There are ghosts in Chinatown. They're all there, lined up, waiting to see me whenever I venture down Mort Street, squeezing past the crowds inspecting the sidewalk vendors' fruit or firecrackers or windup birds that really fly. There are ghosts of men and women, some in exotic clothes, some gambling, bent over little ivory tiles, some eating. No, everyone's eating. Inside a certain shop, there is the ghost of a man in a broad-sleeved jacket, with a long braid, working on an intricate work of art. On a tiny street, a vintage black Cadillac, driven by a little man with a big cigar, careens away from the curb, full of flowers and that day's race receipts. On a narrow sidewalk is the image of a shy young woman in magnificent ceremonial clothes, venturing uncertainly into the sunlight. And then there is the ghost of a little boy with a blue blanket, being carted up a staircase to a mysterious place full of dragons and phoenixes and, once, even a bowl of Chinese Cheerios. These are my personal spirits, shadows of my existence reaching out to me from over 125 years. To me they are dollops of magic -- magic that can still be found by those who know where to look.
My father knows where the magic is. Even though he began life there, to him the old neighborhood is still a little mysterious. He is actually third-generation Chinese, born in Chinatown, raised in Brooklyn, and sounding remarkably like Walter Cronkite. His was a classic poor-boy-made-good story -- youngest of five children, blessed with exquisite good looks and opportunity, graduating from Columbia at nineteen. As a wartime Army Air Corps cadet in Denver, he married the beautiful Southern blonde he met at a church social, a scandalous move in 1944. Chinatown was far behind him when, as an up-and-coming corporate executive in 1950, he Anglicized his name to Hall from Hor, a name many Chinese-Americans modify for obvious reasons. Pronounced "Haw" and written * it functions in sentences as a question mark. By itself it could mean "What?" although some say it more accurately translates to "Huh?"
Our house was the ethnic neighborhood in Madison, Connecticut, and despite the fact that none of us, my father included, spoke Chinese or engaged in any of the martial arts, we were considered somewhat exotic. When meeting us for the first time, my WASPy mother's new acquaintances from bridge at the country club always assumed we kids were Korean War orphans. But Mrs. Hall, ever the Southern Lady, would always smile sweetly and say, "Guess again!"
My friends all had blue-eyed pedigrees. They had middle names like Williston and Carlton followed by a III, a IV, in one instance a IX. In school the teacher pointed to a map of Europe and spoke confidently of where "our people" were from -- England, Ireland, Scandinavia, sometimes Italy. I had "people" from those parts as well, but so many generations distant that I no longer felt any direct connection. No, in that world I was always the Chinese kid. The Chinaman. The Chink who spoke real good English. I was never exactly sure where I was from. The closest thing I could come to it was this tiny corner of New York City.
Yet I couldn't entirely fit in here either. I was an outsider with inside connections. An inside/outsider, perhaps, definitely a Connecticut boy, albeit one who could eat with chopsticks. Yet I knew that even Connecticut only went back three hundred years or so, whereas on Mott Street I could almost smell the beginning of time.
I could sense ghosts back then too, but only dimly. The enchantment I felt was stronger for their being just out of sight, heightened by the fact that we would visit only a few times a year. Months of atmosphere and mystery would be crammed into forays lasting only as long as it took to consume a twelve-course banquet, with insufficient time to explore the shadows behind teakwood dragons and mysterious basement doorways.
Over time, I determined to drag those ghosts into the daylight, and find out more about the Chinatown that was tugging on my sleeve. Of course I am talking about "old" Chinatown, those few blocks of Mott Street from Canal south to Chatham Square, and then up Bowery to Doyers and Pell Streets, then west back to Mott -- three little thoroughfares to which a whole universe had been transplanted, in miniature.
For my family, that universe is a village of soot-stained mud brick in the waning decades of Imperial China -- fifty houses in a jumble of streets so narrow you couldn't lie across them without your head and feet knocking against the opposing walls. Every bit of available space is in use, leaving no room for sidewalks or flower gardens or any kind of personal privacy. There are just the houses, squeezed suffocatingly close, with heavy the roofs that turn up at the corners into dragon-points that are meant to frighten away evil spirits. As further protection, the village's tiny lanes squirm around in curves and sudden, switchback turns, because, of course, evil spirits can only travel in straight lines and so will come to grief against a wall before crossing some family's threshold. Carved screens or miniature goldfish pools just inside doorways take care of any stray demons that manage to penetrate all other defenses. Household gods and smoldering incense stand guard over the ancestors' tablets in the parlor.
