Matter of Laugh or Death
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
IRONMAN STREAK IN JEOPARDY
I thought I was going to make it. I was convinced I’d go my entire life without ever doing a single load of laundry. I had one of the longest streaks on record—43 years and counting—and it seemed certain that I would one day be inducted into the Sluggard Hall of Fame.
Unlike what most people think, a record of this magnitude does not come easy. It requires a lot of planning, dedication, and hard work—mixed with a fair amount of luck. I was very fortunate to be born into the right family. My mom came from the old school of 1950s motherhood, the school which criticized Donna Reed for being a slob. “Her heels aren’t nearly high enough and her pearl necklace is not shiny enough,” my mom would say with disgust as she passed through the den while Donna’s show was on the tube. “I know it’s black and white TV, but I can just tell her dress is an ugly color and she hasn’t had her hair done in at least three days. I wouldn’t be caught dead vacuuming the house looking that frumpy!”
There was never a chance I might be required to do any laundry as a child since all members of the testosterone-sodden gender were forbidden to enter my mother’s sacred laundry room. One time I ran in there—obviously not thinking clearly—to wash my hands in the utility sink. “How dare you!” my mother shrieked when she saw me. “I suppose you would walk right into the ladies room in a restaurant! What kind of an animal am I raising?” She then began to weep. “Where have I failed, Lord?” she wailed through the tears.
The greatest threat to any potential world-class no-laundry streak occurs at age 18, when it is time to leave the nest and head off to college. Many an impressive streak has come to an ignoble end with a bewildered freshman wandering through the campus Laundromat, a bag of dirty clothes in one hand and a fistful of quarters in the other, finally working up the courage to approach an upperclassmen and say in a thin squeaky voice, “Um, excuse me, please. Could you, could you show me how to do this?”
In college, I was tempted a few times to launder some of my clothes, especially when I was down to my last pair of semi-rancid jockey shorts, but I always managed to fight the urge and call upon my highly-developed sense of discipline and willpower. I would remind myself that a trip back home to mom’s sacred laundry room was only a few weeks away.
It is difficult enough in college to scrape together money for the basic living essentials, such as beer and Cheez Doodles, so I really had to scrimp and save to afford a small U-Haul each time I traveled home. But again, discipline is my middle name. At strategic moments during the school year—Thanksgiving weekend, Christmas recess, Spring break, the Heath Department’s annual rite of evicting me from the dorm (the gas masks were a bit much, I thought)—I would load up the U-Haul trailer with my laundry (Health Dept. employees assisted with snow shovels) and make the journey home.
Mom was always so happy to see me. After fixing me a sandwich and some pie (homemade, of course), she would strap on her best pearls and attack the U-Haul with the zeal and joy of Mother Teresa wading into the midst of Calcutta’s untouchables. In no time at all, mom and her trusty top-loader would be victorious. As she finished ironing my socks, she would casually brush back the two out-of-place hairs on her brow and say, “Do you want another piece of pie, dear? Oh no, don’t get up, I’ll get it.”
Armchair psychologists claim that men often marry women who are just like their mothers. What a bunch of Freudian foolishness. My wife is wonderful in her own unique way. She is not identical to my mom at all, or even Donna Reed. (She’s actually much closer to Mary Tyler Moore on the “Dick Van Dyke Show.”)
But I will admit my wife does exhibit similar qualities to dear ol’ mom when it comes to laundry. Not so much the Mother Teresa-like zeal to spread cleanliness throughout the world, but she definitely has the same possessiveness about her laundry room, due mostly to the fact that I am so inept about anything not directly related to memorizing baseball trivia, if I came within five feet of the washing machine, every white article of clothing in the house would end up off-pink.
But then, without warning, my 43-year streak was in peril. My wife needed surgery and was going to be out of commission for a number of weeks. Many of the household chores I had taken for granted all these years were suddenly placed on my shoulders (“You mean this house didn’t come with self-cleaning toilets?”), including laundry duty.
Tune in for next week’s episode, “Showdown: the Sears Kenmore vs. the Doofus Dad.”
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