My washing machine went on strike yesterday. Apparently it was feeling overworked and underappreciated, so in protest it decided to put a halt to the draining of water from of its tub. In actuality it still washes, it just doesn’t do any of the other things required to make my clothes smell springtime fresh. Since I was woefully ill-attuned to the needs and feelings of my Maytag, I did not suspect that anything was amiss, and I neglected my laundry duties throughout the weekend, putting them off until Sunday evening; but after one load, my machine shirked its responsibilities in favor of the additional day of rest it felt it was entitled to.

     Except now, the one day of rest has turned into two, and being without any clean tee-shirts in which to sleep, and facing a dwindling supply of acceptably comfortable underpants, I was forced to patronize one of the most feared and loathed establishments known to man: the Coin Laundry. See? It isn’t just me! I heard six of you gasp, and two more of you start crying. I also feel obligated to say that at least one of you should really have taken your doctor’s advice regarding adult incontinence protection.

     Coin laundries are horrible, terrible places. Their washers shrink your sweaters and stretch your socks. The dryers burn your buttons and crunch your corduroy. I am convinced that each of them is owned and operated by a grotesque troll who lives within its walls. Having festooned himself with mismatched socks surreptitiously stolen by tiny robotic hands that emerge during the final spin cycle, this troll watches as your clothes are ruined and your coins are hijacked, all through tiny holes bored into stained signs that read, “Not Responsible for Lost or Stolen Items”,and, “Do Not Leave Laundry Unattended”. That ear splitting shriek you sometimes hear coming from the machines is not in fact a loose belt, but rather the high-pitched, gleeful laughter of the Sock Troll as he counts his stacks of quarters.

     My fear and distrust of the coin laundry has been with me for years, and I have avoided going at all costs. I once rented an apartment I hated simply because it had a washer and dryer. Crappy views and bad paint jobs don’t hold a candle to having to schlep all your crap down five flights of stairs in a snow storm so that you will have clean clothes for work the next morning.

     The summer that I was twenty, I was performing in the chorus of the outdoor drama, The Lost Colony, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Performances were held six nights a week, which meant that I only worked for about four hours each evening. The rest of the time, my cast mates and I liked to throw parties. We had watermelon parties, and polyester parties, and tie and underwear parties. Parties for all occasions. When we weren’t partying, we did other things like sleep, and go to the beach, and sleep some more. All of this partying and sleeping left little time for such inconsequential things as doing laundry. Citing a complete lack of time, I frequently bought cheap, touristy tee-shirts so that I wouldn’t have to wash all of my dirty, cheap, touristy tee shirts.

     One evening shortly before the time I was to be at the theatre, I discovered that I had no clean underwear. None. Not even the pair of really ratty ones that everyone keeps shoved in the back of a drawer. The underpants so old and dilapidated that the only things holding them together are holes and shame. In the real world, going without underwear is a common occurrence, everyone has done it at one time or another. However, working in live theatre as an actor, showing up to work sans undies is a big, fat NO-NO. For all sorts of rhymes and reasons. It just isn’t acceptable.

     That evening, coming up with clean underpants and getting to the theatre within twenty minutes was going to be a challenge. There was no time to get to a store, and just the mere thought of wearing someone else’s underwear is enough to make me wretch, gag, develop blood-shot watery eyes, and suffer from sudden onset cases of shingles, rickets, and quite possibly scurvy. So, with that said, I did what any pink-blooded, American male would do. I washed a pair in the bathroom sink, and tried to dry them with a hair dryer.

     After a couple of minutes I realized that this tactic wasn’t going to work, and the clock was ticking. I raced through the apartment in search of a solution, and after arriving in the kitchen, I  found one: the microwave. I tossed my teal, low rise undies on the glass plate, and sent them for a spin. Almost immediately, a very strange smell started coming from inside the microwave. It was a burnt, rubbery smell that I can only surmise was from overheated elastic. I quickly decided that my underwear was as dry as it needed to be, and just as I was about to open the microwave door, there was an audible, “Poof!”, and my underpants burst into flames.

     Having had several run-ins with that particular element before, it is safe to say that fire and I do not get along. I squealed the squeal of frightened, taken aback, no-one-is-around-to-hear-me-scream men everywhere. I even threw in a few curse words for good measure. The smoke detector had started to chirp, the flames were getting bigger, so I looked around for my options. Without much thought, I grabbed the metal tongs usually reserved for frying chicken, I picked up the flaming underpants, and I flung them out the open kitchen window.

     Now, I know what you are thinking. But honestly, it didn’t even occur to me to toss them in the sink and turn on the water. I was in panic mode! My underpants were on fire! Cut to my downstairs neighbor, the stage manager, aiming fire extinguisher foam at my smoking underpants, which were hanging half-way up a moderately large pine tree. She did this quite expertly, all the while giving me the most peculiar look I expect I will ever, ever see.
     Up until now, I have only told this story to a select number of people. I’m afraid I have begun to regret it already. I just felt that I might be doing a public service somehow by warning everyone of the flammable nature of underpants elastic. Right now, someone reading this might be making the important decision whether or not to face the Sock Troll or to wash and dry their underpants by more unconventional methods.

     As much as it pains me to admit it, I think I’d go with the Sock Troll.

scott j