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Thirty Five: Man Child in the Famished Land February 21, 2014

Posted by Mark Folse in 365, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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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.

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1. Charlotte - February 21, 2014

Instead of the Betty Crocker get him “How To Cook Everything” by Mark Bittman. Best.Cookbook.Ever.


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