Saturday, May 16, 2009

Life lessons from my Kenmore. Part 1.

This morning I was emptying the dishwasher, and I started, as I always do, with the dinner plates. That is my ritual: dinner plates, smaller plates, cereal bowls, silverware (I hate that facet of the job for some reason; I'd love to subcontract out the silverware component, certainly the part where you're putting all the like items in their respective places in that plastic tray), miscellaneous geegaws (strainers, salad mixers and such), and then I finish up with glasses. When I reached the glasses today I realized I'd missed a dinner plate. It was standing right there in the front of the bin and I hadn't noticed it. If you'd asked me up to that moment whether there could be a dinner plate left in that dishwasher, I would've sworn that there wasn't; couldn't be. Yet there it was, in all its dinner-platey glory.

This is a surprisingly common foible in the close personal relationship between me and my dishwasher: I'll think I've put away one entire category of items, then later, usually only towards the
very end, do I realize that I missed one. Sometimes two. How does this happen? Especially when you're making a conscious effort to locate and organize items by category and you're working in a confined space like a dishwasher bin, how do you miss things that would seem...unmissable? (It ain't exactly like an Easter egg hunt out on the White House lawn, yanno?) There are, of course, more mystical/metaphysical interpretations having to do with trees and forests. How do I really know that the dinner plate was there before I saw it? Maybe it had just...appeared? We'll leave such alternate explanations in abeyance for now, or maybe entrust them to the Rhonda Byrnes of the world.

You wonder, or at least I do, how many other areas of life there are where this same phenomenon applies. You think you've got a situation pegged
you'd swear you'd taken into account every variable, weighed all the facts there are to be weighedbut in truth you've missed something, perhaps even something big and relatively important: the macro version of a dinner plate in a dishwasher. (Remember those tedious analogies from the SATs? "A dinner plate is to service for eight like _____ is to life.") And here's the thing: In the case of a dishwasher, the error is going to be discovered in time, likely quite soon. The appliance isn't going anywhere. You'd assume that at worst, when it got to the point where the plate was the very last thing in the machine, I'd notice it then. And even if I didn't, maybe Kathy would open the dishwasher to put in some dishes from breakfast and say, "There's a dinner plate in here. Is it clean or dirty?" But what about situations that are transient, evolutionary, mercurial, mobile? Situations that come and go? If some deeply thinking repairman-philosopher intent on making a grand cosmic point had snuck into my kitchen this morning and removed that dishwasher before I made my discovery, then bet me $10,000 about the possible existence of a renegade plate, I would've made the bet. And if that repairman smiled and told me I was wrong, I'd insist he or she was lying. I simply would not believe it. There were no more dinner plates in that damned dishwasher! Uh-huh.

...To be continued...


Dimension Skipper said...

I saw this book* in one of my local Barnes & Nobles a couple weeks ago. It looked somewhat interesting and I browsed it for a while though I didn't actually buy it. (And btw it has a wonderfully appropriate cover design.)
Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average
by Joseph T. Hallinan         
Here's its Random House page, a couple of reviews here and here, plus the author's own book-related site and blog.
* I'm not trying to promote it, nor do I have any stake in it or any ties to the author. I just thought it was potentially relevant to the topic at hand and possibly even of more general interest to the wider SHAMblogigentsia.

Steve Salerno said...

Thanks, DS. Hadn't heard of this one, but it sounds like it's one of a number of books trying to repackage some of the thinking from Malcolm Gladwell's Blink (which, many have argued, is a more mainstream repackaging of any number of scholarly works. And so it goes).

Steven Sashen said...

What amazes about the fact that we make these gaffes all the time, is how our brain so cleverly writes them off as unimportant rather than sending us running from the room screaming at the realization that our perception, memory, and reasoning are so fallible and inaccurate.

RevRon's Rants said...

Psychological and metaphysical considerations aside, Steve, I think you might want to consider auditioning for a recurring part as Sheldon's wayward uncle on The Big Bang Theory. :-)

Seriously, though... Back when I worked as a cabinetmaker, there were numerous occasions when, while remodeling a small bathroom, I would set a tool down, then reach for it a few moments later, only to find that it had disappeared. In a closed space of under 100 square feet. I would ultimately find the item, of course, but such events usually made me reconsider the wisdom of some of my recreational activities in the '60s.

Steve Salerno said...

recreational activities in the '60s...

You mean like ping-pong and stuff?

RevRon's Rants said...

"You mean like ping-pong and stuff?"

Yeah... that's the ticket!

In later years, there were several occasions when, after participating in a light match of ping-pong, I'd be driving along and forget where I was. Not just the location within a city, mind you, but the *state* (I'd traveled extensively in my job, often visiting 2 or 3 states in a week's time.)! Initially, I would panic somewhat, but after it happened a few times, I learned to trust that I would eventually spot some landmark that would remind me of where I was & where I was going, so the events evolved from being stressors to being little mini-vacations, where for a time, I was somewhere totally new to me!

I eventually succumbed to some greater wisdom, and quit driving after playing ping-pong. I figure I was lucky that all I got was temporarily lost.

Elizabeth said...

"I hate that facet of the job for some reason; I'd love to subcontract out the silverware component, certainly the part where you're putting all the like items in their respective places in that plastic tray"

Join the (really large) club, Steve.

My typical reaction to the silverware attack is a bout of internal rage mixed with mild anxiety, but I make myself work through it (you know, self-improvement 'n all) by turning it into a lesson in patience and perseverance (not to mention organizational skills), which so severely lack in my life. So I grind my teeth -- and ask my younger child to do it.

To Ron: I love ping-pong! (exclaimed with enthusiastic innocence ;).

DimSkip, like the last part of the book's title (aren't we all...:)

Elizabeth said...

BTW, that picture of a lone dinner plate, sitting there so provocatively in your dishwasher, as if mocking you, is very disturbing, Steve. One can tell right away that things are not right in the Universe and something's gotta be done ASAP.

Cosmic Connie said...

I hate the silverware bit too, but it beats the heck out of not having an automatic dishwasher at all. I lived without one for too many years. *I* was the dishwasher for too many years. So even as I grumble about it, I am thankful for that tedious task.

As I recall, Readers' Digest recently ran an article based on the info in the book DimSkip mentioned. Pretty interesting stuff.

Beyond that, I have nothing clever or profound to add to the discussion right now. Carry on!