DO INANIMATE OBJECTS HAVE FEELINGS?

Inanimate objects hate me,” I said to Howie a couple of weeks ago. “Stove, dishwasher, laundry machine, dryer. All of them hate me.”

Howie looked up from his microscope

Howie looked up from his microscope

Howie looked up from his microscope, shifted his glasses down from the top of his head so he could focus on me, and said, “Why don’t you Google ‘inanimate objects’ and see what you get?”

Apparently they do have feelings. At least that’s the impression I got when I did what he suggested. The screen popped up with more than a million results in a third of a second, and the first screen was focused on the belief that inanimate objects have feelings.

I showed Howie the printout. “I knew it,” I said, slapping the paper with the back of my hand.  “That stove has hated me since I first brought it  into the house.”

Howie moved a petri dish to one side, and with great seriousness, took the printout from me. He tilted his head so he could read through the bottom part of his glasses. “Hmmm,” he said. “Yes, I see.”

The stove predates him by two years. I have suspected, ever since he came back into my life, that I would not be having problems with the feelings of the inanimate objects that surround me had he been around to pacify them when they arrived. He has the patience of Job, the serenity of Buddha, and, like Saint Francis of Assisi, an ability to communicate with non-humans. Including inanimate objects.

Beautiful top, lousy cook stove

Beautiful top, not so great at cooking

The stove, for example, refuses to provide cooking heat the way I want it to.  I bought it because of the top, a wonderful, shiny, glass surface that would look nice, be easy to clean, and, when not heated up, I could use as a flat surface on which to put things. And to this day, I love the top of the stove. But that’s it. The stove apparently believes that HOT and NOT HOT can be averaged out to provide a temperature just right for cooking egg dishes and delicate sauces by a timed blast of HOT and then a cooling down period of NOT HOT. I despair of cooking dishes that need low, even heat. The stove simply will not allow such a thing. Even soups are treated to this averaging out of HOT and NOT HOT, which means the soup that I’d like to set on the back of the stove to simmer all afternoon, cools down to not cooking at all, and then, with a surge of the stove’s energy, gets its pot bottom scorched.

The other day I was upstairs when I smelled the chicken soup. By the time the smell wafts up to me, whatever is on the stove is overcooked. I rushed downstairs and found Howie in the kitchen with his camera. He had turned off the stove, moved the burnt pot to the stone step outside the east door, and was taking stunning photos of a sun ray beaming through the thick smoke.

Smoke from a burnt pot photo by H. Attebery

Smoke from a burnt pot
photo by H. Attebery

On to the dishwasher, a device I’d like to use to clean those scorched soup pots and egg pans. First of all, it takes more time for it to wash dishes than for me to wash them. I yield to the dishwasher only because I don’t want to take any time at all to wash dishes myself.

“It undoubtedly has to do with energy efficiency,” said Howie. “We’re not in a hurry.”

“I’m going to sit by it throughout its washing cycle just to hear what it’s doing,” I said.

Blog dishwasher 1a - CopyHowie nodded. “I’m sure the dishwasher will appreciate that.”

I had letters to write, bills to pay. Periodically, I perked up when the dishwasher groaned and sighed, then burbled and coughed, was silent, then started sloshing around.

After a half hour, Howie came by to check.

“What does it think it’s doing?” I said, with some asperity. “It doesn’t need to adjust the dishes, the way the laundry machine adjusts the clothes. The water temperature is a given. It doesn’t need to heat it up. What’s taking it all this time?”

Howie patted my shoulder. “I see you’ve got the bills paid.”

At one point the dishwasher stopped working entirely, and along the string of alleged choices on its front, a series of cryptic flashes alerted me to something. I couldn’t tell what.

Dishwasher: Out of Order!

Dishwasher: Out of Order

I called Howie.

“Do you have the manual?” he asked.

“Of course not.” I stacked the envelopes with the paid bills into a pile off to one side.

“I can always Google it,” he said. “I’ll give it a try first.” He pressed buttons and spoke softly to the machine before turning back to me. “It has a special code,” he said. “A certain number of flashes in a certain order means different things.”

