Saturday, May 10, 2014

Three Sheets to the Wind

The meeting on the new project was no different from a hundred others. As I was listening to the client explain what they wanted, my lower arm began to itch. I idly reached over to scratch it, rubbing from the elbow towards the wrist. Then out of the corner of my eye I noticed something begin to emerge from my sleeve. Almost before I realized it and stopped, it looked as if my shirt was morphing into one from Edwardian England, with a frill at the margins. I don't think the others noticed, or at least I hoped they didn't. I quickly reversed direction, and it receded back from whence it came. But I'm no dandy, and this was no piece of lace; rather, it was a sheet of Bounce.

Yes, a humble dryer sheet. You probably use them yourselves, a little white rectangular piece of paper-esque material that comes on a roll, sporting names that just ooze freshness like Snuggle or Breezy. Throw one or more into the dryer with some clean clothes or sheets, and your laundry comes out all but new. That's because these miracles of modern chemistry and material science coat your textiles with a fabric softener, a sheen of fresh fragrance and an anti-static-cling molecular modifier (actually, I have no idea how they stop things from sticking together, so I just made that up).

Even when no longer up to their original task, they still have life in them. Plenty of web sites detail 10, 20, or even 30 things you can do with those that are lightly tumbled. Aside from the obvious ones, like tucking them into closets or cars to make them smell fresher, you can use them to clean glass screens and wooden furniture, with the anti-static properties pulling dust from the surfaces. Stuffed into a hole or crack, they stop mice from getting into your house or apartment; seems they are uncomfortable to eat through and smell funny to the critters. You can even put them into vents to both freshen and filter the air, creating your own little NASA-like air scrubber. Don't be surprised if one day when aliens invade us they scoff at our iPhones and GPS and Fit Bits as primitive technology, and yet don't completely write us off as uncivilized because of these marvels.

There is, however, one eensie-weensie little problem with these things. While they prevent other fabrics from clinging annoyingly to one another, they themselves stick to those same items like grim death. In fact, not only do they stick, they burrow deep into the most hidden nooks and crannies, the better to travel like a tick to their next location undetected. I have found them in shirts, in pants, in socks, in sheets, on towels, in underwear, in fleeces, in pajamas - in short, everywhere.

However, unlike many parasites, they don't usually jump to the next host and infect them. Rather, they pick the worse time to emerge from hibernation, times calculated not for maximum damage but for maximum embarrassment. Not only have they crawled out of my sleeves in meetings, but they have slithered out of pants when I walk into a room, and crawled out of a jacket as I get ready to make an exit. Like a rabbit popping out of a hat, all they lack is a punchy "Presto" like phrase to announce their presence. Thank God.

But according to some, their penchant for appearing at inopportune times is hardly their biggest sin. Some point out that the chemicals used in them are potentially dangerous as well. And perhaps they have a point. After all, you take a clean shirt, and throw it in with a sheet impregnated with a devil's list of potentially carcinogenic or neurologically toxic substances, from chloroform to camphor to linalool to pentane. In that light, some sticky clothes are a small price to pay.

Still, speaking for myself, you need to pick you battles in this minefield we call a world, and perhaps this is one I'll live with. After all, on some level, having your pants ride up and stick to your socks is far worse than getting a rash from exposure to alpha-terpineol. So in our house we will continue to Bounce away. I just gotta vet my clothes better when I get dressed.


Marc Wollin of Bedford had a three sheet day: in his shirt, his pants and in his pillowcase. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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