The Humor and Life, in Particular Web site
author:  Margie Culbertson

"1st Place" in the Best "Short" Humor!
June/July 2002 Humor Writing Contest

Do It Your–selfer


Allen McGill

My toaster hates me. So does my coffee maker, dishwasher, vacuum and all the other mechanical "servants" that I own–but the toaster can be really vindictive.

I never would have known how much so, except that the alarm didn't go off this morning...because I had set it. It's something I normally don't do–the alarm clock hates me, too, you see–but my wife, Carol, had fallen asleep while reading in bed last night and I hadn't the heart to awaken her for such a menial task.

This morning, late for work, we were dashing around the house getting ready. "I'll make instant coffee," Carol said. "You put some bread in the toaster."

She couldn't have been thinking clearly. Nor could I, since I did as she asked. The bread was inserted, the lever depressed and...nothing. Minutes went by...still nothing. I jiggled the lever, checked the plug and shook the toaster. It was a waste of time.

"Forget it," I said, "we can grab something to eat at the office," and sat down to sip at the coffee. By the second sip, the kitchen was filled with thick, acrid smoke spewing forth from the burning toast.

With a cry, Carol rushed from the table and wrested the plug from the wall, muttering under her breath: [I should have known better.] And she should have.

I watched, helpless, as she upended the toaster over the sink, dropping carbon–like slabs into it that might well be used to pave a walkway through our garden.

Now, it's not my fault. I have no idea why everything electric chooses me to vent its animosity on. I've never done anything to one of them, that I know of, and I'd be happy to apologize to it if I did. When anyone else in my home uses an appliance, it works perfectly, but just let me try to juice an orange, or extract an ice cube, and that's another story.

The juicer, for example, will react to my simple ministrations with a low, threatening growl, but no action. While the freezer section of my refrigerator, the last time I dared to go near it, jettisoned a half–dozen ice cubes down the front of my pajamas.

Everyone I've told about my "condition" tells me that it's all my imagination. I'd like to believe them, but I can't. Even Carol tried to convince me of it, once, and tried to prove it by conducting some experiments.

First, she'd use some appliance, the air conditioner in one case, letting it run as smoothly and efficiently as the salesperson had said it would. When we were both satisfied that it was in perfect working order, she turned it off, stood back, and watched as I took my turn.

Hesitantly, I touched nothing but the SLOW START button, as she had done, pressing it slowly but firmly...nothing happened. The air was as quiet and still as it had been before I'd pushed the button. But then, just as I was turning to Carol with my smuggest "I told you so" look, the mechanical monster threw itself into HIGH EXHAUST, creating a maelstrom in the living room that nearly tore the buttons from my shirt as it tried to draw me through its vents.

Coincidence? That's what Carol believed, she said, until all the other appliances tested with the same result: electric mixer, iron, microwave oven (we'd decided by then that the [real] oven was much too risky), food processor, hair dryer and–I get chills when I thing of it–the lawnmower.

Happily, Carol does not believe in divorce.

To those who ask about the scars on my chin, I usually say that I received them during a football skirmish. Much easier than trying to explain that it's the result of my one–time encounter with an electric razor. The permanent puckering in the outer corners of my lips is a reminder of my single exposure to a sunlamp.

But, aside from the restrictions my handicap forces on me, I don't really mind it too much–as long as someone is at hand to operate my adversaries for me. Problems arise when, for one reason or other, I find myself at home alone, when my solitude comes unexpectedly, when contingency plans have not been enacted in the form of automatic timers for the lights, thermostat settings, etc.

It gets lonely sitting in a silent, chill, darkening house, surrounded by gleaming objects lying in wait, daring me to lay a finger on them. The TV set, for example. It just sits there like an undetonated mine, poised for my slightest movement, ready, literally, to burst into life.

It wasn't always like this. When I was growing up, everything worked as well for me as it did for everyone else. It's hard to remember exactly when the change came about, but the first time I remember noticing something strange was after I'd moved into my first apartment–alone. It was a mindless thing for someone with my condition to do, I now realize, but who [knew]?

I bought an electric clock for the ran backwards. But only sometimes. Only when it thought I wasn't watching. Reflected in my kitchen window, reversing the image, it should have appeared to be running backwards...but it wasn't. I stared at it for some time, unsure of what I was seeing. Then, when I turned to look directly at the clock, the second hand whirred to a halt, paused, then began sweeping forward. Oh, yes, I knew something was up.

That was the beginning of my "backward" period. The only gear my car would tolerate was reverse. The carriage return on my old electric portable typewriter sent the roller flying off to the left, rather than to the right, and my building's elevator refused to take me anywhere but to the basement if I'd pressed UP, or the roof if I'd pressed DOWN. That is, if it chose to stop for me at all!

After long deliberation, I decided that something was truly amiss and, knowing little about electricity, decided to consult with the experts, electricians, to see if they could answer any of my questions. Most of the ones I talked with eyed me quite strangely, not that I blamed them. Two of them, however, grinned knowingly.

"I wouldn't be telling anyone else about this," one said. "They'll think you're touched in the head. But, sure, there are people I know of who have the same problem as yours. There's something about them that makes electricity do peculiar things. Like some people can't get along with cats and dogs. There's really not a thing you can do about it except keep your distance."

"My brother–in–law has the same problem," said the other. " And it's getting worse. He doesn't even have to touch an appliance any more. He just has to be near one. Why, just last week, those little gobblers on his kids' old [Pac–Man] game...."

I dashed away, not wanting to hear the rest. Since it seemed that the situation was destined to worsen, I resigned myself to spending my life denied of the comforts afforded to "normal" people by modern technology.

Brushing one's teeth manually is no great hardship, and the five mile walk to and from work every day is healthy...even in the rain, and cold, and snow. And I certainly don't need a vibrating chair. (I'd seen too many old Sing–Sing movies to take [that] kind of chance.)

I'd just have to live my life as a pioneer, a do–it–yourselfer, creating my own energy sources, using my initiative, developing dexterity.

I just wish I didn't have to write all this in longhand. I didn't tell you about what the computer did to me.

©Allen McGill

Allen McGill is originally from NYC, and is now living, writing, acting and directing in Mexico. Allen studied at the New School For Social Research and Hunter College. His articles, essays, stories, etc., have been published in The New York Times, The Writer, Newsday Magazine, MD Magazine, NY Sunday News Magazine, and many others. Online and all upcoming publications include: Flashquake (play); The Heron's Nest (Haiku), Cenotaph Pocket (story), The Storyteller (story), Remembrance (Haiku), and Agrippina (story).

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©Margie Culbertson

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