Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Letter to Those Just Out of the Nest Concerning the Iron Age

Dear fresh, unscarred faces of youth,

Ironing is a very unique experience. Of all the things in my life I've learned to do, nothing else really has held the dual nature of being so simple a concept, yet, so complicated a practice. It's all fine and good on paper. Just apply hot surface to wrinkled clothing. But, what those directions should stress is that you should apply the hot surface ONLY to wrinkled clothing. It's a subtle yet important variation of the standard ironing instructions, but, could have saved me some grief in the long run. I found that the mystical properties of dispelling wrinkles with this "magic handle" were so profound to me in the beginning, that I would forget that there are many objects and surfaces on Earth, and specifically in my home, that react quite adversely to having searing hot metal applied to them. Things like the door the ironing board is attached to, or the seat of an exercise bike, or my arm.

For some reason cotton, the result of a sharp and brittle PLANT, seemed to take the surface-of-Mercury heat in stride with no problem. But, the side of my nylon duffel bag? Shit. You'd think a tiny dragon had been held captive in it and decided its only means of escape was to make a hole in the side with its magical sulfur breath. I'm talking seconds and I'm holding the bag up, looking confusedly through a smoldering gash to the wall across the room, like I'm in a scene from Home Alone.

All I wanted to do was to iron on a patch over a part of the bag that had become frayed and weak. It wasn't until the smell hit my nostrils that I noticed the comical iron shaped hole that had been flame broiled right through the side of my favorite bag. I had a thought that was probably something like, "Christ, I've vaporized my poor yellow sack." Oh, if only the nylon had vaporized.

Deciding that the yellow plastic that had melted off my bag had, I don't know, teleported to another dimension, I guess, I tossed the bag aside and decided to iron something else. Luckily, before I pressed the iron down to my pants, I noticed where the nylon had actually got to. A golden brown film was hardening to the still hot surface of my little white bag murderer. Peeling it off was not unlike scraping the burnt cheese from a plate of nachos fresh from the microwave. That brought up a very good question that had never occurred to me in my entire life up to that point. How in the fuck to you clean an iron?

I was 22 years old. Up until a regular American male is 20, it never even really registers to him that he is going to USE an iron in his lifetime. So, with only a month or two into the journey of learning the mysteries of this strange device, now I had to figure out how to clean it up like new. I considered just buying a new one, but, I decided that the nylon bag incident was my typical M.O. when it came to being domestic, so, learning how to service and care for the tiny nuclear reactor was probably best.

I went and got a wet rag from the kitchen (the "only damp with tap water kitchen rag" being the grand champion of "cleaning shit" when you're just out of your teens) but when I got back to the iron I paused. I had just brought slightly warm water contained in cloth to clean a thing that injects "hell steam" straight through other kinds of cloth. It kind of felt like using a lead bar to clean a gun. So, I stood there, tilting my head in contemplation like my, then, young dog would tilt it's head and stare at the tree frogs on the other side of our sliding door. Probably wondering why a frog's ass feels exactly like smooth glass.

My mother was eventually called on the telephone.

"Mom, how does a mortal human clean an 'I Yurn'." I spoke as if reading "iron" off the side of the box in an attempt to subconsciously communicate to her that I was in way over my head. She politely responded that a human being can clean an iron with something called iron cleaner.

"Well, Christ," I said. "Why don't they name it something obvious?" Iron cleaner was purchased.

When I got home and opened it, I was greeted by a substance that I thought was what maybe toothpaste used to be like. In other words, it was just a beige paste. I don't know WHY I thought that it being beige meant that it was what olden times toothpaste looked like. Maybe, I just thought that everything used before I was born was sepia toned. I'm not proud of the way thoughts used to form in my brain.

So, now I had paste. But, do I slather it on the iron? Should the iron be cold? Surely, it should be cold. Although, heat is often an ingredient in cleaning things, and this thing sure gets pretty fucking hot. Maybe, I'm supposed to mix it with water first, or vinegar. Vinegar does stuff right? But, we didn't have any vinegar. Maybe, I spread it on the plate and let it set, then peel it off. Like it traps all the dirt in a crust.

