The Washtub War – a shorty story by Robert M. Byrd, in two parts

I first read this piece on Bob Byrd’s blog site – – several years ago and laughed so much I asked him if I could re-post the story on my blog.

Mr. R M Byrd   Bob Byrd

Bob has a book I highly recommend,especially if you like this piece:

The Fur, Fish, Flea and Beagle Club on Amazon:

So herewith, in two parts, is

The Washtub War

“The washing machine,” the wife informed me in her distinctive sing-song, you-have-to-do-something-about-it tone, “is broken.”

Her voice was heavy, loaded with the apprehension of knowing I would not call the repairman as she intended. The plea was a lonely cry in the wilderness. After all, I am a mechanical engineer, I thought. Nothing could be that hard to fix.

Hah. Now, only now, can I laugh. Hah. Hear me laugh again. Hah.

I do not usually start out trying to fix things. The decision is made when I make the call to the repair shop and I am informed of just how much it is going to cost. My hackles start to rise, the conversation deteriorates rapidly and goes something like, well, I’ll let you listen in to my side:

“Hello, Ace Repair Shop? I have this gizmo that needs fixing and I wonder if it would be possible for you to come out and have a look at it. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. When? No sooner than that? Oh, I see. What? Sounds? Well, it’s goes whiz-bang-whee-pop-pop-pip-pop-ching when my wife pulls on the push button, but only at night when there’s a full moon. Uh-huh. What do you think the trouble could be? Ah-huh. Well, if that’s what it is, how much do you think it would cost to fix? You’re kidding. No, I’m serious, you must be kidding. My children didn’t cost that much, why on earth do you think this machine is worth half as much? What? That’s just for labor? My wife’s labor didn’t….what? Well, I never. No, I’m not kidding. For that kind of money, I’ll just do it myself. No, No that’s all right, just tell me how much the parts cost. What? Now I know I’m going to fix the whizzlestick myself. Uh-huh, that’s right. I really don’t care what you think; I’m going to fix it myself. Uh-huh. What’s so funny? Trained mechanic? What? Well you broken-down…”

The conversation usually goes downhill from there. Of course, after you have said something of that nature to a repairman, you’ll do almost anything to avoid having to call him again. I always do.

As I said, my wife had great misgivings about my playing Mr-Fix-It. She listened patiently to my explanation, looked at me, looked at the machine, looked at the ceiling, and walked out of the room. That’s her you’d-better-admire-my-non-committal forbearance coming out. I sighed and went for my tools.

First things first, I thought. I’ll figure out what is wrong with the thing, and then I’ll fix it. It’s a logical approach, what could be simpler? I took the back off the machine. There before my eyes was the most completely baffling arrangement of tubes and wires and struts and supports and belts and linkages and clamps that I had ever seen, all surrounding this machine casing closely resembling a miniature black hole of infinity. I thought that is what it must be, because no matter what direction I tried, I absolutely could not get any light from a flashlight, any flashlight no matter how small, into that hole.

Well, I pushed on this and pulled on that and generally stared at the thing until I came to realize the machine was probably smarter than I was, and that I did, after all, need a service manual to figure it out. The cash register in my head rang up cost number one against the cost of a repairman.

The next day on the way home after work I bought a manual for the machine (wrapped in plastic, of course. The significance of this will become apparent later). I brought it home, and sat down in back of the machine, with my tools surrounding me like faithful servants bowing to the high priest of repair, and reverently opened the manual.

No one had told me the Egyptians had washing machines. They must have had, for this latter-day papyrus was damn sure written in hieroglyphics. I spent the remainder of the evening pulling on this and pushing on that, and squinting a lot through reading glasses, trying to match the words and pictures in the manual with the reality in front of me. I finally figured out I had spent good money (isn’t all of it good?) on the wrong manual.

The next day I stopped to buy the correct manual, and to my irritation found that, no, I could not return the incorrect one because it was no longer in its’ plastic wrap.  The tiny cash register in my head rang up cost number two.

That night I was all set once again, but this time under the spotlight glare of my wife’s “I told you so.” face. Not an easy task to concentrate under such trying conditions, but I was confident she would see the light once I had saved so much money. I strode manfully off to the laundry room, set on being the hero of the house.

I had thought it would be relatively simple to fix, because the company we had bought it from (the name is withheld to protect myself as well as the guilty) is an All-American firm that has been in business ever since there has been an America, and so I thought this thing must have been put together by good old American hands with good old American know-how. The know-how turned into no-way. I started spotting all sorts of little oriental characters on the parts.

The next thing I figured out (as you can probably guess) is that since it WASN’T good old American know-how, I needed metric tools, since the guys who REALLY made this thing do not speak any form of MY language.

At this point in the proceedings it should be said I was determined to fix this machine, and in this state of mind rationalization runs rampant. I told myself there would be a time when the metric tools would actually come in handy, the world was going metric, and later there would certainly be a use for them. Little did I know how much later it would be.  My son went to college before they were used again, and then he used them.  I assume he did, since he took all the tools with him. I never saw them again because they were stolen out of his car the following semester. I hope whoever stole them is getting good use out of them. Really. Really I do. Really.

The little cash register in my brain rang again, this time a little louder. Is ching ching the sound of an oriental cash register, laughing at this poor Yankee trying to fix his own machine? Fortunately for my sanity, my determination stopped my mind from counting the bells.

The wife, of course, knows from her shopping, how expensive rationalization can be. We guys are a little slower on the uptake. Then again, maybe it’s just the level of experience.

Stay tuned for the rest of this story tomorrow!



14 thoughts on “The Washtub War – a shorty story by Robert M. Byrd, in two parts”

  1. Reminds me of when my roomie’s boy friend and HIS best friend set out to repair my ailing clothes dryer years ago… They did it however… yeah, it was a grand source of entertainment for quite some time.

  2. Hilarious. Gotta love a good sense of humor in a story. My husband is an engineer, so yeah, I could totally see the wife looking at him, the machine, the ceiling and walking out of the room. Engineers can fix it all, until they don’t. 🙂 Very funny. Thanks for sharing, Noelle. A great read to start the day.

        1. We just found out that because of the hurricane, it will be 8 weeks before the tile people can get to this. In the meantime, we will strip the tile off the bathtub/shower wall, but I will not venture to re-tile that myself!

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