One, two, three, four…where is #5?
It’s laundry day, and I’m counting dryer balls, those woolen, felted spheres that are supposed to shorten the time it takes for clothes to dry while minimizing wrinkling and static electricity. They are all but indestructible, and far more environmentally righteous than those disposable dryer sheets that coat your clothes with quaternary ammonium compounds. Dryer balls are even supposed to loosen pet hair off clothes, though the hair of Bisou and Telemann clings to my garments with the same single-minded devotion as Bisou and Telemann cling to me.
My dryer balls originally came in a set of six, in an unbleached cotton bag with a picture of a cute lamb on it. Shortly after I got them, one of the balls bounced out of the dryer and was caught by the cat Telemann, who immediately sank claws and teeth into it and tore it to shreds before I could rescue it. That left me with five balls, but when I take a load of clothes out of the dryer, I can never find all of them. I can usually find four, though on bad days the number dwindles to three. But never five.
This is because dryer balls, despite having been created for the dryer, hate living in it, and they try to escape by stowing away inside pant legs and coat pockets, in the corners of fitted sheets, and in sweater sleeves. But there is one ball hiding place that beats all the rest: the duvet cover. The duvet cover is the dryer ball’s dream sanctuary, an enormous cavern whose depths my hands can only reach with difficulty.
Standing in the steamy laundry room, arms thrashing inside a hot duvet cover as I search blindly for that pesky fifth ball, I question how bad for the planet dryer sheets really are…whereupon the missing ball bounces out of the duvet cover, rolls across the kitchen floor, and is pounced on by the cat, who glares at me as I snatch it away from him.
At last, I corral my flock of five back inside the dryer, where they belong. And as I dump the next load of wet clothes on top of them, I wonder whether this will be my lucky cycle, the one time when, after the load is done, I will find all five balls sitting meekly inside the machine. Half an hour later, summoned by the beeps announcing that the last drop of moisture has been baked out of my garments, I open the dryer door and, counting balls as I remove the clothes, for a moment I think Yes! This time they’ll all be there, this time I won’t have to hunt for any missing balls.
But whom am I kidding? Of course there aren’t five balls—only four, the fifth one (is it always the same one, I wonder?) having gone AWOL somewhere in the pile of clean t-shirts. And there I go again, like the good shepherd seeking the lost sheep, scrabbling through the laundry basket and keeping an eye out for Telemann, who is circling hyena-like in hopes of woolly prey. At last, there it is! My hand closes around the coveted sphere. I lob it into the dryer and slam the door, leaving it and its fellows to cool their heels until the next laundry day.
And as I heft the basket of clean but still hairy clothes into the bedroom I recall that as a citizen of Vermont I have been granted by the state the inalienable right to hang my clothes outdoors, to be dried by God’s own wind and sun, with no need of dryer balls or sheets: “Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, no municipality, by ordinance, resolution, or other enactment, shall prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting the installation of solar collectors, clotheslines, or other energy devices based on renewable resources.”
I love this brave little state, despite the weather. As soon as the snow melts—which, inshallah. will be any day now—I will install a renewable resource-based energy device in my backyard. And Telemann can have the dryer balls.