Just as some grandparents of our acquaintance have developed a toxic relationship with their iPhone or laptop — wasting many daylight hours having crotchety conversations with tech support and stabbing at buttons angrily with their pointer finger — I have an unhealthy relationship with large home appliances.
For example: air-conditioners. I’m among that faintly ridiculous cohort of snobs who believe it’s some sort of virtue to eschew them. Around 1960-whatever, when other families got big box appliances for the windows and settled happily into a modern routine of sleeping at night and wearing clothes indoors, some antecedent of mine laughed haughtily and said, “Nonsense! Screen doors will do for us!” Air-conditioning was for people who watched televisions during dinner.
Everyone sulks around this old house covered in a layer of sweat, day and night; all surfaces are sticky. My forearms go “thwack” when I lift them from the marble kitchen-tabletop as I type.
The heat and humidity combine to coax old smells from the boards and plaster. A pincushion souvenir of Maine circa 1990 emits, once again, the summer-camp aroma of balsam. In the upstairs hall, a trace of mothballs (left in a cabinet filled with photographs circa 1949) seeps out from under the door of the “store room.” There is a faint echo of wood polish in the living room, dating back to the days when a housekeeper rubbed furniture with lemon oil several times a week. In one closet, I swear, the last week of July has released a ghostly hint of an earthy floral perfume — is it lily? — that smells slightly like B.O. My own closet has a strange aroma that’s almost like something burning, lamb left on the grill, although I fear it might also be suggestive of the era, decades ago, when barn rats quite commonly built nests in many of the nicest interiors of East Hampton Village. These fragrances are like ghosts in the house, like the waft of orange-citrus some migraine sufferers — and clairvoyants — are said to notice just before an attack.
My children consider me a most insufferable Luddite: I really do believe that “they don’t build it like they used to.” I regularly wield kitchen tools of the sort you see in Facebook memes under a heading like, “If you know what this crazy device is, congratulations, you are over the hill!” I frequently find occasion to use implements that someone else might hang on a wall as vintage décor: a nutmeg grater, a potato ricer, a pair of old egg beaters with wood handles, ancient cookie cutters that are probably soldered with poisonous lead. . . . I don’t even keep any cordless phones in the house: The solid, heavy, pre-1980s kind with a handset and curly cord never break.
My anti-air-conditioner policy is a bit idiotic, I must admit. Between the heat wave, the state of the nation, and my extracurricular activities as a member of the East Hampton Village Ambulance Association, I feel like I haven’t slept since June. But it’s not just air-conditioners that I don’t get along with. I have issues with major kitchen appliances.
Have any of you had the dim suspicion lately that this annus horribilis, 2020, is some sort of manifestation of your own, private, worst nightmares — like the best-selling self-help book “The Secret,” only instead of manifesting dream boyfriends and scratch-off wins you’re manifesting every public catastrophe you ever worried about? (No?) All’s wrong in the world, and so I’m focusing my inner panic on our dishwasher. I’ve been in a terrible swivet — my Aunt Mary’s word, so old-fashioned I’ve never been able to even find it in a dictionary — about my new Kitchen Aide ProWash. I am irrationally upset about it.
Not to bore you, but we had a decent, basic Whirlpool, around 25 years old, which worked kind of fine until the lights started dancing on the control panel two weeks ago. I made a fateful call to P.C. Richard and Sons. The polite but beleaguered delivery men, who dripped with perspiration as they rolled on the floor to screw the new Kitchen Aide into place, wrapped up the installation around 8:30 this past Saturday evening, after which I immediately left the house on an ambulance call. When I got home from Stony Brook around 1 in the morning, cross-eyed from tiredness, I walked into the kitchen for a glass of water and only then noticed dents in the shining white gloss of my not-yet-used dishwasher. It looked like someone had tried to open it with a butter knife with the left hand while kicking it with the right foot. I hadn’t kicked it. Who had kicked it?
On Sunday afternoon, deciding to ignore the dents — I didn’t have the energy to call the store back and complain, much less wait around another week for it to be replaced — I filled up the stupid, newfangled thing and ran a wash cycle, but when I opened it, found dirty dishwater pooled in the bottom basin. I shut the door again, passed my hands over the vexing dents . . . and the lights on the control panel began to dance. I wanted to kick it.
We find our own meanings in such humdrum inconveniences. See? I say to the kids, pointing to the faulty appliance as if there were some sort of lesson in this: We should have just repaired the old Whirlpool. As we go to press, there is a pile of dishes in the sink. I’m too sleepy to have even a sip of the Grapefruit Nirvana cocktail I ordered as a treat with our Bostwick’s Chowder House takeout supper (takeout because I’m too hot and tired to cook in the infernal kitchen, much less wash up afterward). And the dog — our sly Sweetpea, who is slightly hard of hearing and prone to biting if you wake her — is slumbering like a naughty baby in the only spot on my bed that catches the breeze from the Vornado fan.