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Friday, March 12, 2010

The Miracle of Laundry

I knew they were dying. It was just a matter of time. They had been faithfully serving me for almost 9 years, even though they were both 19. They were suffering, and from the noises they made, they were obviously in pain.

So they are dead now, but not yet buried. I disconnected Amana, the dryer, from life support, called it, cleaned out the vent hose, and replaced it with a scrappy 2-year-old named Maytag Neptune. I snagged it from a wealthy couple in a gated community for $250. Thank you, Craigslist. It purred and dried a load of towels in 40 minutes, something that took the late Amana close to four hours to do.

Meanwhile, the washer, Miss Whirlpool, had been bleeding small amounts of water, so I was thinking of calling the repairman to take a look at her. This need intensified once the “new” Maytag Neptune dryer started making the sound of several thousand bowling balls being dropped from the ceiling of the Republican national convention.

So the repairman came out, quickly fixed Maytag Neptune and felt up underneath Miss Whirlpool washer and proclaimed her terminal. She obviously heard that, because 48 hours later, she stopped spinning and dropped dead.

Forty-nine hours later, Bungee, in one of her vengeful PMS moods, jumped up on our bed, vomited and peed on the heavy, king-sized comforter. And the sheets. And the mattress pad. And the pillow top foam pad underneath that.

So there we sat with a pile of laundry stench and no way to clean it. Bungee, meanwhile, basked in a lounge chair by the pool, smoking her Terrytons using a long, Marlene Dietrich cigarette holder. At the same time she sipped from her pitcher full of Long Island iced teas, munched on cucumber sandwich points and pawed through centerfolds of back issues of Playbitch magazine.

When Saturday rolled around, neighbors started calling the police because there was an awful dead smell coming from our house, so we relented and threw the big soiled pile in the back of the truck and drove to a coin laundry.

I grew up in a laundromat and hated it. Once I turned 16 and got my driver’s license, laundry duties for our household were assigned to me. For two or three hours a week, I sat in a hot room and observed the public laundry behavior of Homo sapiens, if you want to call them that.

Sadly, the laundromat has not changed much in 40 years. The last time I used a public washer, it cost 75 cents to do a load. It is now $4.25. That’s the only difference. The aura of the inhabitants of the coin laundry is identical with the laundries of 40 years ago. Back then, there was always the prototypical single Mom with two toddlers and a Chevy Vega. These days she’s a single mom of two with a sputtering Saturn. Then and now, she smokes generic cigarettes while screaming things at her children, such as:

  • I’m gonna tear you up when we get home!
  • All right, but don’t you ask me to buy you anything else. Today or ever.
  • Don’t you touch that, or I’ll cut off your hand.
  • When we get home, you’re going to spend a two-hour timeout inside the locked Coleman cooler.
I decided then and there that I’ve worked hard all my life, and one of the things that comes with a steady paycheck is the option to decide if you want to spend your weekends witnessing child abuse. I decided that I didn’t care if I had to pay full price for a new washer, but I was not going back to a laundromat. I’d cart my laundry to a creek somewhere and beat shirts against a submerged rock before I would start collecting quarters again.

With clean bed coverings back in place and the bedroom door locked to prevent further doggie violations, we set out to find a new washer. So for the next week I used a nit comb on Craigslist, searching for the perfect affordable cleaning machine. I made an offer on a snazzy KitchenAid monster. In her return e-mail, and the seller told me she would call me on Saturday with directions so we could come for a pre-adoption interview. She did not give her phone number.

On Saturday, after three desperate e-mails from me, KitchenAid lady did not contact me. Laundry was piling up, so we actually had to leave the house and shop for a new one. The best we could find for a new washer at a store was $750.

After physically shopping, we came back home, and I did some virtual shopping. I didn’t find any better online deals, and the laundry was threatening to take over the house. So I finally let go of the rope. I unhooked Miss Whirlpool, and decided it would be wise to replace the faucets, which were also leaking. I attached and turned the pipe wrench, and the whole fixture snapped off, copper pipe and all.

