Friday, April 8, 2011

How My Guinea Pig Broke My Washing Machine (A Mostly True Story)

I've been distracted. Publishing and then promoting The Soulkeepers has absorbed every free moment of the last several weeks. So, when my washing machine began to hiccup during the spin cycle, I gave it a few light slams and told it to get it's act together, we all had problems, and I didn't have time for its mechanical bullsh*t at the moment. Apparently, that line doesn't work on husbands, children, OR washing machines. It responded by refusing to drain and leaving my clothes in a wet, smelly lump.

As I have never fixed anything in my life, I called over my husband to work some of his masculine magic on the beast. After all, his father was a handy man and, lets face it, boys just know how to fix things. It's in their DNA, right?  Wrong. He gave it a few slams on the side and called a repairman.

My washing machine is only three years old and was thankfully under warranty. But the last repairman that came to the house from Company X was a shifty-eyed, plumber panted, overweight, mess. Imagine my surprise when Burton came to the door--a straight backed, athletic-looking, professional with a smile to rival Obama's.

"Hello Mrs. Ching. I'm Burton. I'll be your repairman today. May I see the appliance in question, Mrs. Ching?"

I used to supervise a team of customer service representatives. I noticed the repetitive use of Mrs. Ching as the product of a "How to kiss as*" training course but honestly it just made me feel ninety years old.

"Sure. Come on in."  I showed Burton to my washing machine and explained the problem. He started hitting buttons in a seemingly random sequence. "If you'll excuse me, Burton, I have some work to do.  I just published a book....Say, would you like to buy one?"

"That's great, Mrs. Ching, but no."

"Okay, well I'll be in my office if you need me...or an exciting story of an orphaned boy embracing his destiny." I exited my laundry room and promptly procrastinated by posting on Facebook about how my dumb repairman had punched buttons, seemingly unaware of how to operate my machine.

Five minutes later, Burton called to me, "Mrs. Ching, I've found the problem."

Impressed at the speed of his work, I returned to the laundry room to find my washer in pieces on the floor. In his hand, Burton held up a cylindrical filter packed solid with timothy hay. When I say packed, I mean you could not have fit a finger between the strands of hay jammed in there.

"Do you know what this is, Mrs. Ching?"

"Is that a rhetorical question?"

"No. Seriously, do you know what this is?"

"It looks like hay."

"How is hay getting into your washing machine, Mrs. Ching?"

I thought about lying. I wasn't sure if stupidity was covered under warranty. But I decided to tell this overly polite repairman the honest-to-God truth. "It's from our guinea pig."

"How is hay from your guinea pig getting into your washer, Mrs. Ching?"

"Well, see, my nine year old daughter cleans her own guinea pig environment and the bottom of the area is a fleece blanket. She is supposed to shake the blanket out in the compost heap out back before she places the blanket in the washer. I suspect, since it's been a long, cold, winter, she hasn't been shaking it out very well before she shoves it in there."

"The Affinity 2000 unit is not designed to wash hay, Mrs. Ching. See this filter rests in the drainpipe and if this gets clogged it stresses the pump. I'm going to replace both for you but I don't think you should put hay in your washer anymore, Mrs. Ching."

Was it just me or was he speaking sloooowly, as if he'd decided I wasn't very bright and he'd have to explain at my speed?

"Umm...yeah... I... uh...really wasn't washing the hay. I mean...She's nine. I'll talk to her about being more careful."

"I think you should, Mrs. Ching. The Affinity 2000 is a sophisticated high efficiency washer. Are you maintaining it monthly?"

"Maintaining...whatsy howzat..."

Again with the kindergarten voice. "You should be running an empty load of white vinegar through it once a month to clean out any residue, Mrs. Ching. I noticed some build up. Regular maintenance can extend the life of your appliance, Mrs. Ching."

"Um...huh...Yeah, want to do that. Sure."

I watched as he swiftly reassembled my machine.  I think the silence made him uncomfortable.

"So, did you get your degree in writing from around here?" he asked.

"Actually, my degree is in accounting from Illinois. And nursing. I'm an RN, too."

"You have degrees in accounting and nursing. How does that prepare you for writing?"

"It's esoteric."

