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Just put it on the squiggly lines

I had the great displeasure of running straight into laundry day this week. It’s an ordeal that corresponds with the absence of socks that also happen to be clean. From time to time, it dawns on me that I should just buy more socks, but the thought never really springs to mind until I’m out of the shower, freshly dripping.

I’ve also been taken with the wish to stop being so negative, to see the good in things—in other words to eschew my Irish heritage. So, when laundry day hit me this week, rather than stewing in my misfortune, I gave a thought to just how lucky I am to be washing my wearables in the good ol’ U.S. of A. Those of you smart (or lucky) enough to have successfully finished a load of washing elsewhere know of what I speak. You see, I’ve spent more than a few nail biting mornings trying to decipher the hieroglyphics of European washing machines and I have firmly concluded that we, in America, are either stupefyingly dense compared with the rest of the world or our appliance designers are infinitely more brilliant. (Or perhaps it’s just that I have an old washing machine.)

A few years back, I asked a college graduate in Galway what she’d studied in school. She replied that she’d spent four years learning how to do a load of laundry. “It’s easy enough once you realize it’s just a combination of the Seiberg–Witten theory and Henry Dixon’s later work. I charge by the load if you need assistance,” she said.

I stayed at a house in eastern Europe and couldn’t make heads or tails of the washing machine, so I downloaded the owner’s manual. (The internet was $9 a month, by the way, and faster than the cable provider I have in New Hampshire.) Unfortunately, the machine was Russian and so was the owner’s manual, so there was only so much I could glean. In the end, I put the first knob on the squiggly lines and the second one on 15, placed some soap in what appeared to be a storage bin and hit a few buttons until something started up. Whether it worked or not, I can’t say, but the soap disappeared and the clothes were wet when the beeper finally went off. And nobody in the area complained about my stench after three months. Of course, maybe they assumed everyone from America smells bad, but I’m going to take it as a win.

While we’re on the subject of clothes, is there anyone else who’s frustrated about American attire spreading across much of the globe? It wasn’t that long ago that the United States was the only place you were going to see adults wearing t-shirts emblazoned with corporate logos and sitcom characters. Not that I don’t enjoy a good sitcom like everyone else, but there used to be a definitive gap between what parents and their children wore. Nowadays, one can see 50-year old men in Dublin wearing Spiderman t-shirts. And they’re not tourists!

I have a photo of my parents on a plane in the 1960s and everyone was dressed up. (They had plane photographers!) Today, you’re just as likely to have the drifter next to you wearing flip flops. My grandfather beat flax seed out of the plant’s fiber for a living and he wore a tie to work for cripes sake. I’m not saying I wish there were more ties. On the contrary, they’re an abominable and useless piece of clothing, better for choking a man than anything else, but surely there’s some middle ground between a tuxedo and a pair of pajamas.

I think Jerry Seinfeld said it best. “You’re telling the world, ‘I give up. I can’t compete in normal society, so I might as well be comfortable.’”

Let’s see, what else? I wish there was more color in men’s clothing. For someone who shops at TJ Maxx and the like, the choices are underwhelming. Are colors more expensive to fabricate? Is a muted shirt more masculine? Are men aware that there are more colors than blue, gray and flannel? I suppose that’s where the tie comes in. That’s where we get to show our fun side. I’m looking out my window right now and the beautiful shades of autumn are all around. Then I peek in my closet and everything looks the same. Women can wear exciting tints, why can’t we?

My theory is that we men are too worried about looking foolish, that we don’t know what to do about separating our colors from whites and how to run the machine, and just like we won’t ask anyone for directions, we can’t be seen to be defeated by a machine. For that would be a John Henry—steel driving man—scenario, and no stinking machine is going to get the better of us. So, when someone asks what color our shirt was originally, we can look them square in the eye and say gray.

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