The Washtub War – a shorty story by Robert M. Byrd, part 2

I worked on the machine over the weekend (my wife now giving me longer sidelong glances, for the laundry was forming foothills around me in the laundry room) before the next mountain I had to bring to Mohammed’s Repair Shop. I realized I needed the dreaded SPECIAL TOOL (note the capital letters, folks, it means great danger to a wallet) to undo that thingamajig to get to the gizmo behind the whatchamacallit that I THOUGHT was the problem. At least that is what the troubleshooting portion of the manual told me. I tried to undo it using what I thought was a clever combination of a long screwdriver, visegrips, a toothbrush (only the handle part, which will never, ever be the same), and one of my wife’s old hairpins. I succeeded in dropping the hairpin and a retaining spring clip for the thingamajig into the aforementioned small black hole of infinity. I began to use the acronym for Small Hateful Infinity Territory. I only mention this because I began to use this acronym with greater frequency after the small black hole seemed to suck small precious things right out my hands, probably due to the funnel-shape at the opening of the hole which had been thoughtfully provided by the machine manufacturer. Cunning devils, those designers.

Meanwhile, the foothills of laundry built higher into small mountains under the impatient eye of my wife, who knows the next time I need a shirt for something and it isn’t clean, I won’t have one, and don’t come complaining to her. It’s this way I have of reading the way she crosses her arms in front of her. I know, it’s a gift, the way I can translate these things.

I went back to the shop to buy a new spring clip to fasten the whatnotthingamajig  back to the whatzit. I tried to explain the thing to the kid behind the counter in the shop. He just stood there and nodded his half-shaven chin up and down with a small smile.

Without a word, without so much as looking in a parts book, he left for the back of the store. Much to my surprise, he came back immediately from his trip to the storeroom with exactly the right part.

“Thought you’d be needin’ this.” he said between popping gum smacks. And with far too smug a smirk. Cheeky kid. Again, ching ching. Oh, and the special tool. Ching ching.

Slowly I began to figure out one of the most closely guarded secrets of appliance repair. I had thought the reason repairmen take so many breaks from work is out of laziness. My friends, this is not so, not so at all. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The deep truth of it, the reason they take so many breaks from work is so they can sneak up on the machine to fix it, because that is apparently the only way it can be done. The theory goes something like this:

If you work on a machine for too long a time in one sitting, it gets tired of playing with you. When this happens, the machine tends to mess itself up further. The purpose is so the machine can continue to rest from its labors, (which was the intent of the self-sabotage in the first place) and they accomplish this by faking failure. This is done to the accompaniment of mechanical laughter, which we, as puny humans, interpret as the symptomatic sounds of the thing being broken. Ha.

After many hours, many labors, I finally thought I had accomplished the impossible, I had indeed repaired the machine. I fastened the back in place, hooked up the hoses, plugged in the wires and turned it on. There was no response. Not a whir, not a squeak, not a ding, not a hum. Faced with this, I did what most men do at such a time of perplexity. I stared at it. When that didn’t seem to help, I pulled the back off and stared at the inside. That didn’t work either. I played push-me-pull-you with just about every wire and hose in there for the rest of the day, trying to troubleshoot the problem. In the process, I came to understand what the term ‘troubleshoot’ means, since I came close to  getting my gun to put the thing out of its’ misery and mine.

Then, a dawn of light broke in my mind, a lifting of the veil of my own stupidity.  I remembered I had thoughtfully pulled the fuse which controlled the machine as a safety precaution when I first started to work on it.

Gritting my teeth, I got up, plugged the fuse back in, and turned on the machine. It just hummed back at me. No clicks, no bells, no whistles, just hum. I turned it off and resorted to my previous tactic of staring. I stared at it all over. I pulled off the back cover, and stared some more, until I saw, hidden right under my nose, right in the middle, the problem. I had left a screwdriver blocking the gizmo thing from turning and letting the whatchamacallit slide back and forth. I pulled it out and tried to turn the machine on again. My breathing was deep and ragged. I was losing control.