Now, at this point, some of you might be thinking, "what did it say to do on the side of the tube?" Those people haven't been a 22 year old guy. Let's just say that this, what's happening above me, the process I went through years ago, if Jane Goodall had studied guys that had just gotten their first grown up job instead of chimps, there would be a chapter in her book called "Adult Males Disregard for Assistance in Simple Tasks". Some guy is standing in front of an ironing board right now, in his boxers, burnt tie in the garbage can, squirting iron cleaner out into his hands and forgetting that he hasn't unplugged it as his palm moves towards the sole plate.

Eventually, I came up with an idea that I thought was pure genius. I wouldn't put the cleaner ON the iron and scrub it with a cloth. I'd put the cleaner on a cloth, and scrub the cloth WITH the iron. I'd IRON the fucking thing clean! I squished out a heap of paste on an old towel and spread it around with my fingers a little bit. Then, I got the iron hot enough to go back in fucking time. It was full of water because I wanted lots of steam. The light went off letting me know that I had successfully preheated the device, and I pressed it into the goo on the towel.

Oh, what hissing! I jammed the button over and over again and steam filled the room as a metallic taste filled my mouth. I leaned into the iron and really scrubbed it against the towel, causing the ironing board to creak in disappointment. When I finally lifted it up, the towel was a horrid black smear, with a twinge of yellow and green to it. But, the bottom of the iron was pretty damn near cleaned. More paste squished, more hissing, more worry that I can taste pennies, but after a few rounds of that, I had a clean iron. All it cost me was one whole towel. Success!

Incidentally, this is STILL the method I use to clean irons.

Of course, all these trials an tribulations are just the natural process of young people learning how to get along in life as adults. Unfamiliarity with common household devices is going to cause some learning experiments with anyone. Especially when that device is a molten hot skillet they need to learn how to use in order to fit in with an adult world and workplace. Up until that point I had been relying on the dryer to get my clothes to a state where I might fool people into thinking I belonged in the office with them. All of those first mistakes where just that. Innocent, harmless mistakes.

It's not until that awkward period of domestication puberty passes that one really starts to realize that irons aren't just unwieldy, they're fucking evil little bastards. Tiny imps that live in your closet, waiting for you to become complacent with they're usefulness. Waiting. Until the perfect time to shatter the very fabric of your mind.

The first time I realized I had been double crossed by my little eggshell-white sadist was when I tried ironing a pair of jeans with fashionable rivets embedded in the corners of the pockets. All was five by five with the legs, as I had been ridding pant legs of wrinkles for a while by then, and I chose to go all out and iron the top as well. This is a move I would have never tried as a mere ironing beginner, but, that day I was feeling lucky and decided that my wife had been good to me over the years and she deserved crisp, flat pockets like everyone else.

There's something important to note about being burned by an iron. Half the time it isn't the iron itself doing the burning, but, the heat being transferred vicariously through an intermediary. The iron acts as a tiny godfather getting some out of luck and desperate stooge, like say a metal rivet, to do his dirty work for him so he's not directly culpable. So then when you get burned, and you WILL get burned, the surprise you experience from both the unlikely source, and the sudden intensity of the attack, will hot wire your brain so that your id and speech center, for a brief moment, are one in the same.

The usual patterns of speech that have gotten you through life as a social animal will revert into a state that will make you sound like a preschool teacher suffering from Tourette's. As soon as that freshly ironed denim decoration touched my skin the only thing I could force out of my mouth was, "son of a jelly donut cockbitchmotherfucker!"

