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LYTHGOE COMES CLEAN: HIS RED, CHAPPED HANDS ARE DUE TO LAUNDRY DUTY

When I tell people that I do the laundry at our house, they're always stunned. But it's one of the credible ways we've made our marriage more equal.

And it works pretty well - except that my once attractive hands are now always rough, red and cracked. So I have to keep several jars of Mentholatum handy.In the early years of our marriage, Marti did it all - and when our kids were little it was one aspect of running a household that got to her.

The stuff just kept piling up.

So several years ago when we first started sharing household responsibilities, I got involved in the laundry - slowly.

I was often gone in the evenings, and so when I returned I would unwind by watching the TV news while organizing and folding laundry.

Finally, I just took over the laundry. That doesn't mean that I do it the same way Marti did. Once the job was mine, I put my own unique interpretation on it.

No more folding, except for towels and sheets.

I just do the laundry, put the dry clothes in baskets and then holler for the kids to come and pick out their own stuff. That's peculiarly uncivilized compared to Marti's method, but much less time-consuming.

It's imperfect, because I can't always get the kids to pick up their laundry sometime in the first four or five days. But at least it's done, and they know where to get it.

Although Marti does not endorse my laundry style, she's so happy to get rid of the obligation that she never complains - with one tiny exception. She cannot believe the way I fold towels and sheets and cheerfully volunteers to help me do it.

This is either one of the few bona fide differences between women and men - or it is genetic. Whatever it is, I am incapable of matching the corners of anything - even a pillow case.

I also lack the gene that allows you to smoothly slide a pillow into a case. The corners always end up in the middle - exactly where you sleep.

When I have a lot of laundry to do, impatience sometimes causes me to make unpleasant mistakes. You know those irritating instructions like "Machine wash cold inside out, tumble dry, then remove promptly. Do not iron where printed."

Or "Designed to fade and lose color. Machine wash separately with cool water. Non-chlorine bleach if needed. Tumble dry; low, cool iron."

I hate small loads, and so I sometimes gamble about what goes with what - and the color of one article of clothing occasionally leaves its imprint on another article.

But I'm so experienced now that it happens only rarely - certainly not more than once a week. My most common error is forgetting to check pockets for Kleenex.

The devastating result is that every piece of clothing in the load is covered with little pieces of white fluff.

Members of the family who notice this has happened to a shirt or a pair of pants sometimes lose control. But I have an easy out - "Hey, better be sure to empty your pockets next time!"

But the instruction I hate most is "Wash separately in cold water, then dry flat."

By the time you have 25 articles of clothing with those insane instructions, you are going nuts trying to find something with the same approximate color that you can stick into the same cold water.

And where do you dry flat all these 25 items - on towels lying end-on-end all the way down the hallway and on the carpet of each of the bedrooms?

So sometimes I just take a chance and stick it into the dryer. It's still astounding how tiny a medium-sized shirt can become after being tossed and turned in hot air.

So I'll keep doing the laundry, but I'm also looking forward to the return of wash 'n' wear.

Have you ever noticed how many of your clothes are made in Bangladesh?