Photo by Garrett Ziegler
Looking out my kitchen window, I see a clothesline. It hasn’t always been there. It’s a bit saggy perhaps, and a long length of excess rope is untrimmed and dangling from the knot. But still, I look at this clothesline and feel pride. For it was I who put it there.
My girlfriend Victoria and I live on the third floor of a pre-war, red brick building on 19th St. in South Park Slope. Our back windows afford a nice view of all the backyards on our block and those of the homes on the north side of 20th St, which abut ours- each a tiny Kingdom for it’s little Monarch – sometimes with a miniature Versailles, and children running around just as filthy and shoeless as serfs of yore. Each kingdom is separated from the next but by a fence of chain links or tall wood plank.
Some have been maintained, but not many. The once magnificent grounds have fallen to disrepair. Flagstones once used for a footpath to protect a lush green lawn or prizewinning rose garden from unwelcome footfall are now just barely bald-spots in an expanse of weeds growing unchecked and wild. What mostly remains is hard-packed dirt and dog shit-covered Astroturf; reliquaries of rusted out barrows, barbeques, and the rubble of excess materials from construction projects, decades since passed.
And at the foot of all these yards standing proudly tall are the blind sentinels of each delinquent kingdom- the seemingly pointless ladders to nowhere, the clothesline towers.
When I moved to Brooklyn I had no idea what these were, as all I saw were not actually in use anymore. But then someone told me, “those are for clotheslines.”
JUST for clotheslines?” I thought. It seemed so strange. All that height – the metal and concrete, a towering eyesore, in a city where people’s showers are put in kitchens and toilets are put in showers for an extra foot of space; a city where economy of space is a religion. A tower just for laundry? It just seems so improbable.
When my girlfriend and I moved in together, the size of our average load of laundry doubled. We live far from the Laundromat – at least what we consider to be far, which is two long blocks and one short block. For whatever reason, we immediately became incapable of doing laundry. New socks and underwear would be purchased. Travel bags on visits to my parents would become stuffed to capacity without benefit of folding. Occasional emergency wash runs would be made to Vic’s parents in Midwood. But a full load of laundry was apparently impossible. A large pile would sit in the corner of the bedroom, and be cherry-picked again and again for salvageable items until finally consisting of nothing but sheets and towels.
Exercising became problematic with no clean workout clothes. I would run on the track at the Y or in Prospect Park, stink-lines trailing behind me, people falling away like flies. To combat this problem I began taking gym clothes into the shower with me after my run and would vigorously rub Garnier Fructis conditioner into my shorts, adding a squirt of Kiehl’s for good measure. However, with no place to hang them other than on top of the shower, they would drip on the floor or onto the dry towels, staying damp for days, and in the end just smelling mildewy and stale, like a summer camp changing room.
I decided that the problem was NOT in fact insufficient cleaning methods, which eventually became tossing a capful of Ultra Gain into the shower, then stomping and squishing my gym shorts with my feet as I bathed myself, like some disgusting 18th-century vintner trying to achieve an earthier tannin, while giving his grapes what-for. The problem was that I didn’t have anyplace to properly dry them. I needed a clothesline.
I assumed the installation involved climbing the tower as opposed to firing some kind of harpoon gun from our window, but wanted to make sure. I typed “installing a clothesline tower, Brooklyn.” My search yielded a youtube video entitled “Joseph installs a new clothesline, Brooklyn.”
It did not include Joseph falling to his death as I assumed it would, but it did confirm my assumptions about ascending the tower. I’m sure this was safe when the house and tower were built in 1910, but I questioned the structural integrity of the rusty quarter-inch metal bars at Centenarian age.
I measured the distance from the house to the tower. It was almost exactly 50 feet so I would need a bit more than 100 feet of rope. Of course the hardware store only carried 50 and 100-foot lengths of clothesline, so I begrudgingly purchased two hundred feet as it began to rain.
About a week later, there was a break in the rain and I decided it was time. I could finally wash my gym clothes and hang them out to dry! Victoria refused to be any part of it, not wanting to be witness to me falling to my death, so I had to be my own spotter.
I tied one end of the line to the pulley outside my kitchen window and tossed the coil down into the yard. I had promised Vic I would use a “safety harness” so I cut a length from the extra coil and strung it through the belt loops around my waist, then around the tower. With a good square knot, I leaned back and felt the rope tighten around my hips. As long as I remembered to keep my pants on, I wouldn’t fall away from the tower, but straight down and be able to quickly grab a rung.
Safely securing the end of the rope I had thrown down from the kitchen around my neck, up I went, hand over hand. I had to stop and clear myself of some old cut cable wires and dead ivy to get up. And some tree branches. And some live wires. But soon I was at the top, three stories up on a structure with rungs just wide enough to accommodate one foot. I was gripping tightly, pressing my body to the metal, trying to keep my weight centered to minimize the swaying which did have me a bit concerned. I untied the rope from around my neck, slipped it through the pulley above my head, and secured it to my belt. And down I came, hand under hand.
I released myself from the safety harness and feeling quite satisfied, began walking away with the line, preparing to hoist it up to my window. Then, looking up, I realized I would have to send the rope over the branches, adjacent to the second story of my building, in order for this to actually work. Fuck.
I secured the extra coil, which I would need for additional weight and length when throwing the rope over the branches, safely around my neck, my harness back around the tower, and the end of my future clothes-line to my belt.
Up I went hand over hand, over the old cable wire, dead climbing ivy, tree branches and live wires. I broke what branches I could (they were dead and it’s a neighbor’s tree) to facilitate the process of getting the rope over the tree. Clutching to the tower with the crook of one arm, I bunched up all the dangling rope with other and attached it to the coil tied around my neck. Finally removing the extra coil from my neck, I said a prayer and lobbed it in as high and long an arch as I could, over the branches and into the yard. Success!
Arms shaking, but victorious none-the-less, down I came, hand under hand. After a struggle getting the line over the low-hanging lights and ivy structure the old landlords had by the back of the building, I ran upstairs with the extra coil, secured it to the fire escape and dropped it’s length down to the yard. I ran back downstairs into the yard and tied the two lines together, then ran back upstairs to pull the whole big motherfucking mess up. Finally I slid the rope through the pulley and tied it to itself. Huzzah!
Testing the pulleys however, I discovered that the rope had come off the pulley-wheel at the top of the tower and was pinched at the pin. Fuck.
Up I went, hand over hand, over dead cables and live wires and tree branches. Clinging for life, swaying in breeze, remove and reattach rope to pulley and come down, hand under hand. Finally. Back in my kitchen the tug the rope and hear the satisfying squeak of the pulley taking the line in and out of its grooved body. I can wash my clothes. Once I buy clothespins.
Connor Gaudet lives in Brooklyn and does freelance anything for a living. He writes whenever he isn’t reading and is the current Managing Editor of mrbellersneighborhood.com.