Monday, September 19, 2011

Home Economics

My washing machine has been broken for three weeks. It all started with a small leak, an annoying trickle from the door. The appliance man found a pucker in the door gasket and said he would need to order a new gasket. He returned in a week and replaced the gasket. It looked funny. The new gasket. But I trusted the appliance man and didn’t question this new gasket with the odd shape. That was four weeks ago. The machine worked for a few days, but it began to leak again. This time from the bottom. I called the appliance man. He said he would come back. I continued to use the machine, because well, it was only a trickle. But then it flooded the basement, there was water everywhere. The man came and found a huge tear in the new fangled gasket, “Well there’s yer problem.” But it wasn’t the real problem. He ordered another gasket and called us, “They sent us the wrong gasket.” Yes, yes they did. Well the new, proper gasket was delivered to the appliance man last week. But you know what? He put his back out. He’s on bed rest for the next 14 days. A substitute man was supposed to come this morning. He never came. I called. “Oh, Miss Wooooolfffff . . . we are so sorry. You have been more than patient. We will be there tomorrow, not today, so sorry.” And so the laundry pile grows and grows, despite my going to the laundromat on Saturday where I sat and listened to that lonely house wife talk about how overwhelmed she was with all the clutter in her house - My husband says it’s time to throw away Mary Lynn’s stuffed animals, but each one is very special to her, they each have a name, she keeps them on a special shelf in her bedroom. He says he don’t understand, they just sit on that shelf, don’t they? But Mary Lynn says she talks to them at night - late at night while we’re sleeping. So he’s at home right now putting the summer clothes away and bringing out the sweaters and he says he’s going to throw some stuff away and I can’t look at the bags when I get home. I’m not allowed to look at the bags, cause I’ll pull stuff out, you know? Cause Mary Lynn’s pants might fit Dakota now, you know? I just get so I’m running around trying to put everything in it’s place, that’s what I do all day long, put things in their place, in their place, and so how can I throw it away if it’s got a place? I kept folding towels and remembering a laundromat I used to go to in Greensboro, where the man with the lazy eye carried your laundry basket for you, he wouldn’t let women carry laundry, said it was too heavy for us to carry. It infuriated me when he carried my laundry, I was a young strong girl. If I could carry my laundry up and down three flights of stairs in my apartment building, why couldn’t I carry it from my car into the laundromat? And now, I wish that man worked in the laundromat down the street, cause I would gladly let him carry my laundry, I mean, what if my washing machine never gets fixed? It’s a possibility you know . . .

Back in Junior High School, I had a Home Economics teacher named Mrs. King. She despised me. Really, she did. I tried very hard to make her happy - I cooked in her cooking class, I sewed in her sewing class, and I carefully cut out pictures of furniture in glossy magazines for her Interior Decorating class, but I was a failure in her view. The cooking class in 9th grade was the final blow. If my crooked pillows in sewing class hadn’t been enough proof that I would never measure up as a wife, then the cooking class sealed my fate - I would be a spinster for life, a starving spinster. The cooking class room was really kind of marvelous, it was a lab filled with mini kitchens, maybe five or six in a row, little galleys, very tidy and practical and workman like. I can’t imagine any public school having such a wonderful resource these days - who has time to cook in school now anyway, what with the end of the world coming. Mrs. King divided us in to groups for the semester. I was teamed with Tom and Rich, who were best friends and well, always stoned. Always. I was not very popular, not very cool, and to me, these two were about as cool as you could get. I had terrible crushes on both of them, but I never said two words when we cooked together, I was petrified. They were the class clowns, and because they were boys, King let them slide -- boys didn’t need to cook, why should boys cook? She probably fought vehemently for boys to be excluded from her Home Ec. classes, it wasn’t right to have boys sitting at sewing machines, it just wasn’t right. But then again, the girls took wood shop and metal shop - we were an Equal Opportunity Extravaganza.

Anyway, Tom and Rich came to every cooking class stoned. And there I’d be, doing most of the cooking, because I couldn’t fail cooking class, I was already failing Algebra and Chemistry, I wanted to get to high school somehow, so I would cook and they would tell jokes. If you think about it, this was the life lesson of Home Economics wasn’t it? Mrs. King would pace up and down, never saying a word until the end, when your recipe results was evaluated. All went pretty smoothly until the day when Tom and Rich actually wanted to help me cook. They came into class more baked than usual, perhaps someone’s big brother had gotten a shipment of Maui Wowie, and they insisted on doing the recipe. I cannot remember what it was we had to cook that day, but there were eggs involved and a mixer, perhaps it was a chocolate cake? God only knows, but whatever it was, it did not come close to being the thing that Mrs. King expected it to be at the end of the class and so there we were with this disaster on a plate and she pulled me aside and said, “You know, this is all your fault.” And I stuttered and tried to defend myself by saying Tom and Rick were cooking too, but she bore down on me with her mean blue eyes and finished me off for good, “You have an effect on people that makes them do everything wrong.” Tom and Rick were exonerated because I apparently had this cosmic power to make anyone within a few feet of me screw up. It wasn’t their screw up, it was mine, all mine. If Tom and Rick had heard her, I think one of them, at least, in their purple haze might have stood up for me, but she made certain they weren’t privy to her words. I had to take it like a woman, and I did, I swallowed her words silently like some awful medicine.

I can't remember a single thing I cooked in Mrs. King's class. I can't even remember the color of the crooked pillow I made in her sewing class. It wasn't until I went to work in Allan's Clam House that I began my culinary education. I watched the line cooks, all men, get through the Saturday night rushes behind a curtain of steam as I made salads and plates of clams on the half shell. I shucked oysters and cleaned soft shell crabs and mixed House Dressing just the way Wayne, the owner and head chef told me to. I sliced pies with a string and made hot fudge sundaes. I spent afternoons breading frogs legs in the way back of the kitchen with the sun pouring through the old windows. And when the frog legs were done, we made a vat of chocolate mouse and decanted it into small crystal desert dishes to be wrapped in cellophane and stacked in the pantry fridge. I washed pots and pans. I mopped the floors. And at the end of the night I smelled like everyone else in that kitchen - like a two day old fish wrapped in seaweed on a sandbar.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed this Shannon, and I didn't want it to end. Equal Opportunity Extravaganza had me laughing out loud! Could easily see this little splice of time being extended to a longer story.

Well done.