A Dirty Laundromat Story

[the original version of this was lost to the digital wasteland of the internet, where I can only hope that it has found a happy and fulfilling life, with wife and family, maybe a house in the country with a dog and a willing audience that it can tell itself to. I wish it all the best. Since I will never see it again, I automatically assume it’s superior to this version and if you don’t like this version, you can assume that there is a much better and for more engaging version out there somewhere, living a happy and successful life. For those with too much time on their hands, or the chronically insane, you can search for this lost version, but I don’t hold much hope. I doubt it wants to be found since the expectation would be staggeringly unfair to live up to. I don’t blame it for staying away, that is even if it could come back. But I digress.]

Your typical laundromat has all the appeal of dumpster diving, but without the neat surprises. Honestly I have always been a bit fascinated by a place devoted to something that most people can take care of at home. More than that, they have machines that are capable of handling of 62 pounds of laundry at a time. I find this amazing. If 62 lbs of laundry seems like a lot, that’s because it’s the same weight as a small angry child. Why would a laundromat have 9 such washers? Who saves up that much laundry? It’s a wonder I get anything done when my brain begin to wander like that.

Pulling up to the front of the laundromat, a place I had only seen from the street but never braved to visit, I tried to tell myself that this was the more grown up option than taking the laundry to my parent’s to be washed. If only a little. There’s something about being 30 years old and not having a washer that makes my American blood ashamed to course through my veins. It seems dirty somehow. We actually had hookups for a washer and drier in the small duplex, and could have afforded to purchase a decent set that probably would have last a year or two. But we also have three cats and the only place the cat litter boxes could fit was under the washer/dryer hookups. It was either doing laundry at home and keeping the litter boxes in the kitchen or I go to the laundromat. It represented a very small dilemma for my wife.

I stumbled into the laundromat carrying a load of about 800 lbs of unsteady laundry, threatening every moment to suddenly become much better acquainted with the sidewalk. The door, of course, was a pull, not a push.

As I clumsily entered, I was greeted by an unnecessarily cheerful woman who immediately asked if I had been there before. Upon hearing my response to the negative, her unnatural smile grew even wider, but not unpleasantly so. She lunged for my baskets, lithely snatching them away from my sagging arms, at the same time appraising me with glance that questioned my very masculinity. Properly humbled by a woman old enough to have invented the practice of laundry to begin with, I simply hung my head and followed.

Eyes averted and staring at the floor, I noticed a strange gleam, a shine if you will, something no one expects to see when they visit a laundromat. It was then that the smell hit me, a pleasant and wonderful aroma; fresh laundry. It occurred to me that every laundromat should smell like this on principle. I’m not usually one for making random, seemingly unnecessary laws, but this might be an exception.

Not only does it look like the establishment designed for cleaning never receives a similar treatment, there’s also the smell. Often it’s an unwholesome combination of old wet dog, molded soap, and what I can only assume is the smell of dead body, possibly coming from the walls, a successful suicide by someone forced to use the laundromat’s infuriatingly substandard washing machines. The laundromat I occupied at the moment seemed to suffer from none of these deficiencies.

Immediately finding a washing machine that was perfectly capable of handling my car sized load, the woman threw my clothes into the washing container bin thing. To my horror a pair of my dirty underwear fell to the ground, right in front of her feet. Of course, they were not your average male soiled unmentionables, with one or to stains that can be easily explained. No, these were in such a state as to make strangers question whether I should be in public without proper supervision. To her credit the woman made no mention of the offending item, nor broke her stride, sweeping the garment off the floor and plopping it on top of the pile. She then pointed the laundry detergent and held out her hand.

Wordlessly I handed her the detergent, amazed at both her efficiency and bravery. Not just anyone would take a piece of unnatural cloth off the ground without complaining. This was obviously a woman who had seen a thing or two in her day. I made a mental note to not offend her.

The woman measured out a precise amount of soap, poured it into the appropriate receptacle on the washer, then pointed aggressively to the coin slot. Without hesitation, and a bit of hop in my step since her movements were becoming more quietly violent, I placed the exact amount of quarters in the slot and moved back to my proper place. With a small amount of ceremony, the woman gently pressed the start button, then took a step back, staring intently at the machine, I can only assume to make sure the contraption did not explode. I stared intently as well, or at least to the best of my ability.

When she was certain that we were safe from blowing up, the woman gave a firm head nod in the direction of the machine, then turned to me, giving me the same nod. I did my best to imitate the motion. Then she walked off to the main office, never to be seen again.

I washed and dried my pile of clothes in record time. As I was walking out the door, I popped in the office to say my goodbyes. As I stepped in, the office was dimmed to low dull glow and the woman has reclined in an old school chair, feet propped on a folding table, working an obviously used toothpick deeper into her gums, staring at the wall. I gave the customary “I’m going now” wave. She nodded solemnly in my direction, in the same manner of a cowboy addressing the kid that almost got him killed six or seven times in the movie, then went back to contemplating the wall. Instead of being insulted or dismayed I felt heartened by this, like she had more important things to think about besides my impending leave.