Recently I found myself doing the laundry for the first time in my life. I know, pathetic. In my defense I will say I’ve cooked my fair share, I’ve washed pots and pans, I’ve vacuumed, I help the kids with their homework. Of course there was always my day job, and on top of that I write books. I’m busy. So excuse me for being a laundry virgin.
I knew I had to separate whites from colors. Any moron knows that. I knew I could see on the labels at what temperature I should program the machine. Pretty smart of me, eh? You might like to see what my machines look like, so here they are, one standing right on top of the other.
I thought it would be safest to start with the whites, because as long as you don’t mix them with new blue jeans or red towels, what can go wrong? They basically get boiled for an hour with laundry soap, right?
In they went, a fine assortment of briefs, sports socks, undershirts. That stuff really had accumulated over the last two weeks. Now it was time to make it clean and fresh again, perfuming my underwear drawer. I didn’t see any place to put the laundry detergent, so I just threw in a few spoonfuls on top of the clothes and closed the door. Then it was time to start the program.
I don’t know how it is where you live, but here in Switzerland, there are no instructions printed on the machine. Maybe it’s because the Swiss are always haggling over which language to do business in, German, French or Italian. When it comes to written instructions, you always see them in three languages, sometimes more. That would take up way too much space on the control panel of the washing machine, I see that. But unfortunately they put a bunch of icons there which, on my first day washing, meant nothing to me. They looked like this:
Maybe you know what they mean. I might as well have been looking at Mayan glyphs. However, at this point I’ve got a confession to make. I don’t read instructions anyway. I detest reading instructions. Whether we’re talking about programming the new TV, putting together furniture from IKEA, or downloading software, I just don’t have the patience.
So I did what any red-blooded male in my position would always do. I started punching buttons. After two or three buttons I saw something blinking. Aha, I thought. Blinking means “press me.” I pressed, and the machine started. Yes, I did feel proud of myself. After waiting another ten seconds to make sure the machine wouldn’t explode, I went out of the laundry room to get a glass of water.
Careful person that I am, I thought I’d go and check how the washing was doing after about fifteen minutes. I was amazed to find it was done. New, efficient machines work fast, I thought. I opened the door, and sure enough, my clothes were clean. I held a sweat sock to my nose. It smelled fresh, like the laundry detergent. In fact a little stream of laundry detergent channeled its way off the sock and onto my hand. Why was there still soap on these clothes? Dry soap. In fact, why were these clothes dry? Shouldn’t they be wet? Could it be that I had a washer and dryer in one machine?
I studied the two machines again. The one on the bottom had a transparent round glass door. The one on top, which I had used, had a large white metal door. A more plausible explanation occurred to me. I had thrown my whites into the dryer instead of the washer. Silly Fred! My clothes weren’t clean yet at all. In fact, my dryer was so smart it recognized my mistake and shut itself off before exploding due to being loaded with stinky already-dry clothes instead of wet ones.
I would understand if you were getting bored and annoyed with my incompetence in the laundry room, but I’m afraid the story is not over yet. As an independent author, I have learned to be both patient and persistent. These are valuable traits in a laundry virgin, too, especially when there are only mysterious icons on the control panel of the machines.
At least now I knew which machine was the washer (the one I hadn’t used). I threw my dry stinky whites in there. I found the little plastic drawer into which you had to put the soap. Uh oh, three compartments to choose from. Not seeing any instructions, and not being an instructions guy anyway, I dumped a little detergent in compartments 1 and 3. How much damage could it do?
Again my conundrum with icons on the front of the machine instead of instructions. Do they just assume everyone’s like me and won’t read instructions? Or is it that we are becoming a nation (a world) of non-readers? Horrors! Surprisingly, I got the machine going without too much trouble. With a sigh of relief, I headed into the kitchen to start cooking dinner. A terrain where, by the way, as anyone knows who knows me, I am much, much, much more comfortable, and I don’t follow instructions there either and everything works fine!
Once again I went to check my laundry after 15 minutes, and once again, the machine was done. I opened the door. Everything dry as dust. No soap all over everything this time, but hey, these clothes should be wet. This was definitely the washer. I was beginning to feel frustrated.
I know this is getting long, so I will now make another confession. I went to my computer and googled, “How do I wash clothes with the Schulthess Spirit 5160?” It’s really called spirit, and you have to have spirit to get the thing working. And patience. Sure enough, though, within 0.3 of a second I found the instructions to my washing machine. I learned that compartment 1, for example, was for pre-wash cycles, and compartment 3 for the main wash. Wow, clarity!
“Make sure you’ve turned on the water line leading to your washer.”
I read this innocent sentence in the instructions for the Spirit 5160. Hmm, I thought, why would I have to turn on the water? The water’s already on all over the apartment. And there was my error. Now I’m going to teach you an essential fact of life for all of you who are planning to emigrate to Europe for political, economic or any other reasons in the near future: There is always a separate water line to your washing machine, and you have to turn it on for the washer to work. Otherwise it will explode, or if it’s a new model like mine, automatically shut off.
I went back to my laundry room, immediately found the water knob, and opened up the floodgates. Then I ran the washing machine program again. Finally I got my washing going. I watched it for a while through the transparent door of the machine, observing the familiar sudsing action. I was satisfied.
All this happend less than a week ago. Now you know why you need to be nice to me, and treat me kindly. I was a laundry virgin. Like the first time in anything, it was highly traumatic. I questioned my own intelligence. My patience was tested. But in the end I got it working, and my clothes came out fresh and clean.
I’ve done a few loads since that first one, and dried them in the dryer as well. Nothing has been destroyed. I’m getting better at folding. I feel like I’m getting pretty good at this. Which I guess goes to show you can do just about anything if you set your mind to it. Even without the instructions.
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Frederick Lee Brooke has spent more than 20 years living in different European countries such as France, Germany and Switzerland. He can read instructions in French, German and Italian (but only at gunpoint). He is currently learning Turkish because he finds the grammar “fun” or “interesting,” depending on which day you speak to him, which tells you a lot about his personality.
When he’s not writing, he’s reading, cooking, walking in the woods, or traveling and exploring other countries and cultures. The bestselling author of Doing Max Vinyl and Zombie Candy, he plans to release the third installment in the Annie Ogden mystery series in 2013.
Come again Wednesday, February 13 and sample an original short story called “Vanity,” by Caleb Pirtle III, bestselling author of Golgotha Connection and Secrets of the Dead.