Monday, May 12

re: Inspire® 2-slice model 6328

James B. S. Riley
Global Powders & Notions, LLC
General Delivery
Indianapolis, IN
May 12, 2008

Mr. John Oster, deceased,
The Oster Manufacturing Company
acquired by Sunbeam Products,
which was bought out by
Allegheny International, Inc., before
the division was cited, along with
its accounting firm which, not surprisingly, was
Arthur Andersen, LLC, now owned by
four limited liability corporations called
Omega Management I through IV,
for accounting fraud and
filed for bankruptcy, only to reemerge
one year later as the privately owned
American Household, Inc. (AHI)
which was purchased by
Jarden Corporation (NYSE: JAH), the former
Alltrista Corporation, which began as the
spin-off of its canning business by the Ball Corporation
Rye, N.Y.

Dear Mr. Oster:

I like toast. In this, as I'm sure you're aware, or would be if you were still alive, I am far from alone; it's a staple of breakfast tables in much of the civilized world. Toward this end I, again like millions of others, employ a toaster, or device which toasts bread automatically on both sides at once. I enjoy its convenience, and, if I may indulge in the personal for a moment, the aroma of toasting bread and the satisfying pop of the finished product, which frequently startles, but in a good way. I like mine with butter (or, more accurately, partially-hydrogenated vegetable oil spread the color of cabbage butterflies); for an occasional treat I'll add some apricot preserves.

I don't know when I first became a fan of toast. As an infant I was fed digestive biscuits, which might serve as a sort of gateway to toast enjoyment; I suppose your marketing department could answer that. I do remember that the toaster was a prominent feature of my family's breakfast table, which, let us clearly understand each other here, was also the lunch and dinner table--we were not one of your fancy breakfast-nook-owning families--but Mother would put the toaster back in the cabinet after the morning meal.

Now, here's the peculiar thing about that, the late Mr. Oster: we must have had that same toaster for at least a decade. If you could remember things at this stage, I'm sure you'd remember that such objects take on a sort of totemic power for young children, being, at the same time, a kind of magical amulet and a provider of warmth and comfort. I can, in fact, close my eyes and still smell the warm brown bakelite of the handles and knobs, with their clearly marked numerical progression, and recall how the Art Deco-ish bulge of its chrome body offered literally hours of enjoyment once I discovered it would distort faces most comically, like a household funhouse mirror. And the redorange glow of its elements was mesmerizing, presaging a lifelong fascination with various forms of flammability, something I would eventually turn into a career of sorts. So I remember it clearly, and it was the only toaster I would know until the late 70s ushered in the craze for throwing perfectly good equipment in a landfill, during which time it made toast.

You may have seen where I'm going with this, Mr. Oster; I'm not quite clear how perceptive people in your situation are. Last fall I replaced my previous toaster, which, at a mere five years of age, had lost a portion of its electrical function. (Here I might explain that in the American economy of the 21st century it is both cheaper and faster to replace the entire apparatus than to contrive with ten cents' worth of wire to repair it.) So I cranked up the flivver, bounced my way to my local retailler, and bought a sleek and shiny replacement. As you may have guessed, or not, an Oster.

Now, sir, like you, I imagine, I find myself living a portion of my life in a century for which I was not prepared, though I imagine the dazzling rate of increasing complexity seemed to you like progress. I get home with this product and spend ten minutes reading the instructions. For toast. I mean, sir, I don't generally swear around the deceased, in case they're not partial to it, but what th' fuck? The thing has a setting for bagels, which is fine in a politically-correct sort of way, but there's also a WARM and a FROZEN button which I can't for the life of me figure why anyone would need. And the dial is a marvel of illegibility. There's no marking on the knob itself, which apparently would have demoralized the design staff no end. Instead it has a small ridge between two beveled sections which serves as a marker supposing one has sensitive enough fingers (and, I might point out, small enough to still read the numbers underneath while fondling it). The scale runs from 1 through 7, with dots in between offering what frankly must be termed the illusion of decimal increments of control. In the actual event numbers 1-4, and their fractional handmaidens, do nothing beyond getting the bread slightly warm, which, while it may be some user's cup of tea, does not actually qualify as "toast", and would seem to raise the question about what that WARM switch is doing there.

