The Hemingway of Soap Suds

BY LENORE SKENAZY | Man vs. man. Man vs. nature. Man vs. himself.

These, we learned in high school English, are the three great themes in all literature. To which we must add one more: Man vs. newly purchased fancy-schmancy dishwasher.

Oh, perhaps there are those who would quibble that “The Old Man and the Maytag” just does not carry the same gravitas as a grizzled grump in a boat moping about a marlin. (That was the basic plot, right? With some metaphors thrown in?)

But that’s only because they are not sitting in my kitchen examining, once again, a bunch of strangely slimy plates and still-milky glasses that just spent the past 90 minutes getting the wash of their lives. A wash courtesy of our new, ergonomic, European-made dishwasher with more buttons than an old BlackBerry and all the cleaning power of a bar of Motel 6 soap.

“Read the manual,” said my husband when I called him at work to complain that the dishes looked as if they’d been licked by a camel with a cold.

Read the manual?

Perhaps he’d like me to perform a double cornea transplant while I’m at it. Maybe I can pop over to Afghanistan and hammer out some kind “Evening of Healing Songs and Stories” with the Taliban, too. Did I mention the manual for this machine is 55 pages long and includes a section on, among other things, how to “Delay Start” the wash cycle? As if it is a NASA launch and there’s a funnel cloud headed toward Cape Canaveral?

Manuals are great for people who read manuals. I have a husband and son who sit down and actually absorb the information, connecting the words to the diagrams to the real-world thing in front of them. They poke and prod, and suddenly the thing lights up or rings or records a television program they then can (somehow) play later. Bully for them.

The other 98 percent of us open randomly to a page, see a line like, “Press and hold the 1 and 3 buttons and at the same time turn on the dishwasher with the ‘On’ (15) button” and wail in there-goes-my-marlin despair. Here. You try reading about that “Delay Start” feature:

“To delay the start of the wash [or NASA launch — L.S.], press the 18 button until the desired delayed start time appears in the time display. The delay start is set in one hour steps up to nine hours. If the Delay Start button is pressed after the nine-hour mark the delay start feature will be cancelled and must be re-selected.”

Copy that, Houston? I mean — typing it out, word for word, I do get the basic idea: Goof in pressing button 18 and you have to start again. But that’s just one tiny paragraph about one tiny button for one ridiculous feature I will never, ever use. There are still another 54-and-a-half pages about all these other features — the “optic indicator” (the thing has eyes?) and the “data plate” (calling HAL!), and everyone’s favorite, the “non-return valve.” How I love to curl up with a good page or two about non-return valves!

The thing is I don’t want a dishwasher that requires years of study. I don’t want anything in my house that requires years of study, be it my phone, my digital toaster (guess which spouse bought that?), or my master’s degree. I got one of those in less time than it is taking me to calm down about this stupid non-washing dishwasher!

And manual!

Update: When the toaster-buying dishwasher-decider-in-chief arrived home, he thumbed through the 55-page marriage destroyer and discovered the problem. I hadn’t put in precisely the right amount of detergent: two flat tablespoons. No more, no less.

How could I have missed the “Adding Detergent” instructions? There they are, just 28 fascinating pages in. Right after the marlin eats the old man and licks his bones clean.

Next time, when I choose the dishwasher, I know what I’m going to get.

A marlin.

Lenore Skenazy is a frequent keynote speaker, author, and founder of the book and blog “Free-Range Kids.”