Sunday, April 25, 2010

Fritz Vs. Washing Machine

In this corner, weighing in at one hundred and eighty pounds, that former golden gloves boxer, that mass of muscle, that human power house, Fritz Ethridge! (Crowd cheers.) In this corner, weighing in at one hundred pounds, that antiquated piece of machinery, that pile of spare parts, that frustrating hunk of junk, the washing machine! (Household appliances scream until they are horse.)

For those of you who have never seen my Dad fix anything that may seem like a strange opening to my tale. However, those of you who have been fortunate (or unfortunate, depending on your disposition) enough to see Dad work on anything know exactly why I put it that way. It's simply a matter of “That's the way it was.”

Dad would come at any fix-it job with the blind enthusiasm of a child. No matter how many times he had been cut, bruised, smashed, shocked or caught on fire he always felt that nothing was going to go wrong this time. Anyone else that had observed him at all knew better. You could almost see the bought opening in your minds eye. There was Dad in his corner, the whatever-it-was in it's corner. The announcer finishes his speech and the contestants promise to fight clean (the whatever-it-was always lied about that though and was thoroughly intending to cheat.) They touched gloves, the bell rang and the bloody contest began.

Still, Dad always won. It was never a question of if, but of how and how many trips to the doctor. He always won because he never gave up. He once told me that he always fixed things the first time simply because he never stopped working on anything until it was fixed. I could see that it was a sound philosophy, I was just surprised that the man that said it to me had all his fingers and toes and both his eyes.

I suppose that's enough of the pre-fight buildup, now to the main event:

Dad had decided that it was time to fix the washing machine. It had needed a tune up for a while and had finally stopped working all together. I want to say that it was Saturday and Dad had picked me as his helper. It was always a challenge for me to work with Dad because I tend to laugh when people get hurt and Dad hates being laughed at when he gets hurt. Couple that with the fact that Dad was always bound to get hurt several times each job and you can see why it was hard for us to work together.

Still, mine was not to reason why... I reported for duty in the utility room and found Dad, with all his tools, looking at the machine. One important note here: He was barefoot. Almost always was when at home.

“First we need to pull it away from the wall.”


He stepped up to the machine, being careful to keep his feet back, grabbed it with both hands and pulled. The machine didn't budge. Dads considerable muscle mass bulged as he struggled with the machine. Nothing...

“I can't believe this! It's like it's stuck.”

“Yes Sir.”

Again he grabbed and pulled and again nothing moved. He did the natural thing and put one foot forward bent his back and grabbed it with both hands. With every muscle straining he jerked at the machine.

It popped away from the wall like a cork out of a bottle. Dad had actually lifted it up as he pulled so that it slammed into his knee and then dropped onto his outstretched foot. He stifled a cry as he began trying to push the machine off his foot. It seemed to be stuck again. It being on his foot made that fact unfortunate. Dad began beating the machine away from him and kneeing it with his spare knee. It slowly dragged its way across his flesh and at last revealed a very unhappy foot.

I will give Dad's monolog the go by at this point. I will merely say that it was very spicy and very very funny. I had to run into the dining room and quickly laugh until I felt I was empty. Mom was in there as well. Neither of us wanted Dad to see our peeling laughter brought on by his pain. She heard Dad hurt himself and then make his interesting, if inappropriate, commentary and so it was off to the dinning room to express herself. Once I was done I headed back to the utility room.

For a man that hated being laughed at Dad was the worlds worst for setting things up like a comedy. Honestly, he could had written dialog for any of the great American sitcoms. For some reason he would expect you to act as if what he said was some dark bitter truth rather than a very funny observation. Over time I learned to stare hilarity in the face while wearing a somber expression.

Dad laid the machine on it's side. For some reason he laid the machine where the part he was working on was facing the wall. (He may have had a good reason, but I can't see what it was.) So, to get into the position where he needed to be he merely had to climb over the dryer and lay down in a crack between the two machines and the wall. Again, I have no idea why he did this, but for the sake of courtesy we will assume he had a reason. Whatever his motivation, it left him in cramped quarters. There was no room to dodge out of the way of impending accidents for example.

