Rather uncomfortable around them, I avoid household machines and gadgets when I can. The test comes periodically, when Lani, my lone kasambahay, goes off on vacation.
Anyway, for some reason these machines don’t seem to take to me, either. I’m almost sure, like dogs, they can smell fear and insincerity. Still, there’s no denying they make daily living easier, and compellingly so abroad, where one has to do just about everything by oneself. I have found myself in that situation, too.
At home, where Lani has taken over the washing machine, the vacuum cleaner and, recently, the juicer, I have no relationship to speak of with them. They all seem friendlier to Lani, and I certainly don’t mind.
Now, while she’s gone, I may just give them a two-week vacation, too, unless I’m forced to make another attempt to re-friend them.
It’s easy to forget how to behave sensitively around machines and, because trips to the United States have become infrequent, I’ve also unlearned the ways of American washing machines in particular, which seem to be getting more intelligent by the year.
I’m especially in awe of their amazing multicycled clothes dryer, which can dry with hot or cold air. In just half an hour on gentle heat, tops and pants are perfectly dry, and, after a run on Bounce, a wrinkle remover, perfectly pressed, ready to hang, fold or wear again, and smelling so good.
I myself wish for that magic dryer, but it would further crowd Lani in the tiny quarters she already shares with the washer.
Master of machines
At my son Vittorio’s and daughter-in-law Liza’s charming inverted-loft apartment in San Francisco, where my daughter and I stayed recently for two weeks, the undisputed master of machines is Vitti. They obey his every command, and he knows their individual idiosyncrasies, which indeed they seem to possess. Liza herself refuses to humor them, but gets things done anyway, if not nearly as perfect as Vitti does.
I overheard him giving precise instructions to his sister, Gia, before leaving for work long after Liza, who works from home, had gone down to her workshop, adjacent their bedroom. It’s the busiest time of year for both of them.
“After you load the washing machine, turn it on to fill with water. Once full, it will make a sound that will tell you it’s ready to wash. Only then do you pour in the little bit, depending on your load, of liquid detergent. After the first cycle is done, it will fall silent, and stop. That’s when you turn back the dial to a shorter second rinse until it stops again.”
It’s an automatic washer, but those details, according to Mr. Perfection, make a whole lot of difference in the result. It required some paying attention, but otherwise it seemed easy enough; I decided to do my own wash.
Indeed, if one followed Vitti, after the second spin, for rinsing, the clothes would come out nearly dry, and drying them completely would be easier and quicker at the correct temperature, and ready for the wondrous sheet of Bounce.
When she found the time, Liza used the portable vacuum cleaner on surfaces not occupied by our stuff. The living room, in dramatic black and white and silver, had become our bedroom; at night one of the two sofas became my bed, and, for Gia, Vitti pushed air from a gadget into an inflatable bed. Our suitcases left very little space for walking around.
I looked forward to breakfast, which Vitti would prepare quite early. His coffee, which he pre-set to grind and percolate before sleeping, was to die for, and his pancakes, whipped from scratch, out of this world. He also produced perfectly crisp and greaseless bacon from the microwave.
Like a true chef, he gently stirred eggs into a soft and moist French omelet in a semiwarm pan, lightly sprayed with Pam cooking spray, throwing in chives and grated cheese at the last minute. The yolks of his fried eggs plumped up above the whites, whose edges turned slightly crispy. Only he could toast buttery croissants without burning them, because, again, he knew his toaster’s quirks.
I watched him steam the collar and cuffs of his shirt the night before, as though it was the easiest thing. Except for shopping for his wardrobe, which Liza picks impeccably, he’s happier doing things himself, and with such enthusiasm and positive energy. As a child he loved to take things apart, although not always able to put them back together; but now he’s definitely in command.
Except for breakfast, Gia and I ate out most of the time, with Liza and Vitti joining us now and then. Their place is walking distance to many restaurants—from bars, organic cafés, bakeries and delicatessens, to high-end steak places.
Easy, fast communication
The weather, this late October, was unexpectedly just right for a sweater, in the shade or at night. We had no trouble completing 10,000 steps, as counted by Gia’s cell-phone health app, walking five blocks to Macy’s for shopping and lunch at the open-air section of the Cheesecake Factory on the top floor.
There was Wi-Fi connection almost everywhere, making our phones our handiest gadget. With some tutoring from Gia, I used Viber and other apps, which made communication easy, fast and free. I kept in constant touch with Vergel and was able to receive my e-mail. Liza bought me a “zip fitbit, a wireless activity tracker” on the Internet to measure my steps, heartbeat and calories burnt.
It was my dearest, long-departed friend Bebe who first introduced me to the computer and other sophisticated household gadgets. They were like toys to her.
Indeed, it’s hard to imagine life anywhere without gadgets and machines. I’d be wise to make long-term friends with them if I wanted to keep in step with the good and fast life. I’m now close to overcoming my fear; I’m still working on sincerity.