Snowed in: A short, inconsequential comedy of errors

February 14, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 14, 2014

I looked out a window around a quarter to 1 on Wednesday and saw the first few flakes drifting down onto Durham, North Carolina.

I packed up my computer and put away my teapot and tea cup and headed out of the coffee shop and into the cold gray afternoon. This snow, I quickly realized, was no joke; in the space of about five minutes, it had gone from nothing to a very heavy fall.

I’d known a snowstorm was coming, of course; everyone did. I was pretty well stocked with food and supplies at home, but I wanted a few more things, so I drove to a grocery store.

The place was pretty crowded — although I didn’t appreciate just how crowded until I brought my fruit, soy/coconut milk mixture (a first-time and last-time purchase) and pasta sauce to the checkout lanes. Every lane was staffed, and every one had a queue. Fortunately, the express line moved pretty quickly.

By the time I got back to my car, snow had been falling for nearly an hour. I hastily cleaned my windows and started the engine. Two things soon became apparent.

First, visibility was lousy. The sky, the ground, the roads — everything seemed to be a uniform whitish-grey. The view out my windshield was virtually monochromatic.

Second, traction was abominable. Coming to a stop wasn’t that hard — I never go fast when roads are slippery — but putting the car back in motion certainly was. My front wheels spun out every time I tried to coax the vehicle out of a standing start.

I got home without incident, fortunately. But the short journey, about a mile and a half, took roughly twice as long as it normally does.

Parking and unloading my car went smoothly enough. Inside my house, though, things started going…wrong.

Home, sweet home? Eh, not so much — at least not over the next few hours.

I decided to put a wash in the laundry machine and retreat to my bedroom with my smartphone. My rental home isn’t very well insulated, so I usually run a space heater when I’m in the bedroom. But when I turned on the device, which has a fan to circulate air, the blades weren’t spinning at the normal speed, and I noticed a burning smell.

Well, that clearly wasn’t good. I shut off the heater and unplugged it. After letting it cool down for a few minutes, I tried to clean it by removing visible clumps of dust with a tweezer. There wasn’t a lot in there, which sort of surprised me.

I tried the heater again. The blades didn’t spin the way they normally did, and the device quickly gave off another bad smell. I unplugged it, set it aside, and brought my backup heater into the bedroom.

The backup heater is great at heating, but it’s quiet. This isn’t really a problem, except that I find that having a bit of white noise helps me fall asleep. That’s something I love about my primary heater, which has a fan-only setting that I use in the warmer months.

Anyway, I started up the second heater, the bedroom grew warm, and I read contentedly on my smartphone. That is, until my washing machine began acting up.

I have a washer/dryer combination unit in my kitchen. I like it well enough, but when a load is off-center, the machine can rock around pretty badly during the spin cycle.

That’s just what happened Wednesday afternoon. Unfortunately, this time, the off-kilter load created one spectacular, and spectacularly bad, effect. The machine bucked the bottle of bleach that I keep atop the washer/dryer. When the bottle hit the ground, the cap busted, and about a third of the contents scattered across a swath of my kitchen floor.

Oy vey.

I re-centered the clothing in the washer and re-centered it again. The unit kept rocking after both tries. I ended up standing at the washer, holding the lid closed to help dampen the machine’s rocking motion. It took a few minutes, but I got to the end of the spin cycle and was able to transfer the clothing into the dryer.

Next up: Cleanup.

There was clearly too much bleach for me to try to sop it up with paper towels. I looked around for a ratty cloth towel that I could use to sop to soak up the corrosive liquid. This turned out to be surprisingly challenging, since I’ve gotten rid of a lot of my most-frayed towels. Once I found a cloth suitable for sacrifice, I bent over and started the glamorous work of scrubbing.

But that wasn’t all! I keep a bunch of spare plastic and paper bags stashed between the wall and the washer/dryer. Unfortunately, the unit had moved so much that the bags had fallen to the floor, and several of them had gotten wet. For safety’s sake, I decided to trash most of the bags.

Once I got the floor scrubbed and dried, it was time for lunch. And this brought me to the end of my comedy of errors: The washer/dryer had moved so far that it was blocking the refrigerator door from opening. 

I put my shoulder to the machine and started moving it back into pace. It took a few tries, but I eventually managed to get everything back into place.

What a relief. At last, I could settle down to lunch, sweet lunch.

The snow continued to fall all the while; it changed over to sleet as the daylight waned. Roads throughout the region were jammed with traffic; as for myself, I had nowhere to go. And, as it turns out, things finally stopped going wrong inside my house.

Thank goodness.

The end.

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