The Journal of Provincial Thought
jptARCHIVE Issue 9
luminance Pigasus the JPT flying pig, copyright 2008 Schafer
Vienna vignettes : as she sojourns in a distant land, it's dire straits again for the flustered and delightful Glenda White
Why I Go to the P.O.

By Glenda White
Copyright 2008

Time: Late Morning
Place: The Post Office in Vienna

I was standing in line with my friend Mayana, waiting while she mailed packages, when I saw a bin containing what seemed to be gift bags, small, bright-colored items with phrases in German printed on them.  Idly, I picked out a bright red one that read I Love You in German.  The bag sported a snap fastener closing it. OF COURSE, I was compelled to unsnap it.

Immediately the entire population of the Post Office was treated to a loud, unidentified voice bellowing “I LOVE YOU WITH ALL MY HEART!” in fluent German.  It would have been bad enough if the mysterious stentorian voice said this only once.  That would have allowed me time to rid myself of the incriminating evidence.  Too  easy. The damn bag kept repeating and repeating and repeating the insane, joyful message over and over, and I could not stop it! I stood frozen with the package in my hand, while every eye in the post office stared.  And Mayana and I were the only females in sight. 

I finally swatted the bag, as if spanking it for misbehaving, in the lame-brained hope that people would see that I had not intentionally disturbed the peace and quiet of the Vienna Post Office by unleashing unsolicited protestations of eternal love at a decibel level that probably alerted Budapest that SOMEBODY loved SOMEBODY with ALL his heart!  

Romance novels: "I Luv U! O, B Mine!! Hubba Hubba, Babee!! Mein hertz undt schmertz!!" copyright 2008 Schafer

Finally, after about a week, the stupid gizmo ran down.  The man in front of us turned and burst out laughing. I immediately felt better and envisioned a scenario in which I lurked at the Vienna Post Office until a dishy guy about my age stood in line, when I sneaked up on him, and picked up the little red sack.

Who knows what could come of it?
So my dears, I have settled right into Vienna, but even when away from home,
 parts of me never change.  Still getting into trouble because of my curiosity. ###

Washing Machine Madness

By Glenda White
Copyright 2008

How did I get the wrongheaded idea that I am an incompetent boob? I really have no idea. Regardless of when or where I picked up this odd thought, it made my life distinctive in a way I would not have chosen voluntarily.

But even wrongheaded ideas may contain the seeds of a better understanding of self, and if given time to mellow provide good laughs. The following is a case in point:

When I agreed to come to Vienna to sublet my friend's apartment and care for her two cats, I did not  think of the numerous household appliances I would operate and maintain. Since my command of German is limited to ideas about True Love, Flowers, Trout, Spinning Wheels, etc., from years of singing art songs, I did not find it useful in reading directions on the dishwasher and washing machine. My hostess in absence told me the dishwasher was old and rickety and that if it died, not to be alarmed. (I was not alarmed at all. I was TERRIFIED!) I made a feeble attempt to operate it, and then decided it was not worth the nervous energy to figure it out, and washing dishes for one is not overwhelming. On the other hand, cleaning clothing is impractical to attempt by hand, and the washing machine was a brand-new Siemens, with much writing on its shiny white face. My friend gave me a quick demonstration before she left, and to my delight, it was as simple as I needed it to be.  At least until the one time when it wasn't.

How can I describe to you the state of my mind during the Christmas season, far from home and family, trying to  maintain my equilibrium in a place where so much was unfamiliar? I told myself over and over how GLAD I was to have this chance to do precisely that, and mostly it was true.  However, I was blissfully unaware of the mental stress that was building and of subtleties of my unconscious mind. As a result I received object lessons about being a stranger in the territory of foreign technology and how subterranean ideas about who and what you are can sabotage your everyday life.