“I’m calling Jason,” I said. “Jason understands how to talk to appliances.

When Jason arrived he told me, “When it flashes one long, three short, two longs, pauses, and then five shorts, that means. . .” his voice trailed off, because he could see I wasn’t on the same wave length he shared with the dishwasher.

I said, trying for humor, “I think it does that when I wear a certain color it doesn’t like.”

Jason shrugged. “Could be,” he said.

While he was communing with the dishwasher, I asked him to take a look at the clothes dryer. It and I have a pretty good working relationship, but it had stopped putting out heat.

“Here’s your problem,” said Jason, handing me a wad of fluff he’d pried out of a hose somewhere in the back. “You know, you have to tend to these machines occasionally. They have feelings, too, you know.”

Incidentally, when he pulled the dryer away from the wall, he uncovered two pillowcases, a wool athletic sock, bikini underpants, and a towel, which the dryer had mischievously hidden.

I already mentioned the laundry machine, and how it shifts my dirty laundry in a way that’s comfortable to it.

The arbitrary washer

The arbitrary washer

“Have you tried putting the heavier objects at the bottom?” asked Howie.

I sighed. “Towels on the bottom, pillowcases on top, and the other way around. Nothing works.. It makes no difference.”

“Why don’t you put in a load and we’ll see what happens,” said Howie.

Like the dishwasher, the laundry machine takes forever. That’s what Howie calls “energy efficiency.” We were sitting at lunch watching chickadees at the feeder when I heard that dreaded “Thump! Thump! Thump!” and the machine shuddered to a stop. It’s not easy to open the lid to adjust the laundry. You have to press a certain button for three seconds, a red light goes on, and when it goes off, you can lift the lid. But when I press another button to start up the machine, it starts back at the beginning.

“So I have to take out all these heavy soaking wet towels, and where do I put them?” I grumbled at Howie.

“Let’s wring them out,” he suggested.

He started to help, but I grumbled some more at him, and he backed off. I finished wringing them out, and started all over. I thought perhaps the machine might prefer a lighter load, but that was worse. It won’t accept any load that includes only one or two towels.

“Wait until you have a half dozen towels, and put more in each load,” Howie said.

“Won’t work,” I assured him. I loaded in eight towels and topped them with a king-size bottom sheet, a twin top sheet, and a half-dozen pillowcases. “There,” I said after I’d added detergent and shut the lid.   “We’ll see who’s boss around here.”

“Love of my life,” said Howie, giving me a big kiss, “you are definitely the boss.”

But in the end, the machine won. It laundered the extra-heavy load to a fare-thee-well.

The stove got back at me, too, the other day. We were fixing lunch on its top. Each day around lunchtime Howie brings out a container of sliced cheese and sliced turkey, and we set about making our own sandwiches.

“Here’s the Provolone,” said Howie, tossing the plastic-wrapped cheese to me.

Now, neither of us noticed the red light was on, meaning the nice glass top was still hot from previous use.

“Thanks,” I said, and picked up the package along with strings of molten plastic mixed with melted cheese.

As I said at the beginning, the top is the only part of the stove I like. Once the glass top cooled and the molten plastic and cheese had hardened into an impenetrable coating, I took my single-edged razor blade and gave the stove top a close shave.

Don’t get me started on computers.

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About Cynthia Riggs

CYNTHIA RIGGS, author of eleven books in the Martha’s Vineyard mystery series, has a geology degree from Antioch College, an MFA from Vermont College, and a Coast Guard Masters License (100-ton vessels). She recently married Dr. Howard Attebery, who came back into her life after 62 years.
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4 Responses to DO INANIMATE OBJECTS HAVE FEELINGS?

  1. Martha Nochimson says:

    This is marvelous. I empathize completely. And I love the photos.

  2. Annette Sandrock says:

    I hope you shoved that stove gently, Cynthia, to get back in its good graces. I have been accused by certain individuals in our poetry group of anthropomorphizing everything. Ha! Ha! I may be right. Annette Sandrock

  3. Both my computers have names. So does my car. Maybe the stove and the dishwasher and the washing machine need names?

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