Happy Dysfunctional New Year 2003!

A Look Back at Last Year’s Washing Machine Terror

By Dave Fox
Seattle, Washington
January 1, 2003

Dear Friends, Relatives, and Close Personal Strangers,

It’s me again, your dysfunctional buddy, Dave, with one of those obnoxious holiday letters people send annually to acquaintances they haven’t actually talked to in 27 years.

2002: Another year blurs by.

I’m here to tell you how great I and my spouse are, and all about our 1.7 children, our dog, and our washing machine. That’s what people write about in these holiday letters. Unfortunately, I have no spouse, dog, nor children as far as I know. And I was forced to divorce my previous washing machine this year after it attempted to kill me. Nevertheless, 2002 has been an adventure in which I survived floods, fires, the flu, foot injuries, flight delays, and a partridge in a pear tree.

In keeping with annual tradition, this year’s letter is long and rambling. You can read it all by scrolling down the page, or read it in sections and choose your favorite months from these links:

Attack of the Washing Machines, Part 1
Down and Out in Llandudno

February – April
Attack of the Washing Machines, Part 2

May – July
Cultural Schizophrenia

Homeland Insecurity
World Peace Through Baby Carrots

Walking on Broken Glass

October – November
Fettucini vs. Fjords

Duct Tape Fixes Everything
For the Love of Jenny Jones

“Hang on Dave! Did you just say your washing machine tried to kill you? You’re talking like a crazy man!”

Bizarre but true. One day in January, I started a load of laundry and went to take a shower. Minutes later, I wandered naked into my living room (don’t try to picture this… just read on) and turned to see my kitchen filled with smoke. Fortunately, my experience as a tour guide has trained me to act fast in a crisis. So when I saw the smoke, I jumped up and down and screamed a long string of profanities.

Unfortunately, that didn’t solve the problem. I pondered my options as my home threatened to explode in a fiery ball of washing machine fuel. Was there time to grab the fire extinguisher? Was there time to get dressed? Or was this one of those carpe diem moments — the perfect opportunity to run naked and screaming into the streets and live out my exhibitionism fantasies without getting arrested?

As it turned out, there was a lot of smoke but no fire. I solved the problem by unplugging the machine, turning on a fan, and kicking my washing machine several times. I replaced it with an energy efficient younger model, which as of yet has shown no arsonist tendencies.

After that drama, I did what any sensible American would do and flew 5,000 miles to see an aging rock band play their 20th anniversary reunion show in an obscure town in Wales.

The Alarm was my favorite band in high school. A series of coincidences now left me with a free flight to Europe and a free ticket to their annual “Gathering” concert in Llandudno, Wales. So I cashed in my airline voucher and flew to England, where I met Marius, my Norwegian brother whose family endured a year with me as their exchange student in the late 80s.

Marius’s flight from Oslo was delayed several hours. We had a reservation that night at a B&B in Chester, a small English town near the Welsh border. The man on the phone told me he’d wait for us until midnight.

Here’s a helpful travel tip for those of you planning to drive to from Manchester Airport to Chester: The man at the B&B who tells you it’s a 40-minute drive is an idiot.

Forty minutes is how long it takes to find your way out of the airport. Then it takes another 30 minutes to get back to the airport after you’ve driven in the wrong direction. From there, it’s about an hour’s drive to Chester.

When I say it takes an hour to get to Chester, I mean it takes an hour to get to the city walls. Then you must drive through the archway, where you enter a labyrinth of one-way streets apparently designed by Escher. From this point, allow three to five days to locate your B&B.

When we arrived at quarter past midnight, the B&B doors were bolted and no one would answer the phone. We managed to wake a grandmotherly lady at another B&B who took us in for the night.

Two days later, we crossed the border into Wales. Our first stop was the cozy village of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. The town has three main tourist activities: photographing the sign, buying the T-shirt, and asking the lady at the tourist office to please say the name one more time. From there, we moved on to a town with a much easier-to-pronounce name, Caernarfon.

