Monday, June 12, 2006

A Series of Importunate Events IV

Here is the story I’ve been promising. Parts of it are rate R for riotous. You have my permission to laugh. This happened on Wednesday, the last day of May. We--my husband, his mother and myself--were having dinner at the kitchen table. I had plenty of light so that offers no excuse. The power outage affecting the kitchen light had been fixed the previous Friday. We were having hotdogs and mac and cheese. There was no room on my plate to lay a piece of bread so I lay it on the table as I needed both hands to pick up and open the ketchup bottle. This was a large plastic squeeze bottle that had once held probably about a quart of ketchup but now held only enough to fill the neck. It had been sitting upside down in the fridge door for over a week. My doing, since my mother-in-law never saves the bottles once they get that low. She just tosses them. She has mentioned to me before that leaving them in the fridge upside down leaves a sticky mess that is annoying to clean up. But that hadn’t broke me of the habit learned from my depression-baby mother. I couldn’t easily stomach the loss of those last few squirts of red goop.

The upside-down bottle was sitting on the table near me while the one newly opened for the BBQ on Mother’s day was at the other end of the table between my husband and his mother. A not so subtle message, no? So I took the hint and reached for it. I was careful not to squeeze it as I pried the flip-top cap open. The lid was practically glued on by dried ketchup. When I felt it start to give, I glanced down at the slice of bread to make sure I still had the bottle over the top of it, so I felt it before I saw it. My right hand filled with a cold wetness that overflowed onto the slice of bread. I was so surprised by this, I could not quite comprehend what was happening. I just sat there staring at my hand and the ketchup still oozing--tho a bit slower now--out of the spout. I swear I’m not squeezing it. I said with not a little tone of panic in my voice. My mother-in-law, with not a little tone of annoyance in her voice--said, Just throw it out Joy. My husband was cracking up. The garbage can was on the other side of him and I was trying to figure out how to maneuver all the way around the table to throw out the bottle without spreading the mess everywhere when he lifted it out of my hands and stuffed in the garbage can he could reach without getting up. I continued to just sit there staring at my hand but finally glance up to scan the table for the napkins. It was then my mother-in-law said that she had already handed me napkins. She sounded irritated. But I honestly had not seen them. They lay on the right hand side of my plate and my narrow field of vision was entirely taken up by my hand and the slice of bread to the left of my plate. My husband grabbed up the napkins and stuffed them in my right hand. I squeezed them, depositing the goop into them and my husband lifted the soggy red mass away and stuffed it in the garbage.

Now it was safe to proceed to the sink to wash my hands. But when I got up from the table I stumbled and bumped my elbow smartly on the handle of the metal cabinet beside the table. I let out a high-pitched Ouch! And my mother-in-law said something like, You know that is there, Joy. Which she often says when I bump into or trip over something that has been in the same spot for weeks or months or forever--or at lest ever since we moved in here in August of 2001. She said it when I kicked the cast-iron duck doorstop last July and apparently broke one of the small bones in my foot.

As I washed my hands at the sink my husband gave me a physics lesson a bit garbled by his uncontrollable chuckles. I was not laughing. In fact, I was close to tears especially after smacking my elbow like that. But I didn’t dare risk my mother-in-law’s contempt by giving into them. I could have figured out the physics myself once I had calmed down enough to think and not be so consumed by mortifying embarrassment which was now compounded with irritation at my husband’s condescending, ‘Professor Science’ tone. Imagine Ben Stein with a giggle. Eww. No, don’t go there. The physics of cold air expanding as it heats up and thus building up pressure inside a confined space that is suddenly no longer confined and then pushing the plug of ketchup as it seeks its own way out--that is simple to understand. But not very consoling in the moment.

On my way back to my chair, the subject shifted to how lucky I was that I hadn’t gotten anything on my clothes or worse. My mother-in-law then launched into the story of someone not so lucky, the account of when my father-in-law had once given up on pounding the bottom of an upturned glass ketchup bottle and slammed it down spout up on the table where-up-on the plug of ketchup in the neck exploded out and hit the ceiling. She was still in the middle of this tale which I had heard before as it is a family legend, when my left hand brushed against something slimy on my left leg. I looked down and there was a small gob of ketchup on my leg. I push back away from the table and discovered that the front of my shirt from the level of my waist band down was one huge smear of red with another large glop on the front my white slacks below the shirt with more smear and splatter on the right pant leg. Both my husband and his mother swore they had not seen any evidence of any of that when I had gotten up from the table and headed to the sink. I once again headed to the sink and washed my hands and soaked the affected areas of my shirt and pants with the--happily--clean dish rag until the stains had faded to a pale peach I could barely see. I couldn’t do better than that until I could take them off. But I had yet to take my first bite of dinner and clean-up duties would follow dinner.

