Andrew Zhu

Laundering Hats



The typical washing cycle is 40 minutes or so, but I have a significant load to get off my chest and wash clean, so I gave myself approximately an hour to write this freewriting piece up. I did take the liberty of fifteen minutes after the hour had elapsed for minor proofreading and flow edits.

Laundering Hats

Over the years, I have had a few run-ins with laundry. That’s a rather unusual sentence to write, I suppose, and the final impetus for jotting down these unfortunate experiences, at last, was yet another slap-my-hand-on-my-forehead type of tomfoolery. Earlier in the evening, after a productive and surprisingly painless day at clinic, I arrived home about six in the evening. After heating up a microwave dinner, a common style of food preparation on away rotations, I downed the tasteless chicken breast and assorted colorful rice. Chewing the dry meat and drier rice in my mouth, I became hyperaware of not having much by way of drink for the entirety of the day. 

Now, I am no stranger to limited water intake, as I find my signaling pathways for water consumption severely understimulated at baseline, but they did kick in at this point. I immediately set about to quench my thirst. There was a Brita water filter in the basement of the house, and I also knew that my car had half of a twenty-bottle pack of Ice Mountain bottles remaining. But, as I was staying in a room on the third floor, my inner sloth prevented me from expending the effort, however minimal it may have been, to trek down and back up to fetch some water. I briefly considered drinking straight from the tap as well, though I deferred that option in favor of simply looking around my room for something potable. 

Rummaging through the number of bags I had strewn across my room, I found a mini-bottle of Aquafina. Stupendous! Untwisting the cap, I noticed that the bottle had previously been opened, but in my thirst, caution departed in favor of immediate satisfaction, and I intook a large gulp of “water” into my mouth. It was not water. It was not ginger ale. It tasted like what I would imagine rancid coconut oil to taste like. I spat it out and went to the bathroom whereupon I rinsed my mouth with water. Real water. Plenty of water.

I found out later that my mom, in an effort to help me with settling down for my rotation, stuffed in one of the bags a small bottle filled with laundry detergent. And yes, looking now at the bottle, I do appreciate the increased relative viscosity, the slight-green hue, the formation of soap bubbles within the fluid and at the surface interface. I blame the dim room light! 

In any case, that was the episode that made me write about laundry. But now to the main part of the story: the case of the long-billed hat.

I am a huge fan of Brazil, the wacky satirical film directed by Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame. The story is set in a dystopian bureaucratically driven society in which things go according to plan when everything goes wrong. This is embodied by the completely inept “Central Services” division of the government, composed of more or less useless mechanics/cleaners sporting a red jumper and an outrageous long-billed red hat.

For Halloween one year in college, I decided that I would dress up as one of these individuals. I acquired a Central Services t-shirt, a Central Services embroidery patch, and a white long-billed trucker hat (as red was not available). It is to this last piece of my costume that arose all the trouble.

I set about to dye the hat a bright red color, as per the characters sporting the hat in the film. With a supply of strong red clothing dye that I purchased from online, I set to work. There are different methods to dying clothes, including in a large pot on the stove or using a washing machine. I chose the latter method, as I did not possess a pot large enough to fit the long-billed hat. I should mention at this time that I lived in a high-rise apartment in which there was only a room of washers and dryers per floor, not one per unit as with the apartments of fancy people.

Needless to say, even after a few washing cycles, the hat remained a bright pink at best. And seeing the red-tinged fluid remaining in the washing machine, I knew that other laundry users would find their clothes an unexpected bright pink as well. So, in damage-control mode, I probably ran that washer five or six more times in an effort to washing away any traces of the residual dye. This damage control was not a success, as a week or two later, when I next had a load of laundry, I placed the load absentmindedly in the unmarked landline of a washing machine, and the majority of that load was dyed irreparably pink as a result. I apologize for any pink clothing I may have caused for any individuals who used that washer. The Halloween costume was somewhat more successful, looking on the optimist’s side after I had sewed the patch onto the front of the hat , though no one recognized the 27B-6 forms I prepared.

Fast forward a few years later, and the still-bright-pink hat now found itself in my bedroom closet at home in Wisconsin. In search for a hat to wear, given that it was wintertime in Wisconsin, I caught sight of the hat. It only took three years for me to become undeterred for dyeing again, and I purchased another pack of red clothing dye that very night.

I was more cautious this go-around, certainly much more careful than I was with drinking from the bottle of water/ laundry detergent. I found the largest pot my mom had in the kitchen and followed the steps on the package over the next few days. To my dismay, the hat was only marginally deeper in shade. However, even given the defective dye (or was it my inability to follow what should have been elementary instructions?), the hat kept dripping pinkish liquid.

So, I went the laundry machine route again, this time with the goal to remove superficial excess dye from the hat so I could at least wear it. Admitting defeat, I threw the hat in the washer and went away to do some work in the office. About an hour and a half later, as I was walking to the kitchen to get some food, I heard the noise of water dripping and splashing onto the floor. Yep, the water drainage for the washer was unhooked (unbeknownst to me, my mom would disconnect the drainage every time she ran a cycle of clothes, ostensibly for the smell?). The entire bottom compartment of the washing machine was filled with water, and water covered the tiles of the laundry room and spread across the wood flooring of the hallway into the dining room and kitchen area. Oh, and the dripping of the water? Yeah, that was the water seeping down from the ground floor, through the interfloor space, and directly to the basement ceiling and onto the floor beneath.

When I ran down the flight of stairs to the basement, the increasing noise of water dripping, rather, splashing, down onto the rubber matting of the workout room indicated to me that I was heading towards the epicenter of destruction. The mess at hand had addled my common sense, so I foolishly flipped on the light switch standing soaked in the middle of a wet room. Fortunately for me, the switch breakers had flipped on, and the lights refused to turn on. Less fortunate for me, I was then standing in the dark trying to imagine the extent of flooding. Shining my phone light up on the ceiling above, I could see streams of water pouring from around the borders of the ceiling light, access panels, and outlets. Sections of the ceiling, composed of gypsum and paper, were already sagging under the weight of the water. I went to fetch a screwdriver, and removal of each panel resulted in a concentrated waterfall draining from above.

After phoning the parents and informing them that I flooded the laundry room on account of attempting to dye a pink hat red, I spent the next few hours ignominiously mopping up the mess. That I am here today to write this impromptu piece is testament to the fact that there was no permanent damage to the flooring, ceiling, or electrical systems. Whew!

Yet, even after all of that “washing,” the hat still dripped pink water. And days later, when the residual dye finally came off, the hat was as pink as a ribbon in September. Some things are just not meant to be. Even reminiscing of it now, I have a taste of regret in my mouth. But perhaps that is but residual laundry detergent not yet fully rinsed away.



If there is anything to learn from the fiasco of the long-brimmed hat, it is to search for the right color piece of apparel from the get-go. Leave the dyeing to the experts!