On Whether a Dishwasher Is a Luxury or a Necessity

Last month, the dishwasher in my apartment conked out.  The maintenance man said that owing to the holidays, it would take about a week to order a new one and install it. And so, during the last week of December, I had to wash the dishes by hand, something I had not done in fifty years, back when I still lived with my parents while going to college.  What a chore!  I had completely forgotten what that was like.  First, I would fill one sink with hot water and liquid dishwashing detergent. Then, after soaking the dishes for a bit, I would scrub them, if necessary, rinse them, and then dry.  It all made me appreciate what a luxury a dishwasher is.  Right now, the dishwasher is churning away as I write this, and what a pleasant sound that is.

My next door neighbor saw the maintenance man removing the dishwasher from my apartment, and she called me to find out what was going on.  When I told her, she said she never used her dishwasher.  She lives alone, and she said she just washes the plate and utensils as soon as she is finished eating. A few days later, I brought the subject up while playing bridge, and the one man and two women at the table all pretty much said the same thing:  they never use their dishwasher, but simply wash everything by hand as soon as they finish eating. The man did allow that he used the dryer in the dishwasher rather than dry the dishes by hand, but that is all.  I don’t like to ask people personal questions, so I do not know this for sure, but I think they each live alone.

That, I suspect, is a critical feature.  I have never been married nor even lived with anyone, but I believe an arrangement in which each person would be responsible for washing his or her own dishes would be not work.  And then there would be the problem of the utensils used in common, such as the pots and pans.

Taking turns might be one solution, but there is the problem of asymmetrical personalities.  I knew a couple guys who were roommates while in college. They agreed each would do the dishes on alternate nights.  But one was neat, while the other was a slob.  On the first night, Mr. Neat did all the dishes, but on the second night, Mr. Slob just never quite got around to doing them, and so they were still in the sink the next morning. Mr. Neat decided he would teach Mr. Slob a lesson, so he let the dishes go unwashed the next night as well. Problem was, Mr. Slob didn’t care, if he even noticed at all.  The only one who was taught a lesson was Mr. Neat, and not long after that he moved out.

I found that story amusing enough when I heard it, but it is with a sense of dread that I broach the subject of married couples.  From what I gather, it usually one person who does the dishes, whether it is the wife (because it’s woman’s work) or the husband (because she cooked the meal, after all), but I suspect there is a lingering resentment about the arrangement however arrived at and by whatever justification.

I once knew a woman who said that when she was single and in hopes of getting married someday, if she went to a man’s apartment and the sink was full of dirty dishes, that pretty much ended the relationship right then, because, she said, she had no intention of cleaning up that mess on a regular basis. Of course, a man who would bring a woman to his apartment with a sink full of dirty dishes would also likely be messy in other ways, it being just an obvious indicator of a general situation.  After she had been married for a few years, presumably to a man with tidier habits, she started having an affair.  Her lover typically had dirty dishes in his sink, but she would walk right by that pile and go straight back to the bedroom.  “I knew I wouldn’t have to clean up after him,” she said, “so it didn’t bother me one bit.  As long as there weren’t any cracker crumbs in the bed, I didn’t care.”  (I knew a guy who did have cracker crumbs in the bed the night he brought a woman to his place, and he just got out the broom, stood on the bed, and swept it out.)

In any event, I suspect that much of the marital tension over doing the dishes is greatly alleviated by the presence of a dishwasher.  Though they were not married, I suspect Mr. Neat would have just put the dishes in the dishwasher and turned it on, if they had had a dishwasher.  But when the dishes have to be done by hand, that is when the trouble begins.  A friend of mine said that one night after dinner, his wife started doing the dishes by hand, for they had no dishwasher, while he sat on the couch and started playing his guitar.  After a few minutes, his wife, who worked same as he did, and who had been the one to cook the dinner they just ate, said, “If you loved me, you would offer to do the dishes.” He stopped playing the guitar, thought for a moment, and said, “Then I guess I don’t love you.” That was not the only reason she eventually left him, but I am pretty sure it made a major contribution to their estrangement.