A number of small things had gone wrong and I had choked a few good laughs to death while holding a straight face. As Dad's fix-it jobs progress his optimism is worn away by pain and frustration. He may be naive about it when he starts, but he's not blind. You can only keep your “This job will be a piece of cake!” attitude up until the third or forth time you choke on it. Dad had reached the stage where his optimism was beginning to wear away.

He flips like a switch between “Nothing simpler!” and “Worst job ever!” For some reason he thought it was important for me to observe the nuances of the twists of fate.

“Jeremy, come here!”

“Yes Sir.”

“I want you to see this!”

“Yes Sir.”

“Ok. Do you see those two wrenches?”

“Yes Sir.”

“Ok. They will open the machine and whatever water is left in it is going to dump on the floor.”

“Yes Sir.”

“Now, that shouldn't be a problem because we emptied all of the water out of the machine.”

“Yes Sir.”

“You remember us doing that right?”

“Yes Sir.”

“Good! Because when I turn these too wrenches the water, that can't possibly be in this machine, is going to dump all over this floor! It's going to leave me lying in a puddle! Do you understand me?”

“Yes Sir.”

“Good! He we go...”

He turned the wrenches and water began to pour out of the machine at say ninety gallons a minute or so. In a moment Dad was in a pool and the inside of the machine was so dry that you could have dehydrated fruit in it. Dad had called it, he was right on the money. For the record we had emptied the machine and had taken our time doing it. There shouldn't have been a drop of water in it. Again, Dad began his monolog:

“This is great! I'm laying in a pool of water now! This is wonderful! This way when I get shocked it will be able to go all over my body! It won't have to be content with just getting me in the hand! That's wouldn't satisfy this piece of...”

Here I interjected:

“Be right back Dad.”

I ran into the dining room to empty out all my laughter again. Mom and I stood there snickering as silently as we could. I was still shaking and had tears in my eyes when I ran back to Dad. I was doing my best to compose myself, but I think Dad was beyond the point of noticing. As soon as I was back in the room he began:


“Yes Sir.”

“Come here I want you to look at this!”

“Yes Sir.”

“Now, you see that I'm laying in a pool of water?”

“Yes Sir.”

“Well that's so that when I get shocked in a minute it will be able to run all over my body!”

“Yes Sir?”

“Yes! You see I am going to check the voltage on this thing and there is no way it is going to able to shock me!! However, it doesn't matter!!! It's going to shock me just the same!!!! Just watch!!!!!”

Here I have to point out that my Dad was a plant engineer. He was a professional electrician. This kind of work was his bread and butter and he had been doing it for close to twenty years at this point. This wasn't one of the times when he thought he knew more about it than he did. This was an area in which he knew more than most men ever will and to a very real extent knew a majority of what mankind knows on the subject. If he said it couldn't shock him he knew what he was talking about.

Still, there was that gnawing in the back of my mind. This wasn't a job Dad was working on for money. This was something he was trying to fix for himself. On the one side you had to consider all his knowledge and experience and on the other you had to take into account that things like this always went wrong for him. I have to admit that when I added up the score I figured it was almost inevitable that he would get shocked. It seemed like one of those things that was just ordained by the fates. The setup was too good. It couldn't have gone this far and not go all the way.

Dad reached slowly up into the machine. Suddenly he went as frigid as a frozen fish and then began to jerk convulsively. Fortunately this jerking pulled his hand out of the machine and he regained the power of speech.

“@#$% *&^% $%$%#! I love it! Being shocked! I just can't get enough of it! That's why I became an electrician, so I could get shocked all the time!”

Needless to say this resulted in my running back into the dinning room to laugh until I cried. By the grace of God that was the last big hurdle between Dad and a repaired washing machine. He only had to pay the low price of a skinless foot, a soaked floor and a shocked, well everything I guess. He got it put back together and it worked again for a while. Mom and I got a good laugh and Dad won the bought. In a situation like that it's hard to say if it was worth it, but it made a great story one way or the other!

I hope everyone got a good laugh. I know I did!

1 comment:

  1. I remember this well----like it was yesterday. I still remember marveling at how you could go back in there to help him and NOT laugh. I was actually gasping for air because I was having to laugh silently----not an easy thing to do. Your poor dad----but he ALWAYS won in the end---lol.