Dirty Laundry

My washing machine died.

Not all by itself, I must admit. It had help. It was merely sick for a long time before I finally called in a professional to euthanize it once and for all.

It started out a few weeks back when I began to hear a soft grinding noise, as if someone had lost a penny in the basin and it was rubbing against one of the machine’s moving parts. My first thought when I heard the noise was something had fallen out of my pants pocket during a wash and gotten lodged in a crack. However, after a detailed search of the wash tub, I found nothing obviously out of place that would account for the sounds.

More recently, the washing machine had started making a loud squeaking noise whenever I was washing my clothes, like a discomfited mouse objecting to unpleasant treatment.

As more time passed, the noise grew harsher and more urgent. Finally, during one shockingly abrasive wash cycle, the machine froze while still full of soapy water. Although I was able to get the tub to drain and restart the wash cycle, the writing was now clearly on the wall.

It was time to call for a professional.

Before I called anyone, however, I remembered that when I bought the washing machine it had a five-year warranty on parts and maintenance. Hoping that it was still within the warranty period, I dug through my drawer of loose appliance manuals and receipts (we all have one of these, don’t pretend you don’t) trying to find the exact date I had purchased this particular machine. To my surprise and delight, I actually found the receipt about two thirds down the pile, slipped in between a manual for our toaster oven and a pamphlet labeled, “Assembly Instructions for Your Dog Crate.”

In hindsight, I really should have read that last one more closely as I almost lost a finger the last time I collapsed and re-assembled the metal dog crate. But, maybe we’ll relive that story another time. Let’s stay focused on the washing machine for right now.

I read through the receipt and discovered that I had originally purchased the washing machine in October, 2013. I can see you all trying to count backwards in your minds, but let me save you the trouble. That was five years and three months ago.

Yup. Five-year warranty expired by barely three months, and the washing machine decided it was time to throw a bolt.

I don’t know why. Maybe the machine thought it was being funny. Or, maybe I yelled at the wrong phone solicitor and karma was coming back to bite me in the ass. Regardless of the reason, I was exactly three months on the wrong side of the warranty expiration.

But, warranty or not, I had a sick machine and I needed someone to come fix it.

The service/repair man that arrived at my door a few days after my reluctant call for help seemed very nice, even if he did appear to be no more than a year or two out of kindergarten. He was friendly, professional, and he assured me that based on my description of the noises my machine was making, he knew exactly what was wrong and how to fix it. Greatly relieved by his assurances, I showed him to his patient, and moved myself to the living room to allow him to work without interference.

As I sat on the couch, watching the television to keep myself occupied, I heard a banging noise coming from the laundry room. It wasn’t an intermittent “bang, bang,” then silence. It was rapid-fire, continuous, and relentless. I thought that I had gotten lost and stumbled into blacksmith’s shop while the proprietor was working on a particularly stubborn horseshoe. It was either that, or the repair guy had just gotten dumped by his girlfriend and he was taking out his frustrations on my washing machine.

The hammer on anvil sounds continued for almost twenty minutes before it finally stopped.

As the ringing in my ears gradually subsided, the service tech wandered down the hallway, out into the living room to find me. I was expecting him to tell me that he had found the problem and everything was fixed now, or at least to say he was sorry about the noise.

Instead he smiled at me, shook my hand, and said, “Yeah, you need a new washing machine. I left my bill on the counter. Have a nice day.”

I asked him if I could still use the old one until I had time to buy a replacement. He laughed and shook his head as he walked away, as if I had just told a remarkably funny joke. “Oh, God, no,” he said, still laughing. “That thing is dead.”

With no other recourse, I grabbed my car keys and headed out to find a new machine. I had two weeks worth of laundry piled up in my closet and I sure as hell wasn’t going to wash it by hand.

When I entered the appliance store, I pointed at the first machine I saw and asked, “How much?”

The eager saleslady on the floor beamed as she walked over to me. “Oh, that’s a very good model, sir,” she informed me. “It’s on sale right now for $999, and it has over two hundred settings just to wash your delicates. It’s also one of our best rated machines for durability.”

“Please stop there,” I told her, knowing in my gut what was coming.
But, she kept talking.

“It will last forever. And, the best part is…”

“Don’t say it,” I begged.

“… it comes with a five-year warranty.”

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A Quick Trip to Nowhere

I have heard it said that getting there is half the fun.  Well, what if you never get “there?”  What if “there” just doesn’t exist?  What if “getting” is the whole thing?  Do you miss half the fun?