After she left, the dishes piled up in the sink.  For a few months, he would take the top dish off the pile along with some silverware he could dig out, wash them, use them to eat his meal, and then put them back on top of the pile again. Finally, the absurdity of the situation became too much.  So, he set aside one dish, one glass, one fork, spoon, and knife, and threw the rest away.  His wife said that when she heard about that, she felt as though he had thrown her away. All hope of a reconciliation was dashed.

But suppose they had had a dishwasher.  Their marriage might have been saved. She would never have felt the need to challenge her husband’s love for her, because the dishwasher would already have been doing its job before any ill feeling could accumulate.  And had she left him anyway, for whatever reason, he would never have needed to throw the dishes away, and they might have patched things up.

I doubt if I would have reached the point of throwing most of my dishes and silverware away if I did not have a dishwasher, but after a week of doing them by hand, I suspect the temptation to let them pile up in the sink would ultimately have prevailed.  And that brings me back to these people I know that live alone and do not even bother to use the dishwasher, who were as surprised to find out that I did use one as I was to find out that they did not.

And so it seems that if you live alone, a dishwasher is a luxury that you may or may not care about, depending on the kind of person you are.  But if you are married, I believe it is a necessity.  So, just in case you were looking for a little marital advice from a bachelor, there it is.

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“Morning Joe” Needs a Divorce

For a long time now there have been rumors about a romantic relationship between Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, cohosts of Morning Joe.  I never gave those stories much credence. When a man and woman spend a lot of time together for whatever reason, then if they seem to be physically suited to each other, we naturally put them together sexually in our imagination.  So even if we never play cupid in deed, we often do so in thought.  However, when Mika disputed a point Joe was making a couple of weeks ago, he said she was being “rude” and “snotty.” That’s when I said to myself, “I guess those rumors must be true.”  As it turns out, they plan to get married.

Let me confess that I am a naïve bachelor who does not always understand all the wicked ways of the world.  Not only have I never been married, but I have never lived with anyone either, save when I was growing up and living with my parents, whose screaming arguments provided at least some secondhand knowledge as to what marriage must be like.  It is hard to escape the conclusion that there is something about marriage that releases us from the norms of polite conversation, allowing people to say vicious things to each other that they would never dream of saying even to people they dislike.

The question that poses itself to me is this:  Is it the sexual nature of a relationship that allows people to feel they can be rude to each other, or is it is the fact that they live together?  I have never had a roommate, so I cannot say how simply living with someone would affect my sense of etiquette regarding him. And in any event, people rarely have the same roommate for very long. Similarly, I never had a girlfriend for more than a couple of years before she would break up with me, so I cannot be sure about the effect that sex has on polite behavior over a long period of time.

There are plenty of people that are either married or living together, but they are not likely to be completely forthcoming about any discord between them behind closed doors, even if I had the bad taste to come right out and ask them about it. One does get hints, however.  When I used to go dancing, I found that it was not uncommon for a married couple to have dancing partners other than each other. Those that did not could often be seen quarreling on the dance floor.  I play bridge a lot now, and there too have I found that married couples tend to have partners other than each other. Mind you, dancing partners and bridge partners will often become lovers and may even marry; but when the marriage comes first, it is less likely to lead to such partnerships.

I once had a girlfriend who decided to go back to college and get a degree. Sometimes she would have classes in the morning and then again in the afternoon, with a couple of hours to kill in between.  She lived too far away from the campus to go home, but my apartment was much closer.  So, I gave her a key so that she could use my place to have lunch and study while I was at work. Because she brought her own lunch, she would clean up her containers afterwards.  But when she was through, she would leave a sopping wet steel wool soap pad in the bottom of the sink.  The first time that happened, I simply squeezed the pad and put it back in the soap dish at the top of the sink, thinking no more about it.  A couple of days later (her classes were on Tuesdays and Thursdays), there was the soap pad again lying in the bottom of the sink sopping wet.  When it happened a third time, I knew this was no mere oversight, but a serious character flaw.

