Monday, April 12, 2010

All washed up

I imagine that every photographer regrets certain pictures left untaken. One of mine is my grandfather’s utility knife. It was incredibly thin and narrow and had an odd shape from having been sharpened countless times over several decades; it was thickest at the bottom and thinnest in the middle. It occurred to me, after I had finally thrown it away, that a shot of the knife would have been a snapshot of how my grandfather thought. You didn’t throw away a knife until the blade was truly gone.

I realized this morning how much of that ethic I have in me. The old Maytag washing machine, which was probably bought in 1968, had sprung a leak. For years now, I’ve put up with minor leaks and a tendency to stop during a cycle. But making an actual puddle was too much, and so I ordered a replacement.

It had lasted for over 40 years, and yet it felt somehow wasteful that I had not at least tried to fix it. After all, on its last day in service, it still finished the load. I wonder if the new one will give that much for that long.

This, I think, may be the crux of the matter. I have several old machines in my house, which I am replacing one by one. Somehow the passing of the old Maytag in particular represents a step from 1968, when a consumer could count on well-known brands, to an unknown future. I haven’t needed to buy a washing machine until now, and so I realize that what I thought I knew about brands comes from previous generations. I feel a bit adrift.

Meanwhile, my dryer, the mate to the old washer, continues to work without complaint. Like that hundred-and-something-year-old light bulb in Livermore, it’ll be interesting to see how long it lasts.

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