Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Requiem



When our toaster began to fall apart a few months ago I ignored it. It was easy enough to wedge the broken handle back on the lever, and it only fell off once or twice a week. So I used the same approach as I have been using on my failing teeth and dilapidating wardrobe: persist in ignore mode as long as possible. Then switch to crisis mode.

Who is that naked, toothless, toastless woman ?

This past Sunday afternoon I noticed the toaster was surrounded by a debris field of crumbs, more crumbs than usual, as if someone had been snacking on toast in the middle of the day. I looked more closely: the little lever, minus the wobbly black handle, was jammed in the down position, and the machine was unplugged. I wiggled the lever. It was stuck. Irrevocably stuck. I lifted the toaster and shook it. There was a tinny rattle, a shower of crumbs, but nothing else budged. The thing had lockjaw. It was dead.

I sighed. I'd have to get a toaster. That sounded difficult. No, that sounded impossible. Where would I go ? The mall ? Where I would be confronted with a wall of toasters, each more byzantine than the next ? Digital toasters. Talking toasters. Fluorescent toasters. Toasters with cappucino attachments. Toasters that read your mind. Toasters that apply harsh deconstructive literary criticism to your verse.

I remember my Aunt Sofie's vintage toaster. It lived at her little cabin by the lake. I remember it from the late 50's and early 60's; it hailed from, I think, the 30's or 40's. Instead of toast slots, it had paired toast doors that opened and closed in tandem, and a frayed electric cord covered in some kind of herringbone plaid fabric. It was dilapidated and dangerous, like an ancient madwoman hellbent on taking out the whole household and herself by smoking in bed. I remember mornings there, waking to the oddly pleasant commingled smells of toast and PineSol, a smell I would re-encounter years later in a corridor of Norfolk State Prison.

There's nothing effete about my Proustian moments.

One can, of course, make toast in the oven. That was my plan B. My temporary fix. The oven has a good twenty, thirty years left in it. Why, it will probably outlive me ! I was all set. And if all else failed, I could eat raw toast. This woman CAN live by bread alone. I swept up the crumb field and pushed the dead machine back into its place between the bread bowl and the vitamins. I'd give it a decent wake. All would be well.

Monday, DK called me at work.

I bought you a new toaster he said.

My dear husband. Who cares for me. Who keeps me supplied with toasters and soymilk ice cream. Who protects me from needing to confront hellish walls of mall toasters. Understand that this was a purely selfless act: the man doesn't even eat toast. What greater love, I ask you ?

When I got home, the corpse had been discretely removed and there was a big, black box on the counter. I opened it as DK looked on. He wanted to demonstrate the feature that had sold him on this particular model. I extracted the bulbous black machine from the box.

See ? said DK, pulling out the little crumb tray. Cool, huh ?

I stared at the thing. It was impressive. Solid. Broad shouldered. Substantial. Done up in graphite black with silver trim, it looked like a 30's gangster limo. The front control panel was virtually aeronautic, covered with buttons, levers, lights, knobs, dials, plus some strange little toast-like icons arranged in a graceful arc. I felt overwhelmed. There was a "bagel" button and a "defrost" button. There was a "warming tray." DK handed me the instruction manual and went back to his study.

I stood there, alone with what the manual calls "The Appliance."



There was something sullen about its bulbous curves, haughty even. Defiant. It was, obviously, slumming. And not happy about it. I noticed that it was a German brand, Krups. Weren't they a munitions manufacturer ? Would "The Appliance" launch my toast ceilingward into the light fixture that drips water when someone showers upstairs standing too close to the yet-uncaulked faucet ?

I opened the manual and read:

The appliance is not intended for use by inapt persons without close supervision.

I looked up at the water-stained ceiling. I looked down at my outfit -- frayed shorts handed down from my son, ink-stained tee-shirt, torn white canvas sneakers, all mud and grass stained. I ran my tongue over the rough surface of tooth #3 whose drilled-out cap needed a permanent filling. I thought of how I was six months late for my yearly mammogram and lab tests, had forgotten to take my once-a-week osteoporosis pill for two weeks running, and hadn't yet devised an excuse to postpone Friday's follow-up periodontal visit. My car probably needed an oil change. The crabgrass in the back yard was growing like, like a weed.

The Appliance glared at me. It rested its case.

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