On the Line

Every so often a great reason arises to put your novelist career aside.

I get it when I hear the washing machine’s rumbling spin cycle shudder to a close. I glance outside at the weather. Do I see clear skies? The sun riding high in the blue?

I then go downstairs to the laundry room, with Daisy the dog following at my heels. I open the machine, gather soggy pants and shirts and go through the door to the patio, to my birthday present.

You tend to run out of practical birthday gifts as you age. You’ve bought too much for yourself  already (clothing, music, books), traveled sufficiently so that you’d rather stay at home (for a little while), don’t want to make a fuss, don’t want to hunt or pay for parking in dark “edgy” urban locales where that great restaurant, theater, nightclub, concert or museum await my attendance.  If that weren’t enough, physicians who are far younger than you like to tell you what you shouldn’t eat, drink or “engage in,” and, I assure you, all of those are great fun.

It surprised my wife when a birthday came up that I wanted a clothes line.

How domestic! How…homely!

I learned to love a clothes line when I lived at the Jersey shore. I rented an upstairs apartment in a vacation home, and the people who owned the home let me use their basement washing machine. I was unmarried then, having been sent to Atlantic City as a correspondent by one newspaper and recruited by a few magazines to round out their obligatory Jersey shore issues. I discovered that one of the few benefits from working very, very hard was that, most often, you were too busy, or too tired, to worry about when your next paycheck would arrive.

But I’d worry nevertheless. Part of being a journalist is developing the contacts so that people will not only call you back, but tell you what you need (or point you in the direction of what you need) for your article. I would frequently find myself in an anxious, disquieting limbo when I could not proceed until someone returned a call.

If it was a nice day, I’d open the window, put the phone (they were bulky objects then, with chords connecting them to a wall and metal bells that actually rang) as close as I could to the sill, go down to the basement, pull my laundry out of the machine and go outside to the clothesline where a gentle, balmy Jersey shore breeze, and the uncertainty of how to clip pants and shirts to prevent wrinkles, slowly softened my anxiety. I noticed that wacky-but-true observation that being outside on a nice day can be the greatest gift. Yes, the world contained people earning huge salaries who were far more important than me. They worked in air conditioned offices. They drove cars that didn’t overheat on the Garden State Parkway. They wore clothes that required meticulous dry cleaning and a few of these people just might call me back.

But, until they did, I could stand outside, in the warm sunlight, and let a natural, somewhat energy conserving process take its course, giving my clothing an aroma more pleasant than molten elastic odor of the electric clothes dryer.

I could enjoy a gift that I have remembered, and cherished, at an age when I’ve forgotten most of those important people, and why I needed their help.

And so I asked for, and received, a clothes line. It hangs between two wooden pillars supporting the second floor deck.

Earlier this morning, I adorned the line with pants, shirts and shorts. I speculated about the best way to hang these items, to promote drying, discourage fading and limit wrinkles. As a freelancer who tried to turn nearly everything he did into a publishable article, I remain grateful that I never had to research and write a “how-to” piece about the proper use of an outdoor clothes line.

Some things you keep to yourself.