Not So Fast
Old dogs learn new appliances
By Maria Johnson
I was warming up a cup of coffee in the microwave.
I expected that.
I didn’t expect that.
It happened when I opened the door of our built-in microwave, which required me to slightly lift up on the handle, which was necessary because the hinges were bent.
Later, I tried to remember how the hinges had gone south.
Best guess: gravity aided long ago by a young son reaching up to open (i.e. hang on) the door in the process of exploding his Easter Peeps in the microwave because he’d heard that was possible and wondered if that was really true.
The answer was yes. A vivid pink yes.
In any case, the hinges were bent but the door still worked. And, as with so many things that are damaged but still functional, we lived with it and adjusted our behavior slightly as a work-around.
So we tugged upward to open the door.
Several times a day.
For 20-plus years.
What could go wrong?
Standing there, with a detached microwave handle in my hand, it took my uncaffeinated mind a few seconds to grasp what, indeed, could go wrong.
“Oh, no,” my husband said from across the room.
He was focused on the microwave.
“Oh, ****!” I said.
I was focused on the coffee inside the microwave.
I clawed at the edges of the door.
“Stop! You’re gonna break it!” my husband implored.
“Too late!” I barked.
Always good at triage, I was on a mission to save as many fresh-ground lives as I could.
One butter knife later, I calmly sipped my coffee. We surveyed the damage.
The door handle was part of the frame, which was irreparably broken.
A few telephone calls later, we learned that a new door was not available.
The only alternative was to buy a new microwave, which meant buying a new wall oven, too, because they were sold as a single unit, and we didn’t fancy rebuilding the wall.
Luckily, a locally-owned appliance store could order a replacement that would fit perfectly.
In the meantime, we patched the microwave handle as best we could, with black duct tape, upon the advice of our Peep-wrecking son, now an engineer who specializes in — wait for it — superheated, molded plastics.
In other words, you might have to wait a long time to see the benefit of your kid blowing up his Easter candy, but, God willing, the payoff will come when you need it most.
A couple of months later, our father-daughter installers, Dave and Alison, showed up with the new combo. They were lovely, professional people with entertaining stories about Dave’s Maine Coon cat, who eats salad and relaxes in a water-filled bird bath.
Never mind supply chain delays. Those images were worth the wait.
At the end of the installation, Dave gave a quick demonstration of how to use the new appliances, which shared a banner-style control panel across the top. The microwave controls were on the left, under “upper oven.” The regular oven controls were on the right under “lower oven.”
If we were baking something and needed to use the microwave oven at the same time, we would see a split screen of cooking in progress.
Oddly, Dave explained, when the microwave was finished, only the microwave display — not the oven display — would remain on screen unless we pushed the “cancel/off” button on the left side.
“Don’t push the cancel/off button on the right side, or you will turn off the oven. That’s what most people do,” he cautioned. “Got it?”
I rocked my noggin like a bobble-head in a sort of “yes-no-not-really” motion.
“It’s really a design flaw that they should fix,” he said.
I bobbled an affirmation.
“We’ll read the instruction manual,” I said weakly.
After Dave and Alison left, Jeff and I were faced with the horrible truth.
We would have to learn something new.
At the same time.
It wasn’t gonna be pretty.
One year before, we’d reconfigured our trash can/recycling can setup in the kitchen.
Months later, we were still dropping plastic bottles into the empty under-counter space where the recycling can had been.
We finally we caught on. Though in times of omelet-induced stress, I have been known to toss egg shells into the recycling can, which stands where the trash can used to.
Brain experts would explain this in terms of neural pathways. The more a behavior is repeated, the stronger the nerve connections leading to that behavior. Unused pathways disappear.
That’s why learning new tricks is the best way to slow down mental decline, according to scientists who probably croaked with their microwaves still in boxes.
That night, Jeff and I stared at our new brain trainer.
We wanted to warm up some leftovers.
It took us twice as long to figure out the correct order of steps — five in all — as it did to heat the food.
But we’re gaining on it. We’ve hacked the zapping down to two steps not found in the instruction book.
Turns out, old dogs aren’t half bad at learning new tricks.
And hungry dogs are even better. OH
Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.