By Elaine Rohse • Columnist • 

War — and peace — with machines

For longer than I can remember, I have fought in this war — and I am war weary.

My war is against machines — and, mighty adversaries they are, at least for me. I am totally lacking in mechanical skills.

When such aptitudes were passed out, I was passed by. I should have lived when sticks were rubbed together to start a fire, and buttons to push had not yet been invented.

I am afraid of machines.

And, although I hope always for an armistice, now I am faced with another battle.

There’s a monster in my bathroom — a new machine.

I know. I know. I am considerably bigger than it is. And it is not “activated” for attack until I plug it into the electric outlet — but I fear what will happen when I do.

Just as a dog is said to sense when a human fears it and is then more apt to attack, so, too, I am certain that machines know when I fear them and take advantage of my timidity.

I wish I had been prepared for this war. I wish that at school I had been required to take a mandatory course in simple mechanics. And surely educators will throw up their hands at my harebrained thought that perhaps such a course for me would have been more helpful even than knowing that, in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue — and discovered America.

So, presently lacking knowledge and aptitude, I face, in the bathroom, another battle with this formidable looking machine still in its box.

I blame my teeth for this approaching battle. Growing up in eastern Oregon, I had few cavities, attributed by some to properties in the water. Despite few cavities, my teeth, mouth or body chemistry created plaque. It mattered not how often I brushed my teeth, or how thoroughly; every three months, as an adult, it was necessary to go to a dental hygienist for removal of plaque.

I brushed longer and tried harder. And after every visit to my hygienist I was supplied with more ammunition. My arsenal included metal picks, plastic picks, little brushes for going between teeth, devices for cleaning the backsides of my teeth, ordinary brushes for the front, and little pointed brushes for the dark corners of my mouth.

Plus, floss, floss, floss — and devices to thread the floss underneath those teeth permitting such. And finally, a mouthwash, to mop up the battle scene.

But not even these efforts won the war — and on a recent visit for removal of accumulated plaque, it was recommended — strongly — that I add more armament: a machine said to do a better job of general cleaning and of removing food particles from between teeth. As I understand it, the machine was going to”flush” the plaque off my teeth — a different kind of flushing than usually associated with the bathroom.

So there, that monster waits on my bathroom countertop.

I had been apprehensive about it from the start. I glanced at the pictures on the outside of the box. I was working up courage.

I had a talk with myself. I told myself that this was ridiculous. I was a grown adult and this simple machine, that didn’t even require a license to operate, was intimidating me — as machines have done for years.

In the long ago past, for example, when self-operating elevators were replacing neatly groomed operators who asked, “Numbers, please?”, this presented a problem for me. If no one else was using the elevator at the same time that I wished to do so, I took the stairs. I was not going to take a chance, untutored as I was, trying to operate a complex machine such as this, and perhaps get stuck between floors.

Likewise, for many years, if a fuse blew when I was home alone and all the lights had gone out, I sat in the dark until someone came home. I knew nothing about pushing things in that fuse box. I might set the house on fire.

And so, in the bathroom is now another challenge, still waiting in its box. After two days, I build up courage. Don’t be a klutz, I tell myself. I should at least turn it on. It sounded relatively simple. Even a third grader should be able to operate this machine.

So at bedtime that night, I took the monster from its box. I sent out vibes to it. I am not afraid of you, I said. And then I began trying to prove it. I pressed the control button and turned it on. Whammo. A blast of water shot up in my face, spewed over my glasses, soaked my pajama top, went up my nose.

I had forgotten to first put the little squirt gun device in my mouth before turning on the power. Half blind, I turned off the machine and grabbed the big towel that I had been advised to have at the ready.

I stood at the counter for a second — blaspheming all machines — and then came latent realization. That drenching was not the fault of the machine — but of dummy me. The machine was doing what I had commanded it to do when I pushed the button. I had been a lousy general in this war.

And now came realization. This machine may have won this first skirmish, but I wasn’t afraid of it anymore. I put the squirt gun in my mouth, closed my lips around it, turned on the water.

It spewed down the side of my jar. I momentarily gagged.

Quickly I turned off the machine.

So, I now had lost Skirmish Number 2, despite my diminished fear of my opponent. But I was making progress. Now, I was remembering to put the squirt gun in my mouth before turning it on. And after the second time, I was reminded that the flow of water, as per pictures on the box, showed that it should be directed along gum lines and between teeth. Maybe — I then thought — since you don’t have mechanical sense, you should use common sense. I put the squirt gun in my mouth, closed my lips, aimed the squirt gum at my gumline, opened my mouth to let accumulated water flow into the basin.

I used all the water in the machine’s reservoir, as I was supposed to, and scarcely needed my towel.

So now, weary that I am in this campaign against machines, I am proud. I have a ribbon on my chest. I won a battle. And now I have hope that, someday I might win this war. It will be a difficult battle, but I am quite confident that I will ultimately win.

My ultimate armament, that I shall use in the future, is to read — and reread — the directions.

Elaine Rohse can be reached at

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