Like all Chinese villages, this one is conceived of as a dragon. The front, where there is a bamboo wall broken by an old wooden gate, is the head. The other end, with the community well, is the tail. There are no street names or numbers. Homes are only identified, for instance, as the second house in the fourth row from the head. Several generations live packed together in each of these dwellings, mostly five rooms running in a line from the "big door" at the front to the "small door" at the rear. The better houses have slightly more elaborate entranceways which might lead into a central courtyard bordered by a largish hall and smaller rooms for various members of the family. Wooden chamber pots sit by the entrances, waiting to be collected so their contents can be sold to local farmers for use as fertilizer -- for here, nothing is wasted.
One or two residences, doubling as shops, have no doors or windows facing the street at all, just a big accordion shutter running along the entire front, wide open in the sticky summer heat. But most shopping is done in the market town about three lis away. Sundays and Fridays are market days, at which time the men and some of the women of the little village trudge over the fields to the larger town's hundred stalls at which they buy and sell, haggling over clay vessels and iron pots, wooden toys and writing brushes, sticky buns, green vegetables, and slabs of meat, over which a vendor sits silently with a fan to keep the flies from settling too long.
Back home, a few desultory chickens or maybe a pig waiting to be made into a celebratory meal scratch at the hard-packed earth. Otherwise it is quiet, strangely so for a place that is so close and cramped. A visitor during the day will find a village populated by the very old, the very young, and women, many with bound feet, who have been left behind to watch the babies and weary through endless household chores. You might hear the shrill voices of children echoing off the gray-brown walls. A woman with an infant squats by the village well, doing laundry in a basin. Hanging in the air is the "clack, clack, clack" which might be the sound of home looms, or of cutthroat mah-jongg games being fought over by the old ladies in their little parlors.
The old men gather in the forecourt of the Ancestors' Hall, where they sit and smoke and complain about their children. They're not really complaining, of course, but bragging is a serious breach of etiquette, so they talk down their sons' various achievements, knowing full well that their friends will read between the lines. Females in their families are never mentioned for any reason.
The old men play mah-jongg too, or maybe pai gao, the gambling game played with dominoes, oblivious to the incense smoke rising from the altar behind them. It is faded and well used, but the Ancestors' Altar still provides a little bit of splendor for this essentially utilitarian place. Its lustrous red and green surfaces are heavy with golden dragons lounging among azure clouds and fantasy flowers. There are banners of poetry, venerating the family clan, going back hundreds, even thousands, of years, and someone has burned paper money in the big bronze bowl so the ancestors will have something to spend in heaven.
Ancestors. My ancestors. The family Hor, in the seventh house, fifth row from the head of the village of Hor Lup Chui, in the Toi-shan district of Kuang Tung Province, southern China. Pretty much everyone is named Hor in this village. A bigger community might have two, or even three surnames represented, but Hor Lup Chui has been home to the Hor clan for countless generations, and besides, there are only 438 surnames in the entire nation of China anyway. Still, just because everyone shares a name doesn't mean they are closely related, and individual family trees are scrupulously kept. People of the same surname are not supposed to marry, so boys get wives from one of the other little villages that dot the horizon. Girls are married away, never to return.
Hor Jick Wah was my great-great-grandfather, the oldest Chinese ancestor that I can put a definite name to. I don't really know what he looked like, but I can pretty well guess. He must have had a square face with heavy brows, like my grandfather had, and he was probably skinny like everyone else in China back then. There just wasn't enough food to make anyone fat.
Hor Jick Wah couldn't have been much taller than five feet. After all, his grandson never exceeded five feet three, and even my father, the tallest in the entire family, is only five feet nine. Like every Chinese male in those days, he would have had a shaved forehead and a long queue hanging down his back, a sign of loyalty demanded by the Manchu Emperor in far-away Peking, a mysterious figure who would periodically issue edicts on such subjects as good manners, filial loyalty, and one's moral obligation to pay one's taxes.
