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Like a dryer-free lemming
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I've lived much of my life like a lemming.

For you non-rodent fans, lemmings are a close cousin to the hamster and could be mistaken for one of the cute and furry critters on any given Tuesday. Lemmings live in the wild tundra of the Arctic Circle, where they are vulnerable to the harsh climate as well as harsh predators. It's a tough world for these tough little herbivores, and lemmings - normally solitary animals - understand what they need to do in order to escape the extreme northern winters: stick together and migrate.

Safety in numbers - for lemmings it's a way of life. They migrate from ice chunk to ice chunk, scattering in various directions, pursuing both food and safety. Somewhere along the line, their group migration mentality made lemmings the topic of myth and speculation. For years they were rumored to engage in en mass cliff-diving - going so far as to follow their leader up to and off the edge of a dangerous precipice before falling to their death in the frigid waters rushing below. Disney even made a movie about the phenomenon in the 1950s, so people figured it had to be real.

Scientists now tell us the theory of lemming suicide is nothing more than urban legend. Still, the idea of blindly following the crowd has come to be associated with our furry Arctic rodent.

Like lemmings of folklore, I often follow others and do what they do - and not just during trips to Disney World. It's easier, sometimes, to look around, see what the guy at the next table is ordering off the menu and think the meatloaf looks good enough for me. The same goes for the labels on clothes, cars in the driveway and brand of sneakers my kids wear on the first day of school.

Going where others go and buying what they buy eliminates the energy and brain cells required to think for oneself. I'm all about saving energy. I even buy those ecologically efficient whirly wig light bulbs that claim to last for seven years.

I was content in my lemming mentality, until one of my whirly wigs shone brightly above my head. This was in theory, of course. No real light bulbs were used or destroyed in the manufacturing of this anecdote. The light bulb in question was the illumination of an original idea.

This epiphany was born shortly after my clothes dryer died.

I've always lived life with a dryer. I didn't question my need for this particular appliance because everyone I knew owned one. Oh sure, some folks make use of the new-fangled invention aptly named a clothesline, but that's only for certain items during part of the year. Even people who use a clothesline have a clothes dryer - for back up. You can't expect anyone to wear wet clothes, unless they are swimming or diving.

My yard isn't equipped with a clothesline. I don't even own any clothespins. This hasn't been an issue up until now, because I've always had the warm comfort of my dryer. That ended a couple of weeks ago.

Just like the lemmings face the need to migrate each year, I found myself face to face with change. I stood on the edge of a sharp, rugged precipice, looking straight down into a harsh, wet and unwelcoming dryerless ravine. I decided to take the leap and live by the age-old adage: When life hands you lemmings, make lemming-ade. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

The solution surrounded me like pack of rodents right there in the tundra of my laundry room. The area morphed into a clothes dryer. The tops of doors and closets served as a clothesline. Doorknobs worked like clothes hooks. I spread the wet load out and it dried. Quickly. Easily. Like falling out of bed.

Or maybe even off a cliff. Take your pick.

- Jill Pertler's column appears every Thursday in the Times. She can be reached at