Monday, June 15, 2020

The Dishwasher Situation

Here's a sign of these covidious times. After 25 years of living in houses equipped with them, I have started using a dishwasher with semi-regularity (now up to 53.125 percent of the time and rising - according to my rough calculations).

My previous aversion to the dishwasher has been a sore topic in my household. "You're washing dishes to avoid the issue" is a sentence that has been heard periodically, although the issue in question has changed with some regularity. Oops, am I revealing too much about marital life?

My wife beats me... She is macho

That last was a recycled joke (I know, I know - but 2006 was a rare vintage), which is still fitting because it's silly season which, as you might recall traditionally starts on the Bank Holiday at the end of May in Britain (Memorial Day in the United States). This year, along with the yearlong Winter in America, quoth Gil Scott-Heron, it has been a permanent silly season. We have a perfectly good English word to describe much of the behavior we are have been witnessing throughout the world during this pandemic: huhudious.

But back to The Dishwasher Situation...

Sheltering-in-place (that's American disaster bureaucratese for staying at home during a lockdown) has meant more meals and snacks at home, more dishes in short, and enough that the daily dish count has crossed a certain threshold where the normally mindless manual labour has moved past the soothing sensation of water and soap suds, and the occasionally-sensual applied fluid dynamics of dirt cleansing to actual annoyance. Sidenote: I pitched that description of hand dishwashing to the 7 and 9 year olds recently, and they were singularly unimpressed - kids these days...

Moving on... The thing these days is that I've started to appreciate what's actually important in life. In related news, Pandemic Eye Syndrome is a new disease affecting human beings that allows them to discern what is actually essential, and, like others afflicted with this new clear-eyed vision - a gift from a tiny clump of viral RNA from Planet SARS-CoV-2 in the Bat-Pangolin sector and the Mink quadrant of the galaxy, I'd rather minimize daily annoyance.

The British and American political response especially, lunacy in action, or should I say lunatic inaction, has left me triggered in that respect. Not that many others have covered themselves with glory, but I think my relatives in New Zealand and Taiwan are sitting pretty in comparison. The whole world can see who was just bluffing, and who failed Comparative Competence 101, and its follow-on course, Pain Mitigation Strategies 202 (Advance Credit). We can all see those who took the obverse class: Pain Inflicted on Populace 101

I worry, however, that this Serpentine Dishwasher Temptation - let's call it by its proper name, branded by perhaps by the Apple of Knowledge, may mean that the frequency of my hand washing may decrease. And, as we all know, until there is a cure for our covidious predicament, the only sane resort is to stay home if at all possible, wear masks when outside, and wash hands frequently with soap.

There's a lot of propaganda about the dishwasher and all these other timesaving devices. I took a peek at the manual just to get acquainted with the hype. Tremendous, tremendous hype. Dishwashers cure diseases it seems. As with any new technology - and dishwashers are relatively new (one needs reliable electricity and water to even contemplate them), there's an adoption curve and I am firmly a late adopter despite my authoring The Toli Technology Series

Call me a Luddite on most things, it was The Then-Fiancée who got me my first new cell phone (T-mobile, an early Samsung Galaxy Vibrant, the First Generation aka The Worst Generation). She put me on the family plan - you see, we were in the middle of planning a wedding, and I guess I haven't looked back since. Although I ought to complain that I am still treated as a minor at age 47 since I'm not the primary account holder. I have to ask The Wife's permission before I can do anything with the carrier. Who wears the trousers in this house?

There was an element of an intervention back then. She had heard about my comic woes during my trip to Catford Bridge, just weeks earlier, when the lack of a cell phone prompted an epic misadventure.

