We carried the dishes upstairs, stacked them in the bathtub and turned on the shower.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, August 11, 1934.

“Well,” said Jimmie Frise, “what’ll we do to-night?”

“Let’s wash dishes,” I suggested. “I have a sink full, besides another pile on the drain board and a few on the kitchen table.”

“Mine,” said Jimmie, “are neatly stacked in piles in the sink. All scraped. Are yours scraped?”

“No,” I admitted rather shamed. “They’re just the way I put them down.”

“You’ve been a summer bachelor often enough,” criticized Jimmie, “to know better than leave dishes unscraped. All you need to do is spread out the morning paper on the kitchen table, scrape the egg, corn flakes or tomato squitters off the plates, empty the coffee cup, and pile the dishes and roll up the newspaper and toss it in the garbage pail. It’s no trouble at all. Yet it saves that funny smell that pervades a man’s house in the summer when his family is at the cottage.”

“I know, I know,” I admitted. “I have been intending to scrape my dishes for years. But somehow, a summer bachelor feels so dreary and low in his spirits, he can’t even summon enough energy to do a little thing like that. I hate my bed, too. All muddled and wrinkled.”

“Don’t you even change your bed?” cried Jimmie.

“Oh, I sometimes do,” I assured him. “But it’s such a problem, pulling the old sheets out and then working the new sheets back under the blanket and quilt.”

“You don’t do that!” scornfully cried Jim. “You pull all the bedclothes off, throw them on a chair, spread fresh sheets, and then put the blankets…”

“But you have to have somebody on the other side of the bed,” I explained. “To tuck in the far side.”

“Ach!” snorted Jim disgustedly. “You a summer bachelor! Do you know what you are? You’re a summer orphan.”

“I get along pretty well,” I protested.

“Listen,” said Jim, “I’ll tell you what to do to-night. If you’ll help me with my dishes, I’ll help you not only with your dishes but I’ll help you change your bed.”

“Swell,” I agreed.

What to do with yourself in the evenings is one of the eternal problems of that class of men whose families go away to summer cottages. Movies are good for so long. Sunnyside is good for a couple of trips. Watering the lawn is splendid maybe for about the last two nights of the week, Thursday and Friday, when you are feeling as homesick as possible and looking forward to seeing them all on Saturday; and it gives you a strange, virtuous feeling, a sort of religious feeling, to water the grass in their honor. But watering the grass is no good Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.

“Let’s eat supper downtown,” suggested Jim, “and then we’ll go to your place first, wash your dishes, make your bed, and then, over to my place. It will fill up the evening beautifully.”

For the Big Clean-Up

“Where will we eat?” I asked rather mournfully.

Jim looked thoughtful.

We summer bachelors eat our way right around the city. It isn’t that the restaurants are not good. They are all good. But after a few tries, each one gets on your nerves. So you try something different. You are seeking something unknown, unseen, indescribable. You are seeking your own home. But you don’t know it. So you go anxiously, like a wolf in a cage, from place to place, seeking. And not finding.

Jim named one restaurant. I made a face. Then I named a restaurant. And Jim made a face. So we decided to go to my house and pick up some tomatoes, cheese and a small bottle of cream at the corner store.

The house, when we entered, had that stuffy smell, of closed doors and windows, of stale smoke, of unwashed dishes in the kitchen. Maybe two weeks’ dishes.

“Phoo!” said Jim.

So we ate our tomatoes and cheese out in the garden, on the rustic table. And then we peeled up our sleeves and entered the kitchen for the big semi-monthly clean-up. As I had told Jim, my dishes were partly in the sink, partly on the drainboard, and the rest of them were laid on the table, the kitchen cabinet and the gas stove.

“Even if you piled them up,” argued Jim, “it would give you some feeling of decency. Why do you scatter them around like this?”

I spread a newspaper and started to scrape. But the stuff on the dishes, odds and ends, had dried tight to the dishes and you needed a chisel, not a paring knife; for a scraper.

“Put them in the sink and soak them while we make the bed,” suggested Jim.

“The sink isn’t big enough,” I pointed out.

“Ah,” cried Jim. “An idea! Look here, why should we summer bachelors be slaves to woman’s way of doing things? Let us carry these dishes up to the bathroom and do them in the bathtub!”

“There’s an idea!” I shouted., “Why should we be handicaped by a silly little sink?”

“Put them in the bathtub,” said Jim, “let the water run on them, leave the plug open, and the current will wash them automatically. All we have to do is come along and dry them. Come on.”

So we got trays and we loaded up the dishes, plates, cups, bowls, saucers and all those things you never saw before but which you found in back of the china closet when you started to run short of dishes about the third week. Dishes, little pitchers, funny plates that you dimly remembered having seen when you were a boy.

We carried them up and stacked them in the bathtub. We turned on the shower both hot and cold, although there was no hot water, of course. But the spray of water splashed and roared on the dishes, and in a minute or two, we began to see the remnants of scrambled egg and toast crusts come loose and vanish down the hole.

“Marvellous!” yelled Jim, above the noise of the shower. “We have discovered something every summer bachelor should know.”

By shifting the pile of dishes now and again, the streams of water went new ways, found new channels, and every new way they went, the streams of pure water did good.

“Let’s make your bed while they wash,” said Jim proudly. “It’s automatic.”