By this time, there was a laundry mountain resembling Everest where the molehill used to be. There was also a certain wifely Everest attitude as well. To whit, very high-and-mighty and very cold attitude where the forebearing molehill used to be. I tried to freeze her with a similar return glance and was freeze-dried in return by a single “Humph.”

I decided to kill the machine.

I admit, I lost my temper. Looking back, I think that’s all the machine really wanted. It wanted to get the better of me, and it did. I beat on it. I beat on it with wrenches, screwdrivers, hammers and anything else that came to hand. The outside of the machine became much the worse for wear. So did the wife’s attitude. The inside of the machine was the same. Broken. I finally piled all the laundry mountain on top of it, hoping to smother it into submission. “Sniff that for a while.” I sneered. I left the room, shoulders sagging in exhaustion and utter defeat.

The next day, with the bolstering of a few beers under my belt, I strode into the laundry room to try again, spaghetti western no-consonant choruses ringing in my ears. I was prepared to spend the rest of my life in that room, if need be. I put the fuse in, plugged the plugs, hooked the hoses and turned it on.

It ran. I shook my head. It still ran. Beyond all reason, this time, it ran. Perversely, ‘Sweet Mystery Of Life’ began to play in my head.

It has continued to run to the present day, seems to run pretty well.

Well, okay, so I lie. It bangs and chatters on the “gentle” cycle, probably due to my being none-too-gentle with it, but I try to ignore that. It runs, anyway.

I figure I spent roughly three times the estimated repair cost in broken parts, tools, etc. and recently the machine has acquired yet another sound. Whenever the spin cycle comes on, there is a plaintive squeaking groan it seems only I can hear.

It is either a bearing trying to burn out, or the machine is talking to me, laughing, taunting, playing with my mind to make me guess which will crack first, its crankcase, or me.

But that’s all right. I know that infernal machine is probably just faking. But even if it isn’t, it doesn’t really matter, because I’ve made a decision the machine doesn’t know I have made. If it decides not to run again, I’ve decided to hire a mercenary. That’s right, a repairman who will make this unruly thing toe the mark, stand up and fly right. Someone to do battle for me.

I plan to sit, like some king of old, draft beer in hand, watching the tournament, watching the blood and oil flow in the heat of battle. It will be wonderful to watch.

I can’t wait.

I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did. Can you guess the R.M. Byrd is a mechanical engineer?  Check out his book:



16 thoughts on “The Washtub War – a shorty story by Robert M. Byrd, part 2”

  1. I wish my father were alive to read this. I believe he would have rolled over and died early if we even *suggested* hiring “a mercenary.” With multiple Engineering degrees under his belt, the man was absolutely positive that he could fix anything (eventually). 🙂

    Great read – thanks for posting.
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMore dot com)
    – ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder –
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”

      1. Kindred spirits, no doubt. And their long-suffering wives as well. 🙂

        As a very young child I often asked my *highly* educated father how knew that he could [install a new bathroom, in this case]. His response? “If some idiot with a 4th grade education can do it, surely I can figure it out with the help of a couple of good books!” (remember, he was in mired in frustration as he responded)

        In ANY case, as I moved into the 5th grade, I was thrilled to have joined the ranks of the “idiots with 4th grade educations.”

        An expectation of competency was probably my father’s greatest gift to my life (along with my love of informational non-fiction).

      1. I’m thinking of doing it on genres. There are so many! I’ve blogged about a few, but it would be a great resource for my writer blog.

        I’d love to visit the Czech Republic. I don’t travel enough. I’ll look for you once sign-ups are available.

  2. I thank you for reposting this. The piece is semi-autobiographical, especially the acronym for Small Hateful Infinity Territory. I admit, the machine got the better of me.

  3. Great read, Noelle. Thank you for sharing. There’s a do-it-yourself inclination in my household, until, as the author says above, the machine gets the better of us. And even then …
    Have to appreciate someone who keeps his sense of humor, no matter what.

    1. Oh, things get to Bob, too. But his engineering genes are strong. He’s a member of my Thursday critique group, which has been together since 2009, so we know each other pretty well.

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