Saturday, October 24, 2009

Cat, Boy and a Broken Machine

The dishwasher broke today - oh I was so mad. My son sat and watched me like a little cross legged Buddha while I did dance around the kitchen, calling out the vengeful ghosts of warriors in Greek and Latin epics to aid me in my revenge on General Electric (or whoever owns their appliance unit these days). 

"Where is my spear!" I kept thinking, "The useful spirit in the device of mystical dishwashing powers has left my hearth. Gather the tribes! Hoist the sails! We'll topple the walls! Tell your families you could be a while - this may take ten years!"

My boy thought my grimaces and gestures were hysterical (if I can judge by his giggles and rolls on the floor). I'm glad he's still on his first two dozen words or so. If he'd been any more quick on the uptake, he would have quickly picked up a few additional words this morning. 

Maggie, our cat, came in to assess my madness and sat next to the boy. 

"Meow!" he said and laughed. 

Maggie let him pet her. The two of them regarded me with interest. 

It was at this point in my madness that I realized I should calm down. Not that I was able to do so at that particular moment - it actually took two hours or more - but the presence of the cat and the boy (spectators for all intents and purposes) made me consider myself a little more closely. 

I folded up my handy home made tools that typically satisfy the minor gods that run the dishwasher and picked up the phone. I was so defeated that I hardly raised an eyebrow when the GE representative told me they would arrive somewhere between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on the chosen day. 

"Will they bring back the spirit that drains the water?" was my only concern, though I did not put it that way to the nice woman who took my call. She booked my appointment and wished me a good day - just imagine the nerve of her. 

"Okay," I said looking at the boy and the cat, "I'm being reasonable." 

Robert Pirsig wrote that when machines get too complicated we like to keep the covers on them (my paraphrase), that devices more complicated than the engine of a simple motorcycle are too much for most folks. He also wrote a little about the madness that awaits those courageous (or foolhardy) enough to toy with anything more complex. I felt his words resting on the back of my neck for most of the morning. Truth is not comforting. 

"Meow," my son said again. The cat was belly up at this point, enjoying a good tummy rub.  

"Okay, okay," I said aloud and was grateful that only public madness can get you committed for the most part, "We'll do something else."

I emptied and washed the dishes that were in the machine and settled into the rest of the day after a while. I remembered that it's no so bad washing dishes by hand and tried not to think about the bill I'm likely to see at the end of the GE visit this week.  I went into the living room and rolled the ball back and forth with my son for a while. 

I should probably re-read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. When I read it in grad school years ago, it disturbed and awed me so much that I found it hard to think about much else for weeks. I don't think I'd felt that way about any other book before or since - except perhaps Moby Dick. 

But this is probably too much to think about tonight as well. Machines are the things of business and don't help you rest. Better thoughts for the light of day. 

I'll try to remember instead the image of my little boy laughing while petting the cat. The two of them happy and untroubled by broken machines. 

"Meow!" I can still hear him say with a laugh. 

"All right, All right - I'm going to bed." 

By the way, God bless you Robert Pirsig. God bless you. 

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