Dan Conradt: Things that make you say, 'Hmmm'
I had just drawn a line through the word "laundry" on my to-do list when the noise started.
It wasn't the usual thumpa-thumpa sound that comes when the clothes dryer is off balance, or the kachunk-kachunk sound that happens when the dryer is off balance and pounding against the basement wall.
I thought I'd heard all the sounds our house can make, but this one was new; imagine running over a banjo with the lawn mower.
It was eerie and menacing, and gave me an irrational case of fingernails-on-the-chalkboard goosebumps. I crept down the basement stairs, vowing with each step to stop watching "Nightmare On Elm Street" movies.
I cracked the laundry room door just wide enough to slip my hand in to turn on the light; Freddy Krueger was always more frightening in the dark.
The dryer was still where it belonged, and no one jumped out from behind the furnace. But the sound was bouncing off the sheet rock walls and gave me an instant headache.
I pushed the button to stop the cycle and then … certain that stopping the dryer and restarting it would fix the problem … I pressed the button again.
If I could have heard them over the din of the dryer, I'm sure every dog in two counties was howling.
I turned off the dryer to make the sound go away, then grabbed it firmly and shook it the way I shake vending machines if they take my money without handing over my Milk Duds.
And it was just as effective: SCREEEEE.
That was when I first noticed the smell. This was a new one for our house, too … a mix of metal, plastic and wood that was pleasant at Menards, but concerning in my basement.
I'd exhausted my expertise, so I called my repairman (his number is programmed into number three in speed dial): "If you've got some free time today, could you swing by the house? My dryer's making a weird sound."
"What kind of sound?"
I used the banjo analogy and did my best imitation: "Kind of like 'SCREEEEE' …"
Something in the way he said it gave me confidence that he had an idea of what was wrong. I guess that's why guys like me need guys like him.
His van pulled into the driveway 20 minutes later.
"Kind of like SCREEEEE?" he asked as he stepped into the house.
I showed him to the basement, he pulled the dryer away from the wall and squeezed into the narrow opening. He started to remove the back of the machine, and I stood off to the side and observed, because I always enjoy watching an expert at work.
He set aside a square thing and pulled out a round thing, then his head popped up from behind the dryer.
"Here's your problem," he said, holding up a three inch stub of pencil. In second grade I knew a kid who could eat his pencils all the way down to the lead, but even he couldn't have mangled a pencil the way this pencil had been mangled.
"Someone must have left it in a pocket," the repairman explained, "and it came out in the dryer and got sucked into the blower."
While he put the dryer back together I wrote him a check for the house call … it was my turn to say "Hmmm" … and as he walked back to his van I heard him tell someone on the phone that he would be right over to look at their air conditioner.
I gave the laundry 45 minutes of drying time, then carried it up from the basement.
I was still sorting the socks when the refrigerator cycled on with a sound that reminded me of cutting a piece of sheet metal with a chainsaw.
I hope my repairman doesn't have anything planned after the air conditioner.