"A man may work from sun to sun, but a woman's work is never done," or so the old maxim went before men moved into the kitchen and women into the workplace. Now that the crossover has taken place, no one's work is ever done. Everyone trudges back and forth to the repair shop, slaves to the labor-saving devices that were supposed to make life one long frolic.

Although Labor Day was set aside to honor the working men and women, it has become increasingly difficult to locate their opposite number, the idle rich. Today even the wealthy feel constrained to look as though they are busy, busy, busy, and so Labor Day has become a day for everyone. You could be traditional and collapse in the hammock, contemplating how life has improved since the days when people scratched the earth with hoe and plow.

You also could take a minute to see what this progress has entailed. Technology is the Demon Lover, promising total happiness and a surcease from pain, and, as with a silver-tongued rake, the promises are kept just often enough to keep us believing. The new Miraco-Blender whomps and chomps and spits out seeds and saves endless time until the day it suddenly whines to a stop and has to be taken out to Rockville so that a broken beezle can be replaced.

The garbage disposal makes an ineffectual whirring noise as water and a variety of things you hoped never to see again begin to fill the sink. "Well, of course, it's broken, Ma'am," says the repairman when he arrives several days later. "You put onion skins {or orange rinds, or carrot peelings, or squash seeds, or a bit of gristle or a chunk of ginger root} down it."

The garbage disposal, it turns out, is like a baby. It prefers to have its food previously pure'ed. Does it really save time and work to pure'e garbage before disposing of it? Is it really a help having a dishwasher when the dishes must be scraped clean before being washed? You still have to scrub the crust off the inside of the bean pot, or get the curdled milk off the bottom of a pan.

Every plus brings a minus. Even something as satisfactory as electric light revealed how much dust had been accumulating in the corners. Would Jane Austen have ever written a single novel if she'd had a driver's license and the need to pick up missing ingredients at the neighborhood Safeway?

There's a tremendous temptation, wandering through the stores or browsing the kitchen catalogues, to decide that this item or that will be the one that will change everything, make cooking and entertaining easier. Often as not they have the opposite effect. Buy a machine that peels and seeds tomatoes and the next thing you know you feel compelled to grow bushels of tomatoes so that you can use the machine to put up tomato sauce.

Invest in an automatic ice cream maker and there you are, making ice cream. That might have made sense in the days when the commercial product was a thin and tasteless paste, but the Ice Cream Wars have made excellent flavors available on every block. Of course, they're expensive, but try buying the ingredients to make a really good ice cream and see what that costs. Do the guests know that you made the pasta, and not Vace's, or do you have to leave the pasta machine in a conspicuous place so that they will appreciate your work?

One does not invite guests over for dinner as an alternative to taking a nap, but we often make more work for ourselves by giving in to the belief that high tech means less work. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't. As you swing in your low-tech hammock, an invention that probably predates the plow, think of the gadgets that clutter your kitchen.

How many really make your life easier and how many lurk in cupboard or drawer, taking up space and making you feel guilty when you remember how long it's been since you used them? And how many are mechanical monsters, doing tasks that are more pleasurably done by hand? I once was given a pea squisher, though it had a more optimistic name, which was supposed to shell peas in a minute.

It did, though the extruded peas were no longer capable of rolling anywhere, but I like shelling peas, sitting on the porch and staring at a bird or two. If there were a machine that actually did shell the peas without squishing them, I would no longer be able to sit lazily in the sun, convincing myself that I was doing a useful chore.

In honor of the approach of Labor Day, let's open the cabinets and cupboards and line up all the labor-saving devices that were supposed to revolutionize cooking. And then let's throw away the ones that we don't really need. There is no easy way to entertain -- that's why we all occasionally demand dinner be held in a restaurant -- but some ways are more fun than others, and it is not progress if we let them be whisked out of our lives.