“The only two things in life that make it worth livin,” sang Waylon Jennings in the opening measure of “Luckenbach, Texas.” Those words were trapped on a continuous loop in my head, repeating themselves over and over, volume level increasing in direct proportion to my mounting anger and discontent.
Standing crusty eyed and barefoot on the cold ceramic tile floor at 4 a.m., knowing I had better not wake anyone else in the house at that hour, I struggled to suppress the urge to curse out loud, and instead mentally rewrote the second verse of that song to reflect my current desires and wishes (yet due to the violent rage I was experiencing, the imaginary mind performer now sounded less like Waylon, and more like a Norse Death Metal band).
“The only two things in life that make it worth livin’ ,,, .ARE TWO GOLDEN BROWN, LIGHTLY TOASTED SLICES OF BREAD AND IF I AM THE BENEFICIARY OF SUCH, THROUGH SOME DIVINE INTERVENTION OR A TOASTER ENGINEERING REDESIGN EFFORT BRAINSTORMED DURING A CORPORATE TEAMWORK RETREAT WEEKEND, THEN I SHALL HALT MY OUTRAGE AND ALL WILL BE FORGIVIN.” (You didn’t think I was gonna rhyme with livin’, did you?)
It seemed like a simple request. All I wanted was toast for breakfast. Not hastily prepared French toast, or sugary sweet raisin-cinnamon toast, or some Food Network Breakfasts of The World, Rachel Ray Special, 30-Minute Arugula Toast. I hoped only for a nearly identical pair of slightly crispy, warm enough to melt butter, uniformly grilled pieces of wheat bread.
In the dim, t25-watt illumination provided by the microwave exhaust hood light, I hunched over the cheap, manufactured in some remote Chinese village, bread preparation device. I fought with the inoperable ejection lever (as wisps of smoke began to curl from inside) knowing full well I was on the path to ultimately ruining half a loaf before this morning was over. As the glowing coils grew hotter and hotter, my food blackening before my eyes, I imagined it similar to gazing into the abyss of Hell, and for a singular moment, Old Scratch himself laughed at me from the depths of that Sunbeam .
Thinking back to breakfasts long ago, I wondered ho, with all the modern scientific advances we have made, the process of toasting bread had regressed into the Middle Ages. The toasters of my youth were unwieldy devices, covered in heavy gauge, ultra reflective polished metal. Resembling an Airstream camper trailer, and almost as big, in a pinch they could have comfortably slept three guests. Homes at that time were not wired properly to handle the immense load these industrial marvels required, meaning you had to inform the entire neighborhood when using one, for fear of overloading the power supply grid and blacking out an area of several square miles. The bread was secured in a perfectly vertical position, equidistant from the heat source, and the sensitive controls gave you unlimited toasting options. Then when finished, the garage door opener strength spring catapulted the bread from within.
So there I stood before this ultra light, mostly plastic contraption, wrestling with the knobs and switches and levers, attempting to salvage something edible. Finally, I felt the spring give way with a jerk, and the bread rose. But like a breakfast version of Whack-a-Mole, it immediately disappeared as I released my grip on the lever. When I finally recovered my toast, one side was almost armpit warmth, while the other was as black and hard as my cell phone case.
Good job, modern toaster design guy ... Kelloggs and General Mills thank you.
Chuck Mason, a self-described opinionated wiseguy, resides in Princeton. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.