Thursday, April 12, 2007

Stiff-Necked No More!

Odd Encounter of the Week: starch

I do not clean up well. It's not that I can't. It's just that I don't particularly care to most of the time. In ten minutes, I can look serviceable for nearly any formal situation, and that is about all the time I usually give to the process.

Early last month, I attended a wedding for which I had to dress up. I wore slacks, a sport coat, and a tie. Nothing special, but it got the job done. Two weeks later, I went to a funeral, and to mazimize efficiency, I wore the same outfit. The pants were black, and the coat was gray; once again, it got the job done.

Until. . .

The one couple who had attended both events spotted me in the parking lot. "Ben! [hand covers mouth in gesture of horror and mockery] That's the same thing you were wearing the last time we saw you two weeks ago!" The crowd of eight friends within hearing range smiled at me. One giggled. Another pointed. I blushed. Ugh. I had been outted. As communism has proven, sometimes efficiency is not the ultimate value on which to base our decision-making processes.

I guess it could have been worse. For instance, if she had known I hadn't had the clothes cleaned since the wedding.

Motivated by what could have been, I steeled my will against the filth in my life and decided to clean my dress clothes. Given that neither I nor my roomies own an iron, this would require a trip to the dry cleaners, a place I had never gone solo before.

So on Tuesday, I walked into Alpine Cleaners off a recommendation from the entire morning shift at Wachovia. They were all women, so I figured asking would make me look sophisticated, helpless, and cute which, in turn, might score me a date. This turned out to be about as good of an idea as giving Don Imus a microphone.

Anyways, a cute elderly lady came to greet me upon my arrival at the cleaners. She looked so sweet that I immediately felt soothed, though deep inside I was terrified. I had no way to defend myself in this place. If they wanted to charge an arm (sleeve) and a (pant) leg to dry clean my clothes, how would I know that was not standard fare?

I handed her the clothes. She said they would be ready Thursday after 5:30. Hey, this wasn't too bad! I felt more and more comfortable at every passing second.

Then everyone went to pot. "Do you want starch on your shirt?"

Uh oh.

I had no clue how to respond. My default in this situation is to ask "What would Jesus do?" but I could think of no biblical precedent for this situation. I moved down the list to "What would Dad do?", but I did not know the answer to that question either. So I blurted out, "Yes!" which was not so much an answer to her question as a panicked facade to try to show that I was not an inadequate idiot.

I soon recovered and realized that my "Yes" could bring about disasterous consequences. The only time I had ever encoutered starch was when labeling my favorite food group, the one that includes tater tots, french fries, and mashed potatoes. If anything of this sort came on my shirt, I would no longer be able to clean up well. Plus, it would defeat the purpose of having my clothes cleaned. So I humbled myself and meekly asked:

"Wait, what's starch again?"

As if at one point I had known what starch was.

Before I got to the question mark, the woman's sweetness turned sour. Bitter even. She gave me a look that bellowed, "You don't know what starch is?!?! GET OUT!!!!" Fortunately, her mouth only explained what it was which was of no help. I still had no idea what I wanted, or more precisely, what I was supposed to want. She had said no starch would make my collar looser and less stiff. "Stiff" has always equaled "uncool" in my cultural thesaurus, so I chose no starch, grabbed my pink reminder ticket, and moved quickly for the door.

The fresh air felt better than I had remembered. It's funny how catastrophe makes you appreciate the simpler things in life. I breathed a sigh of relief and continued on my errands.

I guess one could say I was stiff-necked in not dropping my manpride and asking for help when the dry cleaner initially asked the question. My subsequent humbling will ensure that I will never be stiff-necked again when walking into new situations.

So will the lack of starch on my shirt.


Oakley said...

Haha glad you've finally slayed the dragon known as going to the dry cleaners. For Christmas you will be getting.......
A) an iron
B) dress clothes

Thank God for growing up and for people kindly telling us what starch is.

Anonymous said...

My grandmother always used starch, so I wouldn't have been left in the cold.

However, I'm pretty certain it's been at least 6 wearings of my suit without any dry cleaning.

"Dry clean only" = "dirty"