So we went in and Jim showed me how to haul the bedclothes off with one large swipe, fling them on a chair, and then he and I laid fresh sheets, and put back the light blanket and the quilt. Jim even tucked the quilt up that way the ladies do, you know, sort of dinted in the middle with the two ends flounced out.

“Ah,” I said. “I’ll hate to disturb it to-night.”

“I’ll come and help you make it any time,” said Jim grandly.

We went back into the bath tub and there the top dishes were already shining white, and we shifted the pile loosely, exposing new surfaces to the rushing water. You could see the old stuff whirling about and vanishing down the pipe.

“Look here,” said Jim. “let’s leave them and run over to my place and put mine in the bath tub. And by the time we get back, they will be ready to dry.”

“Won’t they be kind of greasy?” I asked. “We should put soap on them.”

“Where’s your soap flakes?” asked Jim.

I ran down cellar and got a package of soap flakes, which we sprinkled liberally over the pile, and even the cold water made foamy suds. A lot of the flakes caught in various places in the pile which would melt in time.

“Come on,” said Jim.

So we walked the two blocks over to Jim’s house, carried his dishes up to his bathroom, piled them and turned the water on and scattered soap flakes all over them. We also went in and saw Jim’s garden for a few minutes, and chatted with a neighbor who knew all about zinnias. And then we strolled back to my place.

We went in the garden and sat down. Through the open bathroom window we could hear the shower mumbling. Occasionally we could hear a dish clink.

“Having solved the dish problem,” said Jim, leaning back in the garden seat, “let us turn our attention to the laundry of a summer bachelor. You know, all it takes is a little attention to solve any kind of problem. Women are set in their ways. They have their little dinky way of doing things. Little sinks. Little dish towels. Everything is tiny and routine and sissy. Now, if we men can improve on dish washing, why can’t we improve on laundry? In time to come, I would not be surprised if, instead of a little sink, and dishes to wash three times a day, the house of the future will have a huge sink in it, where all the dishes will be put after each meal. And then, at night, one big dish washing bee will held. How much more freedom this would give to womanhood! One dish-washing bee each day, on a large scale. It would be a lot cheaper to buy a few more dishes than to spend three-quarters of an hour three times every day, like a slave, washing a few dishes. We haven’t solved the problems of the domestic world yet. Science needs to pay attention to the home.”

“It isn’t science so much as just common sense, Jimmie,” I said. “That bath tub idea has been staring mankind in the face ever since bath tubs were invented. Yet who thought of it?”

“I did,” said Jim, “in the year 1934. Let’s remember it.”

We chatted on, philosophically.

“Perhaps I should run up and shake a few more soap flakes over the pile,” I suggested. “I don’t hear the taps.”

“Maybe Women are Right”

We listened.

There was no mumble of the taps.

“That’s funny,” said Jim, half rising.

“Jimmie!” I gasped.

We had both thought of the same thing. We leaped and ran to the back door.

We were too late.

The back entrance is a French door leading directly into the dining room. When we opened the doors we were at first confused. The dining room had disappeared. The wallpaper was drooping in large glistening festoons from the ceiling. I thrust through the clinging jungle. Water was dripping merrily, briskly. Bumping against tables and chairs. I got into the hall, where there is a painted plaster ceiling. Into the front lobby I dashed, to find a cascade of water pouring down the front stairs. There was a secret, busy air of water seeping, creeping. crawling, dripping, everywhere. I sloshed upstairs, Jim behind me.

“Oh, gosh!”

The bath tub was overflowing, and cups and bowls were floating happily in a little sea.

“It’s plugged, Jim,” I moaned. “Something plugged it.”

“Toast crusts,” cried Jim. “Bacon rind.”

I snapped the taps off. An inch of water lay all over the floor and out into the bedrooms, the rugs were soggy, the garments I had thrown on the floor of different rooms, the items of next week’s laundry that I had tossed aside on various floors, all, all were sodden. We heard strange, mysterious slithering, slickery sounds downstairs again. We hurried below, to find wallpaper slithering off walls, collapsing off ceilings. We tore it away, to discover tables, chairs, upholstery soaked and soggy. The chesterfield was like a vast pudding.

“Oh, Jimmie,” I moaned.

“You’ll have to excuse me,” said Jim, starting for the front door. “I got to get home and turn off my shower.”

“Don’t leave, Jim!” I shouted. “Not now.”

But Jim was gone.

I waded about for some minutes, baling, mopping, sloshing. What a terrible thing! Then the telephone rang. It was Jim.

“I got my taps in time,” said he. “Come on over and help me with my dishes and let that place dry overnight. You had better stay over here with me to-night.”

“All right, Jim.”

“We can see what has to be done better to-morrow at your place. Let her subside.”

“All right, Jim.”

“And incidentally, maybe women have the right idea about things. Maybe sinks are better for dishes.”

“You’re right, Jim.”

So I got my hat and went over to Jim’s.

August 10, 1940

Editor’s Notes: We’ve mentioned summer orphans before, when men used to stay in the city during the summer while their family went to a cottage or summer resort. The men would only join them on weekends and therefore were on their own during the weekdays.

“…although there was no hot water, of course”: Some people turn off their hot water heater in the summer to save money.

The dishwasher was invented before this article came out, but did not really become more common until the 1970s.

This story was repeated as “Almost Automatic” on August 10, 1940.

It also appeared in Silver Linings (1978).