Ironing is not my forte. The Mothership had us ironing our own clothes from the age of eleven, and I used to dread Sunday afternoons when she’d plonk the basket of clothes at my door and bark, “Time to do your ironing!”
“Yeah, in a minute.”
It was worse in the middle of summer. The clothes would inevitably have been baking in the sun on the clothesline until they were so hard you could knock yourself out with a sock. Plus the folks were too tight-arsed to turn on the airconditioning, so the steam from the iron made me wilt.
I devised a few shortcuts. First I tried not wearing as many clothes, so I wouldn’t have as much stuff to iron. Alas I was such a messy child (still am) and couldn’t get through a meal without spilling half of it over myself, so I was constantly changing. There was a breakthrough in winter when occured to me that I didn’t really need to iron my entire school shirt, because only the collar would be visible once I put on the school jumper.
I got away with this for a month or two until one day Mum opened my wardrobe and saw an un-ironed shirt sleeve hanging up there and promptly lectured me for an hour on the perils of laziness. So after that I made sure I ironed that one sleeve, so if if you opened the wardrobe it totally looked like an ironed shirt.
Jump to a few years later and I was at university, where everything you wear is Slob Gear and is pretty much wash and fold. Or wash and throw on the floor. Or not wash at all and just pick up from the floor, sniff the armpits and wear. Anyway, I was poor and in need of a job. I hadn’t managed to find one and Mum was getting impatient. Then she found out that a friend of a friend was opening a business in town and needed a junior staffer. I dutifully trotted down there with my resume and was grilled about my work experience and HSC results. Then they asked me, “Can you iron?”
“Yes, it’s an ironing business. Didn’t your mother tell you?”
It was called It’s Ironic!. You know, deeply ironic in that Alanis Morissette kind of way. And how deeply ironic that the world’s worst ironing chick was employed there.
I had the 8.30 shift, which was the arse crack of dawn to a slovenly uni student. I worked solo, and had to open up the shop, fire up the nasty big industrial strength irons, take any new orders and do a bit of ironing. I used to sort through the baskets and pick the easiest one. Ideally you wanted the basketful of oil-stained overalls from the garage across the street, because they were so crappy that you couldn’t really do any harm to them. Also good was a basketful of cheapo chain store cottony stuff, washed so often that there was only a whisp of colour left. Baby clothes were also good. Very small. Or a basketful of hankerchiefs and teatowels. When an old lady walked through the door I would whoop for joy inside, because there’d be a high proportion of easy iron hankies, doilies and tea towels, plus if she was old and blind enough she wouldn’t notice the shoddy job I did of her frocks.
Worst of all was a basketful of designer gear, delicate fabrics and complicated creases. I tried to be a good ironer, really I did. I made sure I used the right setting so not to scorch the fabrics. I used starch when the client demanded it and made the creases sharp enough to amputate a limb. As a result I was a slow, slow ironer.
It all came undone one Wednesday morn. There was only one new basket to do and it was all designer stuff. And white. I tried to avoid it as long as possible, I cleaned the shop windows, vacuumed, and removed all the fluff from the bottom of the irons. Once I’d arranged all the bank notes in the till so the faces were all up the same way there was no avoiding the actual ironing.
I did okay until I got to the white jeans. That was when the iron decided to vomit murky brown water all down the right leg. My heart flipped. I poked at the stain with my finger. It wasn’t going to budge. I thought of The Mothership’s Handy Stain Removal Tips and couldn’t remember a single one. I considered trying to wash it under the sink, but remembered that laundry wasn’t one of my strengths either.
I looked at the label (size 8) and recognized it from one of the local fancy schmancy shops, and frantically calculated how much money I had in my paltry student bank account, or how many hours ironing I’d have to do to pay for the new pair, and whether I could close up the shop, run up the street to the fancy boutique, buy the jeans and race back, stealthily switch soiled jeans with the new pair, all before the boss got in. But! Panic! Would they still have those jeans? Were the last seasons stock? Would someone break into the shop while I was away and steal my perfectly faced notes and a giant ironing board? And who the fuck wears white jeans anyway?
I was thumbing through the Yellow Pages and just about to burst into tears when the boss arrived.
“Why are you so pale? Are you ill?”
“The jeans! I’ve killed the jeans!”
“Let me see.”
“That will come out with a bit of water, the iron does it all the time.”
After that the quality of my ironing degenerated with each shift, my heart wasn’t in it. The customers started complaining and soon I was only trusted to hankies and tea towels. Finally I found a new job at a coffee shop and I told my boss sadly that I was going to leave. She smiled a faint smile that was not at all ironic.
In the new job I discovered that making coffee was something to add to my Not My Forte list.
“You’re afraid of the milk,” said Joe, my boss. “Don’t fight the froth!”
And don’t ever let a non-coffee drinker make your coffee, either.