Jerry Zezima, a Newsday assistant editor who writes a nationally syndicated humor column for his hometown paper, The Show More
Inanimate objects are out to get me. I can deal with human beings, either by ignoring them or by telling them such dumb jokes that they ignore me. But machines have me baffled.
That goes especially for the appliances in my house, which have conspired to drive me even crazier than I already am.
Fortunately, a fellow human, Leo Kasden, aka the Appliance Whisperer, has come to the rescue.
Leo, 83, ace salesman at the P.C. Richard & Son store in Stony Brook, sold both an air conditioner and a washing machine to me and my wife, Sue, last year. Earlier this year, he sold us a dryer.
This was necessitated by the sad and expensive fact that all three of the old appliances conked out within months of each other. And recently, Sue and I have been the victims of more appliance mayhem.
In the span of about two weeks, we had trouble with the microwave, the toaster and the coffee maker, none of which Leo sold us, though he did have some words of wisdom about these and all other appliances: "You have to talk to them," he said. "Maybe they're misbehaving because they think you don't like them."
Leo loves appliances. He has been selling them for 60 years, the past 40 at P.C. Richard, an East Coast chain founded in 1909.
"I can't wait to come to work every day," Leo told me.
"Aren't you going to retire?" I asked.
"I'll retire when the Jets win the Super Bowl," Leo said of his favorite football team.
"You may be working forever," I remarked.
Leo nodded and said, "That's OK. I love my job. It's challenging because you have to be like a doctor and keep up with the latest technology. When I started, there were ice boxes and black-and-white TVs. Now you have washers and dryers that look like they came out of 'Star Trek.' The ones you and your wife bought are like that."
"They even play a little tune when the wash is done," I said. "It was catchy at first, but now I can't get that stupid song out of my head. I'm sure it's part of the appliance conspiracy against me."
"It's like in the James Patterson book 'Zoo,' with the rebellion of the animals," Leo said. "This could be the rebellion of the appliances."
"I wouldn't be surprised," I said, telling Leo about the mind games the microwave played on me. "I was making popcorn when the fan went on and wouldn't go off. We had to call in a technician, who was totally baffled. The day after he left, the fan went off and the microwave started working again."
Then there was the toaster.
"We had a brand-new one and it just stopped working," I recalled. "Maybe it's because I put in a slice of bread and pressed the 'bagel' button, just to be cute. I mean, how would it know?"
"They know when you try to fool them," said Leo.
"And the coffee maker was so bad that the coffee was lukewarm," I said. "We had to heat it up in the microwave. When the fan was on, we couldn't have coffee at all."
"Not a good way to start the day," said Leo, adding that his wife, Harriet, to whom he has been married for as long as he has been in sales, operates all the appliances at home. "She cooks and does the laundry. I leave the machines alone."
"Maybe I should do the same thing," I said. "I used to do the laundry, but my wife won't let me now that we have a new washer and dryer. She's afraid I'll break them."
"If you check out your appliances every morning and say hello to them, that might help," Leo suggested. "Maybe they'll like you better."