Doing laundry runs in my family as my grandmother ran the laundry room at the Napa State Hospital from the fifties into the eighties. I remember playing with my sister among the giant dryers. We also tagged along with mom to the laundromat. Again I remember playing with my sister, racing the laundry carts around the place and in the parking lot. Somehow doing laundry had a feeling of fun about it.
I have done my own laundry since my mother’s second divorce, when I was a teenager. We were forced to sell the washer and dryer, when we moved to an apartment. Doing my own laundry, not only took work off of my mother, it relieved a minor economic burden for her of feeding quarters into washers and dryers. Even after getting married, I have kept to doing my own laundry and on occasion the broader family laundry as well. I guess it just brought me back to happy times as a child with the women in my family.
I tell you this to assure you that I am not just some neophyte launderer of clothes. I have been doing laundry for a long time. I am here to confirm the fact that socks do seem to disappear at an unexpectedly high rate. Now, I am not talking about any crypto-zoological monster that consumes socks, or a rip in the fabric of space-time, or aliens with cold feet, et cetera. There are many crazy, serious or facetious explanations given for the phenomenon, but from my perspective the answer was pretty mundane.
I have known for a long time that socks can disappear leaving one with many orphans. Of course, since I had a long history of going to the laundromat or using the facilities at the apartment complex I lived. This meant my view of the orphan sock mystery was limited. My early observations of the phenomenon caused me to write it off as simple transportation loss. The number of times I found a lone sock on the way back to my apartment were numerous. Any time one is moving one’s laundry to wash it at a different location, the socks are vulnerable to becoming orphans. A single sock is inevitably dropped in transit as the smallest article of clothing.
For the first few decades of my life, transportation loss was clearly the answer to a not very mysterious question. Why do socks get lost so easily? Due to my economic perspective, transportation loss was such a huge component that there was no mystery. Forgive my lack of attention during the few years when my family had the suburban convenience of in-house washer and dryer, and my mother did the laundry. My life experience clearly indicated that transportation loss was the major factor.
Whether a mystery or not, it clearly was a real thing that I needed to deal with as I grew up. Socks were likely to get lost and that meant orphans. I devised a solution once I was an adult and buying my own clothing. I would only have black or white socks. Black for work and white for athletic endeavors. It worked quite well. I barely even noticed when socks disappeared. I knew it was happening, but it was NO mystery. Transportation loss that was all it was. I scoffed at those that claimed that the mystery was deeper than that.
Then a funny thing happened. I made my way up the economic ladder and ended up buying a house. I ended up having a washer and dryer at home, but at first it was in the garage. I thought that my sock loss would be curtailed, so I branched out and bought dress socks that were brown or navy blue. I bought athletic socks with stripes of different colors. Much to my chagrin, I started getting orphans socks even though I thought I had eliminated the main cause of sock loss, transportation.
It turns out that going out to the garage still involved some transportation. It was a shorter distance than the laundromat, but I began to discover orphans behind the stove or in the broom closet and next to the steps. I tried to be careful, but there was still sock loss. I investigated further and found socks tucked between the washer and the dryer. When my wife and I moved from our first house, I found many, many orphans behind and under the washer and dryer. The appliances themselves became heavily implicated in sock loss. My new working theory became that after transportation loss, the next largest cause of sock orphans in the world was the size and position of the washer and dryer.
We moved to a newer and larger home with a laundry room that was actually in the house. Transportation loss became negligible at this point as I was walking twenty feet from my bedroom to the washer when doing my laundry. Nonetheless, there was more sock loss than there should be. I was especially annoyed, because the recent move had revealed many lost socks behind the washer and dryer. This brought back into my wardrobe some of the colored dress sock orphans. I had enjoyed the variety on my feet, but now they were becoming orphans again!
The move from our first house had confirmed that the socks could fall between, behind and under the washer and dryer. It was a tight space where the washer and dryer fit inside the house. It was quite difficult to even move them about to check for orphans. I stopped chasing them, but when we moved again the orphans were revealed in large numbers a second time.
Things got very complicated with another move and the birth of two sons. Somehow we maintained the laundry room in a suburban house through all the economic turmoil that raising a family brings today. The Great Recession brought back the ghost of laundromats, but I scrambled to stay ahead. There now was surely no time whatsoever to spend on considering the slipperiness of socks. When one is parenting and trying to ensure the mortgage is paid, socks are not an issue to even be considered. I went back to the old plan of just having black and white socks in my wardrobe.
For decades, I have felt the mystery solved. It was just that the solution was not glamorous. There will be transportation loss and difficulty of retrieving socks from behind and under the heavy appliances, so just have two colors of socks and no more was the a simple, yet boring, solution. I just went with this plan for quite a long time. Now styles have evolved and my children are adults. The mysterious slipperiness of socks has come back on to my radar screen, surprisingly.
It all started a couple of years ago in Vegas. They may tell you that what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, but don’t you believe them. I tried to leave my broken toes in Vegas, but they followed me home. While in Vegas I saw a pair of James Harden socks. I am a bit of a fan, so I bought them. I also saw some Kareem Abdul Jabbar socks that I could not resist and bought them as well.
After buying the socks, I broke my foot all to hell, but I thought I just had “jammed” my toe. When I got up the next morning I really wanted to wear one of these pairs of socks I had just bought. I squeezed my messed up toes into the Kareem socks. My wife and I made our way to the airport. By the time we had gotten back home after the flight, my foot was quite swollen. I was in a lot of pain and the new Kareem socks felt especially tight,I stripped them from my feet and went to bed.