All of this in fact, sir, I would have learned to live with without too much bother as, in fact, I had until recently, when the thing began to develop a mind of its own, which, although I haven't checked yet, probably signals the warranty has expired. This may have begun when my Poor Wife, who is a notoriously fickle, sensitive, and, well, no need beating around the bush, half-insane eater, as is the rest of her family (at least she doesn't vomit nearly as much as her baby brother, who can be set off by someone trimming the broccoli too long) decided to have some toast one morning instead of whatever godawful coffeeshop provender she usually indulges (a sensitive eater who readily consumes feedlot-quality comestibles prepared by people who were in prison as recently as last week!). She, you might have been able to guess, favors toast in which the color of the bread remains unchanged, and in pursuit of this started fiddling with the dial which, of course, I didn't discover until the next morning, when my own toast popped up so quickly I thought I'd failed to completely engage the switch. And, of course, since what markings there are are in Hipster Design Braille it took another exercise in warming bread to figure out the problem. As I say, I haven't checked the warranty; perhaps "changing the dial once set" voids it.

So this weekend I planned on fixing club sandwiches for lunch. This means, for two of us, six total slices of toast which I generally toast lightly in consideration of my wife's preferences and avoidance of keeping them all straight during assembly. Six total slices of toast, one unchanged setting, yielding four different visual results, including one piece which looked on one side as though it had gotten a suntan through a picket fence. You may compare, sir, that old chrome model of my youth, which, rescued by some landfill archaeologist, is probably available on eBay as we speak, listed as "works great!"

I write to you, Mr. Oster, not because I cannot contact the company online, or because I imagine that you still have some pull there, but because it is your name on the thing ("Oster: The Quality Goes In Before The Name Of Some Guy Who Died Thirty Years Before His Company Ever Made A Toaster Goes On") and I feel this makes us partners in grievance. And I was wondering if it's true that the dead can shoot laser beams out of their eyes, or cause people to stab themselves with their own letter openers, or raise maps of painful boils, anything the people responsible for this thing deserve? A simple haunting, if that's the one interaction you're permitted, would be satisfactory. I remain, sir, yours in spirit.


James B. S. Riley

JBSR: dc


heydave said...

Theoretically speaking, you may choose to forego a letter of complaint, as warranted (hah!) as it might be, and just pass a nice rainy afternoon making toast in the garden.

At least this would give you the twofold benefit of an excuse to move on to the next toaster-candidate as well as enjoy a funky little light show.

aimai said...

They'll get my fifteen year old toaster when they pry it from my cold, dead, hands.


Julia said...

I guess "stick a fork in it" doesn't work for this.

D. Sidhe said...

My partner and I got a shiny chrome house brand two-slicer from Macy's back when it was still The Bon nearly twenty years ago. It still works great, although admittedly it does not work often because the smell of toasting bread gives me a migraine. But my partner uses it a couple times a week while I'm asleep or otherwise not in sniffing range, and seems pleased with it once we got rid of the housemates who kept setting it respectively to "briquette" and "somewhat warmish" for reasons that largely escape me.

It has become the repository for our household appliance god, though, and he seems happy enough there.

Personally, I'd love to see your letter to Mr Oreck, assuming you were ever foolish enough to buy one of his pseudo-vacuums. Mine just tend towards threats and rampant swearing. Someday I'll be the first person ever to get a restraining order filed against them which prominently features the phrase "nail your dick to a whale". It will have been worth it.

Anonymous said...

Fie on your yuppie aspirations! What's wrong with using the old, reliable propane torch?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Riley,

Should we consider this a Lileks moment?

Anonymous said...

Propane torch? What's wrong with spending a few precious moments with your own thoughts as you lounge on the settle, one foot comfortably braced against the decorative blackamoor as you transfix a slice of bread with the toasting fork and dandle it over the well-banked embers?

heydave said...

Well now, if we're looking for alternative toasting methods, why not go green?

A slice of bread, right on top of the manifold of one's Humvee, saves all that resistant-heating electricity!

Anonymous said...