When I looked down at my throbbing forearm I expected to see half of it missing, but instead, there was just a single, tiny, red dot. A Scarlett Letter for idiots. It felt so bad that I would have sworn the rivet was still against my flesh, branding me as property of the Levi Strauss corporation. Never did I think in a million years that the technology existed to condition a grown man to fear pants, but by golly, the iron is just that versatile. For weeks after the incident when wearing jeans I would physically cringe when I felt the metal from the pockets or buckle touch my bare skin. I was convinced that the slightest contact would cause my entire body to burst into flame, not unlike the fear a mouse holds that one of the feeder bars will give him a painful shock.

A month or so passed and I became complacent again. Convinced that the "roasting on a stick under the 30 foot flames of a thousand burning corpses in hell" style pain I experienced would subconsciously keep me from ever casually brushing a hot rivet again. I began to resume my friendly relationship with the iron. After all, he didn't burn me, the pants did. Just as he planned me to think all along. And, I wasn't that far off the mark when I thought that I'd never brush against hot metal again. That turned out to be mostly true. What I didn't take into account is that solid objects weren't the only thing these little shithead appliances can super heat.

The chosen battlefield for our next altercation was a pair of khaki cargo pants whose pockets had the tendency to get bent out of shape in the dryer. I laid the pants down on the board, delicately flattening them with the palm of my hand, and then proceeded to iron the flaps down against the pockets, like I had done a hundred times. That time one of the flaps was particularly mangled, no doubt paid to do so by little mister iron as a key element to my assassination attempt, and I had to use my index finger and thumb to hold the flap down while I ran the edge of the five thousand degree plate against it.

What the biggest bitch about this whole thing ended up being was that when I held that pocket down and started to push my Black and Decker killamajig towards my fingers, I was just SURE that I was going to be ironing a substantial part of my flesh into my pants. I just knew I was about to fuck up. But, I didn't. That part of the operation went perfect. The metal never made it to my fingers. But, the steam that built up between the folds of the pocket and then exited into my fingertips, THAT sure as hell hit its mark.

At first, I didn't even register the sensation of my hand being pressurized into vapor. I probably came around when the stump that was left of my arm thudded against the ironing board, I really can't remember. But, after a few seconds I was waving my hand like a beauty pageant winner with a head full of cocaine screaming such gems as, "Thomas Jefferson ditryhorseballhairs!" and "how to get to Sesame Street on icemothercockingdickbeards!"

If my wife hadn't been in the shower for the grand performance, I'm sure she would have thought that I was being possessed by a being of pure psychotic heat. As it worked out all she noticed was my trembling red fingers as I handed her a towel after her shower. She looked up at me and I nodded and managed to quietly whimper out the words, "god damn iron." Then she gave me a look like a park ranger gives a camper that has been feeding the bears. A look that says, "I'm sorry you got maimed, but, at the same time I'm not surprised."

Only having two major attacks on my person by the iron doesn't mean that those are the only times that that crazy bitch has made a play for my life. There have been plenty of attempted manslaughters that just weren't planned through enough by the arrow shaped fucker to be successful. There have been countless tip overs, more than a few cords wrapped around my legs, and a few times when the steam would just shut off forcing me to try different, dangerous methods of checking to make sure the fucking thing was still on.

This level of pure evil might be puzzling until you realize just what an iron is. They are devices filled with unholy incantations that some how mix elements that would normally be fatal together and make them useful. They mix water, metal, and electricity, and end up with something that's a tool instead of a trick used by someone to cause you to instantly explode when you touch it. They remove all the death part of the transaction on only leave moist heat and, on occasion, unimaginable pain.

The only reason I don't toss its sorry ass out in the garbage is that from my experiences in other homes and countless hotel rooms I've learned that all irons are the same or worse than mine. They are just spiteful, mean objects. They should sell them with a tiny riding crop and handcuffs, because, they don't only iron the pants, they make it abundantly clear that when you are using them, they are wearing the pants too.

Chiggie Von Richthofen

"This is a place where eternally
Fire is applied to the body
Teeth are extruded and bones are ground
Then baked into cakes which are passed around."
-Hell, Squirrel Nut Zippers

No comments: