• Barbarella
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It is difficult not to wonder whether that combination of elements which produces a machine for labor does not create also a soul of sorts, a dull resentful metallic will, which can rebel at times.

-- Pearl S. Buck

'Come on," I pleaded, forcing a smile. It was imperative that I not reveal the depth of my desperation. Click . Nothing. My thirst for cooperation made my throat raspy. Click . Still nothing. "Come on, I need this today. My stash is gone, there's none in the cupboards, none left in my car." A note of hysteria had entered my voice, only to be met by a blank stare. "Come on, don't do this. Not now." Click . Nada. I started to panic, could feel my cool slipping away. The blank stare winked at me, a direct taunt. A series of expletives came flying out of my mouth in rapid fire. The only difference between me and the crazy-screaming-bus-stop guy was that my tormentor wasn't imaginary. Click-tchuh-click-tchuh . Something. A mixture of guilt and relief pricked at my skin like acupuncture needles. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, please -- YES! See? There you go! Was that so hard?" Sighing with relief as cold filtered water flowed into the glass I'd been clutching, I chided myself for not having faith. I gushed my thanks to the one that mercifully ended my suffering, having already suppressed the memory that the same one had started it. I have a dysfunctional, codependent relationship with the water and ice dispenser on my refrigerator. It wasn't always this way. We used to be happy. The dispenser never groaned or balked, and I always got what I needed when I needed it. When it notified me by blinking a green light that its filter had to be changed, I didn't hesitate to order a new one. I tried to be delicate when pushing its buttons, and it was careful to keep the water flowing in a well-directed stream.

The day things first went screwy was the day the machine transcended from an "it" to a "he." When referring to machinery, men tend to use female pronouns, especially for those instruments of technology that must be relied upon, like ships, automobiles, and cell phones. This is because men develop a relationship with their devices -- they whisper sweet nothings to their gadgets, lovingly massage wax onto their cars, pamper their boats with shiny new accessories. In return, the men are rewarded with a silent, gleaming, obedient mechanical lover that is the envy of other men.

Every working relationship, between friends, family, or lovers, involves compromise, but there is a tendency to impose the romantic standards of the last on the relationships we have with our vehicles and appliances. Following in the footsteps of my forefathers, I once tried to think of my car as a girl. I even named it the Barbmobile. But when my car breaks down or there's an electrical short that causes the alarm to honk while I'm driving, when I'm begging for compliance or appreciating the power of a fully charged battery, I can't help but think of the sedan as a man. (I wonder if gay men are similarly inclined to think of machines in masculine rather than feminine terms.)

As with most relationships, the first days with my dispenser were filled with excitement. My new water-filtering, ice-making, ice-crushing, kick-ass cooling tower was one of several appliances purchased along with our condo, selected by David and me months before the construction of our building was completed. I'd never had a fridge with a dispenser before. For the first time, water that didn't come from a bottle could be guzzled with wild abandon; I didn't have to worry about forgetting to put flavored beverages in the fridge -- there was an endless supply of ice for instant chilling. I was drunk with the heady excitement of it all. There was no reason for me to suspect things might one day turn sour.

I admit that after a year of bliss, I started taking the big silver guy for granted. In retrospect, I feel like I could have avoided all the fights that came later. If I had paid attention to his first indications of discontent, maybe things wouldn't have gotten this ugly.

The crushing was the first to go. One day my glass was filled with perfectly pulverized frozen water chips; the next, it contained giant, misshapen fragments of ice with a few scratches on them; the day after that, all I got when I pressed my glass against the curved black switch was an unpleasant grinding noise. I missed the kicky fun of crushed, but I learned to accept the cubes. Then, when the cubes stopped coming, I held my chin high while opening the freezer and digging ice out of the box with my bare hands.

One failure to perform followed another in a downward spiral until the dispenser raged with unpredictability like a strung-out heroin addict. It was hard to know when the water would start and stop, if the dispenser was going to cooperate or pout and make me wait. I eventually learned to read his signs and became convinced the dispenser was communicating to me through a series of green winks and incandescent flutters, through barely audible clicks and clacks. Three presses, usually, and the water would come streaming out. But I've never been a patient person.

San Diego tap water isn't suitable to drink -- on a good day it tastes like a rusty nail buried in dirt. The dispenser's moodiness drove me to consider other sources that might better fulfill my water needs. I bought bottles and stashed them in the fridge, right under the dispenser's nose. In time, I came to prefer the smoother, cooler, and slightly sweeter bottled spring water to the filtered. Its shapely, portable bottle was always there, wherever I had placed it, waiting to please me, and it required no repetitive clicking or begging before I could drink it. I did my best to only take the expensive bottled water out on special occasions, but with my frustration and impatience mounting, the luxurious liquid never lasted for long.

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