Friday, August 20, 2010

Fitted Sheets

When I went off to college many many years ago, my first roommate was a guy whose dad owned a dry cleaning plant and laundry somewhere in the wilds of Kansas.

Bill came to school armed with flat sheets for his bed--but no fitted bottom sheets. Instead, he was expected to wrap his mattress in one of the flat sheets. It seems that his father was consumed with hate-filled rage whenever he encountered a fitted bottom sheet, courtesy of the folding machines at his laundry being unable to do anything but tie the cloth in knots. Bill told me that he'd seen his dad purple with rage trying to unwind a fitted bottom sheet from one of the laundry's state-of-the-art sheet folders.

At the time, it seemed a rather excessive reaction to the convenience of a fitted bottom sheet, especially since Bill's dad, despite his rage, hadn't bothered to teach his son how to make a bed using a flat sheet for a bottom sheet.

After a few days of waking up when Bill fell on the floor when his alarm went off wrapped up in his sheets like an Egyptian corpse somebody had done a bad job of embalming, I finally took pity on him and showed him how to do military corners that you could bounce a dime off of after sleeping on the sheet all night long.

I wasn't a particularly militaristic person, and this was during the Vietnam War, when every eighteen-year-old male was trying to find some ethical reason to avoid the draft. I didn't learn my bed-making skills from the military or militaristic parents, but from a terrifying nurse in an osteopathic hospital who could make the most arrogant doctor tremble and sweat--and sometimes weep. My first high-school job was as a hospital orderly, and this nurse taught me how to unfold a sheet, put it on the bed, pull the fabric so tight you could have sent semaphore messages by tapping on it, then tuck the corners in so tightly that nothing could have escaped that mattress. She actually taught me how to tuck a sheet in so tight that an alcoholic suffering from delirium tremens couldn't escape. "It's kinder than puttenem in a straightjacket," she told me.

"Yes, ma'am," I replied.

That nurse taught me how to make a bed so tight it would make a marine drill sergeant weep, it was that beautiful. I could make a bed with a person still in it with the sheets so perfect that it wouldn't be wrinkled the next day. When it came to bed-making, I was a god.

Fast forward a couple (ok, three) decades. My wife and I buy a 13-room Bed & Breakfast. We have a lot of sheets to wash. And suddenly, I am transported back to my undergraduate years and my first roommate's stories about his dad's rage against fitted sheets.

I suddenly love this man.

After a year of inn-keeping, I'm finally pretty good at folding a fitted bottom sheet. Sort of. It depends on how exhausted the elastic is. The more un-elastic the elastic is, the nicer the fold is going to be, and the better the sheet will look when it's wrestled onto the bed.

On the other hand, if it's one of our newer sheets with elastic all around, then no matter how carefully it's folded, the wrinkles on the sheet when we get it on the bed are inevitably going to resemble a Dan Brown map on how to find gold in the cave of the Knights Templar.

At the High Mountain Lodge, we iron the top sheets and we iron the pillow cases, but those damn bottom sheets have defeated us. Please don't think the less of us for our failure!

And Bill, God bless your dad. The things you told me about him scared the, uh, they really scared me. I sure hope he was reconciled to the deficiencies of his ironing machines before he retired.

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