Hints From Heloise, via Bruce

July 12, 2010

One of the weird things about being out of the country so much is that I don’t always know what will be new to Americans, and what will be old hat. Every time I make ready to introduce a fresh (to me) writer, artist, musician, place, idea, or some such, I am always a bit apprehensive that I am actually the last to know about him/her/it, and that I will be gushing on about, say, Miley Cyrus (or worse yet, Billy Ray Cyrus) long after the person, place, or thing in question has flamed out stateside. Nowhere is this more evident than with cinema: Japan gets movies half a year later than the US, bare minimum, with the exceptions of presumed blockbusters such as Avatar, Michael Jackson’s This Is It, and the Harry Potter flicks. So, when I saw Invictus, for example, I wanted to let all my friends know how good it was; problem was, all of them had no doubt seen it months before, and it was likely available on DVD already in the US by the time I saw it in the theater in Japan.

All of that to say, I apologize in advance if you’ve heard this before:

When I stopped in the factory outlet town of Kittery, ME, earlier this summer, my intention was to buy a dozen polo shirts of every hue in the rainbow to replace the ones that had worn out over the past year. Polo shirts, khakis, and Topsiders have supplanted jeans, t-shirts, and sneakers in my wardrobe for the most part; basically, if an affair is too formal for polo shirts, it is highly doubtful that I belong there in the first place.

Shortly after donning my first new shirt, a lime green one, I dripped a dollop of bright yellow right below the bottom button. It seemed that the paper wrapping my overly-mustarded hot dog had a cleverly concealed aperture, presumably engineered that way for maximum damage. I dampened a napkin, preparing to dab at the mustard stain, knowing full well that it wasn’t going to come clean. Knit shirts are well known for their tenacity at maintaining a discoloration even after repeated washings. Saki snatched the napkin from my hand and said “Here, let me do it.” Rather than rubbing the stain, she shoved a piece of dry napkin up the inside of the shirt (directly behind the stain), and proceeded to strike the spot with a series of hammering motions, using the napkin I had dampened a few moments before. “What on earth are you doing?” I asked. “Hitting it knocks the stain out of the cloth, and into the napkin on the back side,” she replied.

No way, I thought, preparing to relegate the shirt to a pile of similar articles of clothing to be worn while doing household chores. She finished her ministrations, and of course there was a wet spot, but all of the yellow mustard had seemingly disappeared. Shortly afterward, the dampness evaporated and left only—well, no evidence whatsoever!

“I have never heard of this before,” I marveled, looking closely at the previously affected area; no matter how I turned the cloth against the light, I could not see any trace of mustard. “This is how everybody does it in Japan,” Saki said, (somewhat dismissively, I thought, with an implied “duh” in the tone).

So, as I say, if this is common knowledge in North America, please excuse my beating of the proverbial deceased equus, but if it is indeed news to you, give it a try next time your shirt or blouse suffers from the double whammy of colorful condiments and inexorable gravitational downforce. It is really quite remarkable.