Hang It Up!

Hang It Up!

If you stand in any backyard in Brooklyn’s Carrol Gardens, and cast your gaze to the skies, you will see a veritable riot of Jacob’s Ladders heading for the heavens.  These are not, in fact, ladders but posts for clothes lines that serviced each floor of the neighborhood’s five to six-story dwellings.  Mistaking them for ladders or some sort of pagan tower is understandable because these clothes lines are one hundred percent abandoned.  Not a dish cloth, not a bra, not a worn pair of boxer shorts flutter in the wind.

The dryer conquered Brooklyn.  Fluffy towels, push button ease and the lack of rainy day surprises were the death knell of the clothes line.  Apart from hanging some beach towels outside in the sun, I too was a full-on dryer addict.  I cleaned the lint trap, tossed in my fragrant, anti-static Bounce cloth and let that heater go to work.  It was not until I got to Japan, that I hung laundry out to dry.  We have a washing machine.  Attached is basically a high-speed centrifuge. What is soaked from the washing machine spins around furiously for three minutes and comes out merely damp — ready to be hung.  I have never seen such a contraption in the United States.  Dangling from a pole on my balcony are an array of what looks like medieval torture devices but are in fact clothes hangers and clothes pins .  My first attempt to use them was met with polite hilarity from my Mother-in-Law.  Patiently, she re-arranged my shirts and socks and the numerous tiny underpants that appear when you have a six-year-old daughter. I gradually caught on and have, weirdly, delighted in mastering the balance and decision-making of well hung laundry.  I may not be able to speak Japanese, but I hang laundry like a 75-year-old Japanese grandmother.

The other week, we had a laundry crisis.  On a Sunday night, with rain pouring, my son was in a panic, having forgotten to give me his gym clothes to wash for Monday morning.  I was at a loss and texted my wife.  Her response: “Put them in the dryer.” What?  We have a dryer?  Apparently in the basement there was a fully functioning dryer, ready to whirl.  So, the whole line-drying thing was a choice?  Interesting.

Japan has no natural resources.  No oil.  No coal.  It had a bunch of nuclear reactors, but since the tsunami of 2011 and the ensuing Fukushima plant disaster, they have all closed down.  Energy costs are high here. People are very very aware of wasting energy.  They recycle, families share hot baths (in Japan, you scrub yourself before you get into a bath ensuring that your hot, relaxing soak does not dirty the water. The top is then covered, keeping the water hot for the next bather.); old bath water gets diverted to the washing machine; central heating and air conditioning is a rarity. In the cold months, most families warm themselves by sitting at a kotatsu — a low, wooden table frame, covered in a heavy blanket, upon which a table-top rests. Underneath there is a heating source keeping everyone toasty. Many toilets have a sink at the top so you can wash your hands as the tank re-fills. Everyone rides bikes.  Whether the impetus is saving money or altruistic environmentalism, the effect is the same — I have never experienced nor lived such a green life.

Which is odd.  Carrol Gardens is the land of the Prius, the designer water bottle, the artisanal shop selling diapers made from recycled hand towels. The people who live there are self-righteous with their environmentalism. They will give you the side-eye when you buy a pack of Pampers; they will snort with derision at a Ford F150 Pick Up truck; they will make long posts on their Facebook pages about living “green” and petition the public schools to ban plastic water bottles and straws.  They won’t however use the clothes lines that dangle uselessly in their backyards. This is a strange one because using a clothes dryer twice a week creates 440kg of CO2 each year, which is equivalent to flying from London to Glasgow and back with 15-mile taxi rides to and from the airports.  Or maybe not so strange, these are the same folks who expressed shock and dismay at Trump’s election and apparent racism, but were quick to demand a strong police presence in our public park when an 8-year-old had his top model I Phone swiped by some 12-year-olds, apparently from a nearby project.  As my friend Steven said regarding environmentalism (and a host of other issues, I might add): America is more about appearance than result.

I highly doubt my mother-in-law thinks of herself as an environmentalist.  I somewhat doubt she knows the term “Green”.  What she is, and what many Japanese people are, is just mindful.  Mindful of waste.  Mindful of money.  Mindful of other people and how her actions will affect the future of Japan. We could use more mindfulness in America and less self-congratulatory anger.  In two hundred years, people will be shocked at our shabby attempts to save our planet; I suspect they will say, with the same scorn and disbelief we use when hearing about 17th century doctors using leaches: They used electric, hot-air blowers to dry their clothes and destroy the planet when right outside they had the sun and wind!!!

So, what is the point of this post?  Use a clothes line, don’t use a clothes line. I am in no position to tell anyone how to make environmental choices. But, I can say — if I am not stretching the metaphor too far — if we want to see a better world, start in your backyard with the small choices. Be kinder.  Be more understanding.  Think a little bit more about your actions. Realize that the 12-year-old from the projects has a name and could end up seriously harmed (or worse) by creating a police crisis over a phone — if you are worried, try introducing those kids to your kid and maybe get a pizza and talk out the issues.  In general,  stop talking about how “green” you are, how “good” you are, how anti-racist you are, and just be mindful, and yeah,  use a fucking clothes line.

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