I Was a Laundry Virgin by Frederick Lee Brooke


Frederick Lee Brooke

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 photo-19standing 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?

photo-21Again 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.”


don’t forget the water knob

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 photo-20familiar 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.

§ § § § § § §

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.

You can connect with Frederick Lee Brooke on Facebook, Twitter, his Blog, or right here on BestsellingReads.

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.

About fbrooke

Frederick Lee Brooke is the author of the widely-acclaimed Annie Ogden mystery series, which includes Doing Max Vinyl, Zombie Candy, and Collateral Damage. The first book in Fred's entirely new dystopian series for YA and adult readers alike is Saving Raine (The Drone Wars: Book 1)A consummate jetsetter, he was born and raised in Chicago (where both Doing Max Vinyl and Zombie Candy are set) and has lived in Illinois, Massachusetts, Montana, France, and Germany; he has called Switzerland his home for the past two decades, and travels widely throughout Europe (at latest count, he has visited Italy over 50 times!). Brooke’s love of the written and spoken word is vast—not only has he taught English in various European schools, he also knows French, German, and Italian, and dabbles in Turkish in his spare time. This love of language led him to quit his day job two years ago and focus on his original dream: writing fiction. When not writing books, his three kids (and their homework) keep him busy. He is currently working on a new series of thrillers and, once that’s done, he might take some time to visit one of those Swiss chocolate factories (but only for the free samples). He can often be found chopping vegetables in the kitchen, and makes a mean lasagna.

You can find him online at www.FrederickLeeBrooke.com. Sign up for his newsletter and read all about his travels, recipes, and upcoming works!


  1. I’m still laughing, Fred! Surely we’ve all had this experience with one appliance or another. For me, it’s anything to do with the family media center. My husband bought one of those remotes where I just have to push “Watch TV” and every component magically turns itself on. Should one system fail when my husband isn’t in the house, well…I read instead. Glad you got the hang of the laundry!

  2. Raine, don’t even get me started on the media center! We have three remote controls. With each new remote we get, I feel less in control … know what I mean?

  3. Fred, your essay is as charming as the man who wrote it. I’m still laughing about the indecisive Swiss with their language confusion, and the sheer number of buttons at your disposal to pound on. Where’s a hammer when you need one?

  4. Douglas Dorow says

    Another tip when you battle the cousin of these machines, the dish washer. Do NOT put regular liquid dish soap in the dishwasher. They make a special soap for it. Or so I’ve heard. Not that I’ve turned it into a giant bubble machine before 🙂

    • Doug, don’t tell me … and the soapy water expanded exponententially and flooded the kitchen? You’re awakening ugly memories in me.

  5. Fred, you have nothing to be ashamed of. It’s been my experience that women are genetically programmed to not let men do laundry, even when they know how to operate the machinery. I think it’s just their way of saying, “You mow the lawn and shovel the driveway.” 🙂

  6. andy holloman says

    WTF? you mean you’re supposed to wash clothes? damn! no wonder folks never want to get close to me….fred- big broHug for this info

  7. Hahaha! I’m just the opposite. Give me written instructions, please, in any language. Except the ones that use characters…

    Curse those blasted little icons. If I wanted to play Pictionary, I’d throw a party!

  8. LOL. I’ll never forget Christine and I asking if you need help and you replying, “nope. I’ve got this.’

    *face palm*

  9. I’m sorry, I’m laughing… I feel bad, if that’s any consolation.

    They use those icons because they are supposed to be ‘universal’ so no matter what languge you read, you can understand the icons. In my opinion, they are only universal in the sense they are universally NOT understood.

    We have a separate water tap for the washing machine here in Australia, too, but TBH I never turn it off. Quite frankly, I’m 35 weeks pregnant, and it’s in the bottom of the cupboard. There’s just no way I could reach it even if I wanted to!

    • Ciara you make me feel so much better! I decided to leave my water tap on all the time too. Nice to know I’m not alone!

  10. Oh dear. I’m glad my washing machine has a big button that says “on” and another that says “start”. That’s all I ever press!

    • Anna, you are lucky. What I would give for a machine like that! You’ll be happy to know I did the laundry again yesterday and everything went perfectly. Two loads!

  11. LOL . . .however, I think that machine would have scared me a bit. I know how my washer and dryer work, but one without any words . . .umm. I started doing laundry at age 10, because my mom washed my whites with a red sweatshirt. She claims that she didn’t do it on purpose to make me start doing my own laundry, but I’m not sure I believed her then, or now.

    • Hi – that’s quite a story about your mom. Her method may have been a little harsh — if she really did do it intentionally — but it got results, didn’t it? I’m sure she meant well … thanks for stopping by!

  12. Mayan glyphs! Lol They actually look even more difficult to decipher than those, Fred! And, FYI, you actually have separate water lines for the washer here in the states, too. Hysterical piece!

    • Separate lines to the washer in the USA too? I’m beginning to think there’s a global conspiracy afoot.