Hor Jick Wah may have dressed like many of his country neighbors, with a simple farmer's smock and trousers bound tightly at the ankles with white stockings. But my family has always had some pretensions to gentility, and they would prefer to think that my great-great-grandfather affected the more gentlemanly costume of a short, broad-sleeved jacket over a long scholar's gown. His cloth shoes would have had thick, rounded soles, causing the wearer to rock like a boat in choppy seas.
He was born in Hor Lup Chui during the reign of Emperor Tao Kuang, and family tradition suggests that he was an artisan, probably a woodworker. He built the altars and carved the screens and constructed the intricate window-lattices that regulated demon traffic in and out of people's lives. He also built the coffins in which they took their final journeys. But very likely he hammered out an existence similar to others' in the Toi-shan district during that period -- part artisan, part merchant, part farmer of the dry rocky soil that yielded only enough food to sustain the population for four months out of twelve.
He seems to have been a man of modest substance, however, living in a house with a courtyard, and having some education. After all, an artisan was fairly high up on the social scale, higher anyway than people who merely bought and sold things, and certainly his family had enough leisure to allow his son to learn to read and write, no small feat in a complicated language that consists of tens of thousands of unrelated symbols with roots in pictographs created far back in antiquity.
So at the village school opposite the Ancestors' Hall, my great-grandfather joined the other boys in shouting out his calligraphy lessons and refined the art of composing elegant eight-line poetry. Twice a year, troupes of itinerant actors would set up on the threshing floor to perform a days-long tragedy full of heroes and heroines, demons, dragons, and magic, always magic. Through them, he and his fellows learned the great classics of drama, and even illiterate farmers delighted in quoting the time-honored verse by heart.
Of course if Great-Great-Grandfather had been really motivated, he could have educated his son to be a scholar, who would then be qualified to take the grueling Civil Service exams held annually a day's ride away in Canton, the entry to a lucrative career in the Imperial bureaucracy Young men studied obsessively for years to pass these exams, memorizing hundreds of pages of Confucian doctrine, word for word, for candidates were ruthlessly tested on their knowledge of the great philosopher and the classics of Chinese literature. However, only a tiny fraction of the applicants went on to the next level, and had my ancestor successfully passed the exams, my history might be radically different today.
It was in the 29th year of the Emperor's reign, the Year of the Monkey, a.k.a. 1850, that my Great-Grandfather Hor Poa was born. Chinese counted time according to the number of years that the current emperor had been on the throne, and Tao Kuang was sixth in the line of long-reigning monarchs of the Ch'ing or Manchu Dynasty, which had, until recently, been a period of peace and prosperity for the great Chinese Empire.
But soon after Hor Poa's birth, young Prince Hsien Fêng ascended as Emperor of Chung Guo, or the Middle Kingdom, an event that would have been celebrated with feasting and firecrackers all across the nation. The people of Hor Lup Chui may have considered this dawn of a new reign a good omen for the baby Hor Poa's future. But the omens were not so good for China and Toi-shan.
In those days, the country was wracked with chaos and starvation and social upheaval. By 1850, the population had soared to an estimated 410 million from about 150 million in the previous century. The first Opium War had ended only eight years before in 1842, with Great Britain humiliating China into opening her markets to foreign trade and ceding them the island of Hong Kong into the bargain. The British bought up Chinese tea and silk, and built a city on their luxuriant stolen isle. They also made billions by flooding the country with opium produced in British India. China quickly became a nation of addicts, thus making Victoria the world's first international drug Queenpin. The Emperor imposed disastrous taxes on his subjects to pay the costs of losing a war.
Furthermore, just as Hsien Fêng ascended the Peacock Throne in 1851. the Tai-ping or "Great Peace" Rebellion was getting underway in southern China. A messianic maniac named Hong Hsiu-ch'üan fought to set himself up as a rival god-emperor. It would be fourteen long, hungry years before Hong and his movement were finally exterminated by the Chinese army, but the anarchy he generated continued to take its toll.
All across the southern provinces of Kuang Tung and Fukien there was massive unemployment. Armies of bandits from "Secret Societies" -- terrorist groups ostensibly formed to restore the Ming Dynasty, out of power for some two hundred years -- ravaged the countryside. Travelers were compelled to move about in large groups, and then only at night, with armed guards and lanterns covered by deep shades lest their light attract hungry bands of brigands. Village fought against village in bloody inter-clan feuds. Sometimes warring villagers would steal out under cover of darkness to dig up hillocks and move giant boulders in an attempt to destroy their rival village's feng shui, the spiritual balance determined by the physical arrangement of the landscape. It was just one more way to bring ruin upon their enemies' lives.
