Friday, April 3, 2009

The Dishwasher and the Elliptical

"ERR!" The LCD panel on my dishwasher flashed at me accusingly that morning. "ERR! ERR!"

I wasn't completely blind-sided. There had been indicators that our relationship was changing. Lately, she had grown more moody. She knew that I preferred the 93-minute Normal Cycle, and for the past week, she had deliberately defaulted to the 91-minute China/Crystal Cycle. No button I pressed--no matter how tenderly or passionately--could change her mind. A couple of times I had awakened to find her shaking and groaning alone in the kitchen at night. Unable to sleep, she had woken up on her own and was sobbing into her drain.

I remembered happier times. It had been love at first sight. She was a looker--jet black, sleek, extremely quiet, with a hidden control panel, configurable trays, and these special fold-down holders for wine glass stems. We had been together just over a year (translation: 3 months past the expiration of my warranty).

"ERR! ERR! ERR!" Enough already. I pulled the plug. Crap. What to do? The problem was apparently electromagnetic, and outside my repair comfort zone. Visions of my immediate future filled my mind: taking multiple trips home from the office to meet an unqualified repairman (who smelled of cigarettes and bad cologne) who had probably never dealt with this model; having to stay late at the office to make up the time; enduring extended delays while the repair guy ordered the very expensive parts he didn't keep in stock; watching a tall stack of dirty dishes grow steadily in the sink; and frantically trying to plug yet another major leak in my checking account this month. Crap, I said again.

For solace, I walked across the dining room and into the utility room that I use as a make-shift gym. There resided my other love--a gleaming gym-quality elliptical. I flipped on the switch and stepped onto the pedals.

With the first stride, I could tell that something wasn't quite right. At a certain point in the cycle--the same place each time--I would feel a definite catch in the left pedal arm. "Dammit!" I don't know what I had done to displease the God of Large Electrical Appliances, but boy, was he was pissed.

I knelt down next to the machine and pushed on all the joints that I could reach. Nothing. I wanly contemplated the large plastic cover (secured by multiple screws) which enclosed the dark forbidding space the pedal arm disappeared into. I remembered the warning note in the instruction manual about how you were supposed to check the tightness of all bolts after every use, and felt a twinge. They must have really meant it. Maybe there was some play in one of the joints and something had bent.

Whatever it was, this felt like "one of those problems"--the kind that (1) there would be no readily discernible cause for, (2) would get quickly get worse over time, and (3) would destroy my pleasure and motivation in using the elliptical. In addition, there went my current plan for losing the additional 10 pounds I picked up in the past year. I settled back on my heels and shook my head.

And then I saw it: the small piece of twig debris lying on the track for the left support wheel under the pedal arm. Could it be??? I reached down and flicked it off, turned the elliptical back on, and climbed aboard. Sure enough: smooth and easy, like a knife through soft buttah.

As I sweated and panted for the next 20 minutes, I thought about all of the beliefs and judgments I had engaged in that minute or so, and the unpleasant experience I had given myself as a result. What purpose had the bias toward unhappiness in that moment served? If I hadn't been crouched down just the way I was, could jumping to that assumption that this was "a difficult problem" actually have prevented me from finding and seeing the simple solution?

My experience with the dishwasher had definitely greased the rails. Why had I gone to unhappiness over that? Even if it ended up costing me additional money and time and effort, what purpose does the unhappiness serve? Is it a Law of Nature (e.g., Money Lost + Staying Late at Office + Dirty Dishes = Pain x 1000)? A lot of people I know would say that. However, the only thing that was certain about the outcome of the dishwasher was that I was unhappy about it. Everything else was make-believe.

Why do we go there so easily? If we instead chose an optimistic scenario, we would still be living in make-believe. The only that would be certain is that we would be happy in that moment.

As long as we're just makin' stuff up, how would you rather spend your time?

Update 1: I called Electrolux, and they told me I had to hold down the cancel button for 15 seconds. YAY! The dishwasher works! All that angst was unnecessary! What a great lesson!

Update 2 (15 minutes later): The "ERR!" message is back! The dishwasher is still broken! HOW COOL IS THAT?!? I can't wait to meet the really hot-and-interesting repairperson.

Update 3 (24 hours later): My brand spankin' new Roomba doesn't runba! WOOHOO! (It TOTALLY doesn't suck--literally.) Maybe they'll upgrade me for free!!!


  1. Hey Chris, I really enjoyed reading your blog.

    As I read it, I started thinking about the unhappiness I give myself in similar situations and how (wanting to be prepared for everything), I often go to as many really bad scenarios as possible. In fact, most of the time, my unhappiness isn't from the immediate problem, but my heightened anticipation of the subsequent problems, costs, time-syncs, underwhelming repair people, et al. All of which, of course, hasn't happened yet.

    As I reflected on my process, I realized that the reasons for doing all this were even more bizarre: everything from diligent preparedness to trying to figure out why God is doing this to me (what's the cosmic joke) to superstition about these things coming in bunches to... well. Things that I don't actively profess, but, still seem to be there. It's pretty bizarre.

    The cool thing is that, once I recognize what I'm doing, I can turn it off. The catch is recognizing that I'm doing it. Your story is a great anchor point for me now that will help me see this sooner.

    Thanks! Tef

  2. Chris,

    What a pleasure reading this! The other day I noticed that one of the payments of a client had not gone through and so I decided to call him. We left messages on each-other voicemail machines. When we finally talked I told him that it was so great that the payment didn't go through the first time, so I could hear his voice again and check in with him how things are going! He was shyly laughing and telling me how creative I was! I can tell you: it makes life WAY MORE FUN!!!!

    And after reading your story I know I will never look my dish-washer the way I used too! Thanks for opening a whole new world to me...


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