Thirty Five: Man Child in the Famished Land February 21, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
As the second fitted sheet fell perfectly into place over the hanger rack of the washeteria’s basket, my mind drifted back to my first lessons in laundry from the glass-eyed college widow at the Lake Terrace laundromat favored by UNO students in the seventies. She finished the lesson in perfect golf-pro fashion, pressed against my back and guiding my hands to fit the corners and fold to produce a near-perfect rectangle. I was living with my first partner over on Wadsworth Street and took that moment and the looks she gave me with her one good eye as I went up for change as just a good story to share over a beer at Luigi’s. Perhaps college widow is unfair, as she also advised me to wash M’s blood-stained panties in cold water. It may have just been a motherly instinct toward the young college kids, but that ruins a perfectly good anecdote. And there’s no other good explanation for that lesson in folding fitting sheets.
I was raised in a typical mid-century, upper-middle class southern household, where boys and young men were not expected to know how to do laundry. Instead, we were expected to sell our sister’s band candy door-to-door, as proper young ladies did not go house-to-house ringing the doorbells of strangers. We were not even allowed to mow the lawn, that work reserved for the colored men in the rust-bucket pickup who came once a week. I was well into my twenties before I knew how to iron a shirt. I admit having watched Sylvia the maid with fascination with here sprinkler bottle of water doing the household ironing. It was certainly more entertaining that watching my mother reclined on a couch reading a book. I was young enough that perhaps my mother was out doing the things proper to a Lake Vista house wife, and Sylvia just wanted to keep an eye on me while she worked. To this day I can not help but think of her when I clear off the ironing board that stands in my bedroom covered with odd things to iron a few things, and at some point the theme song of Days of our Lives comes into my head. Sylvia always ironed in front of the television.
By the time I was getting suggestive lessons on how to fold sheets, I also learned how to sew a button back on, more or less, and figured out how to hem a pair of pants with a proper break in an emergency with fabric sticky tape. I could sew a ready-made men’s pants pocket onto a Mardi Gras costume well enough to survive the day. I made every effort to overcome the deficiencies of my overly-protected and sexist childhood well enough to survive. M wasn’t one to drop what she was doing and offer to iron a shirt for me. The eldest of a family of three sisters from Massachusetts, she suffered from none of the southern upbringing I did. If her mother ironed her father’s shirts, it was probably while she was at school.
I am about to apply to a study and writing program in Europe this summer and realize I will be leaving my son alone in my apartment for an extended period of time. My children’s mother was a model of her own mother, who would do everything for them. I remember the struggle to be allowed to prepare a holiday meal at our own house. Its hard to break the model of our parents, and I was a guilty enabler. I still remember the time I spent half a day with a box of Oxyclean trying to bleach out a white blouse of my daughter’s I had accidentally tinted in the wash. My son’s cooking skills are limited to scrambling an egg and heating a Hot Pocket in the microwave. I’m not sure he understands how to do his laundry. And I do not want him to throw himself on his mother for food and laundry while I’m gone. That is not fair to her or good for him. I think if he gets to be on his own at my place half the time I’m gone (the rest spent at his mother’s) he needs to learn a few lessons in independence. I think if we have curry this weekend (out of a packet), he needs to make it, and learn to run the rice cooker or boil it on the stove. I no longer own a copy of the Betty Crocker cookbook, but I think I need to pick one up. If he has laundry this weekend, I think a trip down to the Splish Splash with me is in order. Vacuuming up the cat hair and cleaning the box are as essential to survival in a house with a cat as not running out of toilet paper. He’ll be nineteen by June, and I think its time he began to learn to live independently.