The LG 5.8 cubic foot Capacity Top Load Washer sat in the laundry room, brand new. Maybe it was my imagination, but it looked insouciant.
Dad said it was the latest and greatest in laundering technology. Supposedly, some sort of internal sensor system (having something to do with a computer) fine-tuned water levels depending on clothing weight. Or something. I can't remember exactly what he—or was it the moving guy?—said.
I did notice the washing machine had several preset wash cycles—Allergiene, Sanitary, Bright Whites, Towels, Heavy Duty, Bedding, and more. You could select them with a shiny, space-age-looking chrome dial. (I would later discover the machine had other fancy features with names like TurboWash™ 360, ENERGY STAR® Qualified, Smart Diagnosis™, and ThinQ™ Technology [Wi-Fi Enabled]).
It was expensive, Dad said. He'd just purchased it for his new home on Vancouver Island. He felt pleased. He always did like new contraptions.
I didn't think much about the machine at the time. It's not like I had any special interest in appliances. And the house was his, not mine. So I just helped him settle in and drove back to my place a half hour away. If it weren't for Covid arriving shortly thereafter, I never would have thought about Dad's washing machine ever again.
But the virus hit, and economic shutdowns vaporized all the concerts Dad and I had scheduled (we're musicians). The shutdowns also vaporized my wife's business—the one she'd built from the ground up after emigrating from Japan. Almost overnight, everything had changed. Dad—almost 80—now found himself alone in his new home with nothing to do, his projected concert revenues canceled, dealing with health challenges. Koko and I had our own new challenges, too. And so, after a chat, Dad, Koko, and I decided to throw in together and hunker down in the same house until the Covid lunacy abated. It only made sense. Win-win-win.
Well, it was win-win-win, with a minor caveat. The caveat was the washing machine. Turns out that for all its razzle-dazzle features, it didn't actually clean clothes. Even worse, it took hours to not clean clothes. The "Allergiene" cycle, for example, took almost four hours. Yet when you pulled your clothes out, you could still make out the orange juice or tomato sauce stains. I'd never encountered a more useless washing machine.
"How you feeling about this new washing machine?", I asked Dad, a few days after the hunkering down began.
"Great!", said Dad.
Okay, I thought. That's not unusual. Music—as opposed to the mundane or practical—occupies most of Dad's awareness, and always has. Besides, most of his clothes are black, and he probably hasn't noticed it's not removing the ketchup stains. Maybe he will in a few weeks.
And maybe in the meantime, I thought, I could figure out a way to reprogram the machine for cycles which actually washed. And were faster.
But no. That turned out to be way too much to hope for. The machine allowed no independent control over water volume, cycle time, or water temperatures. It only allowed selection of a preset computerized cycle—none of which got your clothes clean.
The more I used the thing, the more I hated it. As did Koko. Everything about it was wrong. It didn't even have an agitator. How does a machine wash clothes without an agitator? You need friction. You need something to really move the water. But all this thing had was a few ridges on the bottom surface of the drum. They didn't remotely cut it.
The newfangled LG, it turned out, also skimped on water and power usage (the cycles all included down time, during which the machine just stopped spinning to let the clothes soak). So, no agitator, not enough water, and not enough activity.
Yet more irritating was the reason it skimped on water and power: it was trying to stop global warming. Oops—I mean "climate change". It was "environmentally friendly". Except it wasn't, because you usually had to run at least two cycles to get your clothes clean. That's right: you had to use the same amount of water in the end anyway, and double the electricity.
And so—not for the first time—I had stumbled upon yet another example of technological "progress" which exacerbated the very (pseudo) problem it purported to solve. The new useless LG "Save the World!" piece of garbage was the home equivalent of Hollywood stars taking private jets to a carbon reduction conference in Switzerland.
As the weeks turned into months, and I ran cycle after inadequate cycle, I began catching myself fantasizing about destroying the thing with a sledgehammer. Still, Dad wouldn't budge. Sometimes I took to hand washing my clothes in the utility sink with a washboard. No lie.
Finally, I got a respite. The world started opening up again, and we booked a short tour. Most of the theaters had their own laundry room backstage, with old-time washing machines. And so, for a glorious two weeks, I re-experienced the 1978-era thrill of throwing my clothes into Niagara &%^$#*@ Falls. The old Maytags and Whirlpools didn't just wash your clothes. They violently attacked them. Oh Lord, did they ever. You pushed "start", and water started gushing in like on that Hoover Dam scene on "Superman". The agitator—resembling a medieval, corkscrew-style, torture device—thrashed, drilled, strangled, pulverized your clothes. Oh yeah. Suds flew everywhere when you lifted the lid up. Even the noise, in all its unapologetic volume and belligerence, was awesome: KSHH KSHH KSSH KSHH KSHH KSHH KSHH KSHH. The thing had a job to do, dammit, and it was bloody well going to do it. Don't like the noise? Get out of the room.
And then, fifteen, or twenty, or twenty-five minutes later—whatever you'd chosen—you pulled your clothes out, and they were so clean, you could perform open heart surgery on them.
