Maytag Man

Obsession is nothing to sneeze at. Sneeze, wipe your forehead on your sleeve three times, clear your throat, then blow your nose twice from each nostril, one nostril at a time, starting from right to left, sure. But not just sneeze. Thus explains my relationship with household appliances. I fetishize them. I alone (of course) know the right way and wrong way to use them, and feel free to let others know when they’re going wrong. Because wrong use of an appliance would be personally insulting to the appliance. Which I’ve probably named.

This might make sense if you know I grew up in a poor, inner-city household, barely with access to a working washing machine or dryer. The idea of a dishwasher, garbage disposal, or consistently working vacuum cleaner? Oh, to have lived that kind of high life in my youth!

When I moved into Marina City in 2005, it took a day to realize I had a garbage disposal, much less a working one. Sure, it was an ancient, handle-in-the-drain model that needed said handle jiggled in order to work. But me and Max had five good years together before I said goodbye to the corncobs. I never got over the grief of finding him stuffed with rotting food and a rusting knife the day I moved in. I felt it was well-earned therapy for me to lovingly clean him out every month with lemon wedges and slightly crushed ice cubes. I often mused I could hear little, rumbly thank-yous as the citrus slurry swirled ’round and ’round.

When he moved into his new South Loop apartment, Overly Frank gained his first Chicago dishwasher, as well as a carpet that Ryza the Toothless Wonder Cat enjoyed using as a textile litter box. So pretty quickly, along came his first carpet scrubber and Roomba. Or as I named them in a brief catpparot ceremony involving waving Ryza above my head three times, Esmeralda, Madge, and Floyd.

Esmeralda is old enough for me upon meeting her to think she’d never get a dish clean, yet does a surprisingly good job. (Don’t tell her I called her old, it would kill her to know I ever harbored doubt in my heart about her sudsy prowess.) Madge is kind of fickle. Sometimes she picks up schmutz like a trooper. Other times, she just phones in her scrubbing services and you have to run her a second time. In truth, her high-maintenance reminds me of me. Sometimes we sit at the end of a long day of cat-sitting, me beer in hand, Madge with hopper full of carpet sludge, and reminisce about the good old days.

Floyd needs help. Frank and I aren’t sure what the problem is, but it frequently involves rolling into walls, spinning in circles, and getting his brushes clogged shut. I really think he does it on purpose. Almost like a cry for attention. We tried once having Ryza make friends with him, but every time he started rolling around the apartment to vacuum, she’d fall off and walk away angry. And that invariable would lead to a reason to run Madge again, so really, no one ended up happy after that idea.

In my current roommate share, though, I’ve had a hard time naming the stainless-steel dishwasher. It’s not so much she¬† doesn’t deserve one. (As is common knowledge, all dishwashers are female.) It’s more the way farmers don’t name the animals they’ll later have to slaughter and eat. If you saw the way my roommates fill the poor thing, you’d understand. Once I found a right-side-up glass sitting, filled with water, in the upper tray, and often the middle arm doesn’t get a chance to turn because of one two many oversize baking sheets. Some nights, it’s all I can do to put my fingers in my ear to I don’t have to hear her desperate, inner clunk, clunk, clunk as her poor arm keeps smashing into unyielding, angry aluminum. So, really, I don’t think she has long for this world.

Soon, I’ll probably be moving to my own place in Edgewater. I doubt I’ll have a dishwasher or garbage disposal in the modest apartment I’ll be able to afford. I may have to buy something mechanical, just to name it. I’ve been thinking of keeping a kosher kitchen at the new place. Perhaps I’ll bring home a blow-torch to call my very own. While I’m down on my knees, burning off the little bits of leftover impermissible foods stuck to my oven walls, I’m sure little Johnny Storm and I will have ample time to bond.

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