I sent Other Bill back to Sears to buy the $750 Duet. I stayed home, seething, waiting for the plumber to show up. On a Sunday. $265 and a couple hours later, I had new faucets and a $750 receipt for the Duet.

“The bad news,” Other Bill announced, “is that they can’t deliver it for three weeks.”

I went into the garage to find something sharp. I needed to cut myself in several places.

“THREE WEEKS!” I, according to Other Bill, yelled. “Wasn’t the whole point of this to—”

“I don’t mind going to the domestic violence laundromat for three weeks,” he said.

Biting through my teeth and holding a bag of garbage that contained not even one rusty razor blade, I spun around and marched into the alley to dump the bag in the big can.

But then something strange happened. The gray clouds parted and a bright ray of light shined down across the alley. I heard Gregorian chants. The light pointed to—yes!—my neighbor’s Maytag washer. It had a sign on it that read: “Still Works.” Just like the “Eat Me” cake in Alice in Wonderland.

It was a miracle from God. I called Other Bill into the alley to witness it. We stood there with our jaws dropped and our eyeballs Marty Feldmanized.

I ran to the garage, jumped into the truck and drove it down the alley, where Other Bill, armed with semi-automatic weapons, guarded this new miracle, which we named Baby Jesus Maytag. True, it was still a top loader. But it was bigger than Miss Whirlpool, plus it had bleach and detergent dispensers. I hooked up Baby Jesus, washed a half load with minimal holy water, and he worked perfectly and quietly. He was, after all, Jesus; what else would you expect?

Other Bill called Sears and canceled the order for the $750 Duet.

Meanwhile, I was planning on starting to attend church.

The next day, lo and behold, KitchenAid Craigslist lady sent me an e-mail, apologizing for failing to call me back on Saturday. Translated into Craigslist-ese, this means: The person who offered more money was a no-show. She also asked if I was still interested in the washer.

I started to doubt my religious beliefs. True, Baby Jesus Maytag could wash a mini load of clothes, but he hadn’t yet been tested under tougher conditions. Could he handle the Super Capacity load? Could he turn rinse water into Moet? If he was so perfect, why was he was a water hog and not energy efficient? I e-mailed Craigslist lady back and told her I’d have an answer for her within a few hours.

I stuffed Baby Jesus to the gills with towels and anything dirty that I could find. I set the water level to the max. The agitator moved about as fast as the Fickle Finger of Fate Award, for those who can remember that far back. For those who don’t, let’s just say that with a full load, Jesus looked like a nose hair trimmer powered him. Jesus wasn’t washing. He was soaking in it. Once again, I was disappointed by religion.

He also leaked a bit. Fortunately, the puddle looked nothing like the Virgin Mary; otherwise I would have had to go find a theatrical agent for the machine.

Several hours later we found our way back from the rich side of town, toting a massive KitchenAid monster made of concrete, covered in stainless steel, and filled with an IBM mainframe computer and its own water heater.

At this time we had five (count ’em 5; V) laundry machines in our garage: Our original broken washer and dryer; the Maytag Neptune dryer, Baby Jesus Maytag, and the KitchenAid Hulk.
A neighbor walking her dog came by and inquired, “Are you guys opening a laundromat?”

After it got really dark and the neighborhood got quiet, we loaded the Baby Jesus and Miss Maytag into the truck and idled down the alley with just the parking lights on. When we got to Jerusalem, also known as the house across the alley, we lay Jesus back in the manger and then dumped Miss Whirlpool across from him, behind our fence.

Now we were down to a washer and dryer that worked, and a broken dryer, which would have to stay in the garage until the next bulk pickup in a month. The only place to put it blocked a door.

But the next day, I received my salvation. Sure enough, another alley miracle occurred. I heard a scavenger rattling around back there. He had a pickup truck full of scrap metal, broken fertilizer spreaders, and Baby Jesus. Once again the sunrays beamed down and Gregorian chants played in Dolby sound. He was one step ahead of the city’s garbage truck, and he was clearing a path in the bed of the truck for Miss Whirlpool. I went out and helped him make room for it. Any man whom can singlehandedly lift a washing machine into a truck usually is very well built, and he was no exception. The truck was packed tall and over the tailgate.

