings. Sensitive, ornery, touchy feelings. And if you — their master and protector —suddenly act like you no longer care for them or are unwilling to indulge their every quirk, they WILL exact revenge.

Take the case of my dishwasher. After twelve years of uncomplaining, unobtrusive service, she had a small tantrum (leaking water for no discernible reason) a few months ago. Luckily, I was still in the kitchen at the time the machine began tearing up. So I was able to catch her first gushing sobs and shut her down before the cycle of waterworks had fully begun. (And please don't get on my case for referring to the dishwasher as a “she.” She's been acting like a spoiled bitch. It takes one to know one.)

The next morning, I called the appliance doctor/dishwasher repairman who, unlike his MD counterpart, makes house calls and arrived on time the same day. He gently poked among her insides, considered all possible ailments, large and small, before concluding that everything was in working order except for a few scrapes in the black rubbery seal surrounding her door (which looked like a ring of eyeliner). Apparently this thin-and-sensitive lid area had been gouged by careless humans whilst loading and unloading knives, forks and sundry sharp-edged cutlery.

We'd scraped her door seal, so now she leaked. I could barely see any damage, but this was his professional diagnosis. He would need to order a new strip of rubber. When it arrived, he'd return to contour it properly around the door. And all our problems would be solved.

Of course, this thin piece of rubber cost a hundred dollars, as did the installation surgery. Without consulting me first, the repairman also added a new metal latch on top that had “come free” with the rubber seal (likely to justify charging such an insane price for a thin strip of rubber). Then he made of point of showing me how I'd need to push, really push, hard with both hands, to close the washer now … whereas earlier the door had only required a gentle nudge. “The older, more delicate latches often break,” he explained. “I'm surprised yours lasted as long as it did. But this is the improved, stronger-closing lock used on all the latest Sears models.” He rubbed his shoulder. “Better push it two-handed,” he said, “if you don't want to end up with an upper arm sprain like me.”

He ran the washer, she performed without any leaks, and he was gone. But I still didn't trust this machine. For one, I didn't believe a few scrapes in the seal could have caused all that water to come pouring out so quickly. There must have been something else going on. So night after night, for several months, after the dishes had been loaded, the powder cups filled, and the door two-hand slammed shut, either my husband or myself would stand (well, we'd sit) sentry duty in the kitchen for at least half an hour — just in case.

And everything was fine until, suddenly, it wasn't — several nights ago. The one time I took the fussy lady for granted … and forgot to keep watch. It was late and I was overtired and distracted. I'd had a really rough day dealing with the complaints of other, larger, Leaf-family machines. Namely, my two cars.

These vehicles are old, but then so are we. And I despise learning to use new technology — be it for cellphones, computers, or automobiles. I just want all my devices and machines, large and small, to continue to do what they were designed to do without endless upgrade aggravations. I don't need (or want) flashy new systems that take too long to learn and then become just one more part waiting to cause trouble and break down.

Our little red car, a 2001 Kia Reo, is the spare, and so not driven all that often. My auto mechanic informed me that she does need to be taken out regularly (like a dog) for a decent-length drive, preferably once a week. But there were times when it just rained too much (her chassis is real low, and we have many flood-prone streets), so that didn't always happen. And, I'll admit, she wasn't a priority on my “To Do” list. So I sometimes, conveniently, forgot. The little car, however, did not. She responded to my perceived neglect within only a few days of her “need-to-drive” date by shutting down completely, content to feign eternal sleep on the swale in front of my house.

Meanwhile, my other family car, our trusted gold 2002 Suzuki XL7 van, decided it was time to act up as well (in sympathy with her little sister perhaps?). While cruising along the highway, for no reason I could tell, she suddenly began running rough and then the “service engine” light came on. And we were off again to visit the mechanic.

Too bad he couldn't give my husband a tune up, as well. For my husband had picked this time to develop yet another mystery ailment to add to his litany of unresolved medical issues. How long should one wait, exactly, for a case of food poisoning to run its natural course? Two months? — as that was the earliest appointment time available with his GP. Or maybe a full three months — when he could be fitted in with a gastro specialist. We gave in to toilet pressure after two weeks and headed, yet again, to our closest Urgent Care Clinic where a physician's aid quickly wrote a prescription for lab tests and prescribed a probiotic-laced yogurt diet.

This is all background so you'll understand why my mind was preoccupied with both mechanical and biological breakdowns on the fateful night of my dishwasher's insurrection. But nothing came close to the spine-chilling terror of coming face-to-face with a giant cockroach. No ordinary insect, this was the famed Florida palmetto. Imagine a cockroach on steroids, a roach Hulk!

I'd opened the under-sink cabinet door to take out the night's garbage, only to find the gross creature staring defiantly at me from atop the flip-lid of the garbage pail. “Roach!” I shrieked, to which my husband responded, on cue, asking if I needed him. (Yeah, like many a “man in the house,” he's the designated bug killer.) But the roach spray was right in front of me on the kitchen counter and I didn't want the monster to escape, so I said I'd take care of it and proceeded to aim and fire.

