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Jewish World Review Oct. 21, 2003 / 25 Tishrei, 5764

Mark Bazer

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Consumer Reports

Dry-cleaning my mental problems away | I'm not ashamed to admit that I've tried a number of different kinds of therapy — Freudian analysis, cognitive behavior management, transcendental meditation, porn. But none of these treatments hold a candle to the no-nonsense, tough-love techniques of my dry cleaner.

It started a few months ago when I brought in a pair of pants in need of serious attention. Staring down at my feet, I held out the offending trousers and sheepishly mumbled, "Can you, um, make sure that this, ah, stain is removed?" An understanding smile appeared on her face, and she inquired, "You pee-pee in pants?"

It was a brand of Eastern enlightenment I hadn't been turned on to yet, and it resonated deeply. For indeed, my dry cleaner was correct in her assessment — and she was calling me out. There was only one way I could respond: "Yes, ma'am, I pee-pee in pants."

Frankly, it's a familiar story: Time after time, I'm at the urinal, I think I'm done, I've even done the shake, I button my pants back up, and then, from out of the blue, my penis breaks into "We've Only Just Begun." I had been trying to ignore the dysfunction for years.

Later that day, though, in the privacy of my bedroom, I faced my demons. I turned to a mirror and repeated over and over, "Yes, Mark, you pee-pee in pants." The first step is always recognizing the problem. The second step is often buying adult diapers. (Luckily, I've found a brand geared to the 18-34 demographic.)

It wasn't until months later, though, that it dawned on me how effective dry-cleaning therapy could be. Again, I'd walked into my cleaners with a problem: Two pairs of my pants were missing their top buttons. This time, though, I was oblivious; I'd just figured two of my pants had, in their natural progression, simultaneously entered the "can't wear these to work anymore" phase. But when I gave them to my dry cleaner, she smiled, said, "Getting fat!" and then puffed out her cheeks. It was as if she'd been with me all those nights as I shoved burgers and wings into my mouth, desperately trying to fill the void within.

I am well aware there are dry cleaners who scoff at these "simplistic" analyses in favor of more "intellectual" approaches. One dry cleaner once haughtily remarked to me that the particular patterns of wrinkles on my Oxford shirt indicated I suffered from poly-fragmented dissociative fugue. And we've all had dry cleaners who've taken one look at coffee stains on our suit jackets and whispered under their breath, "Not another one with Wernicke's aphasia." But these dry cleaners are nothing more than showoffs. Don't trust them with your mental well-being, and certainly don't trust them with your clothes.

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Now, I'm not saying my dry cleaner has all the answers. She could learn a thing or two from a dry cleaner I used to visit who would write my last name in permanent marker on the inside collar of my shirts. It was just the right approach for dealing with my identity crisis at the time.

Nor is my dry cleaner always immediate in her response. Two days ago, I threw a pair of grass-stained chinos on her desk and pleaded, "What's wrong with me?" "I tell you Friday," she replied. "How about Thursday?" I said. "OK," she replied. "After 5 p.m."

So, I'm looking at a few anxious days, no doubt full of peeing all over myself, but I'm confident that my dry cleaner will have the answer waiting for me Thursday afternoon. Now if only she could prescribe drugs.

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