Meanwhile in 1856, the fifth year of Hsien Fêng's reign, and the sixth year of Hor Pod's life, the Opium Wars started up again, adding even more devastation to the mix. European invaders ultimately chased Hsien Fêng and his court from the vast splendor of Peking's Forbidden City to a crumbling palace in the hills, where the hapless monarch died in 1861. He was twenty-nine years old.
Hsien Fêng's successor was Tung Chih, a six-year-old boy controlled by his scheming mother, a former minor concubine of the late Emperor, who for the rest of the century would stop at nothing, including royal murder, to hold onto her newfound power. The reeling Chinese Empire was steadily being gnawed away by hunger, war, and drug addiction, afflictions which killed an estimated twenty million people. Some say it was more like sixty million. The swirl of misery created a chasm which foreigners rushed to fill.
The people of Hor Lup Chui knew there had been Foreign Barbarians, also known as White Devils, visiting the nearby city of Canton for centuries. But ever since the Emperor had been forced to create "treaty ports" for foreign trade, it seemed that White Devils were everywhere -- huge, ugly, pasty-faced men, with big bellies and hair sprouting from all over their bodies. Occasionally, there would be strange straw-haired women, walking brazenly in the street, wearing bizarre gowns that flared out from their waists like giant bells. They all came from barbarian lands far across the sea, in big wooden ships crowned with heaps of white sails or tall smoke-belching chimneys.
All through Hor Poa's growing years these White Devils, also known as Big Noses, told stories of gold -- mountains of gold in a country called California, where one could go and become rich by just plucking the stuff off the ground. Chinese middlemen in their employ traveled around the villages, spreading the tales of this land of riches. The Big Noses had ships, they said, that could take a person to their country. The middlemen just needed money -- a lot of money -- and you could sail away to wealth, guaranteed. Or, if need be, a loan could be arranged. The middlemen would pay the passage in exchange for a little work until the money was repaid. It was easy, they said. You will be rich.
In other parts of the country, people were skeptical of these stories. Every Chinese knew that all other places on earth were beneath the notice of those who lived in the Middle Kingdom. Besides, life was too hard, the burden of tradition too great to allow them to be curious about unknown lands across the sea. But here in Toi-shan, where living had been particularly difficult for so long, people were looking for ways out of their misery. The stories the White Devils told sounded good to hungry men and women. The lure of gold began to ease the disapproval from the spirits of a hundred generations of ancestors and overcome any fear of the unknown.
It had been in the 27th year of Emperor Tao Kuang, a.k.a. 1848, that two men and one woman first went aboard one of the alien ships and disappeared into the mists. Months went by. But eventually, little packets of nuggets and gold dust started to arrive for their families. The following year, nearly eight hundred men and two women followed their compatriots. The year after that, more than three thousand men and five women -- and finally by 1852, 27,000 Toi-shan residents were seeking treasure beyond the sea.
Many bought passage and sailed off on their own to try their luck. But some shipowners, under contract to western masters, had their middlemen -- or k'o-t'ou, who were often returned emigrants themselves -- recruiting shiploads of young men for laboring jobs in an assortment of distant places. The Chinese only knew that they were going off into the unknown to make money. But while some jobs were in the California gold fields, many more were on sweltering tropical plantations surrounded by the malarial rain forests of Cuba, or South America, or Malaysia, where the workers, referred to by the Big Noses as "coolies," died like flies.
Then, by the middle 1860s, the White Devils had stopped talking about gold and were actively recruiting men to go to California and work on something called a Rail Road. No one in the village knew exactly what a Rail Road was, but it apparently provided good, steady work, and could make a man rich. Some of the contracts offered by the k'o-t'ou to these mostly illiterate laborers promised payment of their passage in exchange for a certain number of years of labor for the sponsoring company. This "credit-ticket" system was nothing more than indentured servitude. Many called it slavery.
Early on, the Imperial Court was suspicious of Chinese mixing with foreigners. Emperor Hsien Fêng didn't want any of his subjects going abroad to work for these uncouth Barbarians who had forced opium upon his nation and more or less hijacked Hong Kong into the bargain. Thus, starting in 1855, the émigrés had to contend with an Imperial decree branding them traitors to the Manchu Dynasty, and mandating death by beheading for anyone trying to leave the Middle Kingdom. Ambitious bureaucrats were promised merit points for every ten illegal emigrants they captured. The heads of one hundred emigrants meant a promotion in rank.