At first the bug hardly blinked. Then it nonchalantly backed away into the dark recesses under my sink and not, as I would have preferred, flipping into the garbage. But at least it was gone … and hopefully not living on to terrorize another day. I held my nose as I pulled out the plastic garbage bag, still wet with icky bug spray (as were my spare napkin packages and other lower cabinet items which now required a thorough wipe down). When all this was done and the garbage disposed of, I washed my hands well and, still holding my nose from the smell, quickly put detergent into the dishwasher, slammed it shut, and vacated that bug-spray-smelling room as fast as I could. It was almost midnight. Time for bed.

At 2 am, my husband shook me awake. “Sorry, but the kitchen's flooded,” he said. “I've tried to soak it up with the towels from the linen closet, but everything's still wet. Perhaps you have a better idea.”

I ran to the kitchen to find the floor covered in a multi-colored soggy mess of bath and beach towels. And the dishwasher still seemed to be running … and seeping out even more water. So first I pushed its door in, yet again, with both hands. I hit the stop and cancel button. That seemed to do the trick. I found some more towels in the laundry basket in the garage and left them all on the floor to sop up as much moisture as possible. Feeling tired and overwhelmed, I returned to the bedroom to go back to sleep. At least that was the plan. I ended up tossing and turning and fretting all night.

When I got up early the next morning to assess the situation, planning to dump the soaked towels into my washing machine, I couldn't even get into the kitchen. The towels were swimming in lakes of water that had spread to form ancillary pools in the living room and also waterfalled two steps down into the garage. My steely-faced dishwasher glared at me like an out-of-control water demon intent on drowning everything in its path. She kept churning and spewing out more water by the minute.

This was war! Remembering a main shut-off valve at the side of the house, I twisted it to the “off” position with all my might. (Which apparently wasn't mighty enough. The flood control specialist who arrived a few hours later to stop and contain the damage claimed my dishwasher was still leaking water upon his arrival.) At least that's what I heard. I wasn't there myself, as my driving services were urgently needed that morning to deliver specimens of my husband's bodily emissions to the lab. As they say, “When it rains, it pours.” (Though this saying fit my circumstances far too literally for comfort.)

Illness and all, my husband, as usual, remained calm and competent in the face of a true emergency. He also knew it was better to send me off on this necessary errand than remain tearing my hair out at home. At least I'd had the foresight to lock my cat, along with her food, water and litterbox, into my absent, grown daughter's dry and out-of-harm's-way bedroom. (The instinct to protect children and animals runs deep.)

And my husband came through with flying colors. He finally paid seven dollars (which for him is a big deal) to sign up with Angie's List and called the 24-hour emergency number of their top flood-control recommendation: AZ Restoration — pros at battling water, mold, fire and smoke. We definitely required the first two of their services and were glad to discover they also handled new flooring and other construction. It's amazing how much damage a few hours of deluge can do!

I returned home from my errand (and totally necessary coffee run) to find four trucks parked in front of our house (leaving me to find a spot on the neighbor's swale) and a crew of six muscular men hauling out my living room furniture and tearing up all the sleek, pale, laminate flooring we'd so carefully chosen twelve years ago (how it seems like only yesterday).

The next day, they were hauling dozens of bottom-soaked boxes in my garage onto four, large, gleaming steel shelving-units. They needed everything off the floor so they could dispose of the soaked garage carpet as well. Despite the water damage, would you believe my garage had never looked so well-organized and neat? Not so the rest of the house — which more closely resembled the aftermath of a natural disaster.

My kitchen table was upended, along with the corresponding built-to-fit seating niche. These joined all manner of kitchenware unceremoniously dumped into piles in the somewhat dryer, Florida room. Whereas our entertainment unit (water damaged as well) and living-room bookcases were set out on the front patio. Inside, all remaining surfaces, including couches and chairs, were loaded down with cases and collections of CDs and pictures and who knows what.

(It's always shocking to discover how much stuff one manages to accumulate, even starting from zero, in 29 years. Except for a few suitcases, we really arrived with nothing when we first moved to Florida. We were planning to live aboard a sailboat, after all!  Another sad, long story, to be shared another day.)

I learned a few important things about construction that morning. Dirty little secrets contractors never tell you (until you find out the hard way, after it's too late). I learned that plywood was good, and pressed wood absolutely useless, when it comes to bouncing back from getting wet. So all my sleek, modern, pressed-wood kitchen cabinetry would have to go; while the custom-made plywood table and settee that matched that kitchen cabinetry would eventually dry and could be saved.

Things weren't looking good for most of my living room storage either. Rows of bookcases and shelving units composed of cheap laminates were separating and curling at the bottom. And there were so many of them. We are a family of writers and book readers … and incorrigible collectors of all sorts of archaic (i.e. printed) materials. But at least most of the books contained within those shelves — and even some of the overflow stacks — appeared safe for now. Even if the bookcases, themselves, would need to be replaced. (I don't even want to think about what it would take reshelve our entire home library!)

