I started out as an assistant in a mom-and-pop textile mill. It’s been some years now. I worked my way to second in charge.
Of course, there’s just me and the shop steward. I’ve always been second in charge.
Cindy is the shop steward, chief and boss — all rolled into one. She’s also my wife. I work on demand. It’s my job to sit around and read the newspaper and gaze out the window. And wonder if that cape honeysuckle withering in the heat could use a bit more water.
The boss runs the shop. She weaves towels and blankets on a big loom made by Buddhist monks. That’s true. Buddhist monks made it in the 1960s or ’70s. Looms nowadays often have computers that turn out a blanket while you’re bingeing on English murder mysteries. We often watch those. Snooty upper-crust types always get indignant when the inspector asks them where they were when their neighbor — whom they truly loathe — was impaled with a samurai sword missing from their collection.
The monk-made loom has no computer. Cindy works it by pushing on big pedals and — well, it’s complicated. Looms have parts with names like heddles and other names. She doesn’t need my help. Usually.
But say she wants to load up yarn for what’s called the warp. When she works the loom, she unwinds the warp and slips in the weft. It’s called weaving. I know that much.
First she has to put on the warp.
Then I’ll hear, “Could you help me?”
I put down the paper. I know what this means. The assistant has a job. I head for the Green Room, a converted carport with a floor of aqua-green tile. I don’t go at warp speed.
My job is to roll the warp onto a big log-type roller as Cindy unspools it from her side. Sometimes all goes smoothly. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I mess up. I have to leave until things boil over. And cover the dog’s ear. Maggie doesn’t like bad words.
Cindy doesn’t stay mad for long. And I haven’t been pink-slipped. Or impaled by a samurai sword.
I think I came close. Cindy once worked on a lacy wrap. This was knitting, not weaving. It was very intricate. It took her a year to knit. But it had a buildup of dust.
I said, “That’s OK. I have Dust-Off spray. You know, canned air.”
I reached into the utility closet above the dryer, brought out a can. Cindy held out the blanket. For reasons I don’t understand, before pushing the button, I thought to check the label. Maybe to see if I should shake or not.
What do you know, it wasn’t canned air. It was a kind of foam used to seal cracks. It expands and hardens, like concrete.
If I hadn’t caught it, I wouldn’t be writing this. I would have gone into the witless protection program.
So good news, I’m still her assistant.
It’s not all loom and doom. Occasionally, I’m called on to haul machinery you’d expect to find in any well-equipped textile shop. The mangle, for instance.
I know. It sounds like something suited for a medieval dungeon. But it’s a kind of iron popular in the 1950s. Well, I don’t know how popular it was, but the user guide shows a housewife in a full-length print dress, like June Cleaver. She’s sitting at her mangle happily running her husband’s pants through it.
Cindy decided she needed a mangle — to better iron her textiles. She found one on Craigslist. It was in far, far north Scottsdale. A gated community halfway to Payson.
We pulled up to the keypad. Cindy read me the numbers. I punched them in. The gate didn’t move. She read the numbers again. And a third time. I kept punching the numbers. Nothing happened.
As the assistant, I felt a duty to roll my eyes. I looked at the paper with the numbers.
“You didn’t read the hashtag.”
“It’s not part of the number.”
“Well, you have to …” Better than mansplain, I punched the number with the hashtag. The gate opened.
We drove in and found the house. The mangle was waiting on the driveway. It looked like something you’d find in any well-equipped sweatshop. It also weighed a hundred pounds.
The man of the house helped me load it onto the back of the Prius. My arm got stuck under one of the legs. I lifted the mangle and pulled my arm out.
The mangle is old-school. The frame is made of sheet metal. As I extracted my arm, it peeled away a flap of skin on my wrist. I didn’t notice it until the woman of the house mentioned I was bleeding on her driveway.
She was nice about it. She got some paper towels and packing tape. She wrapped up my wrist. Very chic.
We got the mangle home. And wrangled the mangle to the Green Room. Cindy tried it out. It didn’t quite work.
Maybe she wasn’t wearing the right dress.