Hung Up On Laundry

TO WIT

February 02, 1992|By DAVE BARRY

I have here a letter from Alison Schuler of Albuquerque, N.M. (motto: "The City That Is Probably Spelled Wrong"). Ms. Schuler is concerned about the issue of how guys do laundry. She relates the following anecdote:

"My husband announced one morning that he had discovered the previous night, on the eve of a two-day business trip, that he was out of underwear. Why he told me, I do not know. I never tell him when I'm out of underwear. Anyway, he decided to remedy the situation in true guy fashion, by washing exactly three sets of underwear, thus disregarding the bulging hamper full of the rest of his underwear, which, presumably, would wash itself during his absence."

Ms. Schuler's letter serves to remind us of the importance of not engaging in sexist stereotyping. Just because Ms. Schuler's husband doesn't do the laundry, that doesn't mean that there aren't millions upon millions of males who do do the laundry, then hang it out to dry under the three suns of the Planet Xoomar, where they live. Most males here on Earth, however, do not do any more laundry than they absolutely have to. A single-sock load would not be out of the question, for a guy.

At first glance, this behavior might seem to be reprehensible, but in fact there's a simple, logical explanation for it: Men are worthless scum.

No, seriously, the explanation is that many men are afraid to do laundry, especially laundry belonging to people of other genders, because they (the males) might get into big trouble. I know I would. In our household we have a lot of sensitive garments with laundering-instruction tags full of strict instructions like:

Do not machine-wash. Do not use bleach. Do not use hot water. Do not use warm water. Do not use any water. Do not touch this garment without surgical gloves. Put this garment down immediately, you clumsy oaf.

I'm intimidated by these instructions. I developed my laundering skills in college, where I used what laundry scientists call the Pile System, wherein you put your dirty undershorts on the floor until they form a waist-high pile, thus subjecting the bottom shorts to intense heat and pressure that causes them to become, over several months, clean enough to wear if you're desperate and spray them with Right Guard brand deodorant.

As a married person, I use the Hamper System, which is similar to the Pile System except that the clothes really do get clean, thanks to magical hamper rays.

No, I of course realize that hamperized clothes are cleaned by a person such as my wife, Beth, or Alison Schuler of Albuquerque, N.M. But I also know that Beth follows a complex procedure involving sorting and pre-soaking and 27 different combinations of water temperatures and chemical compounds such as fabric softener, stain remover, fabric hardener, cream rinse, plutonium, etc. Beth wouldn't let me do her laundry unless I underwent years of training, because she assumes I'd screw it up and cause our garments to shrink down to cute little Tinkerbell clothes.

Beth's reluctance to let me near the laundry is typical of the vast majority of American women, according to a nationwide survey of several other women I know. A typical reaction came from my research department, Judi Smith, who gave the following statement regarding her husband, Tim, a Ph.D. college professor:

"I don't trust him to do my laundry at all, unless I've sorted it first and given him strict instructions before each and every load, because otherwise everything we own would be mauve or gray. . . . He puts his clothes away damp. He can't put away anyone else's clothes, because he can't fold. I mean, the man can't fold a towel, for God's sake."

I repeated Judi's statement to Beth, who emitted the bitter humorless laugh of a woman who has more than once watched her husband turn a basic shirt into a prize-winning origami project.

I'm not defending men here. I'm just saying that a lot of us view ourselves as laundry-impaired, and we'll probably continue to do so as long as women roll their eyes and shove us away from the washing machine when we're about to, for example, wash our delicate silks in the same load as our boat cover. So I'm saying to women: Teach us to launder. We are willing to learn, really, just as soon as the playoffs are over. Give us a chance to show what we are capable of. And definitely buy stock in whatever company makes Right Guard.

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