Caernarfon rhymes with absolutely nothing, so if you’re a limerick writer, forget it. Otherwise, there’s an impressive castle and a slate mine. But best of all, Marius and I got to sample some traditional Welsh food called “beer.”

Beer is a food you eat cold, like gazpacho. It has a runny consistency that makes it seem more like a fizzy drink than a food. Nevertheless, it’s delicious. After sampling the local varieties, we burped and moved on to Llandudno.

I was excited. I had idolized the Alarm in high school. I owned everything they ever recorded. I had tickets to an acoustic show Friday, an electric show Saturday, and the after-show party with the band. But on Friday, disaster struck. I awoke with a screaming fever, aches, chills, and severe whining.

Alarm lead singer Mike Peters took time out from an indoor soccer match to catch my flu.

I was in no shape to be rocking out with the Alarm, but I’d flown across the ocean for this moment. Mike Peters, the lead singer, came on the stage. The crowd went wild. I moaned.

My fever peaked on Saturday as the hotel erupted in one big Alarmfest in anticipation of the second night’s show. I munched on codeine-laced aspirin, a British over-the-counter treat. As I dragged myself down to the hotel lobby with a 102 degree fever, another groupie asked me, “Are you taking those because you’re sick or to get a good buzz?”

“I’m sick.”

“Oh,” he said. “Well can I try one anyway?”

I shivered my way through the concert and went straight to bed afterward, skipping the after-show party. I was too delirious to hang out with rock stars. The 14-hour flight home was painful.

Back in Seattle two weeks later, I discovered something horrible. My old washing machine was gone, but it had conspired against me with the washing machine next door.

On February 1, I was walking barefoot along the beach in peaceful bliss, savoring that sensation you get when the water squishes up through your toes on a warm summer day. Then it dawned on me that I was not at the beach. I was in my bedroom, still half asleep, stumbling in the dark toward the bathroom. Water was not supposed to be squishing through my toes here.

I turned on the light. My condo looked like Venice at low tide. Water was everywhere. It had seeped through the walls into my bedroom, bathroom, dining room, and kitchen. Outside my front door, a river flowed into all five condominiums on the floor. Down the hall, I found my neighbor, Henry, mopping up his place.

Oh Henry! My bedroom after the flood was hardly an idyllic walk on the beach.

My neighbor Henry does not like to be called Henry. He prefers to use his middle name. But I do not like him, so I am going to call him Henry.

Henry had overloaded his washing machine the night before and gone to sleep. A hose had broken, spewing water for eight hours while he snored. When he awoke at 6 a.m., he phoned his insurance company and began mopping up his mess while water gushed out his door and through the walls into my place and everyone else’s.

“Why didn’t you tell me my home was flooding?” I asked him when I woke up. “I could have stopped a lot of the damage!”

“I didn’t want to wake you up,” he said.

I was glad it hadn’t been a fire.

For the next few weeks, I moved into a hotel while my home was transformed into a wind tunnel. Giant fans shot hurricane force winds underneath my carpeting to dry it out. A company called CCI Purofirst of Western Washington showed up to tear out my walls and flooring and turn my home into a refugee camp. After they tore out my walls, they spent the next six weeks telling me they’d be done in a week.

Purofirst's completed sink repair.

The Purofirst guys had a key to my place and showed up each day to shuffle piles of drywall from one side of my bedroom to the other. One day I came home from work to find my bathroom sink on my bedroom floor. Several weeks later, one of the guys told me their work was done. My sink was still on my floor.

The sink on the floor was one of roughly 723 problems I had with Purofirst. There was damaged furniture. Lazy paint jobs. Money they were supposed to transfer to me from an insurance company that they claimed for weeks they didn’t have. In the future, I wouldn’t trust Purofirst to put up a tent, let alone fix my home.

All in all, Henry caused $40,000 in damage. He did the neighborly thing afterward and slithered off to his second home in Arizona without so much as an apology. My new neighbors are much nicer

This letter is getting long and we’re only into February. But that’s okay. In March, I cleaned up from the flood and fought with Purofirst. In April, I cleaned up from the flood and fought with Purofirst. Nothing else happened.

