Sunday, June 7, 2015

Chuck Goes to the Laundromat: a Melodrama in Three Cycles

With Casa Baudelaire undergoing renovations, things are in a bit of disarray.

I mean, it's nuts over here.
The toaster is in the garage, nobody can find the cotton swabs, and the washer and dryer are sitting unplugged in the dining room.

That last one takes the living situation to a slightly more inconvenient place than the others. I can deal with a little wax buildup in my ears while the house gets painted. But everybody has run out of clean underwear, and it's making us a wee bit crabby.

You just can't be at your best with crispy drawers.
So it fell to me to gather up our essential laundry - towels, undies, Precocious Daughter's karate uniform - and take it to the laundromat.

A slight digression: In my IRL job, I edit technical reports. And a surprising proportion of editing technical reports involves correcting the same small group of errors over and over again. When grown-ass people repeatedly write "predominately" instead of "predominantly," it can be a tad irritating. Or when they treat the made-up word "drive-thru" as a legitimate thing. Not knowing the difference between "that" and "which," that kind of gets to me after a while. But there really ought to be a special place in Hell for college-educated professional adults who refer to a coin-operated clothes-washing business as a "laundry mat."

No, I'm fine, really.

I hadn't been to a laundromat in a very long time. When my spouse and I were just starting out, we lived in Milwaukee for a couple of years, in a neighborhood that wasn't quite sketchy but clearly was keeping its options open in that regard. Shortly before we moved away, it was revealed that Jeffrey Dahmer used to troll for victims in a park a couple of blocks from our house. So there's that.

The house we lived in was a duplex. Our neighbors were a nice working-class couple with two adorable daughters. We were on friendly terms, but they had a real thing about sharing. They had a washer and dryer in the basement, but we were not allowed under any circumstances to use them. Ever. Like, if our dog had dragged a rabid badger into the house and left its bloody carcass on our bed, and we needed to quickly launder the sheets to get rid of the badger blood and rabies before bedtime, that would have been a non-starter with our neighbors.

So, OK. No on-site laundry privileges. My grandmother lived 15 minutes away, and she was more than willing to let me do our laundry at her house, because it meant I would spend the afternoon with her, which we both enjoyed. Win-win.

Would the world not be a better place if
we all recycled our laundry rinse water,
as we always did when I grew up in Wisconsin?
There were times, however, when I couldn't get to Gran's house for whatever reason. Sometimes she was out of town, generally visiting my parents in Texas. Sometimes I wasn't able to go to her house on the regular laundry day. When that happened, the only alternative was to use the laundromat near our house.

It was pretty clean, and it was pretty modern. But it was prone to...incidents. Like someone playing his music too loudly for someone else's taste. Or an entrepreneur trying to sell his cheap and possibly hot merchandise to people while they tried to do their wash. Or random fights breaking out because someone dared to say hello to someone else's girlfriend.

Just, you know, human drama, of the kind that tends to scar you for life.

So when it transpired that I was chosen to do some emergency laundromatting, I was a bit apprehensive based on my previous experience. I Googled laundromats in my vicinity and found one that had positive reviews with regard to cleanliness and general lack of criminal activity on-site. I invited Drummer Boy to accompany me, for conversation and because he is much larger and tougher-looking than I am, but that fell apart. So I got some cash and a copy of People magazine and headed to the local Wash and Dry.

I bought it for the Tracy Morgan article, OK?

And it was quite nice. It was very clean, the equipment seemed modern, there were snack machines and video games and flat-screen TVs. The place was moderately crowded, with a nice cross-section of humanity - all ages, all colors, single guys and families and whatnot. Everyone was unfailingly friendly and polite, asking if this cart or that folding table were taken before appropriating them. I got ten bucks worth of quarters and got to work.

I felt ridiculously out of practice. I took two washers, because I thought taking more might be rude. I put way too much detergent in one and probably not enough in the other. I had a hard time gauging how much stuff could be put in a single washer, so my loads were probably either way too big or way too small, and I was afraid the machines might explode in a cataclysm of suds and sodden towels.

Laundromats, I've decided, are similar to high school, in that you're certain everyone is judging you and the best you can hope for is that no one figures out that you have no idea what you're doing.

In the end, it cost me about twelve bucks to do three loads of washing and drying. That seems like a lot, but what do I know? I had my phone and my crap magazine to give me an excuse to not interact with people or stare into space like a dummy, and the two hours I spent at the laundromat went by at a pretty good clip. A very nice man jumped up and opened the door for me as I carried my laden basket of folded laundry out of the building. I'm going to call it a successful venture.

But if I have to do it again next weekend, I may have a dissociative episode.

Tomorrow: The contest winner!


  1. Twelve bucks is less than lunch for two people at Wendy's, which I believe is the universal standard for laundromat visits. So you did all right. But video games? Flat screen TVs? The laundromat nearest me has an old Ms. Pac Man machine, a snack machine with beer nuts, and a drink machine I think I recognize as the same one that was outside my high school gym.

    You have a luxury laundromat.

  2. I've been to some pretty rough laundromats. My favorite one got closed down because there were so many police calls in a short period of time.

    You are lucky if you have one where you feel comfortable, even if it is a short term thing.



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