What am I talking about?  I’m not totally certain myself at the moment.  So, let me back up and start at the beginning.  Recently, I boarded a cruise ship and took a voyage down the coast of Mexico.  While I had a very nice time, most of my vacation was spent travelling from one place to another without any real destination in mind.

The vacation started on a Thursday morning.  I got in my car and drove for two hours to San Jose where I caught a shuttle van that drove me for an additional hour to San Francisco.  In S.F., I boarded a massive cruise ship which carried me down the west coast of California and Mexico for four days.  On the fifth day, the ship stopped in Puerto Vallarta where I got into a taxi and drove around the city for a few hours before getting back on the boat.

The ship then made three more stops over the next three days.  I rode tour busses, taxis, and shuttle boats for a few hours each day, then re-boarded the ship before it left port at 5 PM every evening.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

So, is it really a vacation if you never actually get anywhere?  If you are constantly moving forward with no end point to the journey, is it really a journey, or is it just travel?  There was no set destination or arrival point on this trip, instead there was only a parade of vehicles moving me from one place to another.  Cars, cabs, boats, busses, and more walking than I care to remember, just to travel for ten days and end up exactly where I started:  My own front porch.

And let’s not forget the four thousand bucks I spent to do it.  It apparently costs a lot of money to go nowhere.

I enjoy travelling.  That’s why I agreed to the cruise in the first place.  And, frankly, I would happily do the whole thing over again.  During the trip, someone else did all the cooking, cleaning and bartending so all I had to do was eat and drink until I passed out, then sleep until I was rested enough to start eating again.  Who can complain about that?  Me and my three extra chins had a great time.

There was excitement on the trip as well.  For example, I really wasn’t sure if I was going to survive the taxi ride in Puerto Vallarta.  The driver kept talking to me over his shoulder while he drove along streets  of a city where car lanes were more suggestions than requirements.  He would veer from left to right, whipping past pedestrians and other vehicles at high speed while telling me in broken English that the house we just passed belonged to his cousin who owned the best bar in the city, and all I needed to do was say the word, and he would take me there for some tequila.

I passed on the offer.  Based on his driving, I figured he had already had enough to drink.

At one point, I heard a siren from somewhere nearby, and I started looking behind us for an emergency vehicle trying to pass the taxi.  I soon discovered I was looking in the wrong direction.  A moment later, I spotted an ambulance with its lights flashing and siren blaring, moving past my window in the lane right next to us. 

We were passing it. 

My taxi flew by the ambulance like it was a little old lady that got in our way while out for a Sunday drive.

I vowed then and there, that if I ever got badly injured or sick in Mexico, I would never call an ambulance.  I was going to get a cab.  It would probably save me ten minutes getting to the hospital.

The entire ride was a roller coaster of excitement, dread, and a growing queasiness in the pit of my stomach as I imagined the car I was in becoming part of a twenty-car pile up in the middle of a busy intersection.  In fact, the only time the driver slowed down and acted like a human being behind the wheel was for the thirty or so seconds it took for a police car to drive past us.  I don’t blame the guy for being cautious either.  Police cruisers are a little bit more intimidating in Mexico than in the U.S. 

(Don’t believe me?  Just take a peek at this week’s cover photo above.  I took the picture myself during my adventure.)

When we finally crossed the finish line of the imaginary race in my driver’s head, I stumbled out of the taxi and sat down on the curb until my heart rate returned to normal.  I told the driver he should put a video camera on his dashboard and record his trips through the city.  I imagined that many of his passengers would be willing to pay good money to get a copy to show their friends back home.  I know I would love to have video proof of the harrowing events I survived that day.

During the ride, I thought about using my phone to make a recording, but I realized that would require me to release my death grip on the car seat in front of me.  So, instead of video, all I have are a couple still photos, frequent night terrors and a pair of permanently stained underwear to remind me of my brush with mortality.

Getting back to my original point, I guess sometimes the journey, all by itself, is enough.  Or to be more specific, surviving the journey is enough. 

If there is only one thing readers remember from this week’s blog, I hope it is this: It’s hard to care too much about where you end up when you are just happy you arrived in one piece.

That, or maybe, if you are ever in Mexico and need an ambulance, flag down a taxi instead.

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The Gift That Won’t Stop Giving

Children give terrible gifts to their parents.  I have known this for some time, but the hypothesis seems to be constantly reinforced, especially around birthdays and holidays.

