In Loving Memory of The Asko
A very long time ago, in an apartment a few miles away, I had a Swedish appliance. Her name was The Asko. And she was a b*tch from hell.
I have written about her before, but on a blog that got eaten by the cruel vicissitudes of the tech bubble economy. Much like The Asko ate some of my clothes. But I'm getting ahead of my story. Which definitely bears repeating, as a warning to Americans who cherish our way of life and wish to protect it.
Kevin and I were newlyweds looking for our first real apartment together. We had been living huddled in his bachelor pad, my personal effects still in boxes stacked against walls, for months. We wanted to move into the city to be with all the other young nerds who wanted to feel cool. We looked and looked and finally found the perfect place. It had everything we needed, including a washer and dryer, an older, stacked model that was perfectly suitable for our needs.
But our landlady thought we deserved more. Better.
"Don't worry," she told us, as she showed us around the place. "This is gonna be replaced with a brand new appliance. It's cutting edge. It's European!"
That should have been a massive, blinking light, like Hitler invading the Sudetenland, a clear warning signal to run like the wind out of there and never look back. But we were young and foolish and still impressed by European things. We did not yet have the wisdom to discern that just because a culture produces fine chocolates, wine, and cathedrals, does not mean it has any business at all manufacturing something so practical as an appliance.
We moved in, and a few days later, a delivery man showed up with what looked to be a 1980's boom box.
"What is that?" I asked, while mentally scanning my possessions to see if I still owned any cassette tapes.
"That's your new washer-dryer," he said.
"Um, well, first of all, it's only one thing, so it must either be a washer or a dryer. Second of all, it is clearly for a Barbie," I said.
"It's a combination unit," he said.
"Like it combines with something else to become an actual appliance for full-sized Americans?"
"Look, I just deliver things. Here's the manual, sign here, good luck." And then he left me alone with The Asko.
I stared at it suspiciously, waiting to see if a colony of elves would exit its door. When that didn't happen, I tentatively reached for the manual and began reading. I learned that The Asko came from Sweden to show us how to conserve water, electricity, and space and also build a stronger social safety net with universal healthcare. The Asko claimed to wash and dry clothes in succession in a single tiny compartment. That did sound impressive. Also Sweden did have universal healthcare. I was intrigued.
The problem is, The Asko never did do that. Not even once in 2 years.
Also, Sweden probably has universal healthcare because they forego other things, like full-sized appliances that work.
To be fair, it did wash clothes, sometimes. You could put like 2 outfits in there at once, and it would fill with water and swish them around a bit. Sometimes it leaked. Sometimes it spun. Other times it just shook the foundations of the earth and you had to choose between diving under a sturdy table or running upstairs to pull its plug. But what it did on the wash function was marginally better than a bucket and a washboard.
It was the dryer phase where things got really, really terrifying.
I mean, that should not have been surprising though. Washing=water, Drying=electricity. You gotta figure someone is likely to die if you attempt that in the same compartment. Just grab a toaster and jump into a swimming pool next time.
The first time I attempted running The Asko through its full work cycle, it got to the dryer part, made a noise on par with a hair dryer for about an hour, then announced cheerily that it was finished. Much like my son when he does a chore.
And, like my son, The Asko had done a really crappy job. I opened the compartment and found a slightly warmed over pile of wet clothes. Kind of like The Asko had not so much dried clothes as strained some tea bags. I shut the door, reset the dryer function, and tried again. Another hour passed. Nope, still wet, maybe a few degrees warmer.
I called the landlady and told her The Asko was a piece of dog doo. I asked her if it was too late to get the old appliances back.
"Hmmm, that's not how it's supposed to work. I'll get the appliance company to come out and look," she said.
And thus began one of the more frustrating relationships of my entire life, me and The Asko Repairman. Like all dysfunctional relationships, it was marked by gaslighting, deception, false promises, dashed dreams, tears, and sorrow.
He did not seem to know anything about The Asko. But he could not admit the truth.
"Yeah, the heat setting seems to be off," he pronounced authoritatively. "I reset it, and it should work just fine."
