Friends, gather round and let me tell you the story of how I almost burned down our house. In this case “I” am a disembodied strand of my hair, and the only choice “I” made was to lightly disembark from my head and then fall under the sway of static electricity, but the result is the same.
A funny quality of homes in Arizona is that many of them have washers and dryers that are located outside often—as at our house—on a covered back porch. Instead of going into a laundry room at night to wash your favorite t-shirt so you can wear it again the next day without sweat in the armpits, you go outside and hope that the light will have scared away any black widows that might be hanging out in the cabinet with your detergent. (N.B. the world is beautiful and terrifying.)
Once or twice in the past year, I noticed a faint burning smell after doing a load or two of laundry, but I always just assumed the dryer was a little too hot; I’d clean out the lint trap, and turn the machine down to “gentle.” It was easy to forget, because as soon as I went back inside, the smell was lost to me. This happened just last week, and because it wasn’t unusual or unexpected, I didn’t think much of it; I did clean the lint trap more diligently than usual, procuring a stick from our messy backyard and using it to fish extra lint out of the lint-trap crevasse, along with a couple of quarters and a penny; I assumed the smell came from this hot metal, and let the dryer stand for a half an hour before proceeding.
In retrospect, it should probably have alarmed me that I felt the dryer was so hot it needed to “stand,” but no matter.
Eventually I turned the whole shebang back on (dryer running, new load in the washer) and was surprised to find, somewhat later, that both machines had stopped mid-load. Not only were the clothes in the dryer wet, the laundry machine was full of water, having gotten stuck on the Rinse cycle. I tried unplugging everything and plugging it back in, but this didn’t work (partially, I would discover, because I tried the wrong plug). Dave was traveling home from Washington D.C., so I texted him a series of bereft emojis and hung all the laundry out to dry on the porch.
When he got home, Dave moved the washer and dryer and discovered 1. that I’d never actually unplugged them, and 2. that if I had, I’d have noticed a thick strand of charred hair wrapped around the plug, which had melted into its socket. Apparently, our house had almost burned down, and I hadn’t even noticed. The electrician later confirmed that this was Not Good, and that yes, there was one more thing that we as homeowners were doing wrong. (We needed a different vent, and maybe our entire dryer is stuffed full of errant lint? Unclear. We did clean out as much as we could by unscrewing various metal flaps.)
All this smelled…very bad.
Try as I might to feel culpable, though, I can’t think what I might have done to prevent this situation, other than going back to a pixie cut. Yes, we needed to clean better, but would shearing lint off the wall really have prompted me to inspect the plug for clumps of non-lint hair? I don’t think so!
Usually, when hair is a problem in our house, it’s dog hair; usually, it’s clogging something sensible, like the vacuum: I know why dog hair goes in the vacuum. I know how it gets there. But why was such a thick strand of my hair wrapped around a cord on the back of the washing machine? Why did my diligent lint-trap cleaning do nothing? Why was this the day that something caught on fire, and not a different day?
So anyway, the lesson is, never try.