by Kevin on

(NOTE: a version of this essay appeared as part of KEVIN GEEKS OUT a monthly video-variety show at Nitehawk Cinema; October’s theme was Stephen King.) 

Like any prolific author, Stephen King has his recurring themes: psychic children, working writers, religious fanatics, even blue overalls. But there’s also the laundry. 
 
Laundry shows up in the adaptations of IT, THE STAND, THE MANGLER, STAND BY ME, DOLORES CLAIBORNE, NEEDFUL THINGS and PET SEMETARY.  (See video below)

  Stephen King Hates Laundry from Kevin Maher on Vimeo.

In each instance laundry is associated with dread. There’s more than just the mundane work of cleaning clothes — it’s seeing your working life stretched out in front of you or confronting something awful between the sheets. 

The use of spooky, ghostly laundry appears in other horror series, including HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE 13th.

But the theme seems more personal for King. 

Historically speaking, there’s something quaint about laundry lines instead of electric dryers. Clothespins belong to a yesteryear that King revisits in his stories. 

Practically, we see people taking down their laundry before the rain arrives. “A storm’s a’comin!” Indeed.


Or maybe it’s that the wash is being done by honest workin’ folk. Good Maine residents with big back yahds for hangin’ sheets. The starched white fabrics reflect their innocence or purity perhaps. 


But here’s the big one: Stephen King worked at an industrial laundry and called it “the worst job he ever had.” The author spent summers at the New Franklin laundry in the early 1970s. (Earning $1.60 an hour, $60 a week.) During his stint at the New Franklin King got for the idea for “The Mangler” (a short story in NIGHT SHIFT, later made into a film by Tobe Hooper.) 

The New Franklin Laundry, 125 Fern Street, Bangor Maine (no longer there)

King told Suspense Magazine:

“twice a week (in summer) we used to get the table linen from Testa’s of Bar Harbor. Testa’s is a famous seafood restaurant, where the elite meet. But the elite never saw those napkins and tablecloths after a hot summer day in the back of a laundry pick-up truck. They stank, which was bad, and they were squirming with maggots. But I washed em, and by God they came out clean.”


Meanwhile at his home, King set up a typewriter on a desk in the laundry room. When he came home from a long day, his writing was literally closely associated with laundry. 

So when you watch these film and see people folding sheets and sorting socks, there’s a deep-seated terror behind it: maybe if this writing thing doesn’t work out, King will have to go back to working in laundry. 

Now here’s a Weird Al song dedicated to our pal Stephen King:

 
Okay, you can’t really see this building any more. (This is a 2011 photo from Google street view.) It was torn down to make way for new housing in 2012. But before it was, King worked for a stint at New Franklin Laundry, an industrial laundry in the city’s “tree streets” neighborhood. He called it the worst job he ever had, but it did inspire King the writer. “The Mangler,” a 1972 story that was turned into a movie in 1995, features a possessed press (Say that three times fast!) King imagined while working at the laundry.

Read More: 10 Places Every Stephen King Fan Must Stop While in Bangor, Maine | http://z1073.com/10-places-every-stephen-king-fan-must-stop-while-in-bangor/?trackback=tsmclip


 *** RELATED LINKS *** 

This video appeared in KEVIN GEEKS OUT at Nitehawk Cinema. Details on the next show — a Christmas special.

HORROR MOVIES A-Z poem.

Blue Overalls in the works of Stephen King.

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