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