“Do you want a dryer?” I asked him.

“You have a dryer too?”

“Yeah, pull around front. If you think there’s room, I’ll pull it out for you.”

“Oh, there’s room,” said the muscular Fred Sanford.

So at last, peace, order, and cleanliness, next to Godliness, have at last been restored to Bill and Other Bill’s Obsess-O-Mat, and I’m thinking of taking communion on Sunday.

Creative Commons License by Bill Wiley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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The Magazine Drive

Whoever said that youth is the best time of our lives obviously skipped junior high school, or middle school, or puberty school, or whatever they’re calling age 12-to-15 schools now.

During my pimple years, I wore Woody Allen glasses, braces, and orthopedic. Give me a pocket protector and dispatch me from the A/V room to set up a filmstrip, and I would have gratefully accepted the nomination to run for president of the Global Association of Geeks (GAG).

It was during junior high when I failed to develop into someone “cool” and was left standing in the tattered residue of the socially inept.

And at the same time I learned my first lesson in deceptive business practices.

In order to raise money for the school to, I guess, replace the mysteriously disappearing supply of mimeograph fluid (hence called “huffing juice”), a fund raising company was brought in at the beginning of the school year, and multiple assemblies were held. These were pep-rally-style meetings during which we were passionately encouraged to go door-to-door after school, selling magazine subscriptions. If we were successful, we would prove to competing schools that we were the best salespeople, and therefore the best junior high in the city. For all our hard work, we would be rewarded with crappy little trinkets like key chains and cheesy stuffed animals called “Dream Pets,” which rivaled today’s collectible Facebook friends and cell phone ring tones. The top sellers would actually win cool, expensive stuff, like portable 8-track tape players, the Ipods of our time.

Every morning we would bring in our hard-earned cash and checks to homeroom, where the teacher collected, counted and recorded it. Our totals were converted to Dream Pet points, which would be redeemed at the Friday assemblies. Daily totals were announced by our homeroom teacher, and those who didn’t bother to sell anything were humiliated and branded as Communists for being unmotivated, non-contributing, freeloading leeches. I believe our homeroom teachers were schooled in humiliation by being forced to watch PBS during Pledge Week.

I believe there were four assemblies during the two week magazine drive. These pep-rally-style roundups were held by sleazy, leisure-suited vermin with too much false enthusiasm. These fast-talking hyenas were slicker than used car salesmen. Today they are most likely well-paid , bottom-feeding motivational speakers (“I made millions by taking advantage of adolescents, then drank to forget, but now I’ve completed rehab, and I’m back, and this time I’m taking YOUR money.”) They would scream like Pentecostal preachers and pit individuals against each other and warn us of the looming threat of Coleman Junior High School. The Coleman kids were our arch rivals who, the hyenas threatened, were right on our tail. At the third herding, in order to spur end-of-magazine-season sales, the emcee told us that Coleman had edged ahead, and he encouraged us to work extra hard the last week so we could be the junior high sales champions. Then they paraded the big prizes up and down the aisles, like well-fed Americans tempting starving children of the Congo with gourmet food. You can smell it, but no tasting, please.

The second Friday was the day everyone eagerly awaited, mainly because it was our last day of being periodical prostitutes. On the final Friday we’d find out if our last-minute rally to ward off the Coleman threat was successful, and we’d see the top salesman crowned and given the grand prize, which was, I don’t know, maybe a new car. Actually it was probably just a portable black and white tv, but it was just as unobtainable as a new car, because no one, when it came to magazine sales, could trump Ann Schmundt.