Also I used the word "new" above advisedly, for there was a huhudious tale about my first cell phone:

catford mobile phone

Ah Catford Bridge, London's Got Soul, and I fell into a brief encounter with its shadow economy

At the mobile phone shop where I bought my £50 LG mobile phone, my first. With a dodgy charger (you need to stand the phone upright otherwise it won't charge). Said phone died in the middle of my first call, to Orange customer service. Missing from this picture is the owner, a wheeler/dealer who is likely selling goods fallen from the back of a truck. Astute and street smart, he ran to the right, just behind the door when he saw me take my camera out. The Nigerian woman (fiancé in Atlanta) had just started working there. The Jamaican guy changes his phone every month, and shared stories about life in the US, Brazil (he'd die for the women), Jamaica and Africa (Ghana, Nigeria? - those people take your ID and want bribes). My phone was likely one of his castoffs.

As part of the house cleaning that I've had time to do during this self isolation period, a quasi-sabbatical for us still-employed non-essential workers - albeit with a 20 percent pay deferment as my employer tightened belts, I've gathered a box of vintage electronic gadgets, equipment and sundry wires and connectors. I reluctantly placed that old LG brick (and its dodgy charger), and its contemporary, that old Galaxy Vibrant in that box in the garage, to be donated to Goodwill, if and when they become part of The Grand Reopening of Texas. One wonders about the protocols for social distancing at Goodwill.

Well actually, there is a larger worry. There is no such thing as a safe workplace in these covidious times. From the White House, to the Kremlin, to Downing Street, let alone a manufacturing plant.

See also: Ford halts production at two plants after employees test positive for Covid-19 2 days after open

Okay, okay, I promise to get back to The Dishwasher Situation, no more digressions

Apparently the latest dishwashers are meant to be green and oh so energy efficient, The marketing materials cite Energy Star ratings and sundry appeals to environmental consciousness. Pshaw, I'm a Dishwasher Greenery Denier, and have long been skeptical about the claims made of reduced water and energy consumption. I've always been proud of the efficiency of my handwashing technique. Oh I might as well admit another sore topic: the way I stack dishes. I'm not a willy-nilly dish-in-sink dumper like The Wife, no, I'm a Serious Dish-in-Sink Stacker. Perhaps it's a compulsion of the nether regions, but it is what it is. When it's time to do dishes, this toli monger exhibits exemplary technique, all claims to the contrary.

Before we bought our present abode, our first piece of property, The Wife and I had always lived in homes with dodgy dishwashers. It was never a checklist item for me (oh, I really can't resist, I'll admit upfront that I'm the kind of person who, like his mother, actually likes ironing clothes. Well, don't you? Alright, alright, let's not get into the ironing business).

Home Comforts: The Art & Science of Keeping House

Pride of place on my bookshelf goes to Cheryl Mendelson's opus, Home Comforts: The Art & Science of Keeping House. I owe an eternal debt of gratitude to Ben Hyde for the recommendation, I found it as entrancing as a Robert Ludlum joint and treasured the four months I spent reading it intermittently. Home Comforts is my Bourne Identity. It's almost certainly in the Top 100 list of books I've ever read, and this is from someone who had 70 heavy boxes of books, mostly fiction, when we moved into our house a couple years ago. I still remember the look of shock on the movers' faces as they started dealing with my study. There was a visible pause in the entire moving operation. "You've actually read all of those?", I was asked separately three times.

"No", I answered, "Since parenthood has been my lot, there's three bookshelves that I haven't read", I pointed to those four boxes - they were medium-sized U-haul vintage, not the small box type we had been advised to use. I could have sworn I heard a Texan curse beneath one of the mover's breath as he leaned down to lift the first box - I'm still not used to the drawl, but it was impressively idiomatic. Anyway, I made a mental note to deduct 5 dollars from the eventual tip.

Arggh, lest you worry, I tip very well. I learned from my father to pay for service very generously, even if unearned, you never know who you'll need to call on when crisis strikes. The Wife used to say that I was spoiling the babysitter game with the outrageous (to her) rates I was paying. "Our neighbours in Hyde Park will hate your inflationary ways" - paraphrasing, the actual words were very strong, and this joint is a family affair. Especially with the no-drama young ones that we've spawned, a job at Chez Toli was a kind of sinecure that Martin Luther would have written one of his 95 Theses about. Still, that shell game of Toli Babysitters-R-Us has now been thoroughly spoiled with malice aforethought, and covidious intent.

