Washing With a God

By Jade Walker


What does one wear to meet a god? That's the problem I pondered Friday morning as I stared into my empty closet.

Should I wear a dress? Something eye-catching? Or opt for the all-purpose head-to-toe black, suitable for slimming curves and a shadowy appearance?

Nothing in the closet was appealing to my critical eye, so I gathered all of my clothes into a bag and began the journey to the laundromat.

Doing laundry is one of my favorite household chores. There's something so rejuvenating about cleaning clothes, mentally preparing outfits and folding warm towels and socks. Of course, doing laundry was a heck of a lot easier to accomplish when I had basement access to a washer and dryer. I don't have that luxury anymore, and so a fun chore has become an event of exhausting proportions.

First I gather and sort all of my clothes. I pile them into a huge laundry bag (I always do four loads at once -- why go through this ordeal for one lousy load?), and then I fling the bag down three flights of stairs. Okay, I admit it. That part is fun.

To get the laundry bag into my tiny, blue wire basket, though, I have to unload half of it onto the floor, stuff the bag into the basket and refill it. Not as much fun.

Bang, bang, bang. The basket bounces down the porch steps and I walk through the freezing cold spring morning to the laundromat. Once I arrive, I cram all of the clothes into the loud, industrial machines and wait. I don't own a laptop computer, so for the next two hours, I'm basically consigned to reading whatever book I have handy while perched uncomfortably on white, plastic lawn furniture.

And yet...it was at the laundromat that I became a devout follower of the literary god, Harlan Ellison.

Ellison is probably the most prolific short story writer of our time. He's published more than 1,700 stories, dozens of books and written quite a few screenplays and teleplays.

His work lends toward the fantastic, yet he never once writes down to his audience. In fact, I find him to be one of the most challenging authors to read, and I always do so with a pocket dictionary at my side. I can't read his stories with a television blaring or while listening to music. Ellison stories require actual work to read and understand, and that's what makes them so interesting. Not only is he a master storyteller, he's also a tremendous wordsmith.

So when I'm forced to spend two hours listening to the drone of sloshing clothes and spin cycles, I take along a collection of Ellison's work and worship his writing. That day, I reread "The Resurgence of Miss Ankle-strap Wedgie," my favorite story from the collection, "Love Ain't Nothing But Sex Misspelled."

Once my laundry was finished, I folded it and smooshed the clothing back into the wire basket for the short walk back to the house.

Getting it home is never a problem, even in the coldest or wettest of weather. Removing it from the basket and dragging it up three flights of stairs to the attic is always the hard part. Like a hunchbacked gnome, I bend in half and let my back carry the weight of the clothes as I stumble up the narrow flight of stairs.

Back inside my apartment, I remove all the clothes from the bag and placed them in my closet. I don't own a dresser and since none of my clothes are the "hang up" type, they all get piled in the bottom of a large brown cabinet.

Then I start the discriminating task of choosing what to wear. I shift from one foot to the other. I pull out shirts and toss them, unfolded, back inside. I ponder my upcoming meeting a bit more and finally decide to go for a pair of jeans and a white poet's blouse with my customary silver ankh necklace -- an eclectic mixture of comfort, poetry and goth. When you meet someone you worship, it's best to show your "true" self.

After I got dressed, my friend Tom arrived and we spent three hours driving to Long Island for a meeting with the man. Once at the conference where he was to appear, I completely forgot my clothing.

Tom and I navigated through the dealer room and then attempted to find the schedule showing Harlan's appearance (since this was my main reason for spending $33 to attend the conference). I started to freak out when I learned he was only speaking until 10 p.m. and we had less than 15 minutes to find him.

A young intern eagerly volunteered to show us to the correct building, and we accepted the offer. He walked us across campus into an auditorium and then disappeared. Perhaps he knew I had a wicked temper because once he was gone, we learned he'd led us to the wrong building.

We then raced back across campus to the correct building just as 10 p.m. arrived. Without a backward glance, I burst into the room...only to be met with a flood of departing audience members. Undaunted, I pushed through the throng (still determined to throttle that intern if I saw him again). I stood on tip toes, and just managed to see Harlan get whisked away.

Disappointment. Sheer and utter disappointment.

I couldn't believe after all the driving and laundry and the fashion fixation, I had missed meeting the god. I wallowed in that thought for a few minutes and then dejectedly followed the last of the crowd out into the hallway. There I saw a long line of Ellison faithful -- and surprise! -- they were queued to obtain autographs. I still had a chance for a meeting.

Needless to say, I promptly took up a spot at the end of the line, already riding a wave of expectation and excitement. An hour later, I paid my tithe, and watched breathless as he penned his signature into my books.

Unlike other signings where authors avoid eye contact, mumble a greeting and then brush off an incomprehensible signature, Harlan and I actually had a short conversation.

Did Harlan even notice my attire? Probably not. And the thing is...I didn't care. I'm not a vain person. For the most part, clothes are simply garments society requires me to wear.

In truth, I wasn't really freaking out over what I'd look like when I met this god. I simply needed to go through the effort of laundry before I met him. Going to the laundromat with an Ellison book is a ritual for me, and it seemed only right to prepare for our face-to-face with his words spinning around in my head. As I walked out of the conference hall, I could almost smell the fabric softener mix with his pen's ink.