My earliest recollection of a musical toy was a colorful box that played the “Pop Goes the Weasel” tune, as the handle was turned, until the lid flipped open and a clown head popped out. According to my mother, baby Kim exclaimed with surprise and glee each and every time that clown head popped up out of the music box.

My mom also reminded me that as a 2-year-old, I received a child-sized toy piano and bench as a gift. Apparently, toddler Kim was enthralled with the tinkling musical sounds that came from the “pinano” as her tiny fingers plinked happily on the keys.

Fast-forward multiple decades. A couple of months ago, my washing machine conked out and needed to be replaced. The new high-tech washing machine looks nothing like the previous one. A see-through top lets you peer into the cavernous stainless-steel interior. There is no central column or agitator—just a deep well to throw in the laundry.

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This new-fangled machine has a gazillion settings. The machine takes a few minutes to weigh the laundry and determine how much water is needed per load. Since I did not want to press the wrong button, I consulted the manual for step-by-step instructions. The very last sentence said, “When the cycle is finished a melody will sound.”

For the inaugural wash, I threw in a few bath towels and pressed three settings: “Normal load,” “Warm temperature,” and “High spin” before pressing start. A loud whirring sound commenced. I thought a 747 was preparing to take off. I had to step away from the see-through glass top before the sight of spinning towels made me dizzy. As I walked into the living room, I listened for the familiar sounds of water and sloshing. 

During the wash cycle, I walked over to see the digital countdown clock showing me how many minutes remained. I returned to the living room to read in the rocking chair while still keeping my ear attuned to the sounds emanating from the new washing machine. I heard the washer stop and then the tinkling sounds of the Mr. Softie ice cream truck melody wafted in from my laundry room!

I ran into the laundry room to see the digital read-out display “End.” The machine made the unlocking sound and then went silent. I lifted the top and bent to pick up the wet towels to transfer them to the dryer. The washing machine is so deep, that I was afraid I would fall in like those little kids who fall down into a well. The only thing visible will be my plaid slippers sticking up in the air!

To avoid falling inside the machine or setting off my vertigo, I started using a “grabber” contraption to reach into the washer to pull socks up from the bottom. I was getting used to the Mr. Softie song signaling the end of each wash load. But one evening after work, I threw in my queen-sized sheets and pillowcases while multi-tasking with dinner prep and watching the news. I noticed that the washing machine cycle was taking forever. The sloshing sounded labored. My trepidation was realized when the washing machine played A DIFFERENT TUNE! I ran into the laundry room to hear a funeral dirge accompanied by a flashing “UE” display.

I reached for the instruction manual. There were several pages of “Troubleshooting” tips with different digital displays of doom. According to the manual, the machine detected an “uneven” load and was not happy. It suggested re-distributing the sheets that were plastered together on one side of the cavernous interior. I pulled the soaking wet sheets apart and put the top back down but “UE” continued flashing.

In a panic, I called the manufacturer’s hotline. I explained that I’d had the machine less than one month and now there was a problem. The customer service man asked if the display showed “a capital UE or a lower-case UE?” Oh, come on! I told him that I had followed the booklet instructions and re-distributed the wet sheets, but it was still displaying “UE.” “Well,” said my new friend, Steve, from the Philippines, “You needed to press the pause button first before redistributing the laundry.” The manual did not tell me that.

Needless to say, I was instructed to remove the soaking wet sheets and pillowcases, shut down the machine and then start it up again without any laundry inside so that the machine can “re-balance” itself. That’s an hour of my life I will never get back!

I wonder what will happen when the warmer weather arrives, and I hear the distant strains of the Mr. Softie truck outside. Will I think, “Ah, ice cream!” or like Pavlov’s dog, will I automatically bolt out of my chair and think, “Laundry’s done!”

Kim Kovach still considers the VCR and the answering machine as two of the best inventions of all time. Learn more at kimkovachwrites.com.