Actually, not to go all Luddite, but in my Rent-era bohemian days I had a non-electric, stovetop stainless steel percolator that I bought at the flea market on Canal Street and which -- if you didn't mind a few rogue grounds -- made far better coffee than any of the sleekly designed and insanely complicated post-millennial army of Swiss/German/Italian coffee/espresso/cappuccino makers that cluttered up our kitchen after the wedding. Until I began to cull the heard by actually forcing them to brew coffee. Each ubermacher lasted about 5 to 7 months before it would short out and then be respectfully and ceremonially shoved down the trash chute and replaced by one of its brothers-in-obsolescence.

The last one died about two months ago, and I was forced to trudge off to Target and support German rearmament by purchasing a Krups. (However, unlike Lileks, I was able to resist the wild impulse to blog about it.)

Still wish I had that percolator, though.

Kathy said...

I have the exact same toaster! Mine has a copper finish, quite elegant in an old-fashioned way. But I never know what will pop up. My daughter puts frozen waffles in, but neglects to use the "frozen" setting. They seem satisfactory to her. She eats them like toast, sans butter or margerine.

PS: Yesterday (Mothers Day) my husband purchased a rhambo (?) vacuum for himself. Then he placed all the furniture in the house into one stack and let the little critter run all night.

Porlock Junior said...

Roomba runs all night? (Doo-da, doo-da) Never saw one go for long enough to clear more than one fairly large room, and then it's back to the charger overnight. Or have they got a new model that runs on a fuel cell? Cool!

There is, one is sad to admit, something very Guy about a device for which you need only clear out the room, and clean up after it, and in between it does all the work without your paying any attention except to watch it and try to psych out where it's going and assist it to this & that corner or bit of missed junk...

But letting it run overnight, unwatched, is both too bold (are you sure it won't strangle itself in a loose cord or something?) and a waste of the entertainment value.

Dave Latchaw said...

There are quite a few 1950's Toastmaster toasters on eBay that appear to be in very good shape. Prices are reasonable, too. (I guess vintage toasters aren't sexy.) Just looking at them made me feel happy and warm inside.

Fearguth said...

To communicate with Mr. Oster's modern-day avatars, you would have to say, "My toaster is toast!" Say anything more and you won't be understood.

Jaye Ramsey Sutter said...

I will vacuum again when Craftsman makes a riding vacuum. Roseanne Barr

Jaye Ramsey Sutter said...

BTW Briggs-Stratton used to make a good engine.

Kathy Rogers said...

Riley: Seriously. Your keyboard is probably smoking enough to provide a decent crisping to whatever breadstuff you want to hold over it.

The toaster of my childhood was still on my parents' countertop when the second of them passed away in 2003. It still worked. My childhood was in the 60s & 70s. None of us "kids" wanted to take the toaster. It went out on the curb where it was scooped up by one of the locals, tout de suite.

Or, I guess, if you're an actual local, immediamente.

Anonymous said...

I think we had the same toaster you did when I was a bairn. Worked great and even a child could operate it -- at age 6 making toast was my job at breakfast, and yes the glow of the elements was mesmerizing, and the fragrance of the toast right at the toaster was different from the smell a few feet away and... I'll stop before this sounds like one of those old right-wing fart chain emails that start out pining for vinyl records and car hops and end up lamenting the loss of English-speaking white christian landscapers. The odd thing is that our toaster also lasted for decades, and yet was cheap '50's crap, relatively speaking, '50's crap being all we could afford. Our present toaster, like so many gadgets, is more of a subscription to appliance world, and like yours refuses to toast bread to any predictable shade. I've taken to using the electic iron—a "cotton" setting is quicker but "nylon"is crunchier, and the flattened result allows you to call the toast something Italian.

Anonymous said...

That, sir, was the finest non-alcohol induced toast ranting I've been privileged to witness. Ever.

You should win the Elwood Blues Memorial Defense of Toast Award hands down.


Anonymous said...

The original Osterizer, if memory serves, was a sort of food processor, well enough received by the public and unique enough in its time that "to osterize" came close to apotheosis as a generic term, like kleenex or scotchtape. I think it's the 50s I'm remembering, i.e. before the art of planned obsolescence had matured, at least in the home appliance field. I wonder if there's a modern version of the Osterizer, and how many LED displays it has, and how thick the Manual is, and whether the shade of Mr. Oster is reconciled to it all?

Li'l Innocent (I can't provide lush sensory reminiscence about the Osterizer, since we never had one.)