"We're out of luck," Steve said one Saturday afternoon as I returned to our apartment from doing my weekend errands.
"The dryer just died. I have a load of whites in the washer and now I can't dry them."
We were one of the fortunate people who actually had a washer and dryer in their apartment. Steve and his ex-girlfriend purchased the appliances years ago. For me this was an extravagance that I did not take lightly.
Lugging laundry through the busy streets of Park Slope was something I dreaded. I experienced my share of jockeying for washers and dryers and sitting in the steamy Laundromats killing time in between the cycles. But now that we had our own, I was spoiled. Having the dryer out of commission demanded immediate attention.
Announcing the breakdowns of various electrical appliances in our modest apartment was not something unusual for Steve. He possessed an uncanny knack for just happening to be the person using the apparatus in question when the malfunction occurred. Was it merely a coincidence that Steve was on the computer when it crashed, or vacuuming when the explosive, grinding noise started and it started spewing dust instead of sucking it up, or listening to the stereo when the tuner stopped receiving?
I fought my first instinct, that of blame-"Well, what did you do to it?"-the bell that would send us into the ring where we would both come out fighting. Instead I asked, "Are you sure it's not something simple like maybe the plug was knocked out of the socket?" Not that much better but given my annoyance at the hassle facing us, it wasn't bad.
"I checked all that," he said. "It's gone." But he already had a plan. "I'm going to go ask Jack if we can take the dryer in the downstairs apartment. It's just sitting there anyway. If he says 'okay', it'll be a lot easier than going to buy one and waiting to have it delivered."
I had to agree. The plan was brilliant. After the tenant in the apartment below us left, our landlords, a married couple named Jack and Susan, went to work renovating her apartment, but like all the projects the two of them undertook, it never was completed. The two bedroom floor thru still sat there uninhabited with exposed pipes, flooring unfinished, and fortunately for us, a brand new washer and dryer standing unused in the middle of the would-be living room.
Jack and Susan were far from ideal landlords. The hallway entrance had plywood floors that made you think it was under renovation. Faded, broken linoleum covered the stairs that were never cleaned and the smell of wet dogs that emanated from their own ground floor apartment assaulted your senses when you entered the building. In her attempt at sprucing up the dilapidated hallways, Susan, somewhat of an artist, exhibited some of her more upbeat pieces depicting dark, tortured figures contorted in agony, with a few not very subtle phallic symbols thrown in. At least they provided a distraction from the surroundings.
Two years ago Steve and I looked around the neighborhood for similarly priced rentals. That was when we realized that the size of our top floor two bedroom apartment outweighed the negative characteristics of the building and its landlords, and grew accustomed to the "do it yourself" living arrangement even though we were only renting.
I was working on the computer in the room adjacent to the kitchen where we kept the dryer, when Steve returned from his conversation with Jack.
"He says we can take it if we install it ourselves. He wants to talk to Susan about whether we will have to pay for it since this apartment didn't come with the dryer." We were in no position to quibble. Besides, the way these two landlords operated, by the time they got around to figuring out the details, who knew if we'd still be living there. We both realized that if we were to get a working dryer in our lifetime, we would have to install it ourselves. How hard could it be?
I continued my work on the computer, leaving the immediate work to Steve who asked to deal with it alone. Steve prided himself on being handy, able to paint the apartment, install carpeting, and mount pictures on our cheap plasterboard walls. I listened as he began huffing and puffing. He had a way of exhaling loudly, repeatedly, whenever he was exasperated. This was usually reserved for those times when his keys, reading glasses, wallet, or bridgework (insert any or all of the above) were missing. I usually tried to wait for the third or fourth huff before asking what the problem was.
It bugged me that he never put anything back in the same spot, so that he knew where to find it. If he refused to cooperate in this simple way, I wasn't going to play a part in the missing items' recovery. I was not going to be "co-dependent."
"Phhhhhh," he went.
"Okay, what's up?" I asked. "Do you need my help?"
"No, I don't need your help," he snipped. "I'm just not sure which of these valves turns off the gas to the dryer. There are two."
Excellent. Nothing like practicing installing your first appliance that involves a potentially deadly substance. I got up and looked behind the dryer. I gently offered a suggestion, pointing out one valve that would cut off the gas to the dryer as well as the stove. But what did I know?