So, did I say anything to her about it?  Absolutely not.   I loved her with all my heart, and our romance was nothing but sweetness and light.  Why would I want to spoil the good feeling between us over a lousy soap pad? True, I probably went through soap pads a little more often than had previously been the case, but men have shelled out a lot more money than that for the sake of love, so who cares about a few extra bucks now and then?  And yet, the thought occurred to me: How long would I tolerate that sopping wet soap pad in the bottom of the sink if we were married?  This was a complete counterfactual, of course, but the question intrigued me nevertheless.  I could not say from experience, but intuitively I suspected that eventually in this hypothetical marriage, I would have reached the point of not being able to stand it any longer. At some point I would have felt compelled to ask her not to leave the sopping wet soap pad in the bottom of the sink and would she please squeeze it out and return it to the soap dish where she found it!

All to no avail, of course, because you cannot change someone after you marry him or her.  The net result would have been a source of contention and irritation between us.  So, why would I have introduced this discord into our marriage when I was prudent enough not to do so when we were just lovers? If the latter would have been unwise, so too would be the former. And yet, I somehow just knew that there was no way we could stay married for twenty or thirty years without the subject of those soap pads coming up. It simply could not be endured!

Reflecting on this, I concluded that when a man and woman are not lovers, they unconsciously are aware that they might be someday, and thus they are on their best behavior, even if they never consciously intend to date each other.  And even if they do become lovers, they remain for a while on their best behavior lest they foul their little love nest by quarreling.  But as the passion wears off, people get to the point that they just don’t care about being nice anymore. Lovers not living together can simply break up or even just drift apart, and roommates can move out, but married couples don’t have the same easy options, and thus the pressure builds up.

I used to work at a department store that had a policy about married coworkers. If two people in a store got married, one of them had to transfer to another store. Presumably, no one wanted to have to listen to a squabbling married couple.  And I understand that in gambling casinos, married couples are not allowed to play at the same poker table, probably for the same reason.

And so it is that it would probably be for the best if either Mika or Joe left Morning Joe and found employment elsewhere. Sure, they got past the “rude” and “snotty” business.  Perhaps that is what led Joe to propose to Mika, as if to make up for being so hateful.  But that won’t last.  Morning Joe is my favorite talk show, but I shudder to think how things will unfold as the years of marriage wears them down.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)

Whatever our opinion of love and marriage, we usually agree as to how a movie depicts them, whether it represents them as something desirable, as is usually the case for romantic comedies, or something to be avoided, as is often the case for films noir.  An exception to this is The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947).  Most people think of this movie as romantic, which is to say, as one that represents love as something beautiful.  It is a story about a woman who falls in love with the ghost of a sea captain.  And though she cannot marry him, of course, yet he is the man with whom marriage would have been ideal.  In reality, this movie has a dark view of love and marriage, and is quite cynical at its heart.

When the movie begins, Mrs. Muir (Gene Tierney), a widow, decides to move into a house with her daughter and her maid.  She is made aware that previous occupants moved out, claiming the house to be haunted, but she is undeterred.  One day, she sits in a chair and falls asleep.  Now, it is axiomatic that when a character in a movie falls asleep in a chair, there is a good chance that what follows is a dream (falling asleep in a bed is too ordinary to have any significance). And so, we immediately become suspicious, especially when the ghost of Captain Daniel Gregg (Rex Harrison) makes an appearance. Is the ghost real, or is she just dreaming him?

In any event, they get acquainted. And when she finds she is hard pressed for money, she becomes a ghost writer for this ghost, telling his story as a sea captain.  When she meets Miles Fairley (George Sanders) at the office of a book publisher, she finds herself attracted to him, and they start seeing each other.  Captain Gregg decides to take his leave. He tells her while she is asleep that he is only a dream, and that she wrote the book herself. Now, is this a real ghost telling her this, or is she just dreaming that a ghost is telling her he is a dream?

Years later, she sits in the chair and falls asleep again, and so once again we wonder if what follows is another dream or if we are still in the first one. The scene that does follow is one in which she finds out her daughter Anna is about to be engaged. Anna and Mrs. Muir have a talk in the kitchen, where it turns out that when Anna was a child, she had seen the ghost of Captain Gregg too, and they discuss whether they both saw a real ghost or simply had the same dream.