New Year's Eve morning I decided to wash delicate blouses and selected the program entitled "Woole," which I was certain would limit the torque on my fragile garments.  As I turned on the washing machine as I had been doing for the past three months I noticed that the usual pattern of a short burst of water, followed by a pause, and then the full water load, did not begin. I did not worry at first, thinking that the "Woole" cycle might be different. But as time went on, and nothing seemed to be happening, tendrils of self-doubt oozed stealthily from my unconscious, telling me things like, "AHAH!  See there! I TOLD YOU you would break Mayana's things! How dare an incompetent OLD lady BOOB like you think you could dare to go and live in a foreign country where you are illiterate? Serves you right!"

This opened the door to a flood of other self-doubting remarks. I tried desperately to stay in  control, but I was no match for the tidal wave of memories of times when I had done things wrong, broken things, etc., reaching far back, believe it or not, to a time when I was six years old and accidentally broke my cousin's doll bed she had received at Christmas.  Things were pretty bad by now, for my fertile imagination jumped right in on the side of the demons, suggesting one lurid scenario after another to explain the puzzling behavior of the dreaded machinery. The lights in the apartment blinked. OH MY GOD! I have set fire to the entire apartment building!

Visions of Mayana returning from India to a smoking ruin where her lovely apartment stood flashed before me.  In the interest of decency, I will forego the scenarios for the cats. Suffice it to say that in the space of less than fifteen minutes, I had collected enough horror material to give Stephen King a run for his money.  AND IT WAS ALL MY FAULT, of course!

Things could not have gotten worse, then they did.  I glanced into the window of the front loading machine.  Something that seemed to be a large plastic bag was included in the wash load. Oh My God! It appeared stuck between the window and the wash basket.

It would surely get ground up in the gizzards of the machine.  It was New Year's Eve, and I could never get a repairman at this time, and if I could, how would I explain things? Oh God Oh God oh GOD!!

old washer. "Ach, du lieber! Was ist los??!! Gott in himmel!!! Dumkopf!! Nein, Scheissekopf!!!" Copyright 2008 Schafer

I turned off the washing machine and found I could not open the door. Front load washing machines have a safety catch when the tub is full of water to prevent this. I decided to call my friend Greta for help, but before I could dial, another friend, Rainer, called. I explained my predicament, and he said to look on the controls for a pump command to allow the water to drain off so I could open the door. I found "Abpumpfen" and poked its button. As far as I could tell, nothing happened. Rainer was supportive and kind, but I was too far gone in my imaginary scenarios for him to reach me with reason or reality. I thanked him kindly and profusely and hung up to call Greta.

When I explained what had happened, she gently suggested that she come take a look. I thanked her and said that would be nice, but that I was SURE this would require expensive and extensive repairs.  In my mind, the entire bathroom would have to be replumbed, repainted (don't forget the fire damage), resulting in catastrophic expenditures and I would sell pencils on the streets of Vienna until deported by annoyed Austrians.

When Greta arrived, we went directly to the disaster area. I told her about the plastic bag and how I couldn't open the door, how bad it was for a bag like that to become embedded in the machine's gizzard, etc. With a tragic but dramatic gesture, I seized the door to the washing machine, saying in a woebegone voice, "And see, even though I punched 'Abpumpfen' the door is locked, and I can't get the bag out, and I have ruined Mayana's NEW WASHING MACHINE!"

By this time, I was a hairs-breadth from tears. As I pulled the handle to the door, it swung easily open, and I prepared for a flood of water. Not a drop! I stared in at the laundry. What I had assumed to be a deadly washing machine-destroying plastic bag was a bright red blue and white T shirt, innocently resting against the door.   Greta, being a sensible no- nonsense friend, suggested we run the washing machine in the "Woole" cycle once more, to be sure everything was all right. We did, and it was. 

I am convinced that living even temporarily in Freud's home town granted me an opportunity for a first-person experience in the meaning of "hysteria." But even wrongheaded ideas like my OLD LADY BOOB image can be good for a laugh and real insight, given time to mellow. ###

jptARCHIVE Issue 9
Copyright 2008- WJ Schafer & WC Smith - All Rights Reserved