In both our previous rentals, to return to the Dishwasher Situation, we had landlords too cheap to bring their electronic contraptions into the sleek modern era. The Wife complained of lacking bells and whistles, and even mold in one case. I was thoroughly unimpressed. I think I might have used a dishwasher thrice in almost 15 years of cohabitation. They were a waste of space and time to my mind, which is why I've been surprised by this latest coronavirus-induced turn of events. 53.125 percent is almost insane to my mind. Doing the rough math, my rate of dishwasher use has increased an order of roughly 100 fold (0.53 / (3 / (15 * 365)). 100 times of anything is a real shifting of the dial. These are Strange Days.

Slightly related, a couple of hallowed texts I return to regarding the Dishwasher Situation.
How to load the dishwasher GE gsd6900 by Joe Clark

Earlier in my bachelor life, I probably had 3 plates and 2 sets of cutlery. I then upgraded somewhat and got a full set. Corelle was my brand of choice like many immigrants. My supply of dishes has probably quadrupled by, first, marriage, and then parenthood. Marriage brought matters of aesthetics into my life, with all that it implies, and parenthood brought chaos and disorder. Sidenote: My Fair Lady was this past weekend's family movie night and I have renewd appreciation for Rex Harrison's rendition of Why Can't a Woman Be More Like a Man? - must remember to reread George Bernard Shaw...

There is a complication however with the current Dishwasher Situation, and it has to do with the choice of dishwashing detergent. You see there are chemical sensitivities in our household. One reason I used the dishwasher so seldom was that the preferred branding in some quarters was Seventh Generation, one of those eco-friendly, artisanally made, truffle inspired, feel good, no chemicals were hurt in this production brands. As I've quipped before (whoa that was back in 2011, this is a longstanding affront)

These green, eco-friendly products take too darn long to work. e.g. Seventh Generation "cleaner" takes 7 generations to clean. #WastingMyTime

Anyway that dispute has been overcome (I will not be moved in my domestic wars of attrition), and I've been granted leave to use Finish brand detergent. But there again, the spectre of The New Formula rears its ugly head. Should we be using the old Finish, Finish Powerball (we've had 3 different flavors of this one) or Finish Quantum (2 flavors so far), with all their claims about how thorougly they clean and their ability to remove stuck-on food, and the idea that one needn't pre-rinse anything before packing the dishwasher? It's uncertain terrain complicated further by the constant tinkering.

Longtime Readers of The Lost Toli would recall that curious artifact, the New Formula: the propensity of companies to tweak processes and often worsen their products in furtherance of the bottom line. This, I have diagnosed as a pathological hallmark of latter-day capitalism. They just can't leave well enough alone, and constantly give the New and Improved treatment to cherished products, juicing the books with capricious ease, if not disdain.

All my New Formula musings, and even the piece On the Loss of Smooth Mint Gel continue to get a surprising amount of traffic. Why do companies keep changing the formula? The ways of the modern world are already so chaotic that the trauma of changing these previous certainties is overkill.

The last time I went down that rabbit hole, I had to investigate the evolution of the price of soybean futures to explain why I suffered the grievous loss of my prized Oil of Olay Sensitive Skin body wash. Carefully dissecting the extraction of surplus value is what Karl Marx made his name on. There's surely a Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics for someone mining the terrain of The New Formula.

soybean prices 1997 - 2007

And while on the dismal topic The New Formula, I'm down to the the last four bottles of Creme of Nature shampoo that I hoarded back in 2004 after that brand was discontinued. The subsequent rebranding with Argan oil doesn't fool me. My stocks run down quite precipitously when I was using it for the little ones but their hair has turned out more like their mother's so I no longer need to share my precious Black Gold hair products with them, more for me. They can have their Alaffia thingimijigs

Quoth Sartre, L'enfer, c'est les autres (that's Hell is other people). Normal married life raises all these small things in myriad ways (e.g. the way people squeeze the toothpaste tub). There'a a surprising spectrum of behaviours - pandemic living merely heightens the contradictions, as it were. I did have an epiphany last year however, ("before coronavirus time", as The 7 year old now labels that distant past) when I noticed The Fork in The Twistie, which has since become my litmus test and favourite classification scheme.

