Howardism Musings from my Awakening Dementia
My collected thoughts flamed by hubris
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Very thought-provoking post. I struggle with these questions all the time, but mostly I avoid shopping as much as possible. Would it be totally lame of me to say I'll be back later in the week to comment in more detail? And oh, if what you wanted was a really good toaster, aren't there people who make them or refurbish the old ones? I vaguely remember hearing that somewhere. Don't know how much that would cost, but I bet you could find some on the internet. Of course, the question is much bigger than just a toaster, or any one product, but wouldn't it be nice to have at least a couple really good quality things around the house?


Go to Ebay and get you and OLD original Sunbeam toaster - either the T-20 or T-35. Most can be purchased for the cost of a bad, new toaster and shipping is usually very reasonable. Your 2-year old daughter will probably inherit it someday. Be sure to buy from a seller with good feedback! Life's too short to put up with poorly made crap, and it's the little things (like bad toasters!) not the big ones - that will eventually drag you down. Good luck!



The Toaster Saga

When my father was in high school, he bought his mother a toaster. It was the best toaster available. When you placed the sliced bread in this machine, it would softly lower the bread like the flaxen cords of Mephostophiles. That's right, it removed the annoyance of pushing down a lever. When the bread was done, the toast would slowly climb back from the furnace like the chariot of Elijah-- all by itself. It was the epitome of appliance perfection.

This was the toaster that my grandmother always used for turning her soft homemade bread into warm golden brown crunchiness. During my summer visits to her farm, it was there, and when she was aging and we moved her into our house, it was still there. And it still worked. My dad proudly told me the history of the toaster as if it were a St. Peter's thighbone, and how amazed that after more than 30 years, it still worked fine. Sure it was a bit tarnished, but when my dad found that Sunbeam had decided to re-release this toaster (to capture some of the then-popular 50's-retro demand), my father couldn't resist and bought a new one. The old toaster was placed in a cardboard coffin and buried with our other relics somewhere in the garage.

About 4 months later, this new toaster broke, and we ended up resurrecting the old toaster from the garage.

This toaster seems to me to be a symbol of how our economy has changed over the past century. Sure, we have always had this capitalist system that depends on consumer spending, but I think that during the 50's we thought that in order to get consumers to keep buying, we had to invent better stuff. Not to make things that intentionally break and need to be replaced. But it didn't take long for a company to learn that if it didn't make repeat sales, they'd be out of business. So the market changed from "durable goods" to "disposable products" (or as I like to call them, cheap shit).

This capitalism-through-shoddy-workmanship seems deceptive. Dishonest.

It would be nice to blame the Chinese for this problem (as the newer toaster had a "Made in China" sticker on the bottom), but the Chinese are just giving American companies what they want, and you can't tell me that any American company asks for higher quality products from their Chinese sweatshops.

I know, caveat emptor, and when I was in the market to replace my wife's toaster that broke, I wanted to buy something that I wouldn't have to replace in 4 months. I wanted something simple… no special features, no bells and no whistles. What could be simpler than a toaster, right?

But they don't make those anymore. At least not at any of the incarnations of consumer hell that I could find. They all have special hi-tech LEDs and lots of little features designed to break. So I did what just about every consumer does when faced with such a decision.

I bought the cheapest one.

Now, I'm just waiting for the sucker to break. And I know exactly where it will, too. The temp-control knob that controls how light or dark the toast should be-- yeah, a simple mechanical timer-- indicates what the setting should be with a series of LED lights. As soon as that burns out, I'll never know the setting, and start burning my toast.

Every time I put a slice of bread in this toaster, I just expect it not to work.

My two-year daughter, while playing with the microwave, broke the glass plate that went inside. Normally, you'd think that this was just for cleaning out food mess, but in this case, the plate actually spins around to "ensure even cooking." Now everything is burning as I guess the internal calibration on the microwave expects this plate. I'm now faced with consumer crisis… to replace or not to replace.

What choice does a stupid consumer have? I don't know of any places around that fix appliances. I can't find this "part" on the internet. They don't sell parts anymore… even for something as simple as a breakable glass plate.

It is cheaper to replace than to fix, and herein lies the foundation of our economic system.

Do I live my life expecting every thing to break? Pretty much. It isn't that I'm that attached to these things… I'm just buddhistic enough not to be that attached, but I still have this sinking feeling in my stomach every time I put something that I shouldn't in a landfill. It borders on being a moral dillema. What good is recycling the junk mail that floods my house if I discard my appliances regularly?

I could live without, and often do, and oft I've been tempted by the ethereal glow of the Luddite. But quite simply, a microwave is cheaper to use to boil water for my tea than an electric stove.

My good ol' American know-how kicked in (or as I like to call it, my magiver skill), and I turned an ordinary dinner plate into a microwave platter, and the microwave is back in business… well, until the filament wears out.

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