Monday, October 26, 2009

The Laundress is featured in The New York Times Style Magazine


The Samurai Shopper is harboring a wee crush on Robert Pattinson, teen-throb star of ‘‘Twilight’’ and ‘‘New Moon.’’ True, Pattinson’s less a menacing vampire than a really hot Boy Scout in need of a bath, and nowhere near as frightening as Joan Allen’s zombie mom in ‘‘Pleasantville.’’ A perfectly coiffed paradigm of the Ike-and-Mamie era, Allen’s fashion-plate lady kept house like no flesh-and-blood woman I ever knew. That demure domesticity prompted many boomer babes to vault the white picket fences and escape similar, Betty Crockered fates. Cooking and cleaning were heinous enough, but ironing clothes? The worst. The Samurai Shopper was one among many yearning to sink her teeth into meatier challenges.

Ironing symbolized dead-end drudgery for me until ‘‘Hairspray’’ came out, wherein Ricki Lake got her hair ironed directly on the ironing board. That looked like fun. Even though my hair needed no ironing, my clothes were a mess. Having sold out to steady paychecks, I was still bankbooks away from having Mme. Paulette service a single garment. That required disposable income and more numbing chores, this time in an office where crisp shirts were de rigueur. To break free of housewifey bondage called for housewifey measures. But pumping iron proved immensely satisfying once I got over the male/female, upstairs/downstairs stigma. All that intense hand-eye coordination and blinkered focus cleared my mind of niggling minutiae. And what’s better than putting on a freshly ironed, still-warm shirt? Besides almond croissants? Even now, especially now, ironing dissipates lots of stress. Chew on this: we’re stoked by achievement and glittering prizes, by the prospects of handing over our dirty laundry to others. So we iron to economize and discover a peculiar refuge from the lacerating effects of overweening ambition. Thus irony — and Zen — infuse our lives with risible absurdities.

But which irons? You’d think we’d be spoiled for choice, but selections in the U.S. disappoint. Sleek, ultramodern-looking irons with all the bells and whistles are common in Europe. Here, most irons would be easily recognized by Dagwood and Blondie, with a few improved safety features added. There’s automatic shut-off, tempered soleplates, easier maneuverability. But an iron with all of the above and futuristic good looks is perhaps asking too much. Panasonic’s 360 Degree Quick comes close. It’s a silver Jet Ski with a titanium-covered soleplate that puts some glide in the ride. Ample steam holes minimize do-overs, and Panasonic’s transparent body reveals water levels clearly, to better avert scorching or running on empty. It’s self-cleaning with an anti-calcium system, so nothing stands between you and your Calvins.

Oliso’s Smart Iron boasts an auto-lift system that kicks in with every stop and go. No need to set the iron on its heel; placed face down, one automotive grunt drops miniature stilts that prop the iron up till you’re ready to roll. Grab the iron and the guards disappear. Steam horizontally, vertically and continuously; once you syncopate the stop/go and steam release, feel free to whistle while you work. One act of dithering, though, and the Oliso mutinies, dropping its guards at the slightest brush. So get a grip and tell it who’s boss. The filling spout is awkwardly placed under the handle and the Extreme Steam guzzles water madly, but experience will teach you when to tank up. Oliso hates distilled water, so try sprinkling some sniffy ironing elixir from

DeLonghi’s Pro300 sits on a capacious steamer that exerts tremendous pressure when green-lit. Steam holes only dot the iron’s prow, but the staccato bursts are very effective, easily aimed and fired. For delicate items, hold things up and steam through without elbow grease. The cork handle is a huge plus: the lack of water gauge, a huge minus. Though its diagrams and instructions are puzzling, press on. Just don’t store until the unit’s well cooled.

The baddest boy on the block is Rowenta’s Pressure Iron and Steamer, the Hummer of all irons, dedicated to serious wrinkle demolition. Though it takes time to crank up, 1,750 watts of power go full tilt after that. There’s a well-angled rest atop the steam tank. Alas, no water gauge, so fill to the max and be prepared to quit when the well runs dry. Rowenta plays its own oceanic symphony too, but it’s the reassuring sound of force gathering momentum. It’s Iron Man! And me without my little French maid’s outfit.

Finally, Brookstone’s Steam Bug, a mini-iron in a pouch with a teeny filler cup, is irresistible, a press to impress. It works, it’s travel friendly, cuter than a teenage vampire, and it lacks the stately solidity of professional appliances. I plan to take it everywhere I go, just as soon as I bust out of my apron, hairnet, rubber gloves and saddle shoes.

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