However, the siren call of gold, plus the great "face" or prestige of having a relative working in California, taught families how to elude the authorities. They could sell a water buffalo or pawn some jewelry to come up with the exorbitant fare demanded by the k'o-t'ou. Some used moneylenders to raise the cash, and many traveled under the credit-ticket system.
But however the money was obtained, there was still the leader of the local garrison to bribe, and maybe a payment to the regional magistrate or government official. It was then a fairly simple matter to take a junk down the Pearl River to one of the big ships standing in Hong Kong harbor and start the long, long voyage to another world. Most thought their sojourn would be a temporary one. For many, their exile is not yet over.
It was an arduous journey, especially for country boys -- for they were very nearly all young men expecting to return to their women -- who had never been out of sight of land before. Three months of being tossed about-on the Pacific Ocean ensued, crammed into holds that had carried cargo on the outgoing journey -- but then, the passengers were little more than cargo themselves. Everyone was sick on the first days out, made all the worse by the fact that they usually were forced to stay below decks, just like on the African slave traders that had stopped plying the Atlantic only a few decades before. Food, such as it was, consisted of whatever fare could be carried aboard by the passengers themselves and kept for ninety days in the era before refrigeration. Many even had to supply their own water, which they carried in distinctive cylindrical wooden casks. Some captains supplied hardtack and dried peas, which could be boiled down into a gruel, with maybe a piece of saltpork on occasion. Perhaps a load of rice would have been taken aboard before sailing. Of course, rats could fry up to make a special treat.
But nothing could stop the contagious diseases which sometimes ravaged the ships, the close quarters only accelerating the spread of infection. In the 1850s and 1860s, dozens of these vessels met with disaster caused by overcrowding, such as the Lady Montague, where 300 of the 450 passengers sickened and died. There were 338 out of 380 who perished on the Providenza before she passed Japan. On the Dolores Ugarte, desperate Chinese locked below decks started a fire as a ploy to get the crew to open the hatches. Over 600 were burned to death in their floating prison.
Troublemakers were beaten with rods by the Caucasian crews or locked in bamboo cages. Many were chained with iron shackles or even hanged by captains fearing mutiny. Some merely gave up and committed suicide. Yet even so, they sailed. As one Chinese survivor would later write. "To be starved and to be buried in the sea are the same."
For those lucky enough to avoid death from starvation or disease, the devastating seasickness eventually wore off, and the men grew accustomed to sitting with the others in the semi-darkness of their quarters. They had long since sought out those with the same surname or others from the same region. It wasn't family, exactly, but they had grown up in a society where people weren't so much individuals as part of a group and it was essential for them to merge with others. So they passed the time, smoking and gambling, gambling, gambling with their little pai gao dominoes, or perhaps they played fan tan, where they bet on the number of beans shaken from a cup. "Strings of cash" -- Chinese copper coins with holes in the middle, carried on loops of string -- began to clutter the winners' pockets.
A stop for revictualing in the Kingdom of the Sandwich Islands, also known as Hawaii, brought a little relief to the passenger-freight below decks in the form of fresh water and maybe some dried fruit or vegetables. They were not allowed to go ashore, of course, but that didn't matter, as all they were interested in was their final destination.
The arrival in San Francisco, some ninety-five days after leaving home. The bewildered boys would stumble down the gangplank, two by two, wobbly from their weeks of inactivity and the constant movement of the ship. Customs officials would fall upon their baggage, consisting of wooden boxes, wicker baskets, and rolls of cloth tied with cord. The essentials for a civilized existence in a barbarian world were spilled upon the ground. Chopsticks, porcelain teapots, bamboo steamers, and iron woks; family portraits, scrolls of calligraphy, ivory mah-jongg tiles, and skeins of silk; smoking tobacco, delicate pipes, dried lizards, and live snakes for use as medicine were pawed through by white men looking for boxes and bags of one item and one item only -- opium. It wasn't that these Government officials were there to seize contraband. They had to make sure that they collected the very substantial duty which was charged, for opium was not then illegal in this country, nor would it be for decades to come.
