A Washing Machine Meltdown Proves New Doesn’t Always Mean Better [Essay]

Illustration by Pete Ryan

I’m either very loyal, or I resist change. I prefer to lean toward loyal. The truth is, if I like a product or service, I stay with it for a long time. No searching around for the next big thing. My hairstylist had no children when I first met her; she is now a grandmother. I’ve watched my manicurist’s children go from preschool kids to college graduates. I imagine I’ll attend their weddings next. I won’t even mention how many years I’ve been seeing the same doctor and dentist. And when it comes to appliances, if they’re working, I’m happy. If a repair is needed, it’s taken care of.

In the throwaway society we seem to have become, this amazes my friends and family. My grandson, looking at my fully functioning—ancient by today’s standards—top-loading washer, asked, “Grandma, can you really wash clothes in that?”

“Yes, I can,” I replied, “and when we move, I intend to donate it to the Marines so another family can use it.” He simply shook his head.

Yes, we were moving. For years, my husband and I had been waiting for a new senior community in Rancho Mission Viejo to be built. Finally, a date was set and soon we’d be downsizing from a two-story home in Laguna Niguel to a new one-story unit. All the appliances, new and state-of-the-art, were included. I looked forward to a long relationship with them, as I said goodbye to my old ones.

The marketing assistant walked me through the operation of the kitchen appliances once we were somewhat settled. Easy enough, and not relevant anyway as I wouldn’t be doing much cooking. Then we entered the laundry room, where a large front-loading washer sat beside an equally large front-loading dryer. My grandson would be so impressed! I felt a bit intimidated. The operation seemed simple enough, just push a button here and there.

It didn’t take long to make new friends, enjoy numerous activities, and become comfortable with our retirement lifestyle.

My weekly laundry day was uneventful. Until … I had put in a load of clothes and was in another part of the house. I heard what sounded like metal scraping against metal coming from the laundry room. Sort of like a whining sound. I stopped and listened. Quiet. The washer finished without any further disruption. Perhaps it was my imagination. After all this was a new, deluxe washer.

I forgot about it until the following week. I started the laundry and left the room. After about 10 minutes, I heard the same sound, this time more pronounced. I quickly returned to the machine and listened to it clank for a few seconds more and then stop. Definitely not my imagination. I stayed alert until the cycle was finished. There were no more strange sounds. The next week the noise continued. It was starting to sound like a hammer and nails were inside when it went on the spin cycle. Something was definitely loose.

One of the many amenities we enjoy is on-site maintenance. I called and reported the problem and was quickly visited by a repairman. I explained what I’d heard, and he ran the washer through all its cycles. Like a car that makes noise and is suddenly quiet when brought to the mechanic, my washer was silent. No whining, no clanking. Just my word for it.

“I don’t see any problems,” the repairman determined. “It seems to be working just fine. If it happens again, just call us.” With that, he left. He had no explanation for what I heard.

Of course the problem continued. Each load of laundry treated me to a new chorus of sounds, depending on the cycle. Clanking, whining, rattling. I called maintenance again. A new technician came out. Once again, the machine behaved beautifully. Once again, I was told all was well, but be sure to call back if it keeps happening. I was beginning to feel like the crazy lady they had to be nice to. Just humor her, and she’ll be OK.

I started to dread laundry day. The sounds escalated. The machine vibrated so much I expected it to walk itself out of the room and ask for a glass of water. But I couldn’t call maintenance again without a plan. As all writers know, show, don’t tell. Thank goodness for cellphone cameras. I would show them. The next time I did laundry, I stood at the machine, camera aimed, and waited. When the noise began, I started the video. I continued the process until I had enough noisy evidence to convince the most unbelieving maintenance man.

My request was responded to again, and this time the repairman who came out originally was the one who returned. When I played the video for him, sound turned up high, his look of amazement was priceless. He ran the washer through its cycles again, and again all was quiet. He had no answer.

“We are going to have to contact the manufacturer and have someone from their office come out. We’ll let you know.”

“I’m concerned with all this noise the washer will eventually break down,” I said.

“Yes, it probably will,” was his discouraging answer. “We’ll work on it right away.”

I thought of my old top-loader, most likely faithfully churning away in some Marine family’s home, and wished I had it now.

“Right away” stretched into several weeks. My follow-up calls were met with concern and assurance that the manufacturer’s representative would be out soon. One day, I received the call I was waiting for. He would be out the next day. Was I available? Absolutely.

Finally, something would be done. Surely the manufacturer would know what do with the product. No, he was as puzzled as everyone else, especially when the washer stayed nice and quiet when he tested it. Once he watched my video, his attitude changed.

“Please send a copy of the video to my phone,” he asked. “I’ll relay it to my supervisors.”

He departed, and again I waited for the next step. My occasional calls to maintenance assured me I would hear soon. Would the president of the company be the next one to come out?

Then I received the final call. I would be getting a new washer! No more repair attempts, simply replacement. Is this the new normal? A new washer, identical to the one replaced, was installed. So far, it’s quiet. But once burned, twice shy. Now I’m wary and listen for strange sounds when I do laundry. I have also developed a distrust for my other appliances.

I stand in the kitchen and admire the shiny new stove and refrigerator, their sharp looks belying the possibility they might have their own meltdown. My neighbor has complained her cakes all burn and her oven needs recalibrating. My gaze falls to the countertop and my landline phone, message machine attached. Not shiny anymore, but reliable. It has served us for years and will no doubt continue to do so. It’s a nice reminder that looks aren’t everything, and new doesn’t mean perfect. It might be wise to hang on to what works, because many things seem not to.

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