I thanked him, bid him farewell, and excitedly took five articles of clothing from the towering pile of laundry we had constructed since The Asko's arrival and stuffed them into her tiny mouth. I went about my business.
And then, I smelled something burning. I raced upstairs. I opened The Asko's door. Steam and smoke poured out. I tried to rescue my clothes, but they were too hot.
I called the repairman. "Yeah, so now The Asko is trying to burn my clothes right up," I said. "Maybe also my house."
He sighed. He came back.
"It needs a new part. The coils have melted," he said.
"Should that have happened in a brand new appliance?"
"I wouldn't think so, but you may have done something wrong."
"Me?! I did something? I just put some clothes in that damn thing."
"Maybe you put too many clothes in there. Maybe your clothes are too big." He looked me up and down judgmentally.
"So you're telling me it can only wash three items at once?"
"We just own too many clothes here in America, that's the problem. Also we are too big."
"You cannot be serious."
It took a month to get the part, because, well, it came from Europe. He came back. He installed the part. He stayed through an entire laundry cycle to make sure it worked. It kind of worked, the clothes just came out super wrinkled.
"Man, these clothes are so wrinkled. Is this normal?"
"Yeah, the compartment isn't that big. This thing isn't a miracle worker you know."
He looked at me sternly. "In Europe, they iron their clothes. Here in America, we're lazy, that's the problem."
"You cannot be serious."
He left again. I did more laundry. Things were not normal, but new-European-normal for a few weeks. Then the spin function broke. He ordered a part. He came back.
Then the heat function broke again. This time, smoke didn't rise from The Asko, it just melted the clothes. The wrinkles were literally burned into them, like shadows burned into the ground at Hiroshima, beyond what any 21st century iron was capable of handling. Maybe NASA could've done something, but I certainly couldn't.
He came back. He ordered a part. He came back.
The nuclear-applied wrinkles remained. He came back. He adjusted something. It didn't work.
"I think you're just gonna have to use the washer function and give up on the dryer function," he said.
"But y'all sold a washer-dryer. I think it's supposed to dry things," I argued.
"Well, in theory, yes. But really I think it's just supposed to get the drying process started a bit. The Europeans then line dry things the rest of the way," he said. "Americans have unrealistic expectations, that's the problem."
"Maybe that's because we make appliances that actually work," I said.
He left again. I called the landlady.
"You have got to do something, I'm begging you," I said, desperately. "I am being psychologically abused by a Swedish appliance and her sadistic repairman associate. I had to go to a LAUNDROMAT the other day. In THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA. While I appreciate the opportunity to both launder my clothing and buy street drugs in the same location, I am not cut out for this. I grew up in a rural, evangelical setting and went to a Baptist college. I will not survive."
"OK, well, I'll call the company and see if they will just replace the entire machine," she said.
"You don't understand. The rot goes deeper than just this machine. This is a systemic issue," I said. "I am begging you, please, please get me an American appliance. Korean or Japanese is also fine! They have figured out how to make full sized appliances that function even though they live in tiny houses and bodies too."
"I don't think I can do that. But I'll get you a new machine," she said.
The new machine was exactly the same. The repairman came back. He ordered more parts. He lectured me on living in such a way that The Asko could not handle it.
I finally gave up. I used The Asko's washer setting. I secured the dishes and hid under furniture during the spin cycle. Then I hung up our clothes on hangers to dry all over our house, like a real European.
I did not get universal healthcare.
And eventually we moved on, to an apartment with Whirlpool appliances.
My friends, the moral of this story is that, despite what it may seem right now, America is a great nation. Sure we have massive, toxic political divisions, systemic racial inequities, a serious gun violence problem, horribly expensive health care, a shambolic educational system, and far too many people who think a thorough reading of Facebook posts constitutes scientific research. Not to mention a monopolistic conspiracy between Direct TV and NFL Sunday Ticket.
But my gosh, we have good appliances. Large, powerful, durable, reliable, gleaming appliances.
And don't let anyone tell you that doesn't matter.
Anyone who says that has not survived The Asko.
GOD. BLESS. AMERICA.