Once upon a time, I was convinced that things were supposed to last. If I got a new shirt for my birthday, I was certain the collar was never supposed to fray. If I got a new bike, the fenders were never supposed to rust.
If I got a new book, the spine was never supposed to weaken; the pages were never supposed to loosen, no matter how many times I went back and forth through them to follow Rikki-Tikki-Tavi's searches for cobras.
The pencil sharpener on the molding of the kitchen door to the basement was forever. Ice-cube trays were forever. The Erector set was forever. The Radio Flyer wagon was forever, although I had to accept that the red paint might chip because of crashes into unyielding elm trees and concrete steps.
The Cogswell chair in the living room, where mother napped in the afternoon, was forever. The baby grand piano, from which my fingers never could extract actual music, was forever.
When I finished high school, and my family left the rented apartment we'd lived in for 16 years and moved to the suburbs and the first house my parents ever owned, forever was redefined: The pencil sharpener moved with us, but I never again saw the wagon, the Erector set, the piano, or the chair.
I realized that "forever" has limitations.
Recently, my toaster stopped toasting. When it had done the same thing a few years ago while it was still under warranty, I'd sent it back to the factory, and they fixed it for free.
When it was in its best toasting days, it was wonderful. Its two wide, long slots could accommodate the sprawling center slices of round rye bread and take in the thickest of bagels without a wince.
Now, I learned, the cost to fix it this time would be almost its cost when new.
Well, how about the old toaster oven that's in a basement storeroom? It was there because it was never good at making toast. I don't recall what it was good at. But I thought it might have matured, gotten more useful during its years in exile. So I decided to try it; otherwise there would be no toast for breakfast the next day.
In the morning, two slices of sweet egg bread were placed on the grate, and the toaster oven quickly demonstrated its old ineptness.
That meant we'd have to go looking for a toaster. At one store, then a second, then a third, the search for a toaster with two wide, long slots was as cold as that morning's bread.
Why not get a toaster oven, I thought. Maybe they're better now. Assured by the cashier that any dissatisfaction would warrant its return, I left the store.
I gave it every opportunity. As a toaster, it was an insult to the gods of browning. As an oven, with degrees marked to 450 – producing there, according to my oven thermometer, only 300 degrees F. – it took almost two hours to bake a potato.
Somewhere, somewhere there must be the toaster I want, I thought. "Well, look at that," I said to the picture that showed up on my computer screen after an hour of searching. "OK, we're saved," I said to the delivery man when the toaster arrived from the online store. "OK," I said to the toaster when I plugged it in, "I will love you forever."
Ahead lay the task of dealing with the failed "forevers": the old toaster and the old toaster oven. I found the answer pinned inside the door of the kitchen cabinet where the everyday plates and drinking glasses are kept. On the sheet headed "Curbside Recycling Instructions," a guide to the use of the recycling bin, it said: "Metal cans, pie tins, aluminum trays, metal clothes hangers, pots & pans, toasters, faucets, silverware, pipe, and other small metal items."
Toasters! It said toasters. Does that mean toaster ovens, as well? I read on: "If it fits in the bin, put it in!"
Ah, the new "forever" in my life: the recycling bin.