MY BIG Y2K worry was whether the clothes dryer would make it to 2000. It didn't. A few days before confetti fell from the sky, the old dryer decided it did not want to work in the new year. It stopped spinning. The circuit breaker flipped, shutting off electrical power to it. No amount of coaxing or tinkering could bring it back to life.
It died of old age. I am not sure exactly how old this dryer was, but its model number was written in Roman numerals. The dryer's demise was a disappointing way to end the century, because a few days earlier I thought I had fixed its problems and had put it in shape to work for at least another decade.
Its troubles began as the New Year drew closer. Rather than drying a load of clothes in its usual 40 minutes, it began dragging out the process. It took two 40-minute sessions to dry the clothes. After only one session, the clothes were still damp. In labor terms, the dryer didn't go on strike, it went on a slow-down. Under the dryer's new work routine, I figured it would take almost a millennium to dry a week's worth of clothes.
To get help fixing this problem I consulted two sources, one old-fashioned, and one in cyberspace. The old-fashioned source, "The Big Book of Small Household Repairs" by Charlie Wing (Rodale, 1995), told me to check the dryer exhaust duct for lint buildup. That is exactly what my cyberspace source, a home repair advice page, told me as well.
These sources explained that lint buildup is a bad thing because it prevents moisture from leaving the dryer. It does this by blocking the exit, the exhaust duct. So instead of shooting out the duct into the great outdoors, moisture comes back down the vent into the machine, making the job of drying clothes much more difficult.
The sources said the best way to determine whether the dryer had a vent problem was to turn on the dryer and see if a strong blast of air was coming from the end of the vent.
I didn't do this, for several reasons. First of all, I didn't want to climb up on our roof. That is where our dryer vent exits the house. I am not fond of climbing on roofs. Moreover, when I was working on the dryer, it was dark outside. The idea of clambering up on a roof, in the dark, to feel the dryer vent, did not seem worth the risk.
Instead I simply assumed that my vent had a lint problem. That meant I could fight lint blockage from inside the house.
The first step I took to break the lint blockage was to unplug the dryer and move it away from the wall. This made working on the dryer easier and getting electrocuted harder. If it had been a gas dryer, a comparable move would have been turning off the gas supply.
Next I began preparations to rid the duct of demon lint. First I loosened the clamps holding a flexible metal section of the ductwork. This section stretched from the exhaust at the bottom of the dryer to the stiff, metal length of duct work that ran through the ceiling.
When I looked inside this length of duct, I saw the enemy, loads of lint. To clean the duct, I tied a wash cloth to the end of a length of rope. Then I pulled the rope and rag through the duct. A whole lot of lint came out.
Having cleared one length of duct work of lint blockage, I turned my attention to the remaining section, the length of metal pipe that ran to the roof.
My reading had advised me that vertical ducts, like this one, were dens of lint. I armed myself with a long, wooden stick.
I placed the wash rag on the end of the stick and gingerly poked it up the duct. In an instant, the lint came falling down. There was a deluge of lint. Forty days and forty nights of lint.
Every now and then I would take a break. I would lower the stick, clean off the wash cloth, and send it back into battle. Then even more lint would fall. As the lint tumbled down, it reminded me of a scene from a New Year's Eve party, when confetti fills the air.
Eventually I got all of the lint, even the recalcitrant stuff, from the ducts. The siege had been broken. When I reattached the duct to the dryer, and fired it up, the old boy behaved like a new machine. It dried a pair of sweat pants in a mere 20 minutes.
At that point I felt confident about facing the tasks presented by the new century.
Then, right in mid-cycle, the dryer stopped, and my confidence evaporated.
I spent the next few days prowling around shopping centers. The rest of the world was buying fun things, holiday gifts for themselves, new computers, tape players, big-screen TVs. I was buying a clothes dryer. The one I picked out was reluctant to squeeze into the back of my station wagon. So while parked out in front of the store, in the rain, the store clerks and I ripped the cardboard off the dryer, and stuffed it in the back of the station wagon. When I got it home my sons and I carried the new dryer up three flights of stairs to the laundry room.
So far the new dryer works fine, but according to the instructions that came with it, the lint should be cleaned from the exhaust vents at least once a year. If I don't, I could have the same damp clothes trouble that the old dryer presented.
So while the rest of the world brought in 2000 with a bang, I greeted it with a beep, a signal from the new dryer, that its work was done.