My rusty washer and dryer were once new, bought in 1999 from a modest inheritance, perhaps explaining the sentimental attachment and my reluctance to replace them. I do not expect you to think so fondly of your washer and dryer. But let us call mine "Mom" and "Dad."
Mom, frankly, deserved a longer life. She had cleaned up my messes delicately, agitating only when necessary and spinning as if the world revolved around me. About five years ago, she stopped, just like that. Dad tumbled toward despair. Finally, he snapped, his belt broken.
As a single woman, I had failed them, having brought home no handyman. Nor, in a one-income household, was there money for professional appliance repair.
So I turned to the Internet for guidance and discovered the Samurai Appliance Repair Man and his website: Fixitnow.com. His golden promise has stayed with me like an ink spot on white.
"If I can't help you fix your appliance and make you 100 percent satisfied," he wrote, "I will come to your home and slice open my belly, spilling my steaming entrails onto your floor."
There he was, a man who understood devotion. He called himself the "Fermented Grand Master of Appliantology" — fermented, because while his advice was free, those who wished to show gratitude could fatten his "beer fund."
He had friends, lots of friends, a cyber subculture of appliance repair men and women who stood ready to help we grasshoppers at no charge.
At first, I was a mere troll, searching for "Kenmore" and finding solutions in the Samurai's fact sheets and repair forums. I printed a diagram that showed me how to replace Dad's belt. Mom, in all likelihood, needed something called a motor coupler. (It sounded almost romantic, but let me tell you: A Mom with motor coupler issues will never be in the mood to do wash.)
I, of course, turned off the water and unplugged the machines before proceeding.
After that, I spent a lot of time on the floor with wrenches and a flashlight, the deconstructed pieces of my laundry room lining up alongside me. Dad's belt change went quickly. To inspect Mom's motor coupler, I had to learn how to pull away the whole front cabinet of the washer, leaving only the back wall attached, exposing the tub and the motor.
I unclipped the water pump and unbolted the motor, and there it was, before my eyes: the motor coupler. It looked like a tiny bagel sandwich, except the bagel was white plastic and the smear was black rubber. Each bagel half had three peg legs that poked into the black rubber ring. But the plastic had broken. Pieces fell into my hands. Combined, they weighed almost nothing, but together, they had made Mom move.
I wound up at an appliance parts store on Waters Avenue in Tampa, where a replacement coupler cost less than $25. (I could have saved money buying from the Samurai's online parts store, but clothes were piled high.) Within a couple of hours, Mom was humming.
My hands got dirty but my clothes got clean. It was that simple. No waiting till Monday for an appointment. No worrying about cost overruns. No adding clunky metal debris to the landfill. From then on, I started viewing machines — my dishwasher, my mini refrigerator, my gas oven — as less menacing, less mysterious.
When Dad blew his thermal fuse, I was there. When Mom needed me in the clutch, I came through.
Along the way, the Samurai — real name, Scott Brown, of New London, N.H. — proclaimed me an "Apprentice of Distinction," noting that I had demonstrated "patience, perseverance, manual ability and courage." The title came with a virtual trophy.
I celebrated with a new can of Rust-Oleum for Mom and Dad.
That's our story. Oh, sure, sometimes I look at the fancy new front-load washers and dryers, in bright colors with pedestal stands, and I think, "What if …?" But that's all. I only look.
Patty Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.