When I was in college, my roommate, Pat, and I used to crack each other up by acting out a scene from “The Goodbye Girl.”
I’d never seen the Neil Simon play, but the TV ads for the movie version included the scene. An irritated Richard Dreyfuss marches into the bathroom, yanks Marsha Mason’s silky undergarments down as they hang in the shower, and barks, “And I don’t like the panties drying on the rod!”
We thought that was hilarious: “And I don’t like the panties drying on the rod!” It seemed so foreign to our bachelor ways.
After college, Pat and I each got married, and we both had two daughters. I don’t know about him, but a lot of my life since then has revolved around panties drying on the rod. Guess what: I don’t like it.
It’s not that I mind laundry. I actually like it. I like doing laundry for the same reason I like mowing the lawn: It’s a finite task with a clear beginning and end, a simple task culminating in a satisfying conclusion.
Out, damned spot! With a squirt of Shout, it’s out.
The problem I have with laundry is the problem I have with a lot of things. I’m good when things are simple, but I grow irritated when even the slightest complication enters the picture.
I don’t mind putting dirty clothes in the washing machine and wet clothes in the dryer. What I hate is taking wet clothes from the washer and then having to separate out the silky, synthetic items or the prone-to-shrinking garments that benefit from an air dry as opposed to a tumble dry.
The washer is right next to the dryer. I want to transfer the contents of the former to the latter in a succession of quick, mindless moves, like a stoker shoveling coal into the boiler of a steam locomotive.
But here is a bra. Here is a pair of pantyhose. Here is a rayon blouse. Here are yoga pants. Here is a wool sweater.
Each item requires thought. Should it be separated from the rest of the dryer-bound laundry and hung upon the crowded, sagging line that stretches above the washer and dryer? What’s the worst that could happen if it went into the dryer with my jeans and dress shirts?
Then I recall the Italian boy. One summer years ago we hosted a teenage house guest from Italy, the son of a family friend. For some forgotten reason, his presence irritated our younger daughter.
Tomasso arrived with a lovely Italian cashmere sweater — thin and soft and fine. He made the mistake of putting it in the hamper when Beatrice was doing the laundry. She passive-aggressively stuck it in the dryer, and Tomasso went back home with a cashmere sweater that would have been snug on a spider monkey.
So, when in doubt, hang it up.
That’s why every weekend our basement laundry area resembles a Himalayan monastery, where, instead of Tibetan prayer flags flapping in the breeze, there are sports bras and camisoles.
“And I don’t like the panties drying on the rod!”
Part of the problem is the washing machine itself. When we got it a decade ago, it was the latest, hottest thing: a state-of-the-art frontloader. I can’t remember why frontloading was so important — something about reducing water use, I think — but we succumbed to the hype.
But something weird happens inside. By the time the spin cycle has finished and the all-clear buzzer sounds, the clothes have been hopelessly tangled up with one another. They come out like a ball of eels.
This wouldn’t be a problem if I could just toss the whole damp Gordian knot into the dryer, but noooo! First I need to carefully tease out the delicate stuff. This, I don’t have the patience for. I grab and pull. Often when I’ve finished resentfully yanking on a pair of pantyhose to free it from the knot, one leg is about seven feet long.
I guess I have my own passive-aggressive issues.
Adam and Eve used to walk around naked and without shame. Then they ate fruit from the forbidden tree of knowledge. That’s when this all started. Thanks, Eve.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.