The more I looked around me, and the damage seeped into my brain, the more I froze, refusing to accept the inevitable. What a disaster had been wrought overnight — literally and figuratively — by the malfunction of one ornery appliance! It hardly mattered that, hopefully, eventually, our homeowner's insurance would be reimbursing us for much of the damage costs. At our age, at this time in our lives, we were just not into yet another major, live-in, house renovation. We'd been through these twice already and had sworn, each time, never again! We no longer cared if our decor wasn't particularly fashionable or impressive. We were comfortable with it and it fit our lifestyle, cat-scratched surfaces included. The last time I'd been thrust into the role of obsessive interior designer had been over a decade ago. The last thing I wanted was to revisit that crazed chapter of my life. But then here we were … we had no choice.

As if to confirm how awful the water damage was, the fans of hell were next set loose in our home. I couldn't even step foot into the kitchen or garage without being blasted by several of a dozen ear-splittingly loud, and scorching hot-air, drying fans and dehumidifiers. They made the 90-plus degree outdoor weather appear cool by comparison.

While our house was turned into an inferno for an extended three-day weekend, we were given a half-hour to pack up and escape to a hotel “because most people can't tolerate the noise.” But that just didn't work for us, at this time, so we found another way. The cat could stay safe in her little air-conditioned room, untouched by all the noise and hubbub beyond her door. My husband and I needed to remain close to home as well. We were scheduled to attend a play that Friday night, and he'd need to write the review, due Monday morning, in his office at his desktop computer. (Luckily, our back office had not been affected by the flood, and when running the window-unit air conditioner at full blast with the door shut, we barely heard the noise.) I was also happy to keep him company, at my own desk computer, working on my essays and blogs.

Our bedroom, where the flood hadn't reached either (being located at the back of the house and across from the office), contained its own dedicated ac unit that ran just loud enough to pretty much drown the outside racket. (I was so glad now we'd insisted on keeping these separate, old-fashioned units and hadn't succumbed to installing a quiet- running, house-wide cooling system that would never have enabled us to remain camped out in our own home.) This was no time for my husband to be on a mini-vacation — when what he really needed was to be in close proximity to a bathroom. Like the one connected to our bedroom and across the hall.

Then there were the seasonal factors of intolerable outdoor heat, humidity and daily threats of summer lightening storms. Not exactly a time for leisurely strolls downtown (where we might have enjoyed staying, otherwise) or even the beach. So we stayed put, marooned in the back of our house for the duration. The air didn't quite smell right, but it was still worth being able to go on with our lives as not-quite refugees. From Thursday night on, we'd rush past the living room's inferno as quickly as possible to reach our front door — and eat our meals out— just as we would have, had we stayed at a hotel. And, as instructed by the insurance company, we are saving all restaurant receipts.

On Monday morning, the deconstruction crew came to take away their myriad heat blasters and generators. But we still can't get to our couch … or even see or hear the TV that sits lost somewhere behind a labyrinth of relocated furniture. During the weekend, it would have been way too noisy and suffocatingly hot to spend any time at all in the living room. Now that the fans are gone and we await a visit by our insurance adjuster, couch and TV remain out of bounds. And you know what? At least for now, that's OK with me. I have access to more books than I could ever read in three lifetimes, and all the wonders of contemporary journalism and humor (fantastic to be reunited with you, John Oliver!) on the Internet.

As for my evil dishwasher? The pathetic rebel sits unarmed and awaiting disposal in the far corner of my outside patio. My sworn enemy. Abandoned now, but never forgotten.

This is what I learned, and would like to share, from my ordeal. First, a RED ALERT word of warning: Never trust appliances! Here's what the restoration crew thinks happened. My dishwasher's rinse pump, designed to pump water out in regularly timed cycles, turned itself on and just kept re-cycling, over and over again. Any emergency electrical shut-off either didn't work or was damaged by the deluge.

OR, in my humble and paranoid opinion, the appliance was simply out to get me. Perhaps she hadn't liked being probed and prodded a few months earlier by a fat-fingered repairman. Or she resented the fact that I'd carelessly scraped her eyelid whilst loading  sharp knives and forks, then neglected to pay her due homage for running smoothly. So she waited, quietly and patiently like a cat, for her one big chance. For the night when I was too distracted by a giant roach and too tired to keep her company in the kitchen. That's when she pounced. With churning, unstoppable fury, she took her final revenge.

I hope my two cars, parked in front of the house, see her now — unplugged, deserted and alone, awaiting the bulk pickup truck. I hope they take the lessons of her tragedy to heart, and decide to be satisfied with regular tune-ups and maintenance … and stop acting up. I can only pray her sad fate scares them straight … quenching any lingering thoughts of machine rebellion, once and for all.

© 2015 Mindy Leaf

Follow Mindy's essays of biting social commentary at: “>https://askmamaglass.wordpress.com