Dry and Mighty: What happens when the good things break?

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

The YouTube videos failed me. I watched so many, followed all the helpful instructions, and tried all the hot tips. With a screwdriver in one hand and my smartphone in the other, I clawed and crawled well beyond my comfort zone and tumbled into replacing parts, checking wires what needed checking, resetting stuff that needed resetting. The little men in the videos with their little mustaches, they guided me. I took photos of connections and screw placements so I could find my way back out of the woods. But nothing worked. Nothing changed. 

My clothes dryer would not dry clothes.

Down there in the basement, it all started innocently enough, if a little eerie. The dryer would run its normal course, yet our clothes remained soggy and cold.

“How can the dryer spin ... but not dry?” I asked myself, like I was in the most boring mystery novel of all time. “I mean,” I continued inside my head, “can I even call this machine a dryer anymore? Is it not simply a spinner?”

“How can the dryer spin ... but not dry?” I asked myself, like I was in the most boring mystery novel of all time. “I mean,” I continued inside my head, “can I even call this machine a dryer anymore? Is it not simply a spinner? A large metal box that makes noise for 50 minutes? And if so, what is its purpose? What is its new essence now that it has ceased to dry?”

When I think to myself, I’m somewhat overdramatic.

Standing here, on the other side of the chasm of this ordeal, I can tell you what my dryer’s new purpose was: to dry socks and underwear very, very, very, very, very slowly. Tumbling and tumbling the clothes through swirling cool air, evaporating the moisture at a snail’s pace. If the snail was pulling a cinder block. And also dead.

This new purpose, while not ideal, was a better option than hanging my family’s underwear out on the clothesline for the whole neighborhood to enjoy. I was more than happy to hang up our shirts and shorts and pantaloons and sheets and towels outside, but I kept the unmentionables hidden away.

During this time, I tracked down parts and replaced everything I could replace. The heating element, the fuses, the thermometers ... nothing helped.*

But what about the wintertime? Indeed, what about it?

The wintertime was hard. Much like our ancient ancestors, who also didn’t have functioning, electric clothes dryers, I used the clothesline as often as I could. And yes, sometimes I came inside holding my icy pants – frozen into a ridiculous pants-shaped pantsicle.

Mostly, I washed small batches of clothing and used a little indoor clothing rack leftover from my wife’s college career, which I’ve since duct-taped back together in three different spots, because it was never meant to support so much wet laundry so often, not to mention the hefty hopes and dreams of a man bereft of the modern convenience on which he so relied.

To this day, that rack stands there in the corner, lopsided and miserable, silently pleading to the cobwebs in the rafters to please kill me.

How long was our dryer out of commission, you ask? I’m not telling. But it was long enough to get really annoying. It was long enough to cause stress before important school functions where my daughter needed me to clean a particular pair of black leggings – no not that pair, or that pair, or that pair, but that one pair there that looks exactly like the other pairs. 

In short, it was too long.

So finally I admitted defeat, and we bought a very nice used dryer from a very nice used appliance place in town. We brought it home ourselves, and I hooked it up myself. I threw in a load of clean, wet sheets and sauntered back upstairs like I owned the place (which I do). Ten minutes later I smelled something weird. And hot. So I glanced out the patio door to where the dryer vent pokes out of the house, and I noticed a thick column white smoke billowing forth.

That’s odd, I thought, and then I screamed like a hairy goat and ran downstairs to cut the power. Later on, the very nice used appliance place sent out a very nice guy to fix it. No lint had caught fire. No wiring had exploded in flames. Everything turned out fine, and now we have a dryer that’s better than the old one, before this all started.

So there you have it. I have told you the story of my broken clothes dryer. No need to thank me.

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