On Being and Dry-Cleaning: a Series of Steps

Eleanor Mary Boudreau

Call me Eleanor. Or call me Ishmael. This stoic dry-cleaning machine is the Galaxy.


Names are often deceiving.






Dry-cleaning is, in fact, a wet business, but is waterless — (is, most basically, a chemical process by which stains are brought to the surface of fabrics to be skimmed off using steam.) Most cleaners use a liquid solvent called perchloroethylene, or perc. There are three main advantages to dry-cleaning.

First: Some fabrics, such as silk, shrink or warp when submerged in water, but do not lose their form in perc.

Next: Oil is not soluble in water but will dissolve in perc, making dry-cleaning especially effective at removing food stains.

Think businessman. Think appetite. Now think of his tie.

What is this but a glorified bib? And what can water do about it?

Finally: My hands do not get dirty.






The Galaxy looks like a front-loading washing machine, only bigger, and operates like a combination washer and dryer.

Once the circular hatch is shut, a drum fills with solvent, agitates, drains, spins, and finally dries.

The clothes are then removed from the belly, spot-treated with a steam-pen, pressed, and bagged. But these steps do not interest me.

I reason, because the clothes are already clean.






I claw through libraries and drive through states; I quote Melville to say I am in earnest; and I will try; and I grow cold, and pale, and distant.

I am told I lack



This is true.






To feel the text in textile, I must do with these visible hands.

Some fabrics cannot be dry-cleaned.






Before the invention of rubber there were, of course, no rubber clothes.

At first, rubber was made from trees, Hevea brasiliensis, the South American rubber tree. Today, latex is the raw material from which most rubber is made and for this reason condoms are called rubbers and defined as such in the dictionary: “rubber 3 d : CONDOM.”

Latex is milky and (usually) white, excreted by various seed plants, including milkweed, spurge, and poppy, but latex can also be made synthetically, like prose

and poetry.


Prose protects and lyric ornaments, but, like rubber clothing, they are only shadows of the human form. Towards the end of the day, one shrinks and the other stretches, and discomfits the body beneath.

I have suffered long enough to understand I live

somewhere along Plato’s Divided Line, and I don’t live in Episteme.






Synthetic latex is an emulsion of synthetic rubber or plastic in water, (an emulsion is the mixture of one liquid in another, immiscible liquid — which seems impossible, but happens every day, as in fat in milk.)

So latex is a colloid, a substance which is, in fact, two distinct substances — one dispersed throughout the other. Or, the less precise definition, “col∙loid 2 b : a colloid together with the medium in which it is dispersed <smoke is a ~ >.”

Few things are pure, thus many things are colloids.

Smoke is a colloid, as is love.

Perhaps the soul is —


I can think of others, but latex is the important one.






Before the invention of rubber clothing there were, of course, no rubber fetishists.

In most rubber apparel rubber fibers are at the core of the yarn and cotton fibers are wrapped around them.

Remember when Conrad wrote in Heart of Darkness that it was not the core or kernel Marlow was concerned with, but everything outside, in the surrounding haze? This is not that yarn.

This yarn is elastic, like a second skin, ideal for form-fitting clothing.

Rubber is also used to coat fabrics, most commonly rain-gear and drapes. Rubber is flexible, strong, and nonabsorbent, but also hot

and uncomfortable. Cotton breathes. Rubber does not.






Rubber is damaged by sunlight, oil, and sweat. And rubber cannot be dry-cleaned: components mixed with rubber dissolve during dry-cleaning and stain adjacent fabric; heat drying makes rubber hard and brittle; and steam finishing causes rubber fabric to pucker, blister, peel, and stick

like a synthetic sore.






There have, of course, been leather fetishists for a long, long time.

I used to own a lot of leather and used it all the time — all serious horseback riders do. I owned leather boots and breeches with suede knee patches; and I owned leather tack — a saddle, girth, bridle, breastplate, martingale, and a set of yoke reins. I went through a pair of leather boots a year. I often wore a hole straight through the side, at my calf. This hole would appear right as the stitching above my toes gave out. The last time I saw my saddle it had mold growing on it, like the grass already pushing up through someone’s ribs.

I gave up a form of recreation

and material things, things I loved unambiguously — loved

in black and white — to make a living. I wound up cleaning

strangers’ clothing.


And leather, like rubber, is a pain in the ass to clean.






The International Fabricare Institute begins its bulletin on leather: “Leather is nature’s non-woven fabric.” To make leather, the skin from animals is stripped, cured, and rolled around in drums.

 Roll, like an 18-wheeler —

that ho fine, but this ho a killer.

The radio is always on and, as I work, I aspire to the quality of song.







The dictionary defines hide as “the skin of an animal whether raw or dressed — used esp. of large heavy skins,” or “the life or physical well-being of a person <betrayed his friend to save his own ~ >.” There is one other definition of hide.


All hides have three layers.






The first layer holds the hair follicles. Every animal has a unique hair pattern — like snowflakes. The wool is left intact in many sheepskin garments to make a warm, inner lining. You are not cold, but hot — hot blooded. You notice, after all, a perfect, female form.

The bottom layer of a hide, then, is the flesh. The flesh is the outer surface of a traditional sheepskin garment. We just cut the sheep open and turn it inside out.

The Fabricare Institute again says that the “general adage” is, “The harder the life of the animal the better quality of the skin.” If this is hard for you to read, then maybe you shouldn’t wear leather. If not, fine. You look nice, sexy even.

Till you percolate. Make it work,

with your wet t-shirt —

Bitch, you gotta shake it till your calf muscles hurt.






If the animal was cut, however, during life and healed, even if it was just bitten by an insect, the healed skin will be thicker, and will absorb dyes and oils differently than the rest of the hide.

“Bleeding” refers to dyes loosened during washing — like the red trim that turns your sock pink, or the red shirt that pinks your underwear. Bleeding is not usually a problem with leather, but leather dye will often partially dissolve or wear away during cleaning or drying.

Cleaning may also reduce the oil content of leather. A hide drained of oil will appear drained of color, and oiling after cleaning will darken the hide again.

Thus scar tissue is a natural defect that may become more apparent upon cleaning.

Like song, work is rhythmic,

repetitive, but work strips us of things to sing



Roll, like an 18-wheeler — that ho fine,

but this ho kill her.






A cowhide is large enough to make a garment with no seams, but is too thick, so is split, sometimes into three, sometimes into five sheets.

When the skin is split, veins are brought closer to the surface and sometimes split as well. Like scar tissue, vein channels absorb dye and oil differently and can become more prominent after cleaning. Veins will appear as lighter cobwebs above a darker mass. Or, the vein can fall out during cleaning



leaving an empty canal


that looks like a groove from a knife. Rock bottom is not






empty, but peopled, trafficked — I think that is what surprised me the most. Cars rush through their lanes like blood cells, their lights red and white in the damp darkness, following a white truck (like a whale), the canvas sides of the truck expanding and contracting, expanding and contracting. The last living, breathing, hot-blooded mammal is hounded.

And you’re laughing. You think this is silly. “Ha, ha, ha — Moby Dick.” This is not, not silly.

She’s leakin’ — she’s soaking wet. She’s leakin’ — soaking wet.

I want to be with you always and keep you warm. A perfect pair of chaps.


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