Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Sick Washing Machine

As some close friends know, recently I’ve experienced difficulty focusing on my usual writing/research. I’m enduring a horrible bout of malaise, where anything will distract me from tasks I should be doing. Sometimes this involves staring at the screen blankly when I could be doing something else productively away from my desk. Sometimes this results in running excess errands. And so on. I hope writing the following silly story pushes me out of my compositional funk.

The inspiration: Sunday morning, the washing machine at my apartment building broke down . It’s an aging beast, and it has had recurring drainage problems during the final rinse cycle. When I opened the lid to move my dark clothes into the dryer, a third of the washer was still filled with water. Cue several minutes of wringing out t-shirts, underwear, and socks, followed by two full drying cycles. Irritated, and realizing this could provide another trigger to dodge writing, I posted the following note to friends on Facebook: 
I will not let a malfunctioning washing machine distract me from trying to break my writing/research malaise. I will not let a malfunctioning washing machine distract me from trying to break my writing/research malaise. I will not...
A friend offered the following suggestion:

Write a story about a washing machine that gets sick?

This won’t go down in history as literary genius, but it accomplished its goal of lifting me out of my writing funk. The following, with light editing, tumbled out of my head. It may or may not make any sense. End disclaimers.


“Christ, constipation again?”

The repairman sighed. It was the fifth time he’d visited the patient in the past month. For years, the glistening white washing machine had faithfully served several generations of tenants. Its owners had dutifully maintained the shine it had when it left the showroom floor. While all looked well on the outside, inside age was creeping up on it. A slower gear here, a touch of rust there.

Lately, the washer had drainage issues. Users discovered their clothes doing backstrokes in a pool of water. Despite increasing evidence the machine was ready for retirement, building management was determined to extend its lifespan. But by this point, both the super and the repairman were pleading to euthanize it.

One tenant was so annoyed by the parade of “out of service” signs that he bought a washboard he saw in an antique store. As he washed his underwear the old fashioned way, visions of marketing washboards to hipsters and back-to-the-Earth types floated through his brain. Perhaps the washer’s technical difficulties offered a golden opportunity! “Washboard Sam’s 1893 Original Washeroo!” He made a few phone calls.

Another tenant resigned herself to trips to the laundromat. As the apartment building was one of the few in its neighbourhood, the nearest laundry involved at least two bus transfers. The front was easy to spot, thanks to a sign which screamed “FREE SOAP FOR AUGUST!” After loading a washer, she sat down and pulled out of her purse the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle she brought to kill time. 112 across stumped her: “Album with the 1978 hit ‘Deacon Blues.’” Nearby, a man waiting for his clothes to dry noticed her furrowed brow. He came over and asked which clue was frustrating her. She pointed to the across list. “Aja,” he replied. “Steely Dan. Heard that song way too many times on the classic rock station my parents liked.” He asked if he could offer any more help, with the disclaimer he hadn’t had time to do the puzzle this week. Gradually, the grid filled in. His clothes remained in the dryer long after it stopped whirring.

Back at the apartment building, the repairman sighed again. He dissembled the washer’s drum, trying to figure out alternative ways of fixing its drainage issues. He sensed he’d be back again before long. After restoring it to a functional state, he called the super. They outlined points that could sway management over to the possibility of bringing in a new washer, ranging from pricing units to making a case that a fresh washer would seal the deal with potential tenants. They would make their case tomorrow.

Left alone with an “OUT OF ORDER” sign taped to its lid, the washer contemplated its future. It hoped it would either be taken to a used appliance store to be overhauled, then bought by a family who really needed a washer. Or it hoped to be stripped of its best parts like humans who donate organs when they die. Anything but being taken to the dump. The dryer offered reassurance that the washer would avoid a horrible fate. “You’ve put in good time. You deserve a proper retirement or burial.”

Two days later, the super wheeled a dolly into the laundry room. The washer’s faithful service to the building was over.

On its way out, the washer noticed a new model being wheeled in. It decided to give the rookie some advice. “There are good people inside. Don’t be temperamental. Take care of them, and they will take care of you.” 

Crossword clue drawn from the August 17, 2014 edition of the New York Times. Thanks to Jennifer Radford for the story suggestion.