I returned to the table once again but as I approached my chair I was stopped in my tracks and rendered speechless. My husband noticed my widened eyes and clenched jaws and the fingers curled around both thumbs that bespeaks an intense frustration and simmering anger. What? He asked as he leaned over to look down at my feet to see what I was so transfixed by. It was the culprit and the explanation for the mess that hadn’t been there and then suddenly was: that slice of bread that had been under my hand, that had gotten nearly as large a dose of the ketchup as had my hand and which I had forgotten about. Apparently I had knocked it off the table when I returned to my seat the last time and it had slid off my belly, into my lap and onto the floor as I pulled my chair up to the table. And then, of course, my shirt and pants had shared their bounty with the part of the tablecloth that hung down in front of me.

The story doesn’t end there. This is so long already I am tempted to cut it off there and tell the rest latter but this story is already over ten days old and I would like to just get it behind me. I meant to tend to the stains as soon as I finished cleaning up the kitchen that night but I took a break to sit on the front porch with my husband and his mother and that break lengthened until it was too late to start a load of laundry before they headed to bed. I thought it would be safe to wait until the next morning or even afternoon. But I let it slip my mind until I was reminded after dinner the next night that the laundry facilities were slated to be out of commission starting the next morning and probably thru the weekend as the work on the bathroom and laundry room floors commenced. I hurriedly got two loads of must-have items ready. One of darks and brights the other of lights and whites. It was while preparing those loads that I remembered the stains. I treated them all with Spray-N-Wash and prayer. I started the whites load first. When I was transferring that load to the dryer about a quarter to nine I almost forgot to double check on the stains before I tossed the slacks in the dryer. When I did check I found them little changed from before the application of the spray. I went ahead and started the dryer for the rest of that load and took the slacks out to the front room to show my mother-in-law. I hated to bother her just at her bedtime but I was at a loss. Her recommendation was to run the sink about a third full and put in a third of a cup of bleach and then soak them in that for fifteen to twenty minutes. But no longer she said or the bleach will rot the cloth. And don’t rub or scrub at the stains either. Just soak them. And then rinse the bleach out thoroughly.

This I proceeded to do. When I checked for the stains after the fifteen minute soak I could not find a one of them. So I drained the sink and filled it up again. Then drained it again. Then wrung out the slacks. Still the smell of bleach was strong. Stronger than the smell of a wet swimming suit after swimming in a public pool. So once more I ran water over them until they were submerged. I swished them about before draining the water again and wringing them out again. I had to go through this twice more for a total of four times and I wanted to go for a fifth but the wringing combined with the bleach was raising a blister on the tender web inside my right thumb. So I gave up.

The repercussions of this episode did not end with that. The effort of wringing out the slacks had turned my arms and hands into floppy wet rags about as capable of sustained typing as the wet legs of those slacks. Nor did I have the energy to sit up at the computer and use the touch pad to scroll web pages. I spent the next four hours on the front porch in a chair I could lean back in, reading a book that was just over 200 pages and yet was a struggle to hold up at the necessary level. To think that not so very long ago that was the normal way of doing laundry, though without the convenience of running tap water and electric light to work after dark, just boggles my mind. Knowing that some have made their living doing laundry for others by that method boggles it further. If my life depended on it, I doubt I could manage that. If just my own wardrobe depended on it, I would own only one outfit and what I would wear while I washed it would be a mystery.

I think I learned my lesson. The thought of a small stain on a fridge shelf had not overridden my strong sense of the waste of throwing out a quarter cup or more of ketchup. But the concept of the potential loss of a nice pair of white summer slacks or, as it worked out on this occasion, the time, energy and angst spent in removing the stain and cleaning up a mess like I made that night, added to the loss of a productive work session, weighed against the loss of a few table spoons of ketchup--that tips the balance in the other direction. Buh bye ketchup, you’re outta here.

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