Back in 2015, when I first devoted my life to becoming a house husband, I had to overcome my fear of laundry. I had done laundry on many occasions in the past, of course, but that was bachelor laundry, made up of easy-peasy cottons, wools, and polyesters. Stuff that’s simple to clean, dry, fold, and put away.
Circumstances had changed: I would now have to clean Ellen’s clothes.
I’d have to delve into delicate cycles; Dryell sheets; and wrap my brain around those flowing, gauzy fabrics that seem to exist in a constant state of wrinkled.
I’d have to learn which clothes dried on a rack, which ones dried on the low setting, and which ones weren’t supposed to get wet in the first place.
I’d have to find those hidden tags and decipher the nearly invisible, 3-point hieroglyphics printed upon them.
It was all so very daunting.
I made mistakes, of course. But I fought through my fear. I practiced and persisted until I was good at laundry. Until laundry came naturally to me. Until I became a Laundry Master.
I knew I earned my laundry black belt once I received praise from Ellen. She is my Sudsy Sensei.
“Your whites are whiter than white,” she told me one glorious afternoon. “Your brights are brighter than bright. And your sweaters are in need of no stretching. You are wise in the ways of the wash, Young Grasshopper.”
I bowed, and then, as is the custom, crane kicked Billy Zabka in the face.
Mastering a job is not just knowing the particulars of the job; it’s about understanding the quirks of the tools you need to work with. The Allegra washing machine was quite quirky. This ancient top loader had a lid that came off in my hands if I opened it with too much vigor. (I am nothing if not a vigorous lid-opener.) The adjustable feet for the washer refused to adjust, so I took to shoving various objects under them – quarters, folded up sheets of paper, whatever was on hand. Regardless of my efforts, the machine still often went wonky, shaking and twitching as if it was attending a tent revival meeting.
I learned to live with these eccentricities, until I couldn’t anymore.
The shimmies and shakes grew worse with each passing load. Then, one day, the washer made a break for it. It scuttled halfway across he laundry room floor before Ellen and I could wrestle it to the ground. Had we not been there to stop it, it probably would’ve climbed the basement stairs, raced to the curb, and hailed a NJ Transit bus to Hoboken.
“Time for a new machine,” Ellen said.
I had accepted my new job at NJCU (Motto: Please Notice Us!), so the job of buying a new washer was left to Ellen. As I attempted to make sense of Jersey City, she shopped.
The texts arrived in a furious, enthusiastic burst.
I got a great deal!
It was on sale!
It cost even less because it was the floor model!
It is the Top Of The Line!
When I came home at the end of the day, I found something strange and new in the laundry room. Lights flashed. Hidden gears and belts purred. The machine beeped a whimsical melody as if in greeting.
“Isn’t it great? It’s self balancing!” Ellen shouted. “No more uneven loads!”
That sounded cool.
“I can set a timer so it’ll wash clothes whenever I want it to! If I want to do a load at 2 a.m. it’ll start the wash at 2 a.m.!”
I didn’t quite see the purpose of laundry at 2 a.m., but OK.
“And it can sense how dirty our clothes are and lengthen or shorten the wash cycle accordingly.”
Call me a worrywart, but I’m not sure I want my washing machine “sensing” anything.
“And the washer has an app! I can program it from my phone!”
Now things were getting weird.
I peeked through the washer’s clear glass lid. The machine confidently hummed away as it sensed the dirtiness of a load of whites. I could tell the cycle had just begun, so I reached into my pants pocket for my handkerchief. I wanted to toss it in with the rest of the load.
The lid wouldn’t budge.
“What are you doing?” Ellen asked.
“I’m trying to throw in my handkerchief. But it…” I gave the lid another tug. I began to look for some kind release switch.
“You can’t open the lid during the cycle. It’s locked.”
“It’s…locked? You mean I can’t get at the clothes during the wash cycle? At all?”
This alarmed me. “But what if I need to get in there?”
“Why would you need to get in there?” she asked.
I didn’t know how to answer that one. “Um…emergencies?”
“What kind of an emergency?”
“The kind of emergency…” I began, “that I can’t come up with right now?”
But I could come up with an emergency.
It was an emergency to be at the mercy of a locked lid. It was an emergency when a machine could basically say, “That hankie of yours is going in the next load, so up yours, buddy.” It was an emergency when something as simple as a washing machine could boast its own app.
At that moment, a feeling came over me that I hadn’t felt in years: Fear. Fear of laundering. All of my hard work, all my training was meaningless now.
It was a brave new world. And the washer was back in control.