Last week I took Friday afternoon off and did the yard work. I’d been listening to radio broadcasts about the vote in Congress on HR 2454 – what some of us call the “cap and tax” climate bill. You know, the one none of the members had read before the vote? Yes, I know, there’s more than one bill that they haven’t read prior to voting.
Yard work is good for my psyche. In two hours I can make a measurable and meaningful contribution to my property’s appearance. Few things in life are so neatly determinate; and the activity allows me to ponder other issues at the same time that I’m tilling and trimming.
My plan was to relax over the weekend in the run up to my birthday; and moving the yard work to Friday seemed appropriate. My modest Saturday agenda included helping to reduce the ironing pile by doing my half. My wife welcomed the help and suggested that I do the ironing first so I could also enjoy a Saturday morning ritual in doors — listening to “The Opera Show” on local FM station KUSC — and not having to use the pocket radio and earphones required when I’m outdoors.
During its season, KUSC hosts The Metropolitan broadcasts from New York, but the presentation last Saturday was a replay of the Los Angeles Opera Company’s April performance of Walter Braunfels’ The Birds, part of a series titled “Recovered Voices.” These are works by Jewish composers and musicians that were banned by the elected German Chancellor Adolph Hitler before and during the WWII era’s Holocaust and have been nearly forgotten.
Aristophanes’ play The Birds is a “comedy” written around 430 B.C. that pokes at the antics of Greek politics, specifically Athens’ leader Cleon, and at what was termed “the noble lie” at the time. The plot — VERY briefly described — follows the trek of two disgruntled humans who are lead by a raven and a crow toward a life among the birds which they are assured will be free from strife. You can imagine that there’s a bit of Plato’s philosopher-king tossed in for good measure. And with characters named “a sycophant” you can imagine how in the Germany of the 1930s a man with Braunfels’ talent might see some sardonic fun in using this plot to frame a libretto for his very solid musical creation.
Only minutes into my ironing the iron gave out: not enough heat and not enough steam. On the drive to the local Target — my wife went along — I continued to listen to Braunfels’ haunting music. Our beeline to the shelf and through the checkout line took only minutes, but on the way my eye caught an item in that area where picture frames are marketed. It was a 24″ x 36″ framed poster of Barack Obama and the text “Yes, We Can…” at the top. There was more text — the entire ‘yes we can’ speech. No, Really!
I asked my wife, “Did Dayton Hudson get TARP money?”
As we walked out to the car a guy with arms and legs full of tattoos was escorting a scantly dressed woman equally decorated and pierced into the store. I made a remark to my wife. She responded, “You don’t get out enough.”
At home I unpacked the new iron and began the process of dismantling the protections made mandatory by the same kind of folks who hadn’t bothered to read HR 2454. First the plastic tie that loops through the holes in the plug tips. You have to cut it away. As I untwisted the wire that bound the cord I noticed and took time to read the attached white label.
Warning: The power cord on this product contains lead, a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer, and birth defects or other reproductive harm. Wash hands after handling.
I learned to iron when I was in sixth grade after my mom went to work to earn the extra money that paid for my brother and I to have orthodontic braces: a gift for which I will be eternally grateful. Her lessons and my vast experience in ironing has paid off in unnamed ways. It was the era when what today we’d call Chinos or Khaki trousers replaced Levi’s for a time. It was also the era before clothes dryers; and one of the devices to make pressing your pants easier were metal stretchers that gave the air dried pants a rough crease to perfect. Ironing can refine one’s eye for detail.
As I listened to Braunfels’ melodies and maneuvered the iron around the yoke of each shirt in a process developed over time but yielding to modification for the short sleeved “polo” shirts on the pile I allowed myself to be drawn to those days in the early 60’s when the Ivy League style predominated and the button at the back of the collar just above that centered pleat prevailed. There was also a buckle on the back of the trousers, above the pockets and just below the belt loops. I also thought about things like why women’s blouses button the opposite way from men’s shirts. I wondered if a “Kingston Trio” CD wouldn’t be more appropriate than Braunfels’ opera on the radio.
It just may be for me that ironing is right in there with yard work. A time for reflection that also allows bona fide, measurable results relatively quickly and without malice toward another. I’m not sure that people reflect so much on things these days. That vote on HR 2454 last week seems to confirm my hunch.
Simple, mundane tasks can direct us. And while I haven’t done any extensive research on the subject I have a sneaking suspicion that something was lost and ordered liberty may have began to unravel with the introduction of the inherent lie of “permanent press.” That wrinkled look of wash and wear may excuse ironing, but what’s replaced that saved time? Certainly not paying more attention to who’s being elected or what Target is hawking in their stores.
Walter Braunfels might have had some advice for us about what posters of a political leader for sale in a store can portend but he died in 1954. But there are clues as in stories like The Birds.