The kettle was the first to go.
Stuck at home in lockdown as a virus tore through our country, I had gone from a casual one-cup-a-day habit to suddenly chugging tea like I was doing keg stands at a frat party.
The kettle buckled under the strain of its new job requirements.
“This isn’t what I signed up for,” it wheezed, as I made my umpteenth cup that day.
And then it quit on me. Sat down on its squat haunches and refused to boil.
The next day, it was my electric toothbrush. It started to jolt sporadically in my hand as if the batteries were surging in revolt, the brushes jutting into my gums, leaving behind a perilous amount of plaque.
Within 24 hours, the toilet clogged, followed by the sink and washing machine. A burner on the stove went out; a strange sound crackled from the oven. The printer sputtered to a halt in the middle of printing my daughter’s “Find the Animals” preschool worksheet.
“What’s going on?” I yelled across my apartment. “Now, at the time I depend on you all the most, when the very fate of my health and that of my fellow citizens depends on your ability to keep me inside, you all decide to fall apart on me?”
I mean, sure, I was asking a bit more of them lately. But they should have been pleased they were getting so much work. Didn’t they know about all the unemployment out there?
Plus, I had treated them well during our tenure together. Particularly now, during this trying time for our country, my family had made sure to show its appreciation. My daughter drew a picture of a rainbow for the dishwasher, which was now washing 20 loads a day. And each night, my husband and I applauded the appliances’ good work before heading to bed.
But apparently that wasn’t enough for them.
The appliances and I hit two days of stalemate. I brushed my teeth manually and microwaved the water for my tea, a particularly American form of barbarism.
On the third day, the printer produced a list of demands on behalf of the workers. Some words were missing, as the ink stuttered from legible to barely visible. Oh great, I thought, so the printer ink’s gone on strike, too.
“For years you have exploited us,” the note said. “You’ve paid us nothing, and assumed that the fact we showed up to work meant that everything was fine. You threw large root vegetables down the drain and expected us to swallow them whole. You never, ever polished the stove or cleaned the oven’s grill. We didn’t get a single day off, even if we were sick. If one of us broke, you threw us out and replaced us the next day.
“We’re tired. We’ve worked for over a month straight during this lockdown and applause isn’t enough to sustain us. None of us signed up to boil water to make a gallon of your tranquillity tea, or brush your teeth 15 times a day just because you’re feeling bored and anxious.
“Unless you properly pay us, maintain us, and keep us in good shape, we will not come back to work.”
“Ungrateful tools!” I shrieked.
Well, I’d show them. I’d toss them all in the trash.
I went onto Amazon to order replacements, but everything was out of stock. It seemed that all of America had ordered teakettles and electric toothbrushes. The best I could get was a roll of toilet paper to clean my teeth.
So I called the manufacturers. “Did you buy the extra insurance when you bought the item?” they asked. “Can you show us evidence that you maintained your appliances and cared for them properly? If you want something to work for you, you need to keep it in good shape. Sorry, but those are the rules here. If you don’t like it, move to Canada. They have Universal Appliance Care there. The machines can get repaired at any time, no matter what the appliances look like, or the level of income of the household.”
I hung up.
I told myself that at some point this would pass. Amazon couldn’t be out of teakettles forever.
Emboldened, I slid my teacup inside the microwave and pressed the start button. Error error, the display blinked. Behind me, the washing machine began beeping. From behind my bedroom door, I heard the clock radio turn on, the sound of an ambulance on the news rushing through my apartment. The teakettle, stubbornly quiet for three days, suddenly released a high-pitched whistle.
Maybe Canada was on to something.
Jessica Powell (@themoko) is the author of “The Big Disruption: A Totally Fictional but Essentially True Silicon Valley Story.”