Family and/or Autobiography

Iron Man

My mom always considered ironing to be a kind of hobby, something that helped her to relax, something that made her happy.

Ironing leads to happiness? It’s a difficult concept to wrap one’s brain around – until I tell you that my mom is German. If Mom’s side of the family taught me anything, it’s that Germans don’t know how to stop working. Instead they find ways to combine work with leisure.

Mom would set up her ironing board in the kitchen. The kitchen in our house adjoined the family room, the location of the house’s only color TV. While she waited for the iron to begin angrily sputtering steam (and that iron could spit with the ferocity of a pit viper) Mom would slam Psycho into the VCR. Then, for the next hour and a half, she would make pants creases so sharp and starchy that Norman Bates could’ve used them to slice open Marion Crane.

Mom loved cans of spray starch and used them with gusto. While it made our shirts, pants and hankies crisp, clean and perfect, her liberal starch application meant that some spray mist ended up on the kitchen’s linoleum floor. This created a permanent slick spot that would send passersby skidding into the dishwasher.

I was usually that passerby. The bruises on my knees and ankles didn’t entirely heal until I moved out.

This is why I hate ironing, I think; it’s just too easy for me to associate it with leg injuries and serial killers.

This is a problem, for I am a fully-fledged house husband. I am the designated iron-er.

I try to avoid it when I can. When I glance into the clothes drier and discover a garment that is sort of wrinkled, I hear myself say, “It’s not that wrinkled.”

I then fold it up and put it in a drawer.

On the rare occasion I find a garment too wrinkled for me to say, “it’s not that wrinkled,” I hear myself say, “I’m gonna donate this shirt to a homeless person!”

This strategy works just fine for my clothes. When the wrinkled garment in question is Ellen’s, however, things get more complicated.

Ellen’s eyesight is bad, so bad that without her glasses she is almost legally blind. Yet, by some horrible miracle, she can spot a clothes wrinkle at 30 paces. I don’t know how she does this, but I’d wish she’d stop. I also wish she’d start wearing more cotton. That stuff never needs ironing – and on the rare occasion it does – zip zip zip – I can touch it up before a Psycho VCR tape makes it past the FBI warning.

But Ellen dresses professionally. Well-dressed professionals do not wear cotton. They wear weird fabrics that are created in laboratories by brilliant, sadistic Germans who dedicate their lives to creating new and exciting ironing challenges; something that’s delicate, shiny, ruffled, layered, pleated and susceptible scorch marks; something that can miraculously manufacture new wrinkles while you’re ironing out old ones.

Despite these hardships, I give ironing my best effort. I am a house husband. Ironing is my job. And, when I can’t avoid it, I take that job seriously.

One day last week as Ellen stumbled though our front door hunched under the weight of her take-home work, she found me waiting for her in the foyer.

“I ironed your ruffled blouse thing!” I announced. I held the blouse up for inspection and awaited kudos.

Ellen squinted for a moment.

Ellen does not have what one might describe as a poker face. At any given moment I can tell what she is thinking. In that particular moment she was thinking, “Oh, that’s sucky.”

She didn’t say that, of course, because my wife makes an effort to be thoughtful. Instead she said, “It’s good, but I think I need to touch it up a little.”

I was aggrieved by the suggestion. I had set up the ironing board in the family room and labored over that stupid, shiny, ruffle-y, wrinkly blouse half the morning. I invested way too much time and effort and starch on this stupid thing. And now Ellen was going to tell me that she’d “touch it up?” Oh, I don’t think so.

Besides, I knew Ellen wouldn’t touch it up. She’d be too busy to touch it up. For weeks and weeks that awful blouse would sit by its lonesome in the ironing basket. Every day it would mock me and remind me of my ironing failure.

So, to save face, I said, “No, I’ll take care if it.”

“I think it looks good,” she lied. “I can just touch it…”

“I’ll take care of it,” I said again.

“It’s really no tr–”

“I. Will. Take care of it.”

Sensing that the German part of my heritage was flooding my brain, Ellen let the matter drop.

And I am pleased to report that, after many trials and tribulations, I finally did get that awful blouse perfectly ironed.

It was quite simple really.

I invited my mom over, revved up the DVD player, rented Psycho from the library, uncapped the starch can, and resolved to live the rest of my life with black and blue ankles.