I was only guessing. Gas and electricity made me nervous. Steve made some comment about there being no such thing as bad electricians--they were all dead. I didn't laugh.»
We turned off the gas and managed to move the heavy, dead dryer to the landing just outside our apartment door. But getting the new dryer up the flight from the downstairs apartment was a bit tougher.
"Lift!" Steve commanded, as he heaved his end of the machine up from the few steps above me. He had the bulk of the weight, but it was all about timing.
"Lift," he said again but I lost my grip and missed the beat. "Ugghhh! I thought I told you to lift!"
By the time we collapsed into the kitchen with the new dryer, we were sweating and barely speaking. Steve unpacked the new tubing that Jack said would be necessary for the installation. The new and improved large aluminum hose came with a cheap plastic band that was supposed to clamp it to the dryer and out the wall for the exhaust. It wouldn't stay tight. The tube kept falling off.
"Let me try," I said to Steve.
"No! I can do it," he snapped. I fought the urge to stand there and tell Steve what he was doing wrong. It wasn't about strength; it was about finesse. The word "controlling" kept spinning around in my head. I willed myself back to the computer and left him alone.
"Humpphh." There was Steve exhaling again. "Phhhhhh. Fucking shit!" he said.
I got up and went over. "This piece doesn't fit the connection to the new dryer. It's too big. Fucking bastard!"
I took a look at the instructions that he had tossed on the table. It specified, complete with a neatly drawn illustration in 3 different languages, the exact size of the "female" attachment that the dryer required. I read this aloud. I looked at the packaging Steve had ripped from the parts he purchased at the plumbing supply store. "You bought the wrong size. It says here 5/8" and you bought 7/8". Didn't you read the instructions?" Now I knew very well he hadn't but I was annoyed. He wanted to do this project alone. But how was that supposed to happen when his testosterone was preventing him from reading the directions?
I decided to bond with him, become his partner in this endeavor by accompanying him back to the plumbing supply store before they closed. I wasn't sure he appreciated it. The silence was deafening so I made an attempt at being positive. "Well, you have to admit we're certainly learning a lot." Even as I said it, I couldn't stand myself. Yeh, sure, next time we have to install a dryer, we're home free.
The guy in the plumbing supply store gave Steve the part we needed and explained how to attach it. "So you screw this piece to the dryer after you put on the Teflon tape."
Teflon tape? Steve and I looked at each other. No one said anything about eflon tape. "Well guy," he continued to address Steve, "you don't have to but I would seriously recommend it. You're talking about gas here. You don't want to take a chance on it leaking, right?"
Walking back with the Teflon tape and the correct attachment, I was fuming. Didn't our landlords worry about two people installing a potentially dangerous appliance that could possibly blow up the entire building? They lived in the building for crying out loud.
Five hours later, we cracked the window, just in case of a leak, and went to get a bite to eat at a nearby restaurant. We were barely speaking but were both famished and exhausted. Waiting for our food to arrive, Steve looked at me and said, "You're not nurturing enough."
I looked back at him and blinked, not believing what I heard. "I'm not nurturing? What do you mean by nurturing? What would you like me do while you stomp around huffing and puffing-breast feed you?"
Clearly I had had it. Steve tried to explain his rationale but even as he attempted to put the words to it, he wasn't getting his point across. It had something to do with being more gentle and patient with him when he was throwing a tantrum out of frustration. He finally waved me off as he sometimes did with his, "You don't get it" line of dismissal.
But I did get it. The way I saw it, if I tried to help, I threatened his masculinity and made him feel incapable. If I stayed out of the way and didn't help, I wasn't nurturing. This was a case for Oprah and Dr. Phil if I ever heard one. It was one of those male-female conundrums that pop up every now and then. You don't see them coming but before you realize it, you've got a situation and it's spinning out of control.
We ate our dinner in silence, each of us pissed at the other. Steve focused on the television set suspended over the bar and I played with the hot wax from the candle that was supposed to provide atmosphere.
As we walked back to the apartment together I wondered if Steve was thinking as I was whether this relationship was really going to work. We had five years together but this dryer incident really did a number on us.
How had we let a simple task spiral so far out of our grasp? It was then I decided to do something I never do. I swallowed my pride and took his hand. He held onto it.
I didn't look at him but instead focused ahead into the darkened street, connected to him in this small way. Sometimes when things get all tossed around, the best thing to do is take a seat and wait until the cycle is over.