I woke up to my foot being worse. As the days went on the foot got worse. My lack of attention to what I had done with the Kareem socks that night, meant that come laundry day, Kareem was an orphan! I still had James Harden, but I would not be wearing “Cap” on my feet. I was annoyed and looked everywhere, behind my laundry hamper and under my bed, for the other Kareem sock.
My wife noticed my constant searching after my foot had healed. She found the Kareem socks online and bought me a new pair. It was super cool, but I still had an orphan, which nagged at me. I had no real issue with having THREE Kareem socks, though. My sons noticed my glee when their mother replaced the Kareem socks, so the youngest bought me a Larry Bird pair. The eldest then bought a number of socks with various patterns on them, like bicycles, dogs, dolphin and aliens. One pair brought a tear to my eye. It became my favorite pair, because the socks had printed on them “Ain’t No Bad Joke…Like a Dad Joke”.
Now I was in possession of quite a number of socks that were completely useless if they became orphans. They were unique pairs of socks, where even the left differed slightly from the right one. I loved wearing the socks so I kept a close eye on them. There would be no transportation loss as the laundry room was less than twenty feet from the bedroom. If I were very careful to make sure that the pairs did not separate after I took them off, there should be no orphans. I moved them carefully from the washer to the dryer, so as to not lose them behind or between the appliances. With discipline, I should be able to prevent orphans, I reasoned.
I was determined that there be no more orphans. The Kareem separation put me on high alert. I paid very close attention to washing my socks. Goodness, it did not matter though. Somehow the pair of socks that I was most interested in keeping together was one of the first pairs to get separated. Ain’t No Bad Joke, Like a Dad Joke became an orphan!
How was this possible? I knew I had not lost them behind or between the washer or the dryer, but I pulled the appliances out anyway. The orphan could not be found. I was beside myself. I gave the problem of preventing orphan socks extra scrutiny. I learned some surprising ways that socks can disappear.
Socks can end up in the pockets of shirts, shorts or pants. Socks can even hide up inside the sleeves of shirts or up the legs of pants. If dryer sheets are used to reduce static in the dryer, some of this type of loss can be mitigated. If a sock ends up in the pocket of an article of clothing that is seasonal, like a long sleeved flannel shirt for colder weather, well the sock could be gone for a long time. That is where the Dad Joke orphan ended up being. It was in the pocket of a flannel shirt that I wore on a cold day, but then did not wear again for six months.
I had hung onto the Dad Joke orphan KNOWING that its sibling would have to show up eventually. I felt fairly confident the orphan could not have left the house, so I hung onto to the Dad Joke orphan tucked in the corner of the sock drawer awaiting the reunion I was sure would come. Even though I had done the same with the first Kareem orphan and that reunion had never happened, but hope springs eternal. I had confidence Kareem had not left the building and that reunion would still occur as well.
I felt genuine joy upon reuniting the Dad Joke orphans and wearing them happily to work. I pay close attention to laundering my socks now. There is no risk of transportation loss. I am careful when moving them from washer to dryer. I use dryer sheets to cut down on the static electricity that allows the socks to cling to unexpected places. I found a lost Harden sock clinging inside the sleeve of a rarely worn dress shirt. It took a few weeks before I got around to wearing the shirt again and reuniting the Harden orphans.
Even with dryer sheets, washing and drying socks with other articles of clothing risks weird clingy behavior that creates orphans. Besides pockets are always gobbling them up, too. I often wash all of my socks separately and then dry them separately, nowadays. I felt I had finally put this mystery to bed and tamed the slippery sock.
Recently, my certitude that I completely understand the orphan sock phenomenon has been shaken. There came some real consternation on my part when the NEW Kareems became separated. I thought at first that it was great that I had the third, but then I remembered that the Kareems were right and left socks paired. Did I just end up with two LEFT socks? Oh the frustration that I felt! I searched for the third orphan, which was now just the second orphan hoping that it was the opposite of the Kareem sock I still had in my possession.
Joy to the world! The sock I had stashed was the right to match the left Kareem. I was happy, but a little annoyed, because this was the second time Kareem had been orphaned. His previous orphan had never been found, even though I felt sure it had never left the house. I now had TWO Kareem orphans “in the wild” and TWO Kareem orphans in my possession. Hmm, did I really understand this orphan sock phenomena as well as I thought?
Only a few hours later I looked under my bed for a pen I had dropped and there was the Kareem orphan I had been looking for earlier. Or was it?! Could this be the Kareem orphan that had disappeared years earlier? The chain of custody was not clear and I could not recall if it was left or right that I had lost that day.
Due to the break in the chain of custody, I have to admit that there is some uncertainty on my part after all these years observing the lost sock phenomenon. I thought there was no mystery left, but the reality is that there is still a Kareem orphan lurking somewhere in my house. Perhaps it is hanging in my closet, clinging to the inside of a T-shirt that I never wear. That must be where the Kareem orphan is, but I cannot say for sure. It HAS to be in my house!
Of course, this is really a case of affluenza, isn’t it? The remaining uncertainty on what creates orphan socks is small for me now because I have climbed the economic ladder. I can say for sure that one can reduce orphans to NEAR zero through close attention to detail, using dryer sheets and segregation of socks during laundering. However, these recommendations are only possible if you own a washer and dryer and have them safely nestled in your house. If you are using the public facilities in your building or a laundromat, well there will be orphans. It is a given that transportation loss is going to occur, especially of the smallest article of clothing. In these circumstances, I strongly recommend having just black and white socks. It works as a practical way to tame this mysterious and annoying phenomenon.