He made a grunting sound. I couldn't tell if it was a verbal eye roll or in response to re-positioning the washer where it was supposed to be.

"Where did you go to college?" I retorted.  I fully expected some sort of trade school that would make me feel better about my seemingly pointless education.

"I have a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Illinois, Mrs. Ching."

"Wow," was all I could manage.

"You are all set, Mrs. Ching," he said. He walked past me towards the door and let himself out. At the bend in my walkway, he stopped and looked back at me standing in the doorway. "And, Mrs. Ching..."


"Keep the guinea pig away from the washing machine."

He climbed behind the wheel of his truck, laughing.


  1. Great story! Having 3 girls of my own - It's truely amazing what "treasures" are found in and around the washing machine. (And dryer)!

  2. Love it.

    And yeah, everytime they say "Mrs. Polli" I look for my mother in law and wondering if I have gray hair.

  3. This is so funny! I almost peed my pants.

  4. Thank you Carissa, and Carrot.

    Sorry about your pants, Jen. I can wash those for you!

  5. Such a funny story! The last time my machine broke down, the repairman gave me a stern lecture about how I ought to get my husband to clean out the filters more often. Even as a bitter 'n' twisted divorcee, I couldn't think of a suitably cutting remark. Sigh...

  6. O.M.G. That was hilarious. Just hilarious. I was afraid you were going to say the guinea pig was stuck in the washing machine and was mightily glad you didn't.
    "The Affinity 2000" Buahahahaha! ('Affinity' is the name of the company that sends all our work to India)

  7. Very nice story. We could never afford a new one, so we would buy used washers and dryers at the local auction, kill'em in about a year and move on to another one. We raised 5 kids, so the amount of laundry was beyond belief.

  8. Hi, Genevieve. Great tale!

    A degree in mechanical engineering, and he's fixing washing machines. Well, that sure did him a lot of good, didn't it? I love how condescending he sounds. Was he really that way in real life?

    BTW, Holly Lisle, one of my favorite authors, worked as an ER nurse before she became a fiction author. I imagine it gave a little extra bit of authenticity to I See You.


  9. Oh man. Then he flew away, his cape flapping in his own personal breeze.

  10. Ha ha Gen that was so funny! I could almost picture him waving a screwdriver at you or something!

  11. Really loved the line, "I'll be in my office if you need me...or an exciting story of an orphaned boy embracing his destiny."

    Don't be hating on trade schools though.

  12. Jeez, you had me laughing out loud with this one Gen, I absolutely loved it!! :D

  13. Thanks Everyone!

    Tim, actually, I have a very high opinion of people who go to trade school as both of my parents did (florist and sheet metal worker).

    While much of this story is true, I added extra tension between myself and the repairman for humorous effect (more than actually occurred). He seemed like a nice guy and seriously did have a mechanical engineering degree.

  14. Fun. I like the deprecating tone you achieved that worked well with the tension you added to the scene.

  15. Thanks for the giggle, Mrs Ching!! LOL

  16. I had a guinea pig as a kid. His name was Jellybean. He was a real rascal, fun and all, but one time we went on a trip—Disney, I think-- and first cleaned and loaded up his large cage with food. When we returned, Jellybean had a big swollen leg. Unclear why, but he was in pain. Couldn’t even put weight through it. My brother and I were heartbroken and addled with guilt. When it because clear that the leg was not going to heal, our father took Jellybean and pulled no punches: he was taking Jellybean to the vet to be put to sleep, he told us. Best for Jellybean.

    Years later, when I was off to college, my father was doing a personal video documentary of some of the peace and nature of New England. It was a film only for himself and the family. He traveled to each pretty autumn vista, including a locally famous bridge over a river. In his video narration, he slipped and said, “Jellybean’s final resting place.” He didn’t even recall saying it until my brother and I picked up on it when viewing the film. Jellybean, it seems never made it to the vet. He met with the bag and stone in river method of euthanasia. That’s how it was done back then in rural Massachusetts.

    Your funny tale reminded me of Jellybean.

  17. Wow, CoolKayaker, that is about the saddest thing I've ever heard. I'm sorry.

  18. Aw, thanks, G.P. It wasn't as bad as it sounds. We were kind of getting sick of Jellybean anyhow.


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