Michael Karlesky

A cabinet of wonders. Minus the cabinet. And possibly the wonders.

“If You Can’t Stand the Beat, Get Out of the Kitchen”

Another draft installment in my short stories side project Origins. This is fun.

Others in the series:

Frankly, dishwashers, refrigerators, toasters, blenders, and all the other kitchen appliances lead fairly boring lives. How much bread does a toaster really toast in a week? Dishwashers work pretty hard, but they only run for part of an hour about once a day. Okay, sure, a dishwasher will work some pretty grueling overtime around holiday meals, but that’s only a few times a year. Refrigerators certainly do their jobs day in and day out, but this is a mindless, repetitive sort of work. There are those turning-on-a-light-when-the-door-opens and freezer defrosting things too, but a fridge mainly just chills out. On the whole, appliances do not have a whole lot to do in the kitchen all day.

So like many generations of workers before them, kitchen appliances have always liked making music to get through their work days.

Way back, when appliances first became popular in kitchens, they would sing all the time. Now it wasn’t Mozart. It was a little like jazz or even perhaps a bit like the music of some tribe in a far away place. All the whirrs and whines and thumps and squeals and clicks were the melodies and harmonies and percussion in workday jam sessions. It was an unusual music to our ears. But one thing is for certain—it was a decidedly electric sound.

Eventually newfangled electronic gadgets made their way into homes. First radios came along, and they were musical on an entirely different level. Kitchen appliances are a proud lot. They did not take kindly to the impressive talents of these new devices. They would not have admitted it at the time, but they were, in fact, quite jealous.

They were so envious, in fact, that they would strain themselves trying to one up these newcomers, drawing attention to their musical stylings. More whirring and squealing and clicking. The radios didn’t even so much as notice—not because radios are oblivious to such things. They really had no idea there was a competition. The radios were simply busy being radios. Of course all this exertion took its toll on kitchen appliances. The earliest generations frequently broke down from the strain, and many service technicians came to make many repairs.

Now clocks have been in homes for far longer than kitchen appliances. And in watching so very much time go right by their very faces, they had come to be quite wise. They told time, of course. On occasion, they also had much more to say.

So it was that one particular day in one particular kitchen after having heard appliances strain themselves for attention yet again that a wise old clock decided to speak.

“Pardon me”, he began without really meaning to ask for the kitchen’s attention as much as give warning that he intended to speak. “I have a great deal of time on my hands up here and have been observing all of you for ages now. I should like to ask a question. Why are all you appliances so determined to make so much noise? Now I am not saying anything about your music. I mean why do you strain so hard to be something you are not? Each of you are quite talented at blending and toasting and cleaning and crisping. Why are you so discontent that you make such a racket if ever someone else so much as speaks in here—often with a proper speaker no less?”

And with that the wise old clock went back to biding his time.

The appliances were stunned and briefly silent. They were certainly surprised to learn the clock could use his face for more than holding up numbers. But more than that he had shined a light into the dim recesses of their crumb catchers and filters and motor casings (since appliances do not have hearts, of course).

They were all embarrassed to sing that day. And as the days wore on they realized the clock was right. Squealing and clanking and clattering was replaced with murmurs and whispering among themselves as all the appliances came to understand the bigger meaning of that grandfatherly clock’s words. They had forgotten who they were and were so determined to be something else they had not succeeded in being anything.

Not long after, the toaster was up for sale at a neighborhood garage sale. And he told the tale to a coffee maker and a toaster oven he met there. If you understand the depth of rivalry between toasters and toaster ovens then you understand just how significant this entire experience really was in order for the toaster to speak of such things with a toaster oven. Slowly the wisdom spread through repair shops and yard sales. Eventually lunch rooms at appliance factories were helping all of the new appliances to understand just what they were and to take pride in their work and their appliance-ness.

Eventually into homes everywhere there came televisions, CD players, computers, and most recently phones that can play almost anything at any time. Sometimes these gadgets would even headline performances in the kitchen and attract thoroughly engrossed audiences.

But each new generation of appliances was quieter and quieter. Instead of drawing attention to themselves they began dedicating themselves to contentment and to being just as reliable and efficient as they knew how.

To be sure, kitchen appliances never lost their love of music or their love of singing together as they work. That’s why, even today, when you enter a kitchen you can still hear them hum.