It can be fixed. It’s simple. It’s only a machine. This is what you tell yourself. Maybe you’re trying to fix a clothes dryer. It’s simple, you say. It’s only a machine. It was working yesterday. And something happened. One thing happened. And now it flashes an error code on the LCD.
The most experienced mechanic will tell you it’s not personal. But that mechanic is full of shit. Have that mechanic get five callbacks on the same job and then ask him if it’s personal. Why couldn’t he fix it the first time? Was he not a professional? And if not on the first time, then why not on the second, third or fourth time? Does it always take him five times to fix something?
But it’s simple. Everything is simple. If you look at it in a certain way.
Every motor, for example, has some sort of energy applied to it. And when that energy is applied to it, the motor will turn or it will not.
Every circuit board has a certain number of inputs and a certain number of outputs. The inputs feed information to the board. The outputs tell the components of the system what to do. Turn or do not turn. Heat or do not heat. In the dryer, the inputs will be things like a temperature sensor. A humidity sensor. An on/off button. Very simple. The outputs are simpler still. A motor and a heater and a fan. And that’s about it.
If you look at the machine in this way, you’ll be reassured that, yes, it’s simple. And, yes, you can fix it. If the motor isn’t running, you look for the output that tells the motor to run. In this case, it’s a relay on the main circuit board. Is the output sending voltage to the motor? Yes or no. If yes, you have a bad motor. If no, you have a bad board. There’s nothing mysterious about it. It’s only a machine. It’s simple.
This is what I tell myself. But I’m not a dryer repair man. I don’t even know how this one works. “How hard can it be?” I tell myself.
“So, what’s happening with the dryer?” I say.
“Well, it wasn’t heating,” says Iggy, who always takes things apart, “so I took it apart and found a bird’s nest in the vent.”
“Okay,” I say.
“And then I put it back together and it still didn’t work.”
I’m already removing the front panel on the dryer so I can check the thermal limit.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m going to check the high limit,” I say.
“How are you going to do that?”
I don’t know how I’m going to do it yet. I don’t even have the panel off yet.
“You check the voltage,” I say.
“Where? How do you do that?”
“I don’t know yet, Igg. Jesus. Give me a minute.”
This is an electric dryer. Which means it has an electric heating element. If the heating element is getting voltage but it’s not producing heat, what’s the problem?
We already went over this. If a load has power to it, but the load is still not operational…what’s the diagnosis?
That’s right. The load is no good.
I plug the dryer in and turn it on. The drum spins. The little red LED for “high heat” illuminates. In series with the heater are two high temperature safeties.
I check voltage from A to B: no voltage drop. Then from A to C: no voltage drop. Then from A to D: still no voltage drop. This tells me that I’m not getting my 230 volts to the heater. Simple.
I check the heater relay in the main circuit board, which is located at the top of the dryer. I try again. The relay does not close.
“You have a bad circuit board,” I say.
“But that’s not all,” says Iggy.
“What do you mean that’s not all?”
“Well, sometimes the heat works.”
“When is that?”
“Sometimes,” he says. “And then sometimes it doesn’t. But what’s happening now is, the drum doesn’t stop turning.”
I open the front door of the dryer and the drum stops turning.
“It stops if you do that, but not if you push the stop button,” he says.
“Okay,” I say. “Was it doing that before you took it apart?”
Now I have to wonder. Because I’m not sure exactly how this thing is supposed to work. I mean, “Did the thing used to shut off when you hit the on/off button? I mean, when it was working right?”
“Yes,” he says.
The little red LEDs are all off now. I close the door. The drum turns.
Things are muddy now. Why is the drum turning? Why is the heat working sometimes and sometimes not? Might it be there’s a problem with the display board with the on/off switch and the little red LEDs and timer and such? It might be. But how can I know?
“All this stuff?” I say. “It wasn’t happening before you took it apart?”
“No,” he said. “But…”
I waited. Like a priest in the darkened booth.
“…I did put it into diagnostic mode. I think it’s stuck in diagnostic mode.”
“That’s why the display’s flashing,” I say.
“I think so.”
“Was if flashing before?”
“No. Maybe. It might have been. Yes. I don’t know.”
There is, somewhere, a crucifix. There is a word from antiquity. A poetic line. If you shot an arrow through time — through the age of man — through the formation of this particular solar system — through all time — what then?
