In an old stand-up routine, Woody Allen talked about gathering all his appliances into the living room “to talk a little sense into them” and promote harmony in the relationship. He gives a gentle pep talk (“I always try to talk before I hit…”) to his toaster, his clock radio, his air conditioner, and his TV, and he feels he has gotten through. Then, a few days later, the TV goes on the fritz and he proceeds to beat it mercilessly, ripping off the Rabbit Ears and whipping the screen with them. Later he goes to his Dentist’s office in a new building with a talking elevator. He gets in, says, “Tenth floor, please” and the elevator starts up. It stops abruptly between the eighth and ninth floors, and the electronic voice says, “So, you’re the tough guy who beats up on defenseless little TV’s, eh…”
While I don’t share Woody’s penchant for the blatant abuse of technology, I can certainly see how he could be driven to the brink. Regular readers of my diatribes know of my recent technical difficulties vis-a-vi my old G4 IBook. It has now been replaced by a shiny new aluminum MacBook Pro. But this was only part of a streak of malfunctions in my personal electronic universe.
My wife acquired a new Mac Desktop a few months back, effectively sentencing our old “Snowball” model to the purgatory of the daughter’s room. Because of the increased distance from the nexus of our wireless router, this move amounted to turning it into a video monitor. Anything with bandwidth not sufficiently fast for the instantaneous viewing of another teenagers’ inane videos on YouTube might as well be a typewriter for all the use it will see from her. When my laptop began to fail I decided to liberate the Snowball and put it to use. I moved it out, set it up on the dining room table, plugged it in, and nothing happened. Having been plugged into an outlet without a surge protector for months had effectively fried the power management circuit. It sits in front of me now, a lifeless hulk.
We had also purchased, in recent months a new Krups toaster. It’s an absolutely beautiful looking piece of equipment, with its anodized steel casing, impressive looking levers on the front that allow you to pop up your toast to several different heights (for ease of extraction, I guess) and its “Bagel Button” which supposedly toasts only one side of whatever you deposit. But it took so long to work you had to put the bread down before the chickens had actually laid the eggs for your breakfast. My wife was somewhat shocked to discover that this 4-slice behemoth, manufactured by a company whose specialty is a small coffee grinder, didn’t perform as advertised.
Since one of the vital criteria for a successful toaster is to actually make toast, this over-engineered chunk of steel and aluminum is about to be shipped back to the Krups people along with a request to please consider re-naming it “The Sexy Looking Way Too Big Krups Warm Up Your Bread and Dry It Out Machine”.
Another failure of modern automation is the coffee maker. Coffee is a very high priority with me for all the obvious reasons. Our search for the ideal coffee-making device has been long and fruitless.
In my bachelor days, the old-fashioned, boil-it-up-from-the-bottom espresso maker was more than adequate. It made a potent brew and was adequately quick; it could be cleaned quickly if you chose to ignore the copious amounts of oily buildup in the screen and the calcified water solids in the lower boiling chamber (which any dedicated bachelor would); and it was sturdy enough to drop on the floor every now and then. Later, with the advent of marriage and family, and the necessary early risings for spin classes (her of course, not me!), work, and school transportation duties, we were inspired to find a more automated approach.
Back then, black was still The New Black, and all your cool electronic stuff had to be black: stereo system, TV’s, KitchenAid Mixers, and coffee makers. We purchased our own Black Beauty, The Cuisinart Automated Brewing System. It had a twelve-cup capacity that any caffeine junkie could appreciate; but the built-in, automated grinder made a screaming howl like a London Air-Raid siren in 1942. The first time that thing went off at 5AM I flew straight up out of bed like Sylvester The Cat in the cartoons, my claws digging into the ceiling, looking around bug-eyed for the source of this screech from Hell. I had grown up in a house one block from the local fire station, and slept right through the Hook and Ladder trucks howling past at all hours of the day and night, but this was a whole new level.
We used the “system” for a while, by-passing the grind function, and ultimately by-passing even the brew function in favor of a Milita cone that we used to make drip coffee into the insulated carafe that had come with the Cuisinart. And that’s how a $120 coffee making “system” turns into a $2 garage sale special. (Warning: Purchasing anything advertised as a “system” to “help” you do something that never required a “system” before, is bound to unnaturally complicate a simple task. I have seen Gillette razors advertised as “Shaving Systems” and a pen as a “Writing System”. It’s a GD pen, for Crissakes!)
We hung with the Milita for a while, correctly sacrificing ease of operation in favor of coffee that was actually hot and tasted good. We have recently back-slid, however, and purchased another, simpler Cuisinart coffee maker. It produces a serviceable brew, but it just isn’t hot enough. I know I’m getting older, but I am not yet to that curmudgeonly-old stage of my life where my soup needs to be visibly boiling in the bowl for me to pronounce it hot. It is not, in my opinion, outrageously demanding of a brewing device to ask that the first cup out of the chute be hot enough not to warrant 45 seconds in the microwave at full power.
Still, I am generally a sucker for new technology; and if it has a remote control, consider it sold. Once, I almost plunked down the cash for mini-blinds with a remote for our bedroom, and I really should have. But with multiple layers of automation usually comes multiple opportunities for malfunction; and some tasks are better left simple and manual so you can enjoy the pride and satisfaction of the “do-it-yourself”. You will only get my 46-inch Sony High Def TV when you pry the remote from my cold, dead fingers, but I am more than willing to junk automation and join the cowboys around the campfire, waiting for their water to boil for a good cuppa Joe.