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Drying Out: It's 2010 & We Depend On Machines

By Tina Traster

January 14, 2010 -- I turned the dial to the left, and it sputtered — a faint “ca-ca-ca” noise. Like when you turn the key in a car ignition and the battery is dead.

Terror tore through my domestic bones. I glanced at the wet-laundry-stuffed washing machine and let out a blood-curdling “Nooooooo!” My husband, who’s usually Mr. Fix-It, was at a loss. He thought it might be the motor, but we couldn’t repair it ourselves. There was nothing to do except phone Sears on Monday and hang laundry all over the house on a cold Saturday night in winter.

We hung linens by the fireplace. We slung T-shirts across dining chairs and positioned them over air vents. I set up a drying station near a space heater, careful not to let clothing catch fire. I took a blow-dryer to towels.

“We bought this dryer less than two years ago,” I mused. “How could it break?” “It sucks,” my husband said. “And it’s not even under warranty anymore.”

Monday came, and the chirpy Sears representative couldn’t get us a service call for four days. I realized how much I had changed since I’d left Manhattan four years ago. For this suburbanite, four more days with no dryer just seemed inhumane.

I washed tiny loads, hanging clothing all over the house. When the subcontracted Sears technician finally arrived, I thought my troubles were over. I had no idea it would be 23 days before I would again hear the sweet hum of my dryer.

The technician unscrewed panels and stripped off pieces. “I believe the motor is gone,” he finally said.

My husband’s intuition was spot on. Having presumed it was the motor, he researched the replacement cost by model number online: $85. The technician said a new motor would cost $200. I argued about the price, but he stared at me blankly: “Ma’am, do you want to order the part or not?” I handed over my debit card.

It’s at moments like these when you wish you could get off the grid and release all consumer hankerings in an ashram. When my husband, daughter and I lived in an Upper West Side co-op, I looked out our window wistfully at laundry steam wafting up from the three-bedroom below. Forget two extra bedrooms — it was the washer/dryer I coveted.

Now I see how dependent a suburbanite can be on a machine.

“The part will be in 10 days,” the technician said. “Call Sears to make an appointment when you get the motor.” Dissatisfied, I called Whirlpool, which owns Maytag. And something very un-corporate-America happened. The man on the phone offered to send a replacement motor for free.

But then my slide toward insanity began. Trying to get the Sears subcontractor to return and to reimburse me for the $200 motor was proving to be impossible. Particularly on the Saturday when I waited all day and nobody showed.

I called Sears the following Monday. They agreed to send an “emergency” technician the next day. A jolly, 6-foot-5, red-haired guy showed up and dismantled the dryer. About 30 minutes later, he said, “OK, this should work now.” His hand turned the dial. Nothing happened. Again he moved the dial. Eerie silence, followed by a gathering sense of doom.

But I collected myself, leaned over at the machine and said, “You’ve got to move the dial to the left, not the right.”

When he did, the hum of my efficient life was back.

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