Which direction do you tie twisties? I just realized that I'm in clockwise tribe and that I may have a problem with those Others: the CounterClockwise and the Inconsistent. #SmallThings
See also: Frisson de Folksonomie and The Ziploc Factor

No tale of domesticity can be complete without discussing The Parents and The Children. Well I know, for one, that my parents would never have read past the title of this note. It's simply inconceivable that there could be a "dishwasher situation". It's a category error, plain and simple. After all, the primary reason people had children in the past - before the availability of birth control, was to get a surplus of of little hands to do things like tend to the farm or, in modern times to wash dishes and do sundry chores. Child labour has been the natural state of the world and it has taken vigorous campaigns to eradicate it - there are periodic exposés about the persistence of child labour in my own country.

Think about it, would we have Dickens without child labour? What paradise have we lost when the youth of Bangladesh, or Ghana are no longer doing shifts in the textile factory, or planting yams and pineapples in the hills of Aburi? Our modern day Oliver Twists and Little Annie's no longer have the hard knock life, coddled as they are with this modernity, they have school not farms, and they are constantly demanding fondleslabs of mobile entertainment.

My Ghanaian parents would be eyeing, with no small amount of skepticism, the state of my household, and the palava I seem to be making. Sidenote: beyond the parent-child authority issue there would also be the gendered question - and traditional African culture is highly gendered. The division of labour in my affairs might be refreshing to some, but unconventional, and fraught to others... I actually know that The Parents don't even care about such things, but I know a certain Ghanaian contingent would be vaguely aghast at the spectacle of a 47 year old Ghanaian man, who is not a confirmed bachelor, mind you, and who is married to a Ghanaian-American, and has two young children who are not toddlers, doing 94.3675 percent of the dishes (again a rough estimate). Delegations would be sent, quiet words would be had etc. There's a paper to be written on changing gender expectations in the Ghanaian culture in the age of modernity. Anyway, moving on...

making a big success in marriage

Ah the children, yes let's turn to them - sidenote: Save the Children, the charitable organization, used to be the tenants in my dad's house in Accra. My children love watching videos of Rube Goldberg contraptions (more accurately, they like watching any Youtube video, but that's another sore topic, and I promised no further digression). I think that the seed of that love was watching Jacques Tati movies and his encounters with modernity. Mon Oncle went down very well in our house as did Playtime and Traffic. They are digital natives but I would like to instill a spirit of bricolage in them. Resilience and adaptability are going to be essential survival tools going forward, and it pays to start early and deal with deferred maintenance. This kitchen scene was a delight:

With this pandemic, all the great Houses have been affected by Covid-19, from Windsor and the House of Parliament, Monaco, Kremlin, the White House, Champs Elysee, Chechen rogues, Iranian cabinet members. The Wife speculates that Mike Pence's almost month-long disappearance from the public eye was related to a treatment for a mild case of the novel disease of the hour. I wouldn't go that far into conspiratorial thinking, suffice to repeat that principle: Mosquitos don't discriminate.

From what I've read, Crown Prince Mohammed Bone Saw Salman of Saudi Arabia has retreated to a private island along with the King. Apparently the Saudi royal family has been affected with Covid-19, and the heads of the House of Saud are paranoid about its spread. They simply are testing everyone in sight - their petrodollars outbid even the US's insatiable appetite for Personal Protective Equipment. This inquiring mind wants to know if MBS (and all those aforementioned huhudious leaders) is actually doing his own dishes at this time. I would dearly love this to be the case, enforced dishwashing in lieu of a lifetime sentence courtesy of a Special Court at The Hague - that last of course is a bridge too far, but one can dream. I would like further to know what model dishwasher they are using in case I ever need to upgrade, and their preferred brand of dishwashing detergent. I wonder if, like the Windsors, they have an endorsement stamp like Louis Vuitton - "as used by the Bone Saw man on Bunker Island". Please leak it to the toli, surely I have some Bangladeshi essential workers among my Saudi Arabian readers.

