Well that didn’t take long, he says at my doorstep. His royal blue, short-sleeved button down reads APPLIANCE GUYS. He wears super short hair, really low jeans and a stern face. James was here just four months ago for a broken top rack.
Do you want a coffee? I ask brightly.
No, thank you ma’am. Now. Just how many people are using this machine?
Um, my husband and me. Our kids sometimes help with the unloading…
He stands with his hand on our dishwasher. He is serious. He speaks slowly, carefully. I lean my left hip against my kitchen sink and meet his seriousness head on.
OK. And do you put items in the appliance with large chunks of food all over them?
No, we don’t. Although I am sure we could be more careful, more thorough.
I do not advise you rinse your dishes. But chunks need to be scraped off. All chunks. And no seeds. Never seeds.
No chunks, never seeds. Check.
What kind of detergent are you using?
I fetch our hippie dishwasher detergent. He stares at it from a distance. I wonder what he is thinking. He draws in a breath.
Just how much do you place in the machine for each washing?
A few squirts. Like half full, I guess?
And you and your husband are on the same page with this? You have talked about how much to use? You have a plan and you stick to that plan?
We don’t really talk about our dishwasher use much. I mean we don’t do anything crazy with our dishwasher and I think we are gentle with it. A plan? No, we don’t have a dishwasher plan.
He stares at the dishwasher. It is still closed. It feels like he is speaking to the appliance, asking if there is something else he needs to know. He opens the door just a few inches.
Well I’ve worked on a lot of appliances and you are one in 10,000 or so. You need to use more detergent than you are using. Maybe even one in 20,000. I mean.
Even though this is a criticism I feel proud to be part of such an elite few. My kitchen floor is covered with baskets of tomatoes, plums and elderberries. I scoot a silver cape and unicorn horn headband out of his way with my foot. The flotsam continues into the living room where Alice sleeps on yesterday’s quilt fort.
I tell him I will use more detergent and I will talk with my husband to ensure we are on the same page with the detergent use. I nod again when he says NO SEEDS. He cleans out the trap and shows me the slimy funk in there. He runs his fingertips along the top edge of the dishwasher and talks to me while looking at it. The motor needs to be replaced.
I need to get to work but feel like I can’t leave. Ruby is at a friend’s house and I have three hours to myself. I don’t want to talk to James anymore. I want him to fix the dishwasher. But he really wants to share information with me. He wants to talk about one in 20,000 and seeds in the grinder and the incongruous fragility of the plastic coupler on the motor versus the coupler on the grinder.
I sip my coffee and listen. He softens. He even laughs a few times. I wonder what his passions and interests are. He is really dedicated to his work. He moves and speaks with great authority on the subject. It is such a fascinating and respectable quality in a human – to know your craft and care to educate others about it. Sure, sometimes you gotta pick up what the listener is putting down, let it go and let the dish-handed mama out of the conversation. But sometimes you can push into it a bit more and find commonality and interest over appliance structure and functionality.
There are so many things Andy and I want to talk about, so many little things to discuss and plan for. Gymnastics schedules, fall travel details, selling some stuff on craigslist, vet appointments, consistent dishwasher detergent use. It is hard for us to make time for that kind of talk – the homestead details. We do our best to connect but it usually happens with two small girls inserting their things to discuss and plan for. When we have uninterrupted time we don’t want to talk about maintenance. We want to dream. The maintenance chat will happen.
We celebrated our anniversary last week. We woke early and had a coffee date in our dark living room, under a wool blanket. We thought about finding care for our kids that night but decided we’d rather all be together. We splurged on takeout Thai, pulled out some wedding photos and read Little House on Plum Creek. It was mostly like every other night but with the fantastic memory and shared stories of this time nine years ago. We laughed a lot. We look younger in those photos. We were younger. I liked us then; I like us even more now. I put on my wedding dress, mud still on the hem, and the girls dressed up to. We danced outside. We fell asleep early.
That little plastic coupler is too weak in James’s opinion. He held the small, smooth white piece between his thumb and pointer finger. He shook his head, a grin spread wide. This is how things move forward, I thought. This is how things are invented and reconsidered, bettered. It’s the little things that make the big things work.
The dishwasher is a luxury. It is fragile and needs attention. It works efficiently and happily. Sometimes the pump doesn’t get enough water and, no matter how many times we run the cycle, things need a little love. The dishes require hand-washing. It takes more time but we learn that the process is enjoyable so that taking-up-of-time is perfectly perfect. The worn plastic coupler is replaced and the motor hums again. We have renewed appreciation for the appliance, made even richer by the understanding of how it all works. More detergent, less seeds, thankful for extended warranties.
I see the metaphors here. Relationships, family, appliances, time: fragile and needing attention. Yet efficient and happy. One in 20,000. Yes.