Electrical appliances that fail to work after the guarantee has long expired tend to bare raw nerves in even the clamest among us, forcing us to store the stopped clock or cold waffle iron on a shelf somewhere, with the silent prudent promise to tackle it some day.
My prudence came about one day after paying a whopping bill to bring a battered TV set back to life.
A 10-year-old toasted that had cost $9.98 in a discount store had stopped toasting a few weeks before and was sitting on a shelf in the garage between a non-blending blender and a non-functioning hot plate.
It was a morning after another toastless breakfast when while sifting through the "trash mail" I discovered an advertisement for a book which promised to solve the mysteries of all your home repairs.
A few weeks passed before it was delivered, and one night I sat on the sofa with the thick, impressive book spread out on the coffee table, leafing through bewildering pages of furnace pipes, air-conditioning, electric wiring systems and bang - there was my cheap little toaster.
The illustration was slick, and on the facing page there was the whole thing dissected, with a slender arrow pointing to each part, with a number alongside and an explanation of its function.
Spreading newspapers on the dining-room table and moving a lamp over for a better light, I followed directions, using a screwdriver and pliers to peel the thing apart.
My mind wandered back to an old, light-brown brick apartment building, six stories high, in a low-rent district of Manhattan's Lower East Side.
We were newly wed, and the second-floor apartment suited us fine; but because of its proximity to the lobby we were not allowed acess to the ranshackle antique elevator that slowly but loudly moved up and down its ancient cables.
The furniture was sparse - a bed, a chair, a few orange crates painted pastel shades, sidewalk bricks and planks for our books - but like most recently married couples, we had an ample supply of electrical appliances.
An electric grill form an aunt, a coffee pot from a friend, an electric egg poacher and a toaster all gleamed with newness in our tiny kitchen.
Getting to work each morning at 9 was a major problem in any large city, but in New York it was magnified.
The thought occured to me one night that getting breakfast could take less time if I had everything ready to plug in before I shaved and showered; when these chores were finished, breakfast would be ready.
I picked up one of those multiple male sockets on my way home from work the next night, and couldn't wait for morning to come for my experiment.
Just before bedtime the coffee pot was ready, butter melted in the egg poacher and eggs dropped in, bacon stretched out on the flat grill ready to snap and pop, and two slices of bread in the toaster.
The alarm went off a 7 as I ran into the kitchen to plug in my creation and - pffffft, a miniature explosion went off, blowing out all the lights.
I though it was only we who were suffering the power failure until I heard voices coming from the hallway shouting, "Where is the elevator, what happened to the elevator?"
I cringed with my ear to the door, listening to the complaints of my neighbors as they slogged down the long stairways while the superintendent assured them that, although all the electricity was off in the building help was on the way.
Running back to the kitchen, I destroyed the eveidence and ate a bologna sandwich.
An electrician was called, and then a city inspector, who was alarmed by the ancient circuit box and the wiring and threatened to have the building condemned unless it was all done brand new.
By some technical fluke in the ACDC electrical current struture of New York, our electricity was restored.
The rest of the project took several days while a temporary unit was put in for the residents - but not enough power to run the old wire box elevator.
The neighbors crawled up and down the stairs morning and night complaining loudly, wanting the person who caused it executed.
My only protection during this blackout was to complain along with them until the morning when the old, clanging elevator moved again.
Thoroughly traumatized by the experience, it was years before I could get enough courage to mix with electricity or appliances again - and there I sat, staring at the skeleton of my toaster.
It was 4 a.m. when, feeling like Edison after reassembling the thing with only one part left over, I carried the prize to the kitchen, plugged it in, dropped a slice of bread into it, and pushed the plunger down.
It worked, only it wouldn't pop up again. Reaching a finger in and receiveing only a mild shock, I was able to get it to pop.
The book sat open on the table, the page covered with crumbs.
I identified the part by matching it against the illustration. It was the "popper." So I went to bed.
The toaster still sits, now toasting only one side of each slice, and the mild shock each morning while getting the bread back up again has become sort of waker-upper - and the book has never been opened again.