Note: in case of retaliation, or a black bag delegation from the Saudi embassy I have my own bags packed at the ready. Ghana must go.

Ghana must go versus Louis Vuitton

MBS, The Donald, Mister Johnson of Downing Street, Bishop Cummings of Barnard Castle, Bungling Bolsonaro, and all those other huhudious leaders deserve to join Charles Taylor at the Special Court at The Hague on trial for covidious malpractice and other injurious assaults on decency and humanity. Whither Milosevic? Or perhaps like Napoleon, they need accomodation in the island of Elba. The blood on their hands speaks for itself.

From Napoleon to Charles Taylor - huhudious leaders

A closing quote

He liked his epiphanies American: brief and illusory.

— Colson Whitehead, Apex hides the hurt

A Soundtrack for this note

Rather than do a playist about dishes and washing, I thought I'd continue riffing on the underlying topic of whimsy (the discerning of which underlying conditions are risk factors is the most interesting facet of our encounter with this funny novel coronavirus, baldness? blood type? minks? tigers? pangolins? bats?) . This pandemic interlude has allowed me to complete to Toli remix of Derek B's Bullet from a Gun. The original liner notes and a hip-hop photo essay in the vein of South London's vibe are also available for your viewing pleasure: Bullet From a Gun. Enjoy.


See also in the Small Things series:

The muse wills what she wants, domestic toli was duly delivered.

Postscript the first

You would think that having just written a discursive tome on the Dishwasher Situation, that I would, that same evening, go ahead and load up the dishwasher, press that essential button, the 4 hour delay, and sit back and relax at night. And I was all set to do so tonight, I had even opened the dishwasher. But then muscle memory took over and there I found myself 7 minutes later in the middle of washing dishes by hand. It was a ludic behaviour and quite unconscious, I found my mind calmed by the washing, the occasional sound and touch of the water soothing and perhaps akin to taking a shower. My mind cleared. Then I started thinking about the things that still irk me about dishwashers: the fact that the dishes disappear for a couple of hours while washing and drying; with hand washing, clean dishes are immediately available for reuse. The noise they make - although, with that 4 hour delay button, you can postpone the troublesome white noise and run the wash at the most efficient time (off peak usage is greener and helps the power companies) - the downside of the delayed wash is that dishes that are encrusted are more prone to be dirty after the wash unless of course you have the right deterget), the occasional spots on glasse and the times when things are not as clean as the advertisements would have you believe. The fringe benefit of the mental relaxation and resetting of the slate, however was what lingered. I started having lots of ideas for future toli. Perhaps washing dishes is the siren call of my muses...

Postscript the second

I didn't know quite what to expect, but I'm enjoying the reactions. That's some domestic toli. Is he serious about all this? Does his wife really beat him? Does he really enjoy washing dishes by hand? Has he lost his mind? It's too much, Koranteng, you kind of lost me there. Don't tell anyone, but I too like ironing.

Keep them coming.

A confession: if you've read this far Dear Reader, you should know that you may have been a participant in a minor experiment of mine. I normally write multiple notes at the same time, switching between tabs in my editor as inspiration waxes and wanes. I wrote and completed this entry and the previous one, Herd Immunity at the same time, they merged into a whole while I wrote over a fevered 24 hours. The one was more in the vein of outright whimsy, while the other hewed closely to a more conceptual bent. A coin toss decided which one it would be that I would hit publish first. I'm curious about your reaction if you've read both pieces. It would be fodder for a follow up piece on crafts and entertainments, on arch concept versus unconstrained prose. Do read the other piece even if you don't care to comment, it is the other side of a coin. What say you? Penny for your thoughts.

One curiosity about writing or any craft is that one never knows what will connect with the reader. You toil away on some arch concept to the sound of crickets, yet your throwaway musings on swallowing pills (of all things), or say Ghana must go bags will be your lasting legacy.
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