Teams of Chinese representing the Six Companies -- the Chinese-run benevolent associations that controlled every aspect of Chinese life in San Francisco -- met these new immigrants as they reassembled their belongings. Groups of boys would recognize a summons in their own local dialect, and separate from the group to follow the speaker, who would pile them into carts for the trip to "Chinese Street," which the whites called by the name of Jackson. Narrow alleys running off to the sides were crammed with cheap wooden houses and shacks in which hundreds of Chinese men slept on hard wooden bunks. The crowding and sanitation were not much better than in the hulls of the immigrant ships, but the newcomers were largely indifferent to their surroundings as long as they could make money. Their newfound friends from their home district would soon help them slide into jobs in this rapidly expanding frontier town.
The earlier arrivals mostly worked for white prospectors, digging and panning out hastily-staked claims. They were allowed to keep half of whatever gold they found, which sometimes amounted to what seemed like a fortune to these cash-poor peasants. Claims abandoned by their original white prospectors were hastily taken over by Chinese, who hungrily squeezed gold dust out of the discarded tailings.
After 1864, shiploads of Chinese men were imported to work on the Transcontinental Railroad. Called "Crocker's Pets" after Chester Crocker, the railroad mogul who first conceived of this method of amassing cheap labor, ten thousand Chinese were toiling away at any given time. They worked long, backbreaking hours without complaint, their small, lithe bodies perfect for creeping into rocky crevasses to plant dynamite for blowing away obstacles. Often they were dangled down sheer cliffs in order to reach otherwise inaccessible places. The expression "Chinaman's chance" referred to the likelihood of their being killed in a fall or a badly-timed explosion. For all this they were given board and $30 per month in gold.
It was largely due to Chinese labor that the Transcontinental Railroad was finished in an amazing five years, but not a single Chinese face appears in the famous photograph of the ceremony surrounding the driving of the final spike in 1869. It is estimated that between five hundred and a thousand Chinese laborers were killed in those five years. Many believe the numbers were far higher.
Even so, the Chinese were appreciated by their white bosses for their energetic hard work, although some of their habits truly astounded them. At the insistence of their white co-workers, Chinese prospectors and railroad workers alike lived in separate camps; there their own cooks could prepare a semblance of the food they knew at home. American eyes were exposed to the mysteries of chopsticks and stir-frying for the first time. White men were further amazed to see Chinese carefully wash themselves every day -- every day -- coiling their long, braided queues on the tops of their heads to keep them out of the way. And then there was the strange Chinese habit of drinking nothing but tea -- sans milk or sugar, no less -- with the cooks keeping vats of water constantly on the boil so as to provide a constant supply. No one could figure out why the Chinese seemed never to get sick, while the Big Noses, also known as Round Eyes, who drank cold water directly from streams, were often doubled over with dysentery.
After 1869 the gold mines were getting depleted and the Transcontinental Railroad had been finished. Although thousands of Chinese were kept working on another branch of the railroad, thousands of others suddenly found themselves without work. Long practice in scrambling for subsistence in Toi-shan had taught them nothing if not resourcefulness, however, and the men just joined the swelling ranks of those who worked in various businesses catering to the ballooning Chinese expatriate community.
All sorts of skills were needed, like those of the Chinese immigrants in 1870, among whom were found six herbal doctors, seventy-one carpenters, fourteen stone-cutters, three bakers, seven barbers, and twenty-seven tailors to construct the loose-fitting blouses and trousers for the thousands of their countrymen who had preceded them. Scribes wrote letters for their illiterate compatriots. Troupes of actors entertained with classical Chinese opera. And then there were the importers who provided all that tea and other essentials from home.
Some Chinese were opening restaurants. Of course the cooking was just basic bachelor fare -- a dim imitation of what they were used to eating in Toi-shan. Yet it was this plain country, Cantonese food which became the staple of the restaurants that were springing up in cities and towns where the railroad had dumped its men. Whole new dishes were invented to appeal to Round Eye palates. For instance, there is a legend of a group of drunken white miners breaking into a Chinese restaurant after hours and demanding food. The proprietor just scraped together table scraps and garbage and called it "chop suey," which means either "leftovers" or something vastly more rude.
Still others founded laundries, a desperately needed service for the sweaty white men who disdained clothes-washing as an effeminate task fit only for women. But with not very ma