Appliance roulette, a game everyone plays sooner or later

December 8, 2013 

The oldest appliance in our house is a Hamilton Beach electric Switchblade carving knife we got as a wedding present in 1973.

I used it on Thanksgiving to slice a 14-pound Honeysuckle turkey. It purred like a kitten.

I hear people bragging about the 40-odd-years-old freezers still cranking in the garages. But to me the electric knife is ancient.

The box the knife came in isn't pretty. It used to be white. Now it's stained with meaty fingerprints and more splotches than a Rorschach test.

The light smudge shaped like South America could be turkey. That dark spot is the beef roast we had for Grandpa's birthday in 1992. Mmmmmm. Gravy, meatloaf, ham ... it's a smorgasbord of culinary memories.

Most of our appliances, however, seem to be on the 15-year breakdown plan -- or, as we like to call it, appliance roulette. We got our first refrigerator, a trendy avocado green Tappan, along with a washer and dryer, vacuum, etc., when we bought our first house in 1976.

Fifteen years later, it was the object of much consternation. And the subject of my column:

"Listen to this," my wife said in that tone wives use to let husbands know they'd better stop whatever it is they are doing and pay attention.

She was quoting from one of those Outlandish Homes-type magazines she bought in the grocery store checkout.

"Says here, the average refrigerator lasts 12 years."

"Hmmmm," I said, silently calculating the age of the green monster. "Let's see ... we got it the year before the 100-year flood in Austin, which was six years before Nathan was born. ..."

"Do you have any idea how old our refrigerator is?" she asked.

"Fourteen years, three months and 2 1/2 days," I said. "It's a classic."

"It's junk," she replied.

Quiet, I thought. It might hear you and throw a compressor. You just can't talk that way to such a distinguished member of our family without hurting its feelings.

She quoted average life expectancies for every appliance we owned. We were over the limit on all of them.

"Garbage disposal, eight years," she said.

"Garbage," I mumbled.


"Uh ... isn't it great that ours still handles all that garbage?"

Silence. We were both thinking the same thing: We're in big trouble.

We had reached that point in our lives that few dare to even think about. Our marriage had outlasted the life expectancy of our appliances. We were living on borrowed time.

Within a year of our conversation, the washer went on the fritz. When it came to sucking up dirt, the old canister vacuum sucked ... er ... didn't suck. The microwave was making growling noises. Finally, it too gave up the ghost.

Soon, we had platinum customer status at area appliance stores.

The refrigerator put up the best fight. Sure, the rack at the bottom collapsed when we put anything heavier than a tub of I Can't Believe It's Not Butter on it. You could see your breath within a foot of the freezer because of the arctic air leaking around the warped seal. And I got used to eating runny ice cream.

But it had good points, too. It had much more room for posting our kids' artwork than the new, bright white side-by-side model we replaced it with in 1993.

When the green monster finally bit the dust, we were feeling pretty good about having bought ourselves another 15 years or so of appliance peace. That was two refrigerators and a Y2K ago.

Now, our appliances are dominoing again. Just last week, the clothes dryer bit the dust. I wouldn't exactly call it a "dryer" because even after it tossed the socks and underwear around for an hour or so, they were still a little damp. And I wasn't above draping sheets and unmentionables over the dining room chairs for a while to complete the drying process. It worked out just fine. Until the neighbor dropped by ...

The bigger problem was the noise. It sounded like the mating call of the hippopotamus. My first solution was to close the laundry room door, so we could hear the TV. It worked for a while. Babies in the neighborhood awoke from their naps. Flocks of birds fluttered from nearby trees. I had to hide the good crystal.

Not even a call from the governor could have saved it this time.

The new dryer is energy-efficient. At least that's what the small library of paperwork that came with it says.

I would have been happy with "on" and "off." But now I have to choose between "air fluff," "auto dry high heat" or "auto dry low heat," "energy preferred," "timed dry" and even "wrinkle prevent." (Does that work on sixtysomething skin?)

But Dryer No. 4 is quiet as a church mouse. I had to peek in to make sure it was spinning.

And, believe me, it is much better to feel dry all under when I get to work in the morning.

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