For those of us who live in places with seasons, socks are a common denominator. The homeless fellow under the viaduct on 4th South wears them just like the Governor in the mansion on South Temple Street. They may not smell the same, but they both wear them.
When the kids were little and I was busy being PTA president and writing songs and recording albums, we had a laundry room between the kitchen and the garage. There was just a thin path in front of the washer and dryer. The rest of the floor was covered with a bulging mound of laundry. I am not proud of this. Every once in a while, when the mountain began to rumble like a volcano about to burst, I gathered that laundry into big black garbage bags and loaded the van, adding a stack of empty laundry baskets, a box of Tide, a gallon of Clorox and a jug of Downy fabric softener; drove up Main Street through Kaysville past Gentile Street in Layton, to Faye's Laundr-o Mat. I sorted the bags into washing machines, their tops lifted like the beaks of hungry baby birds. Dark's, whites, pastels, reds, sheets and towels,...they each had their own machine. Each fiber, each color, sorted into the bellies of those extra large commercial machines. I left the knits and hand washables at home for another day.
I learned to pace myself, starting the white's on hot while I prepared the colors, adding the Clorox after I pushed my strip of quarters into the batch of towels. The first batch was ready for fabric softener as I sorted the last batch. I worked my way back and forth along the row of washing machines like a suburban Kansas housewife on a trip to Las Vegas, drumming a row of slot machines, stuffing them with quarters and pushing and pulling handles.
Out of the washers, my arms embraced cool wet fibers stinging my nostrils with a waft of bleach or the scent of springtime “for clothes you love to live in!” I loaded the wet clothing into a large wire basket on wheels, my hand leading it along by the rod that rose from the base and bent to a rack for hangers at the top. Rolled the squeaky wheels over to the large bank of dryers, their round glass faces glowing in the reflected sunlight of a Saturday afternoon. It took me most of the day to complete my task. Various people came and went, their small batches washed, dried and folded in the wink of an eye. This was no ordinary laundry day; it was the ultimate test of a woman’s ability to multi task and achieve an end. The closest I come to it on a regular basis is cooking dinner on Sunday evening for a couple dozen people.
Finally…finally…I am finished. Those little demons of guilt get pushed aside when I am done. I feel rather satisfied as I load my piles of crisply folded clothing into laundry baskets, ready for the trip back home. Ah, those beautiful stacks of clean fragrant clothing, anxious to fill my children’s drawers. I swear to myself as I roll basket after basket out to the car that I am going to get a handle on this aspect of my life and have this taken care of on a regular basis, because it feels just dandy to be organized. But the thrill of it never lasts for me and I cannot sustain the desire no matter how often I yell at myself or shake my figurative finger and whisper, “See, doesn’t that feel better? Told you so.” The sense of satisfaction over tidy things and places never matches the thrill of other things for me: a new song, a deep and spontaneous conversation; a nicely rendered meal; a well placed afternoon nap from which you awake at the well resolved conclusion of a dream, a piece of life preserved in word. I wish a clean tidy laundry room made me feel so good for so long. Alas.
When I am finished with my laundry day I load one last basket into the back to the van. The leftovers. A deep plastic rectangular weave filled with miscellany: a pair of shorts little Annie’s outgrown; a tee shirt with the hem coming unstitched; the belt to Johnny’s ball pants. On top of the basket of miscellaneous clothes I plunk a Smiths grocery bag stuffed with un-matched socks. I harbor hope of finding their mates, even though I know they were likely sucked into the big vat under the laundry mat floor where the sock monster hunkers; his belly groaning and gurgling every morning; his big green arm rising up from underneath the washing machines and dryers, the crook of his fingernail snagging poor unsuspecting socks. I gather the mateless matchless misfits in my grocery bag. I don’t know why I keep the widows of gobbled socks. I guess I live in denial that there is a sock monster, hoping that instead there are corners of closets and pockets in sports bags where long lost mates are imprisoned. I keep thinking I will find them and free them and reunite them with their mates.
Years down the road I finally toss them, first taking the best 100% cotton ones out to be used for washing my bathroom mirrors or polishing my guitars. I talk to myself, giving me permission to let them go, telling myself they have filled the measure of their creation.