In May I went to Scandinavia to lead a series of tours. In June, on a break between tours, I caught up with my favorite Pacific Northwest band, the Paperboys. They were playing at a festival on the outskirts of Oslo.

Tour guiding in Scandinavia: In Stockholm, they've built a statue in my honor.

The Paperboys are a traditional Celtic-grunge-funk-bluegrass-Canadian-Mexican-folk-rock band from Vancouver — nine parts Irish, two Parts Deliverance, one part Mariachi, and one part Jimi Hendrix. They’re like musical Prozac. If you do not own any of their music, your life is empty and vacant and I am very sorry.

I see the Paperboys often at a cramped pub in Seattle called the Tractor Tavern. Hearing them play at a Norwegian music festival felt surreal. I’m afflicted with what I call “cultural schizophrenia.” I have my American life and my Norwegian life. It’s rare that the two intersect.

All of a sudden it was half past midnight in a giant tent in a pasture on the outskirts of Oslo. As the Paperboys took the stage, their music transported me back to Seattle. I grew disoriented and danced around like Christina Aguilera on speed. Every so often, the beer in my system would require that I exit the giant tent and wander out to the trees, at which point I would wonder how the hell I ended up in Norway.

Learning that I was from Seattle, the band graciously snuck me into their secret backstage rock-star-only area after the show, where there was free food and 24-kroner pints of beer. A pint of beer for around three US dollars is nothing to shriek about in America, but in Norway, where bars routinely charge about 163 US dollars a pint, it’s exciting. Furthermore, Norway has a law that if you ever find pints of beer for 24 kroner, you must drink 112 of them before you are allowed to go to bed. The band was still on Vancouver time and had no trouble partying till 5 a.m. I spent most of July nursing my hangover.

2002 has been a year of healing for us in America as we’ve continued coming to terms with the terrorist attacks in 2001. Some of us have coped by flying flags. Others have sent letters to Congress trying to prevent an escalation of violence. In August, one proud American attempted to make our nation more democratic by threatening to kick my ass.

I’m always leery of guys who try to start fights with me in bars. I weigh 130 pounds. If I stretch, I might be 5-foot-4. If you want to prove your machismo, find someone challenging to beat up on. I wonder what these guys are trying to compensate for.

But I shouldn’t be so judgmental. This person had a good reason to kick my ass. I had just revealed that I like Canada.

Yes, I admit it. Canada is a clean and cozy nation with friendly people. I like it there.

We were at a pub in downtown Seattle just after another Canadian Celtic rock band, Great Big Sea, had played a concert. There were lots of Canadians in the bar.

“Are you American or Canadian?” I asked this one guy. That’s the sneaky thing about Canadians: They look just like us.

“I’m Canadian,” he said.

“I’m American,” I smiled, “but don’t hold it against me.”

He laughed at my joke. He knew what I meant. It was my way of saying, “I know you get tired of being lumped in with America and I’m sorry for the things they say about you on South Park.”

I was unaware as I made this remark that I was standing next to a member of the Junior Homeland Security Cub Scout Brigade. He was ready to ship me off to Guantanamo.

“What’s your problem?” he barked. “You’re embarrassed to be American?”

“No I’m not embarrassed to be American. I was just….”

“I heard what you said,” he said, followed by a string of choice America-loving words that my tender liberal fingers are too polite to type.

It saddens me that our country has reached this point — that an innocent utterance of pro-Canadian humor is considered a national security breech.

Personal message to the Junior Homeland Security Cub Scout Brigade: Canadians are not the enemy! They have no weapons of mass destruction! They’re friends with the Queen, who is friends with Tony Blair, who is friends with George! They call their money the “loony” for God’s sake; how dangerous can they be?!

Fortunately, my faith in the American spirit was restored a couple of weeks later at a Seattle Mariners baseball game. Just hours earlier, a baseball strike had been averted at the last minute, so the crowd was pumped up. The guy in the seat next to me was named Hiroshi. As you may have guessed, he was neither American, nor Canadian. But he was allowed into the US because he came from a nation that supplies America with baseball players.