When kids are little, it really isn’t their fault.  They have limited financial resources, limited opportunities to shop, and – let’s face it – limited imagination.  When EM2 was six, she made me a tie out of paper and string for Father’s Day.  I thought it was cute and I would have had no problems with it except that she became extremely upset the next morning when I didn’t wear it to work.  To make up for my apparent error, the following day (feeling like an idiot but willing to do anything to make her happy) I hung that paper tie around my neck and got in the car to go to work.

Of course, I ditched the tie in the car and put on a real one before I walked into my office.  I am an idiot, but not a complete idiot.  And EM2 never knew the difference.  I just put it back on when I drove home, so she thought I had been wearing it the whole day. 

That paper tie was just a symptom of a much larger problem.  It was only a single float in an entire parade of crappy celebratory gift giving.  For a while, I confess I thought that it was just my kids that had a problem, but it was my own mother that finally clued me in.  She delightedly explained that it was payback for all the crappy gifts I had given to her and my dad when I was little.  She reminded me of the year I bought her a large bottle of very cheap perfume, and a pair of two-dollar, ladybug earrings for her birthday.  She had smiled when she opened the gifts and immediately put on the earrings.  I remembered that this made me feel like I had done a remarkable job of picking out the perfect gifts for her.

I hadn’t.  They were both crappy gifts.  My mom just didn’t want me to feel bad.  She was too nice of a person to tell me to my face: “These earrings are for a toddler and this perfume could strip paint off of the side of a barn.” 

Instead, she thanked me and said, “I hope your children are as thoughtful as you are when they give you presents.”  The old witch had cursed me, and I never even saw it coming.

The real problem with the terrible gift-giving, however, is that as children grow older, they never get any better at picking out things to give to their parents.  They never seem to reach an age where a light bulb turns on in their heads and they say, “Oh, I can’t give this to dad.  It’s a crappy gift.”

For Christmas last year, EM1 (who is about to turn 22 years old, by the way) bought me a pair of socks.  A pair of socks with images of chickens all over them.

A pair of women’s socks with chickens all over them.

Why women’s socks?  I wondered that, as well.  When I asked her, EM1 said it was because the men’s socks didn’t have chickens on them.  I suppose I can’t really argue with that logic, but I think it still supports my initial thesis. 

So, why do children of all ages insist on giving their parents garbage wrapped up in pretty bows?  I have a theory about that.  (Did you honestly think that I wouldn’t?)  I think it is because children do not actually see their parents as human beings.  Parents are not people, they are … well, … parents.  And parents aren’t like everybody else.

When we come home and see our parents – whether because we live there or are just visiting – mom and dad take care of us.  They ask us how we are doing, and offer us food, and offer to wash our clothes.  We are the center of their world, and the only things they care about are the things that their children need or want.  When we leave the house, they turn off like an ignored television set.  They just sit on the couch and don’t move until we come through the front the door the next time and reactivate them.

Admit it.  I’m not the only one that ever thought that.  Or perhaps more precisely, never thought much about what they actually do while you’re not there.

We can’t even imagine our parents having lives outside of ours.  And because we don’t think of parents as real people, we don’t know how to give them real gifts.

Nobody is going to buy a gift certificate to a tattoo parlor for their dad.  No one is planning to give their mother a riding crop and a pair of thigh-high, leather boots.  If you are now having a difficult time getting that image out of your head, that is exactly why we don’t do it.  Parents aren’t people.  We love them dearly, but they aren’t real people.

They aren’t allowed to go on vacations without us.  They aren’t supposed to leave the house unless it is to visit us or take us out somewhere.  They can’t have friends of their own (unless perhaps it is the parents of one of our friends).  And they are not permitted to have personal interests that do not at least indirectly relate to their children.

And they are never, ever, under any circumstances, permitted to even consider having anything remotely related to a sex life.  God forbid and perish the thought!

Parents are animated manikins, celibate, and waiting for their children to give them grandchildren.

This is why gifts from children will always be crap.  They will always be generic baubles, clothing, or plants, interspersed with pictures of us and hand-made trinkets designed to remind dear old mom and dad of the offspring they have brought into this world.  To give them anything else, would be to admit that they are human and have feelings.

That’s never going to happen.

So, if you are the parent of a child of any age, start staring in the mirror and practicing your most sincere smile, then repeat after me:

“Thank you, sweetheart.  It’s lovely.  It’s just what I wanted.”