Our dishwashing machine died suddenly at about 6:15 p.m. Feb. 7, 2016. My wife turned the dial to the “on” position and — silence — nothing. We suspected bad news, and it was.
The repairman arrived the next day. My dearest and I stood by like anxious parents, hoping the problem might be minor, a small part needed, not very expensive. The fellow turned the dial a few times, looked inside at the mechanisms, gave a grave nod and broke the news: It’s not fixable. We had just lost an old friend.
It turns out the fatal fault was the timer, which starts each next phase of the washing cycle. A simple little gadget, probably costing just a few dollars when the machine was made. Not available from the manufacturer for at least 15 years. An Internet search for spare parts from various dealerships followed. No luck. For our old friend weighing somewhere north of 50 pounds of steel, aluminum, a finely crafted dish compartment and a perfectly fine electric motor, it was the end.
So off we went to look for a replacement. Odd thing, all those machines didn’t approach the attractiveness of our late friend. To us they were ugly, and they were certainly expensive, even lined up as they were for Presidents’ Day sales — 20 percent off!
Funny how one can get attached to a machine, especially one that has for years eliminated hours of daily drudgery. In our modern era many such machines have spared humankind time to read, write poetry, paint beautiful pictures, create music. It’s no accident that great civilizations of the past — think of Egypt, Greece and Rome — produced famous art and architecture. Roman patricians didn’t wash dishes. Their slaves did. Now, thank goodness, machines do the work the poor captives from conquered nations once did. Machines make good slaves; human beings must not, as our country has learned at great expense.
The higher civilizations of antiquity often treated their slaves quite reasonably, however. A slave well cared for did better work, didn’t get sick as often and was less apt to run away. Plato, as I recall, had decent things to say about those unfortunates. Would that we treat our modern labor-savers with such respect?
But, no, our old friend is destined to a landfill. Junk. A stinging indictment of our throwaway society. Just think of the energy consumed in destroying our good servant and manufacturing its replacement. And what about our neighbors who will grouse over yet another landfill in their backyards? Our grandparents would say back in the days of the Great Depression, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.” We’ve come a long way, baby.
At what point does a mechanical servant become a monster? Let’s make a distinction between friendly machines, servants of mankind and those with destructive potential, lest you think this a paean to every kind of machine. The other day friends and we entered a restaurant around the noon hour. Strangely silent it was, save for the occasional beeping sound. The patrons were all hunched over their smartphones, index fingers busily tapping and scrolling away at little images. Nobody talking, nobody even eating. How long before we all lose the art of conversation, perhaps even starve to death for inattention to our food? As Emerson once suggested, things can get in the saddle and ride mankind.
So here’s to our late friend. A good machine. No threat there. Perhaps some day our countrymen who are so anxious and worried about the future of our planet will tone down their obsession with unreliable, expensive and heavily subsidized “alternative energy” and focus more on simple conservation measures, such as spare parts for useful household appliances and labor-saving devices.
Farewell, rest in peace, old KitchenAid, we shall miss you.
Alan Boone is a retired physician living in Bangor.