Monday 19 January 2015


See those six empty screw holes?

After reading this post, if you ever see those six empty screw holes inside of your clothes dryer, you will know what I now know:
     1) That there should a screw in each of those holes,
     2)  that your dryer is broken, and
     3) that you are about to blow 3 hours out of the water.*1-(see footnotes below)

My wife, Junko, is Japanese*2.  Junko's family does not really celebrate Christmas. For them, New Year's Day is the big deal. The Japanese idea is that you want to enter the new year, the way you'd like it to proceed. To me this suggests her in lingerie and me in a bottle of scotch. To Junko, it suggests sterilization—thankfully, not in the way you're thinking.

On the 31st of December all Japanese "celebrate" by rigorously cleaning everything in sight. At least that's what Junko told me and what I believed until the year we spent Christmas in Japan. That's when I learned that my wife is a cleaning fanatic, even by Japanese standards. She'd scrub the white off of rice, if she could, and does not consider a window to be truly clean until birds start bouncing off of it.

On the 31st, we would clean the house from top to bottom, armed with old toothbrushes, razor blades, screwdrivers and crowbars, for those hard to reach spaces. We moved fridges and stoves and took apart things like shelves and small appliances to get at the nooks and crannies. Another tradition we had was that every year, after about 5 hours of this, I got grumpy and quit.

Tired and grumpy was how I entered the new year. Junko entered it disappointed and unsatisfied. And, too often, the year would proceed the way we entered it.

On that eye-opening New Year's Eve when we were in Japan, her father spent a couple of hours tidying up and leisurely organizing his tools in the garage. He whistled a lot. Her sister-in-law was humming like a princess in a Disney movie, as she lightly dusted the furniture. My two teenaged nephews brushed their teeth, then watched TV. They laughed and laughed. There was no grunting, groaning or muttering swear words, and the rest of the day was spent lounging and visiting with friends.

The jig was up!

Junko has since scaled down my New Year's Eve chores to only a couple of hours' work.  I insist on a list in advance, so that I know what I'm up against. Sometimes, I will start a few days ahead in order not to spoil my holiday. This year, my list included cleaning the dryer of all lint. Junko had noticed that lint was gathering in behind the drum. She also noted that there were six screws which appeared to offer access to that area in order to clean it. 

I want to take a moment to point out that I am actually quite handy. I build stuff, can change my own brakes and oil, have repaired everything from vacuum cleaners to furnaces and done a lot of renovating, and none of that has ever taken a nasty turn.

In this case, however, I was lulled into a false sense of security by the prevalent, modern notion that evolution is going about it all wrong and that being a moron should not lead to harm. The 6-inch deep, blow-up kiddie pool I bought last summer has a warning label: "No Diving", and our toaster's manual advises users not to butter the bread before it's toasted.*3 Naturally, I assumed that screws so visible and accessible were meant to be removed.

A distant voice inside my head was telling me that this was a bad idea, but I ignored it thinking that it was just the ghost of resentment at having chores on my holiday. I figured, the worst case scenario might be a wasted minute or two. What the voice was trying to say was that even if I removed the screws, it is obvious that the panel can not be removed because the dryer vanes are in the way and this should be a warning that those screws are not meant to be removed. But they were so accessible and invitingly shiny! And the voice was all whiny and condescending.

When the first screw came free, I immediately sensed that something heavy had shifted. I have no idea why I carried on. I am normally the most cautious guy in the world. When I'm not sure how something is going to pan out, it is my policy to do nothing. This is why I don't play the lottery and, by extension, why I must wasting precious holiday-time tampering with a dryer.

Removing the second screw had no effect. But when that third screw came out, a large metal disc behind the drum fell onto the heating element. The coils glowed fiercely for a few seconds, then shorted out with a blinding flash and a crisp pop. They were now broken and welded to the rest of the dryer. My wife pointed out that we were lucky that I, too, had not been welded to the dryer. She was probably concerned for my well being, but it's equally likely that she was thinking that the constant clunking sound of my body tumbling around whenever she did the laundry would eventually become tedious.

My five minute cleaning job had just expanded to fill the day.

I am ashamed to say that I did some cursing. But, to my credit, it lasted no more than 30 minutes. Ok, an hour. But, I did not curse my wife or the dryer, itself. I cursed the engineer who designed it and who decided to place six temptingly shiny screws where I could so easily get at them. Also, all of his ancestors. Then I cursed myself for a while. That was fun.

Our stacking laundry is located in a very tight closet and locked in place by shelving on one side. In order to extract the dryer, I had to remove the shelves and lift it off the washer, pull it through a doorway designed to admit anorexic field mice, single file, and gently place it on our kitchen floor in the middle of the most traveled intersection in the house; providing the only access to the kitchen, bathroom and the back door.

While I did this, my wife went online and looked up a schematic of the dryer, then asked me why I had not done that first. My mood now much enhanced, I looked over the schematic then watched a quick repair video on YouTube, which naturally led to checking out pics of Ellie Kemper, then jokes from The Office.*3

Eventually, I began to disassemble the dryer. The kids were suddenly parched and had to get glasses of water from the kitchen. You should know that young children have nothing between the mouth and their rear ends. Internal organs and such grow in later. So, after about 30 seconds, they had to use the bathroom. This cycle was repeated repeatedly, each time with a "How's it going, Dad?" as they passed.

"Just ducky."

I called around for replacement parts and was fortunate enough to find a new heating element, nearby. Thirty-five dollars and another hour later, I had vacuumed every internal inch and had the whole thing back together. 

It's much more difficult to lift a stacked dryer back into place because half way up, you must adjust your grip lower down on the unit. It took me another hour to place it, attach the vent, put back the shelves and replace all the useless crap that we normally store on those shelves.

"Ok. Your damned dryer's 100% lint-free, now!" I was wise enough to not say.

Incidental to this, that same morning, my wife was cleaning the fan above the stove and stripped the screw that keeps the blade in place. I made an ingenious repair involving a drill and hack saw and put it all back together. The fan now sucks perfectly, but wails like a banshee—or sings like Kate Bush, depending upon your taste in audio.

I went to the garage to get more tools and the door handle came off in my hand. I fixed this too... we now pry the door apart with a stick.

Lately, when I go online and search DIY repair, Google automatically redirects me to a professional repair shop.

*1. This does not include time spent swearing at inanimate objects or bandaging cuts from razor-sharp metal edges.

*2: "My wife is Japanese." This is a very useful catch-all sentence. I use it when one of the kids does something inappropriate or when I pay with coupons. If your wife is Japanese, you should use it, too. It's one of the perks.

*3: Sadly for me, there is no warning on a package of Doritos to tell you that the pointy ends are sharp. And nowhere on the Bandaids package does it mention that they won't stick to the roof of your mouth.

*4: You clicked on those links and were gone for 30 minutes, weren't you? See... that's how it happens. Note to self: No more Ellie Kemper links in a blog post.


  1. Haha (sorry) this was good. My husband would get a sick out of this.

    1. If my pain and frustration can amuse just one other husband, then it was all worth while.