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You Gotta Have a Toaster, Right?

Searching for a simple, affordable bit of Americana. The adventure begins.

12:00 AM, Oct 21, 2002 • By LARRY MILLER
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So now we needed a new one. And this turned out to be the hard part. We first went to one of those giant kitchen-and-bedroom stores, but all the models they had were unacceptable, at least to one of us. Okay, to me. They were all seventy and eighty dollars, and, as the patriarch, I lovingly, but firmly, put my foot down. There was, I vowed once again, an old-fashioned Proctor-Silex out there somewhere for fourteen dollars. The Divine Mrs. M., a good, traditional wife, humbly acquiesced. She didn't even roll her eyes. Then she turned around and bought three sets of towels and sheets we didn't need, which cost far more. I guess I showed her. And off we went to the mall.

There we went to a retro-design-nostalgia place whose stock-in-trade is things that are fashioned to look like anything in the background of a Norman Rockwell painting. But the only toaster they had was the darndest-looking thing. It was large and round and had, no kidding, a bunch of levers sticking out of it, whose purpose was God-knows-what. Never mind retro, this hunk of buffed steel looked like the toaster Captain Nemo would've had on the Nautilus. More to the point, it was three hundred and fifty dollars. We stared mutely at it for a few minutes, while the kids tried to remove some German cleavers from a butcher block, and then a funny thing happened. We actually considered buying it.

You know how it is, you get tired and punchy, and you start to think, "Ah, hell, let's just get this thing and be done with it." Mercifully, we snapped out if when the kids started to roll an electric barbecue (in brushed chrome) toward a stack of martini glasses, and that shook us out of the ether. By way of apology, we picked up a set of useless, knitted placemats and went home. And nowhere else. Who needs a damn toaster. Kids eat too much bread, anyway.

And so it stood, until a week later when I stopped off at Sav-on to pick up some shaving soap. (Yeah, yeah, I use a brush and cup, and they're the only store I've found that has Burma Shave cakes. When they run out, I'm going to have to move to those new-fangled cans.) On a whim, I walked down their appliance aisle, and there they sat, a whole shelf of simple, beautiful, chrome Proctor-Silex toasters. And get this: Fourteen dollars? No, sir! Ready? Twelve ninety-nine!

I blinked in disbelief for a few seconds, ejaculated yet another "Oh, for crying out loud!" and, with shaking hands and tears in my eyes, slid one off and clutched it to my heaving breast. Victory! I love you, Sav-on! I love you, America!

My wife took it all very well, which is to say she muttered something about two slots instead of four, and walked away again. And the next morning, after boring the kids with a few reflections on the industrial revolution and American manufacturing (sort of like the sermon before the free meal at a soup-kitchen), I held the unopened box out in my arms like the Ark of the Covenant and told them to get ready for some nifty, frozen waffles. It was a great breakfast. My wife scooped them off to school and kissed me, and I felt like Donna Reed waving goodbye to everyone (which is fine with me), and as I began to clean up, I took the empty toaster-box off to the recycling bin, gave it a last, loving look . . .

And there it was, under the photo, and the slogan, and the "features," and the price: "Made in Mexico." Well, I guess that explains the $12.99, huh? What an idiot I am. In the words of Bud Abbott, "How dumb can one get?"

I give up. I can't go looking again. Who has that kind of time? (I suppose we could just take our next vacation here at home and spend eight hours a day for two weeks looking at toasters . . .) Now, don't get me wrong, there's nothing bad about things made in other places, you understand, but . . . Can't we make toasters in Indianapolis anymore? I guess not. Maybe for seventy dollars. I don't know. The thing works just fine, and it heats up faster than the old one, and bagels fit in it, and everything tastes good, and . . .

I mean, you gotta have a toaster, right?

Larry Miller is a contributing humorist to The Daily Standard and a writer, actor, and comedian living in Los Angeles.