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Sunday, August 31, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 61.0° F  Fog
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It all comes out in the wash
An ode to doing the dishes

I'm a closet '50s housewife. If I had my way, I'd dart around the house in a nice tiger-striped one-piece. Pair of mule pumps. Like a postmodern Wilma Flintstone. I'd call Betty Rubble over for coffee and talk behind the boys' backs. Complain about the weekend getting filled with Lodge commitments. Page through magazines. Whip up a mastodon shoulder. Stuff like that.

Mostly I'd do housework. My wife, Peggy, will be surprised to hear this (not the mule pumps part). But I make a distinction between the volume of housework done and the satisfaction taken in it.

I may not show it, but hand me an iron and I'm happy as a clam. A stint in the laundry room for me is like a trip to the spa, with its whirring, purring machines and clean smells. I admit I don't do bathrooms well, but I'm a vulture on the vacuum. I love the look of the brushed carpet rows as I go. I like to flip the long cord around like a lounge singer with a microphone.

I'd trade it all for one shift at the kitchen sink. First-time visitors to our house are surprised to see that a dishwashing machine wasn't installed when we remodeled. Space was an issue. And cost. Didn't bother me.

That's because dishwashing is the hero of household chores. When I see people load their dishwashers, I don't even get why they have one. You still have to hand-rinse stuff. If plates are crusty - and what plates aren't? - you still have to gouge at the cheese mortar with a spoon. Ten more seconds in your hands with some suds and a sponge, and they'd be washed.

But into the machine they go. Then it's turned on while dinner guests shout over the 220-pound-thrust jet turbines required to power it. Let me be clear. I'm not against dishwashing machines because of any green concerns. I'm against them because they take away one of the few opportunities in life to combine personal therapy with helping out around the house.

Washing dishes is a four-season pleasure, and winter is the best time of all. There's no need to resist putting your tired hands forearm-deep into a sink filled with steaming water. I like the way the steam fogs the kitchen window. I like the clatter of plate on plate. The tink of glassware. The muted rumble of a submerged mug tumbling across the hard porcelain.

Double sinks are unimprovable. I go back and forth, favoring first one side, then the other. The left side works hard for you. It's the salvage yard. That's where the scraping goes down. That's where the garbage disposal does his thing. When I throw the switch, he sounds like an old man violently clearing his throat. I dig the sight of avocado rinds and pizza crusts swirling around, mercilessly pulled into the watery spiral, getting sucked down into the maw. Gone forever.

If the left side is blue collar, the right side is Hollywood. Decked out and temperature controlled. Always sunny. I use way more soap than I should because I like to get a foamy mountain of suds stacked. Clouds of suds. Give or take a squirt, I learned over time that there's no difference in quality between dish soap brands. Always go for the cheapest. I like yellow.

An organized right side is an efficient right side. If you were to inspect that part of my job site, you'd see the model dishwashing blueprint. Silverware on the left side so it's not beneath the plates and platters. Glasses against the sink's outside wall. Mugs on top.

I turn the gooseneck faucet over on the left to a lukewarm rinse temp. There's some disagreement on whether cold rinse or warm best cuts the soap from the clean article. I can't tell the difference, so why introduce a tactile buzz kill to the experience by having your hands touch cold as a last step?

The drying rack is the parking lot at the car wash. Oh they look good resting there in the sun, fresh drops of water letting go from the chrome of the kitchen knives' shiny handles.

I always do the dishes in the morning before I leave for work. It's a fun time to visit with our high-schooler as he designs his nine-course breakfast. I'm usually not finished until after he leaves. Completing the dish work is a bittersweet thing. Sweet because my hands are warmed and wrinkled from the washing. Bitter because it'll be a challenge to do anything as perfectly for the rest of the day.

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