Thread Counts

I was lucky enough to work for a summer at a bed and breakfast in Friday Harbor, Washington, on San Juan Island, a place so remote you can only reach it by ferry (or I suppose helicopter if you’re Celine Dion). The people were friendly and quirky in that way that people who opt to live on a ferry-accessible island would be. In other words, they thought Friday Harbor was Nirvana, and they really seemed to embrace the remoteness. I did too, if only for a short duration in-between college semesters. I found the town of Friday Harbor served as a refuge from all things Northern Idaho. My job at the B&B consisted mostly of maid duties–changing bed linens, cleaning the bathrooms, and generally keeping all the rooms well-appointed with everything an enthusiastic B&B dweller would desire. I became pretty good at making beds if I do say so myself, and I thought I’d seen and learned all the ways to dress a pillow until recently.

The bed and breakfast was owned by a man I’ll call Art, not just because it was his real name, but I also like the fact that his wife was an artist, which he hated. I’d never fully realized the irony of this until now.

Art acquired his millions through laundry–a business he built up from scratch. I learned all of this through Art himself one afternoon when I was in the laundry room, ironing pillow cases. Yes, I said ironing pillow cases. I actually came to enjoy this activity and was enjoying a sort of Zenlike, ironing meditation when Art appeared. There, in front of the large-capacity washer and drier, he regaled me with his personal cosmogony myth, the story of how he and his brother started their business with nothing, of course. They eventually worked their way up to owning a sizable laundry business in the Bay area, which they then turned around and sold. Art invested much of this profit in the B&B where I was employed. The thing I remember most about this conversation wasn’t the smell of the detergent (a mix of lavender and Clorox to my mind) or the breeze coming off the bay through the open laundry hut, it was Art’s intensity when it came to speaking of thread counts. I had no idea somebody could harbor such passion for thread counts. It was almost frightening. Art deeply needed me to understand. Prior to that day, I had never given a thought to sheets much at all, much less associated them with anything numerical, but Art explained the difference between 200 count, 300 count, 400 count, and how everything (and I mean everything) changed once you reached the 600 range. He drew closer, arms akimbo, eager to explain the difference between Egyptian cotton and regular cotton (I don’t remember), stressing the many attributes that would come to one who invested in sheets that provide years of comfort and service.

Yes, Art believed in quality, and because of him, I pay attention to sheets and how they feel as I slide between them. I’ve endured the pain of polyester sheets in a third world country, and I’ve had some experiences with sheets in need of a good sweater shaver. I like myself a good flannel every now and then on an especially chilly night, but damn if there isn’t something to be said for a luxurious, 600+ count to accompany you into the night.

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