Things were simple till Iggy took this fucking thing apart. Now I have a question. Based upon a thing without logic. What did Iggy do? What wire did he pinch? What connection did he disrupt? Is logic what I need?
My daughter doesn’t talk to me. And now that I think back on it, she has never really talked to me. And I can’t help but feel it’s my fault. Did I not pay enough attention to her when she was little?
My wife went to some hippie weekend retreat where you’re supposed to mull over the purpose of life and figure out what it is that’s stopping you from becoming the person you might, with a better frame of mind, become. Now she’s blowing me off when I ask if I can take her out to lunch so she can have coffee with her spiritual advisor. I imagine them toe-to-toe. Sipping coffee. Diving into one another’s eyes. Oh, it’s so black in here! It’s so black! Yes! I like it! I like it!
I have an 18-year-old son who eats his own shit. I don’t mean this in a metaphorical way. He’ll steal away into the bathroom and shit out a big log into his hand. And then he’ll hold that log between his fingers, put half of it into his mouth, and take a bite. Shit doesn’t require much chewing, I imagine. So it’s easy to wash down.
My dog is neurotic. Other dogs don’t like him. He doesn’t know how to behave.
“So,” I say, the heat works sometimes. And not others. And the drum isn’t turning off ever.”
Simple. Simple. It’s simple.
“And I can’t set the timer,” says Iggy. “See? I try to push the buttons, but it won’t let me set the timer. It keeps beeping. This fucking thing is still in diagnostic mode! It’s in diagnostic mode!”
Computers you can reboot. Sometimes, you need to remove a battery from a circuit board so the program can return to the original program from the factory. But this circuit board isn’t that complex. There is no battery. The instructions say nothing about getting the display out of the diagnostic mode.
“I’m sure when you unplug it,” I say, “it’d knock it out of diagnostic mode. Otherwise, everyone would have this same problem.”
Iggy is pushing buttons like a madman. “I can’t get it out of diagnostic mode!” he’s shouting.
He gets these things stuck in his head. Bad mechanics go down the wrong path and then refuse to turn around and go back where they came from.
Iggy’s wife went to the same hippie thing Deb went to. She’s meeting a guy too. Maybe it’s the same guy. Before this guy, she was meeting anther guy. From ALANON. I thought they weren’t supposed to allow that. That’ doesn’t seem like a good thing. If I were a life coach, I’d say, “Have lunch with your husband instead of me, your life coach.”
“Let me do it,” I say.
Iggy reluctantly backs off. He’s looking at the dryer like it just stole his money. And it did, sort of. He already bought a new dryer before he called me. And then, “I’ve been reading about this fucking thing online,” he said. “It’s got an average of one star. An average of one star! And there’s like 700 reviews!”
A new dryer is a thousand dollars. This old dryer cost more than that. A circuit board goes for a couple hundred. But what if it’s not the circuit board? What if I’m wrong?
Okay. Back up. Back up, here. What is a dryer? It’s a motor. And a heater. That’s all it is. That’s all it is. And a few switches. And a timer. And that’s all it is. It couldn’t be more simple.
The green button, which we have been pushing again and again, has some words printed beneath it. It says something like “press and hold to start.” So, I press it and hold it for a few seconds. Suddenly, the entire display lights up. There are a few different settings I can choose from. I choose high heat. I choose heavy load. Look! I can set the time! Look! When I place my hand at the back of the dryer, I can feel the hot air coming out! It’s working perfectly well! Except the drum won’t stop turning when I push the stop button. And now my dim little lightbulb is illuminated.
“I know what’s wrong,” I say.
“What’s wrong?” he says.
“It’s a bad relay in your board. For the drum motor.”
“How do you know?”
“Because that’s the only thing it could be.”
“Why did it work before?”
“Because the relay was good before.”
“Why did the relay go bad?”
“It happens,” I say.
And now the penultimate step. I need to prove my theory. I remove panel that holds the circuit board and tap the relay marked “motor” with a small crescent wrench. The motor stops. I push the “on” button and hold it. The motor starts and the heat comes on.
Iggy orders a new relay online for six dollars. I show him how to unsolder the existing relay.
“See these four holes? You just put the new one in here and solder it.”
Iggy is excited. He tells me I’m a genius. But this word has been ruined by overuse. I know this because I’m a simpleton.