I wanted to grow up to be Malvina Reynolds, a singer-songwriter whose goal in life was nothing less than to change the world for the better, one song at a time. I have written many songs, and sung them, and am told that they have made a difference to some people, but I spend more time feeling like Lucy Ricardo than like Malvina Reynolds.
Let us consider the case of the lint trap.
A little red light on our clothes dryer came on the other day, and when I looked closely at it, I saw that it was next to the words, “Clean lint trap.”
Okay. After five years I could believe that there might be a little lint lurking in the crevices and crannies of the machine’s innards. I got out the vacuum cleaner, pulled out the lint screen, and first vacuumed that. Then I got the crevice tool and pushed it into the slot where the screen fits, and vacuumed that. After that I opened the little door on the slot and peered in with a flashlight to see if any more lint needed to come out.
Holy mother of Martha Stewart. It looked like an unshorn gray sheep had died in there.
I always like to use the right tool for the job, so I went and got a chopstick out of the silverware drawer, and started fishing lint out. I managed to pull out several wads, but reached a point when I realized the chopstick just wasn’t long enough, so I looked around, and my eye fell on my knitting bag. A knitting needle! Of course! They’re longer than chopsticks and have little caps on the ends that would hook the lint! I grabbed a long blue plastic #9 needle, and went back to the dryer to scoop lint. One scoop: it worked great! That’s when I let go and it fell into the lint trap.
This is when my troubles began.
I could see it down there. I thought of trying to get it out with its mate, but was spooked at that point and didn’t want to chance dropping a second needle in. I knew exactly what I needed to get it out, but I don’t have one.
What I needed was a little grabby-thingy that you used to be able to get at True Value for years. It has a plunger on one end, a long narrow spring tube, and teeny tiny little metal claws on the other end which you can use to pick up teeny tiny things that you drop in small inaccessible places, such as a dryer lint trap. I knew if I had one of those, I could get that needle out easily.
So I went up to True Value, and asked Bob Kueker where to find such a thing. We walked up and down aisles, looking. There was an extension rod with a magnet on the end, but that was no help with a plastic knitting needle. Pretty soon hardware guy Eric Peterson showed up, and Eric is an absolute terrier about finding what you need, so he looked around and made suggestions; then hardware guy Jeff Astle showed up and got involved in the search, and pretty soon we were all talking about the grabby-thingy, and then the two of them went off looking for it. None of us knew the proper name for this tool, and I had only one name for it, and I was resisting saying it.
Back in the early 70s, when I first arrived on Vashon, I dallied for a few months with a long-haired young man named Robert Wallace. He made dope pipes out of lamp parts for a living, and was always dropping little things on the floor and picking them up, and he decided he needed this grabby-thingy. He said, with a gleeful smile, “I need a mouse castrator.”
He explained what it was, and we went to the hardware store and got one, and he was happy and I was forever stuck with that name for that tool.
As Bob at True Value began paging through the tool catalogues looking for this item, I finally said, “The only name I know for this thing is ‘mouse castrator.” “Excuse me?” said Bob. I told him the story of Robert Wallace.
Eric and Jeff came back, reporting that their searches had not turned up the grabby-thingy. The only name I had for it came out then. I don’t think the guys were able to concentrate on selling any hardware for the next twenty minutes. Something about the expression was like throwing a large rock into a pool of emotion. It caused a certain excitement and a lot of comedic riffing, which I enjoy, but the fact is we still didn’t know the right name for the tool and couldn’t find it in any catalogue. I bought a dryer lint trap brush and went home.
Back home I used the lint brush to pull out more wads of lint, but when I tried to put the lint screen back in the dryer, it wouldn’t go all the way down because the needle was in the way. Poop.
This morning I put the screen in and it went all the way down. I figured the needle was lying flat in the bottom of the lint trap, safely out of the way, so I threw some wet clothes into the dryer and turned it on. Arrgh! It sounded like a tiny little machine gun as the needle was sucked into the fan. Quickly I turned off the dryer.
The noise woke my husband, who was home sick. When he came shuffling out of the bedroom, wondering, what the heck? I explained the story so far.
He got in touch with his inner Mechanical Person, and ended up taking the dryer apart and fishing out the three separate pieces of the knitting needle, plus the cap. Then he cleaned out the lint trap thoroughly, put it all back together.
I threw some towels in. I turned it on, and nothing caught fire and it seems to be running fine. The knitting needle and its mate have gone to their final reward. My husband is a prince. I still don’t have a grabby-thingy, but maybe I can get back to saving the world one song at a time now.