Hiroshi had flown in from Tokyo hours earlier to watch his idol, Ichiro Suzuki, bat for the Mariners. In halting English he told me he would watch two Mariners’ games, fly up to Alaska for the weekend, and then return home.

Hiroshi sat quietly as the game started, sipping a lemonade and cooling himself with a paper fan. Then halfway through the first inning, he calmly stood up and yelled so loud, I fell out of my seat.

“Ichiroooooooooooohhh!” He waved his paper fan in the air and jumped up and down like Christina Aguilera on peanuts and Cracker Jacks.

Ichiro struck out. Hiroshi calmly sat down and went back to fanning himself.

Two innings later Ichiro was back and so was Hiroshi. “Ichiroooooooooooohhh!!!!!”

I think Hiroshi’s vocal chords were weapons of mass destruction. But the people around us were taking a liking to him. We started standing up and shouting with him each time Ichiro came to bat. Hiroshi bowed and thanked us.

I shared my peanuts. The guy behind me shared his peeled baby carrots. I worried that Hiroshi would go home to Japan and tell everyone that Americans eat peeled baby carrots at baseball games. It would not be good for our tough-guy image. But we were having fun with Hiroshi. With spoken words, we could barely communicate, but we shared a bond that transcended language, culture, and political boundaries: the love for a game whose players make millions of dollars and complain it’s not enough.

I felt proud to be American that evening as I watched several groups of strangers embrace a visitor who had flown halfway around the world to enjoy our common pastime. This openness toward foreign visitors seemed like a more effective step toward peace than threatening to kick my ass.

In September, I stepped on a piece of glass. It was a tiny sliver — barely visible to the human eye — but I seized the opportunity to whine and take a day off of work. I wrote about that incident earlier this year. Shortly thereafter, something frightening happened at

The website started getting hits from people going to search engines and typing in words like “broken glass in foot” and “severed artery… feeling dizzy… massive blood loss… about to lose consciou… mmpphrlllttt777777777.”

People! Stop surfing the Internet and call 911!

In October, you forgot my birthday.

Italians can keep their lasagne. I'll take the fjords.

Also in October, I went back to Europe to be an assistant guide on one of Rick Steves’ “Best of Europe” tours. Working in countries farther south than my usual turf, I was reminded that yes, Italian cuisine is more interesting than Norwegian cuisine. It’s how the Italians compensate for not having fjords.

In November, I got a haircut and ate some turkey.

Finally came December. In December, United Airlines announced it will file for bankruptcy. This was of personal concern to me because I currently possess a quarter of a million United frequent flier miles. Upon hearing this, several of my friends informed me they could not afford plane tickets to attend their mothers’ funerals in the Bahamas, scheduled for sometime around spring vacation.

There’s been a lot of speculation as to why the nation’s second largest airline has faced such dire economic troubles. I blame the Federal Aviation Administration.

Yes, the selfish FAA announced in December it might fine United $805,000 because United mechanics have been repairing holes in the wings with something similar to duct tape. Asked why he used duct tape, a United mechanic said, “It’s cheaper than bubble gum.”

My last significant event of 2002 happened on December 20 when I quit my day job as website editor for Rick Steves’ Europe. I could no longer resist the intense glamor of being an impoverished and starving freelance writer. Plus I kept missing the Jenny Jones Show. So in 2003, I’ll be working at home marketing my writing and speaking. I am available to give presentations to your business or organization. I’m also available to come to your house for dinner if you pay me. Or if you don’t want me to come to your house for dinner, you can pay me to stay away. (I would be grateful if you leave a chicken leg or some salad on the doormat, however.)

In 2003, my article on nudity in Finnish saunas will appear in “Rite of Passage,” a collection of travel tales published by Lonely Planet. And my home will be featured on the new Fox Television special, “When Washing Machines Attack.” I will also lead several Rick Steves’ Scandinavia tours. If you come along, I’ll explain why fjords are better than lasagne.

My new year’s resolutions are to drink a few beers and maybe eat a pizza.

Happy new year everybody!


Published on Wednesday, January 1, 2003

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