I was so sick of the piece of garbage LG at home, using the old-time machines became my tour highlight. No computers, no Wi-Fi access, no LED, no insufficiently laundered clothes, no BS. Just a couple of knobs, a high-volume hydropower blitzkrieg, and then, clean laundry. Sure, playing Dad's and my songs was fun. But watching those politically incorrect old Maytags savagely obliterating every last microbe on my clothes? And in fifteen minutes flat? That was some real rock 'n roll.
The end of the story is this.
We got home, and then, a miracle happened: the LG washing machine began to malfunction. The cycle would start, then because of some internal computer glitch, would stop. Cycles began shutting down more and more. Finally, the machine stopped working altogether.
Koko and I were ecstatic. Finally, something that would convince Dad we needed a new washing machine. He could ignore poor performance. He couldn't ignore total breakdown.
I did call a repairman, out of respect for Dad. My worry was he would fix it. But, thank God, another miracle occurred: he showed up and said, "Oh, you got one of these? These are terrible. They always break".
And then another miracle: "I hate sharing bad news, but it's going to cost you more to fix this than to buy a new one".
"Bad news"? I felt like chug-a-lugging a bottle of champagne and doing a celebratory Chris Farley cartwheel. Instead, I kept calm and reported the news to Dad and Koko.
"I say we just buy a traditional type of washing machine", I added.
I began looking up models online, only to discover something I hadn't known before: minus one exception (about which below), no one made normal washing machines anymore. And almost no one made them anymore, because the government had all but made manufacturing them illegal.
Did you know that? I didn't. Maybe I'm the last one to know. But I'd only ever lived in places that had older washing machines. I had no idea how lousy the new ones were, or that the new lousy ones were almost the only ones available anymore.
The US Department of Energy, I discovered, had begun imposing energy efficiency regulations in the early 1990s. A decade later, they made the regulations even stricter (see here also). Then, as the years passed, they made them even stricter. And then stricter. And then stricter. All the while, the feds offered appliance manufacturers huge tax incentives—i.e., huge cash rewards—to accelerate their phase out of functional washing machines.
Government succeeded. Today, minus the loophole-exploiting Speed Queen (which the feds will probably crush soon), you cannot find a new washing machine—front- or top-loading—which washes clothes anywhere near as well as its predecessors. The rationale for this—saving the world from global warming—doesn't even rise to the level of ludicrous. Just for starters, as I type this, we're enduring one of the coldest winters ever recorded. New Hampshire's Mount Washington Observatory just recorded a wind chill calculation of minus 109 degrees Farenheit, an all-time record for the United States (and approaching midway between the average temperatures of Jupiter and Mars). Temperatures are thirty degrees Farenheit colder than average in many places. Why would anyone want to bring temperatures down even further? And at the cost of destroying washing machine functionality? And what loon could actually believe home washing machines change the climate?
In any case, thanks to an essentially totalitarian government run by bought-and-paid-for liars, control freaks, and imbeciles, we have gone technologically backward—certainly in the appliance domain, but in others—for no good reason at all. (Regulations have also downgraded dishwashers, toilets, showers, and other appliances, but we can discuss those another time)
I need to end this piece (I say this in the unlikely event anyone's still reading). Here's how I solved our washing machine problem.
The Speed Queen looked good, but there was a wait time for delivery, and I needed something pronto. It was pricey, too. So I found a local guy who found, reconditioned, and then sold, pre-control-freak-era models—the kind that actually cleaned clothes.
Koko and I went to his house. He had half eight or nine washer/dryer combos in his garage, most of them in very good condition. His business, he said, was booming. He couldn't keep up with demand.
"Government, they have ruined the machines", he said in his thick Guyanese accent. "New ones are no good. People are calling me everyday now, begging for older ones". It kind of felt like we'd plugged into an underground, "off the books" black market. How long until Control Freak Government tried to shut our new friend down, too? They'd already effectively banned the manufacture of the old-style machines. Maybe their resale would be next. Or even, owning them. Who knew anymore? In a flash, I saw a possible criminal future for myself a few years down the road...I was running an underground, continent-wide, illegal appliance ring. I was the mastermind of a secret Appliance Rebellion. My crew and I did it all—illegal manufacture and distribution, smuggling, the whole bit. I was a cross between William Wallace, El Chapo and Harriet Tubman. Big Brother would come after me, but I'd always stay one step ahead, just like Jason Bour—
"So would you like one?", said the Guyanese guy. "Oh. Right. Yes. For sure". We picked out a set. Old Whirlpools. Four hundred bucks for both.
And when we got them home and turned them on...it was rock 'n roll laundry time again, just like when I was on tour, just like when I was a kid. No four hour cycles. No wifi access or fake energy-saving or motherboards. No more unwashed clothes. No more overpriced, overcomplicated garbage. No more fake "progress".
Only supreme functionality, thanks to a good old-fashioned drum, motor, agitator, and a few manual dials. And water. Blessed water. Sudsy, cleansing, raucous water. It was a washing machine the way God wanted washing machines to be, before government began ruining them.
And all our clothes have been sparkling clean ever since.
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