Friday, July 29, 2011

Still Life with Robin: Listen Up, You Miserable Appliances!

by Peggy Robin

You know how Wile E. Coyote can never win against any appliance, gadget or device he owns? My track record is a little better, but not a whole lot. Appliances don't usually blow up in my face, but they do work to defeat me in more insidious ways.

Take my coffee maker. (Please!) It's a single cup maker, and it has this nasty habit of sending the freshly brewed coffee down the spout before I have had a chance to set a cup underneath. It would be so easy for it to give me a hint, just some little reminder --a light-up icon of a coffee cup, perhaps-- to let me know I've forgotten to put my coffee cup at the base. But no! Coffee freely pours down like a waterfall, and no matter how fast I spring up, I can't get my cup there in time to prevent a Java spill. You'd think at the very least there would be a drain at the bottom, just in case. But better still would be a coffee maker that would not even start to brew unless it detected the weight of a coffee cup in receiving position.

Then there's my oven. It schemes against me while I'm away on vacation. Here's the usual scenario. Before leaving the house unattended for more than a day or two, I follow the manufacturer's safety tip and turn the oven to "off." Vacation over, I return home, and in the mood for a home-cooked meal after so many nights of eating out, I plan a dinner around a casserole that must bake for 45 minutes at 375 degrees.  First, I turn the oven dial to 375.  I assemble the casserole, pop it in the oven, and start preparing the side dishes and bread. I have everything timed so that just as the timer goes off to let me know the casserole should be golden brown on top, all the elements of the meal will be ready to serve. BING! goes the timer, and I open the oven door...and see a sickly white, cold, gluey assemblage of ingredients, exactly as it was when I put it in the oven 45 minutes ago. Because my oven is still in "off" mode, and it tricks me into thinking it's on by allowing me to move the temperature dial normally, just as it always does. What it needs is some sort of digital automated voice recording that would be triggered by movement of the temperature dial, to say: "Hey, I see you're trying to turn up the heat, but you forgot that you turned me off!" Okay, maybe that's too elaborate. Then how about some kind of mechanical switch that stops movement of the temperature dial unless the whole oven is turned on? I bet there's a $2 part that could do just that.

My washing machine is not quite as sneaky as my oven, but it does have this one little annoying trick: It hides a single washed item from view. Let's say I spill some coffee on my shirt. (You already know how that happens.) To avoid letting the stain set, I may run down to the laundry in the basement and toss that one T-shirt into the washer. Then, hours or days later, whenever I next go down to the laundry to do a full load, I open the washer and it appears to be empty. The single washed item is actually plastered against the side wall of the washing machine tub, and if it's stuck on the side closest to me, it's completely out of my line of sight. So naturally, I start to fill the machine with water, add detergent, and add the dirty clothes. Just as the water reaches the bottom of the washed shirt, it peels away from the side and falls into the water. So it gets washed twice. That's no big deal, I know. It's just that I don't like being outwitted by the same appliance, in the same way, multiple times. I want the washer to tell me it's not empty before I start a new cycle. But it doesn't want to tell me anything it doesn't have to. I get better communication from my teenager.

Occasionally, I decide to take action against one of these treacherous devices. I reached that point with my coffee grinder, when for the umpteenth time, it turned on me and viciously attacked. It would erupt, catastrophically, whenever I pressed the on switch without first securing the top over the grinding mechanism in precisely the way that it wanted. It would be such a simple thing (I would have thought) to design a grinder that simply won't turn on unless the cover is on tight. But grind it would, and without the cover, the coffee grounds, I can tell you, are flung around the whole kitchen with such velocity that months later I'm still finding dark flecks of ground coffee in the small cracks and undusted crevices of the far recesses of the room. So here's what I did: I just got rid of the thing. I gave it away and stopped drinking coffee made from freshly ground beans. It was worth it, never to have that volcanic thing spew at me again.

Of course, I still must have my coffee in the morning, so I switched to a different coffee-making system: The Keurig single cup coffee maker.You just pop in a single-serving of grounds in a little plastic container. The precise amount of water is pre-set to flow through the grounds and flow out the spout, perfectly brewed. Now all I have to remember is to put the cup down on the base before I hit the "brew" button. (And now I'm back to where I started, above.)

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