This is followed by another scene many years later, in which Anna writes that her daughter, Little Lucy (“Lucy” being the same first name as Mrs. Muir), has married a captain (an airplane captain, but you get the idea). Mrs. Muir is tired and decides to take another nap in that same chair. She falls asleep and dies. Or she falls asleep and dreams that she dies. Or she is still in the first dream, and only dreams that she sat in the chair and died?  And by now we are completely confused as to what is real and what is a dream.  In any event, she is now a ghost and is finally united with Captain Gregg.

However we interpret this movie, it has a rather paradoxical attitude about marriage. On the one hand, it follows the usual Hollywood line for that period that marriage is essential for happiness. On the other hand, there is an undercurrent throughout the movie that marriage is not conducive to happiness, that it is something to be avoided. In the opening scene, Mrs. Muir announces to her mother-in-law and sister-in-law, with whom she is living, that she is going to get her own place and move out. Her in-laws object, suggesting that it would be indecent. To this, Mrs. Muir responds, “I’ve never had a life of my own. It’s been Edwin’s life and yours and Eva’s, never my own.”  Since there is no indication that her husband was a bad man, the implication would seem to be that there is something oppressive about marriage itself, that it involves the sacrifice of one’s life for the sake of others.  In fact, she later admits to Captain Gregg that Edwin proposed to her just after she had read a romantic novel, and thus she got her own feelings for Edwin confused with the feelings elicited by the book.  The suggestion is that love and marriage sound good when we read about them in romance novels, but they are something quite different in real life.

After Mrs. Muir rents the house, Mr. Coombe, the man who brokered the deal for her, comes to visit her intent on proposing marriage, saying that she needs the “protection of a man,” which is absurd, coming from someone like him, with his high-pitched voice and nervous manner. Captain Gregg is disgusted, referring to him as a “herring-gutted swab,” and gets rid of him by causing Coombe’s car to start rolling away by itself.

As mentioned above, after Mrs. Muir writes the book about Captain Gregg’s adventures, she takes it to a publisher, where she meets Miles Fairley and soon falls in love with him. We are suspicious of him, because he is played by George Sanders, who often plays characters that are smarmy and decadent. She intends to marry him, but it turns out that he is already married with children. Worse yet, his wife knows that Fairley does that sort of thing to women on a regular basis, and it seems to be no big deal to her.

In a subsequent scene, however, Mrs. Muir tells Anna she saw Fairley years later at a dinner party, where he cried because his wife had finally had enough and left him. She also mentions that he was “bald and fat.” But if Fairley had turned out to be a decent man, and had married Mrs. Muir, he would still have become bald and fat, because that happens in marriage.  And so, if the deterioration of Fairley’s looks causes Mrs. Muir to be thankful she did not marry him, does it not follow that the inevitable deterioration of a man’s looks is a good reason for her not to marry anyone at all?

This theme of deterioration is reinforced by analogy with a post.  An old man carves Anna’s name into a post on the shore, and he tells her it will be there forever and a day. And yet, as the years pass, we see it slowly rot away and fall over. Is this not a metaphor for marriage, which begins with the illusion that love will last forever, only for it to slowly decay and fall apart?

Now, we know that the idea is that for a woman to be happy, she must marry the right man, and the right man in this case is Captain Gregg. And so, at the end of the movie, when she dies, and she and Captain Gregg are together again, apparently forever, we know that she is finally happy. And she and Gregg both have their good-looking, youthful appearance, forever apparently. In other words, Gregg will never become “bald and fat.”

The three real men in Mrs. Muir’s life, her husband Edwin, Mr. Coombe, and Miles Fairley, were not suitable for her for different reasons, and only a dream-ghost was the right man. In short, real people can never measure up to what we find in romantic fiction or in our dreams.  The further implication of this story is that a truly happy marriage is itself a dream, and that in real life, one is better off remaining single. As Mrs. Muir says to her daughter, “You can be much more alone with other people than you are by yourself, even if it’s people you love.”