Everyone hated Ann Schmundt. While we were out pounding the pavement, striving for just one more three-dollar subscription so we could get the coveted autograph hound Dream Pet or the plastic Road Runner that quacked when you squeezed its head, Ann Schmundt never had to set one foot outside her air conditioned pool home. Her father was a successful cardiologist and each year spent two or three C-notes on magazines, which were nothing more than a pocket-change tax write-off for him. All three years of junior high, Ann won the big prize. In our final year, sales dropped because most of us had lost interest trying to compete with Ann. If someone was on her tail at the middle of week two, Dr. Dad would simply bump up her grant. Clearly, her family was rich enough to buy her anything she wanted. Her dad had the opportunity to teach her a life lesson in hard work, or at least humility, but each year he chose to ignore that opportunity. It was selfish of her, and despicable of her rich father to allow her to claim that prize every year, and not once let the award go to someone who actually wore out shoe leather to earn it.

My school, Wilson Junior High, was an odd demographic mixture of West Tampa dirt poor and the Palma Ceia/Davis Island A-listers. Both sides of the fence unilaterally despised Ann. Years later, in an unrelated incident, I egged her car. It was a pretty blue, bought-by-Daddy, speedy little sports car. After the crime was committed, I drove close to her house and saw a police officer taking a report. Fearing that jail time was imminent, I came up with an alibi, and I waited for the men with badges to show up at my door.

So the final Friday, the Bulldog Band played, the streamers were thrown, and the motivational dweebs were in top form. They announced that yes, Wilson had beaten Coleman in sales. Yippee! We’re number one! Then they gave out the Cadillac or whatever it was to Ann Schmundt, who in addition received a smattering of applause from some teachers, but it was drowned out by the boos and hisses of the resentful. When the emcee held a microphone in her face and asked her what her sales secret was, she said, “Well, I sold a lot to my Dad.” She was lucky we didn’t rush the stage and dismember her and dine on her limbs while the band played a motivational Sousa march.

As it turned out, the Communists who refused to put their dignity on the line by begging door to door were right. When I got into high school, I made friends with a girl who had gone to Coleman. One day the subject of the magazine drive came up, and Faith and I laughed about how silly the whole thing had been.

Faith said, “Yeah, and you almost beat us every year.”

“We did beat you.” I corrected.

“No, you didn’t,” she countered.

“Yes, we did,” I insisted.

We were 17 before we realized we really had been scammed. They apparently told every school that they were number one.

By that time, Ann Schmundt seduced a friend of mine, David, and convinced him that it should just be the two of them to run away to Miami to see a Bob Dylan concert. David and I had been planning for weeks to do that, but once again, Ann held the high cards. Her sports car had air conditioning, comfort, and speed. She also had her daddy’s Shell credit card, which eliminated the need for David to sweat or pay for half of the gas for the trip. Not to mention the fact that she was female and heterosexually active. This understandably triumphed over a hot, humid six-hour drive in a noisy, black vinyl upholstered VW bug being driven by an obsessive nerdboy who had a crush on you. They ran away to attend the show, and I, the little piggy who stayed home, plotted my revenge. The best I could come up with was making her shiny new car the recipient of the coveted windshield raw omelet. I would have cooked one up for David, too, but he didn’t have a car. He always relied on the kindness of strangers for rides.

She knew I had done it; I’m sure she named me as the perp, but I was never questioned by the police. I can’t help but wonder if the investigating officer didn’t pursue the case because he had a kid our age who had gone to our school and known of Ann’s periodical infamy.

I recently was reminded of Ann and David after receiving a Facebook e-mail from Ann (which I ignored, as I’m not sure what the statute of limitations is for car egging.)

They never did apologize for leaving me for Bob Dylan, just as I never apologized for vandalizing Ann’s car, and for years I maintained that she had more than that coming to her. But we’re 35 years older and have lost all interest in Dream Pets. Because the world is less safe, magazine drives are now held on the Internet. We no longer run away from home to attend rock concerts, because we are no longer reckless and care-free. It would be the civil thing for me to apologize. It would be good for my karma and my physical well being. As we move through our fifties, our so-called mature years, we more carefully calculate our risks and take our health more seriously, so I am wondering: Would Egg Beaters mess up a car just as much as regular eggs?

Creative Commons License by Bill Wiley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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