Recently, I discovered a large ball of wet laundry in my suitcase. “Oh,” I said, “I wonder if this is going to be a problem.”
Apparently, there is a fungus called “Mildew” that grows on clothes that are left wet for too long. When first I decided to leave this pile of soaking garbs in this small concealed prison, airily I thought what unfavorable consequences might come of it.
Learned men and, moreover, women to whom I disclosed this discovery told me I was an “idiot” and beckoned me to re-wash them so as to destroy the attack of mildew, who, elusive but ripe now with resources, could attack and conquer at any moment. They urged that the cotton and polyesters then be purged with sun-rays afterwards; but this grandiose process did not please me.
Before the revelation, I spent 8-hours washing these meddlesome fabrics. The hotel fortunately provided two washing machines, one of which we are banned from using. The other machine, two-feet in diameter, takes 1.5 hours to do its thing, and for our consolation, they tell us that it’s an average brand in Europe, and for some reason, they think that’s a good thing. It took me hour just to figure out how to turn it on. Abstinence from dryers they also practice, and this too they uphold as a good and honorable thing. They don’t practice the faith anymore though. Drying racks, their substitute for dehydrating material, I have experienced, religiously don’t work. Furthermore, prior to the recent purchase of more drying racks in the hotel, there still does not exist adequate room for all the drowned laundry to heal among the competing students of Christendom’s Rome program.
I had never heard of mildew before. Rather, I had thought it some romantic condensation of crystal-sparkling water formed on the grass of a cold autumn morning. A fantastical concept it was to think that it was an evil cancer of the clothes that now threatened to strip me naked.
I would, I said, Febreeze them if they got any ideas – Febreeze being that spray of beautiful cosmetic fragrance – and though evil would not be extinguished, this gentle snow covering upon the dung would provide me satisfactory camouflage in society. I, however, still feared evil. I asked around if anyone understood the chemistry of mildew, trying to justify my nonchalant inactivity toward fixing this problem. All my advisors did not satisfy my scientific curiosities but plainly commanded me to wash my clothes again.
I began believing that this mildew scare was a bad dream or at least an old wives’ tale. How ridiculous it was to think that clothes, brand new clothes such as mine, could all of a sudden become victim to a fabric leprosy. I smelt them for the first two days and found nothing wrong with them. “Ha,” spoke I, “Fools. They thought to condemn me for these fabricated crimes. They thought to fool me with stories of boogey-monsters, but there is nothing here to fear.” Every time I would lift a questionable dress shirt to my nose and proclaim its innocence, I felt in the back of my olfactory subconsciousness, “You know, thaht didn’t smell right.” Soon, the feeling got worse, perhaps psychologically worse at first and then physically. I settled for the fact that my paranoia had clouded my perception of reality, so I went for second opinions. I would stuff the shirt in a person’s face and say, “Does this smell like mildew to you?” but I received different diagnoses, and this threw me into greater confusion and madness.
My roommate, John Jalsevac of Toronto, a connoisseur of human experience, knowledgeable in music, literature, and liqueurs, began telling me, “This room smells like mildew.”
“How do you know?” I snapped, rancorously.
“Because I know what mildew smells like.”
“No,” I countered, “It’s just a weird Italian laundry detergent I used.”
This conversation ended awkwardly. No more than a day passed when John raised his objection again.
“This room really smells like mildew.”
“Shut up!” I roared. “It’s not mildew, it’s laundry detergent!”
“No, man, it’s mildew. Trust me.”
“No, it’s not true, that’s impossible!”
The incubus was real. The monster breathed its hideous breath. I would have sooner believed in vampires, but now the evil presence was manifestly among us. But I did not take steps to slay the beast but rather held onto the faith that it could not harm my body, though perhaps my soul.
I could not smell it except under point-blank nasal inhalations. John would complain that he could sense it everywhere. I would tell him,“Some cultures consider the smell of mildew a very beautiful aroma.” John then informed me that I was lying and that mildew was unhealthy to breathe. Death! First, a harmless mythological mushroom that ate socks; now a spirit of the air that persecuted humans. It was getting out of hand. Eventually, though I had largely lost my mind as well as sense of smell (in previous college dorms), I myself had begun detecting this airborne pestilence. When I would enter the room, a strong tidal wave of fungus would smack me in the face, as I would shout back, “Get thee behind me!”
Since now it threatened my body as well as my roommate, I surrendered myself to laundry-washing reconciliation. I examined my clothes and took them to the washing machine, which sat opened-mouthed at my sudden return. I stuffed its mouth with the moldy food, let it wash it down with water for awhile, and then strewed its regurgitations up on the sunroof to cook. We’re not allowed to expose underwear there, so I had to walk along the roof discretely and find a concealed area to do so unseen. When I returned at the end of the day, nothing had dried. I raised my fist up to the sun and shouted, “Curse you, Phoebus! You cook my temper but not my pants!” I took the underwear and hung the licit articles on the rooftop racks which also hung the other Christendom student laundry – smarter people’s laundry.
The next day, it rained. Not too badly. I figured it would dry and figure things out so I didn’t mess with it. The following day, it stormed. I didn’t even want to know what was happening up there. Periodically, I would look out the window, and moaned to the person next to me, “Oh. My … laundry. Oh. Man.” People either urged me to rescue it or let it hang to dry the next day, but I predicted an unending cycle of despair. The storm within me swayed back and forth, but I finally got to the roof and opened wide the door:
All my clothes were in wet clumps on the ground. The drying racks had fallen, and all my clothes were scattered like little sheep. One drying rack had miraculously flipped entirely over, which is not meteorologically possible considering its shape. It looked like a deliberate act of vandalism on Jupiter’s part. I simply inputted the wreckage back into the machine for a third baptism.
Not all leprous clothes received this privilege on account of its limited capacity, so complaints of stench were still submitted. Never did I suspect that I myself, however, carried this aura. This changed when someone told me. Apparently, I smelled like mildew. This dejected me. I knew I was losing friends.
Before we left for Florence, where I required another load of laundry, the one usable washing machine in the hotel broke down. Mr. Akers, our teacher and dean, the day before our departure, commanded me to take my clothes to a Laundromat.
This I did.
And all was well. In Florence, Clint Atkins discovered this nice little Indian restaurant which we attended three and almost four times. During my last visit, having ordered Mutton and Kous-Kous for a boastful third time, one of the chunks of mutton slipped from my fork and left its juicy trace down my sweatshirt and cargo pants. We continued eating for half-an-hour until Adam Wilson reached under the table and retrieved the deserted chunk, as we proclaimed, “The lost sheep!”
Anyway, that sweat-shirt and pants were pretty much the only clothes I had on this trip to Florence, and the convent which housed us at the time did not offer washing machines. I scrubbed them in the sink, but when they dried, the mutton stains came back, so I washed them again. They did not dry for some time. When they finally did, I feared I had conjured the demon of mildew again, but I didn’t. It was okay.
Then, when we came back to Rome, where I had access to the rest of my clothes, I found that the plague had festered a bit and breathed new life. Ruthlessly, I hunted down the possessed socks, underwear, and shirts, locked them up in my suitcase, mowed down the room with Febreeze and cried myself to sleep.
Even now, they sit imprisoned in that pandora’s suitcase of death.
I will not dig a moral message out of this heap of nonsense but just encourage you all to tell your friends not to read this article. Don’t worry. Next week’s article will be good.