A Theory of Dryer Crimes

This is an earlier draft of an essay that appears in my collection of essays which you should, of course, own right? Why? Well, let me tell you why you should buy the Raised by Turtles book.

The Hammer

Jason lived between a hammer and an anvil. The hammer was his wife, who believed that drying clothes in a clothes dryer was worse than a crime against humanity. It was a crime against the planet.

She knew, or at least she thought she knew, exactly how much carbon was released into the atmosphere by every dryer load. She could instantly translate this into the number of meals that could be produced for the same carbon output or the number of dryer loads per person per day that would raise the temperature of the entire planet by another degree Celsius.

houses and lawns
The apogee of suburban civilization

Catra was sure that there should be a law against the planet-killing practice of rotating clothes, towels and bedding round and round in the presence of hot air. She was sure that their children’s children would hold them accountable for standing by and doing nothing as surely as they held their parents’ parents accountable for standing by and watching the slaughter of the Jews.

Her strong belief in the outrage of her children’s children was not tempered by the fact that she and Jason had decided never to have children and therefore would have no children’s children.

Jason understood that Catra had a deep sense of social responsibility and “our children” meant society’s children. When Catra was on a run, Jason was careful to never muse that societies don’t give birth to actual biological children. Societies are abstract things that encompass all generations and don’t give birth to new child societies except in an abstract, metaphorical sense.

He had the presence of mind to know that “now” was not the time.

He also knew that “now” was not the time to attempt to translate the carbon footprint of plane flights to Michigan to visit Catra’s family into degrees, meals, or dryer loads. The deep clash between Catra’s sense of social responsibility and her sense of family responsibility was not a topic to broach except under very special circumstances. Most definitely, it did not come up during a discussion of dryer crimes. Most most definitely, it absolutely did not come up in the context of a discussion about who spent too much of their minimal vacation time visiting family.

At least in theory.

The Anvil

On the other side was the anvil, which came in the form of their neighbors, the Caldecotts.

The Caldecotts believed deep in their hearts that laundry hanging in a neighbor’s backyard sent property values southward as surely as the boarded up windows on a crack house. As far as the Caldecotts were concerned, Catra hanging laundry in the backyard was theft, pure and simple. She was literally vacuuming value out of their home. It would be better if she just stole their car, which was only worth perhaps $14,500 as a trade-in. Meanwhile Catra’s line-drying crimes were taking perhaps $30,000 off the value of their home.

laundry hanging
Suburbia in the wake of the Dryer Wars

Adam Caldecott felt with no uncertainty that he could afford that Audi two-seater if not for neighbors drying laundry in their yards. The Caldecotts firmly believed that one home with laundry hanging in the backyard made the entire neighborhood look like a barrio.

Jason was pretty sure that the Caldecotts’ entire experience of barrios came from watching West Side Story. He was also pretty sure that injecting an element of barrio could only be an improvement over his perfect, sidewalk-free suburban neighborhood where every house looked like every other house from one end of the street to the other. Seven hundred and fifty two houses built from six base models, each with a set of options that allowed owners to customize their houses to fit their personality and whim.

These customisations such as the bay-window upgrade were sufficient that the owners of the houses could tell their homes from the others without having to double check the street number, displayed in the approved location. They could feel that their home expressed their individuality and superior taste or financial status vis-à-vis their neighbors.

These customisations were not sufficient, however, to prevent their friends and family from occasionally walking into the wrong house and sitting down in the living room with the vague feeling that the couch did not seem quite right. Everyone in the neighborhood locked their doors not for fear of burglars and rapists, but for fear of their neighbors’ friends and family.

It was this apogee of civilized suburbia that the Caldecotts had sworn to preserve.

Jason never, ever mentioned that the neighborhood would be improved by looking more like a barrio. He also never mentioned that the Caldecotts were not in the process of actually selling their house. Therefore it was in their interest to keep the property values, and thus the tax assessment, down. Jason scrupulously avoided these topics and many others when talking to the Caldecotts.

At least in theory.

The Iron

Of course, theory is one thing and practice is another.

In practice, there were few topics Jason enjoyed discussing more than dryers and line drying and plane flights and barrios. The challenge and the thrill was to discuss these topics obliquely enough that only Jason knew they were being discussed at all.

This made his domestic life smoother and it added a tiny glimmer of interest to the otherwise stultifying conversations with the Caldecotts about lawn products, which Catra, of course, thought should be illegal and which the Caldecotts, naturally, thought should be mandatory.

Some small-minded people would call Jason’s behavior passive-aggressive. Jason felt, rather, that it was a hat tip to the oldest traditions of politesse and gentility. He saw this less as “passive-aggressive” and more as “Southern.” The sum total of Jason’s direct personal experience with the South consisted of changing planes in Atlanta half a dozen times. But he had read Faulkner and watched the Dukes of Hazard. More importantly, he had watched dozens of old movies that portrayed an even older South in screenplays overwhelmingly adapted for the screen by blacklisted Jewish screenwriters from New York. So he considered himself somewhat of an authority on the South.

Jason would toss out little barbs that seemingly had little to do with family vacations or barrios. Looking at the jet contrails advancing across the sky, he might say, “Do those people really need to go to all those meetings when they could have a video conference?” Seeing a house for sale down the street, “I heard a nice family with a landscaping business put in an offer. It will be good to have so many children in the neighborhood again.”

In short, Jason was kind of an asshole.

On this particularly fine July day, Jason basks in the cool of the morning on what is forecast to be a sauna-like day. It will be a day tailor-made for Catra’s public project to avoid at all costs the crime of tumbling wet clothes around in a planet-killing machine. At least that’s what Catra tells him, in not quite those terms, as she leaves the house for a day with the girlfriends, leaving Jason behind to do the planet-saving laundry hanging. Today is also ideal for Jason’s less public project to make the neighborhood look just a little like a barrio and send home prices plummeting.

In the meantime, though, Jason is stockpiling cool in preparation for the suffering that will come later in the day. His own theory on this does not involve being comfortable and storing up willpower for the part of the day when he will be uncomfortable. It actually involves being dressed for the heat that is coming, not for the morning cool that currently prevails. He is therefore cold and uncomfortable, holding his tea in hands that are not quite trembling. At 54 degrees Farenheit, dressed in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, he huddles over the hot cup of tea like an arctic explorer hanging on for his very survival.

He believes that by stockpiling cold — uncomfortable, shivering cold — in his body itself, this will create a lag between the time the world at large slingshots from too cold to too hot and the moment that his actual person does so.

He briefly wishes this worked on larger time scales. By making everyone spend a couple of decades in the cold, miserable and shivering, it would both reduce carbon outputs in northern climes and make the future warming of the planet more palatable. And turn machine drying into a mere misdemeanor.

At least in theory.

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