Friday, December 21, 2007

The Secret Life of Inanimate Objects

Jews do not believe in witchcraft or superstition. They believe that there is a logical reason for everything that happens. At least most Jewish men believe this way. If they are being honest, married Jewish women will express just a bit of doubt.

I do not walk around watching fearfully over my shoulder for an attack by the objects around me. I do, however, understand perfectly when a woman, busy with shabbos or yom tov or special occasion preparations worries "Which appliance will break?" It is a foregone conclusion that if an occasion is coming something will indeed break down.

Which household item breaks seems to be a matter of rotating position. If the stove's thermostat broke before Sukkos then it is the washing machine that will break before Pesach, although occasionally an item pushes ahead in the line and breaks twice in one year.
Items seem to sense when they will be needed the most and they "go on strike" at the least opportune moment. Mixers hear the words "baking for Purim" and promptly develop aches and pains. Air conditioning units do just fine until they overhear the weatherman saying "exceptionally hot and muggy weather coming on Tuesday."

Ever overhear a woman murmuring words of encouragement to her car? She knows whereof she speaks. My car, old and reaching the limits of its lifetime, was nonetheless working more or less okay--until my husband and I, whispering in our room, said the magic words: "We need to get you a new car." These fateful words were whispered on a Motzoai Shabbos. On Sunday morning, while I was driving, the muffler fell off. Two days later on the Belt Parkway the driver's side window fell half down in its frame and would not go up or down--and of course it poured that night. Muffler and window repaired, the seal around the window cracked. It was only after many tearful assurances to the car that it was not leaving us, just going to be my son's instead of mine, that the car settled down.

Computers are particularly sensitive to the nuances of human thought. My computer never crashes if I am playing a game online. It never crashes if all I am doing is typing a shopping list. It totally ignores me if I am answering emails. But let me be on a deadline for an article or for a school handout and it unleashes all kinds of fury. Let me be standing in coat and hat with my hand out waiting for a printout and there is no doubt that the printer will take an "unscheduled holiday."

The Shabbos clock in our bedroom knows exactly when I have a good book I want to curl up with Friday night--it "fails" just when I'm about to find out who did it. But let me actually want to get to sleep early and it doesn't turn off at all. Examine the clock after Shabbos and you will find nothing, absolutely nothing, wrong with it.

For years I have had a standing appointment with a local repair service for two weeks before Pesach. The first time that I called and they asked which appliance needed service, and I answered "I don't know yet," they were hesitant about coming out. Over the years they, too, have become "believers." They always have something to repair when they arrive.

A few weeks ago we were at a simcha and a young married woman was complaining that in the year she had lived in her new home she had had to repair virtually every appliance in the kitchen. She ended with "At least nothing else can go wrong." We loudly shushed her. Toilets and showers can hear over great distances and furnaces read minds. And the chandelier over our table was beginning to sway.

The words "I love you" should be said often to husbands, to children, to parents. And if you are a smart balabusta you'll whisper them to the inanimate "members" of your household as well. I guess everything likes to be appreciated. I'm taking no chances.


Anonymous said...

Despite the evidence he has seen with his own eyes my husband does not believe that appliances can have it in for their owners. He is sure that there is a reason somewhere. That's okay. I still plug in three Shabbos urns when it's a long shabbos and I have company. One always manages to need to rest at some point over shabbos. It recuperates just fine by the next Shabbos.

I didn't bother to teach my newly married son the facts about things in the house, but I did discuss them with my new daughter in law. So did her mother. As long as she is a "believer" I'm not worried about my son.

Anonymous said...

No wonder men don't understand women. We must be inhabiting parallel but separate universes. If the day would ever come where I said I love you to my car or computer my friends have my permission to take me straight to Belleview. There's a logical reason for everything that you mentioned but you have to want to look for it.

Anonymous said...

Pretty good definition of the difference between the sexes. The men are sure they can control everything and the women know that some things like machinery have a will of their own. My parents once had to be away from home shortly before a yomtov. My dad told my mom that her nutty belief that her appliances know when yomtov is coming was going to be proven to be false. Everything was working before they left and no one was in the house. They arrived home and my dad went to make a cup of coffee while my mom unpacked. He put on the kettle, turned the knob and nothing. No flame no gas. You should have seen the look on my dad's face. And yet he still believes there is some reason for that dead burner, some reason he can accept.

Anonymous said...

Some of us guys understand this. If I even casually mention I'm going out on a date my car needs an emergency trip to the mechanics. I guess I'm not married because my car is not ready for me to be yet. Good an excuse as any other one.

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, my laptop was kind enough to conk out slowly, letting me save all my files first. And it timed it just before my laptop power needs would rapidly increase, meaning I'd have had to buy a new one anyway, but far more reluctantly.

We had a lovely partnership for four years, and I will miss her.