It’s 10:13pm on a Friday night and as the highlight of my day begrudgingly reveals itself, I discover in preparation for the inevitable appearance of tomorrow, that I am once again out of clean underwear.
There are many potential remedies for this situation.
Option number one suggests I could borrow a pair of my wife’s low-cuts. She’s out of town and would never know, except perhaps discovering upon her return the horribly awkward and uncomfortable remnants of chafing in places we simply and politely just don’t talk about at parties.
Option number two involves what I call ‘The Braveheart.” Commando fashionista. Rivets on Levis put a quick end to that potential.
Option number three. CVS. It’s open 24 hours. They sell boxers. I saw them last week when I ran out of toothpaste in a similarly-themed domestic challenge. However, it’s now 10:16pm and whilst the pharmacy is only 10 minutes away, I’d prefer not to have to explain or even acknowledge to the cashier — silently with a sheepish grin and a telling nod — why it is I am buying underwear instead of beer at 10pm on a Friday night.
Option number four. The uncomfortable reconciliation of fact. Laundry.
Laundry is not an altogether alien concept to me.
In a house where I am surrounded by a fortress of estrogen-themed daily drama, couture — or namely the availability of fresh sources of same, not found strewn around the house in piles resembling Inuit housing — is a constant and simultaneous source of both amusement and utter distress.
I know how it works. More specifically I know how it *should* work. It’s not that difficult a concept to master.
I contemplate, strangely, what it would be like if option number four required something other than a modest jaunt to the basement where lives the ominous apparatus that does diligent battle with the detritus threatening the sanctity of my linens.
I reckon back to the days of college and of single life in an apartment where this capability was not installed, where I had to pack up my dirty vestments, remember the detergent, fabric softener, dryer sheets and a thousand dollars in quarters and trek to…
I re-imagine the hours I’ve spent there.
Strangely-timed appearances meant to avoid the rush which is met with the soul-crushing realization that everyone else uses the same random number generator to decide when to show. The ludicrous rituals of basket placement and folding table land-wars. The hope that at some point in the next 12 hours, the illusion of infinite laundry scale will avail itself to me.
I remember these things.
I remember the rust-stained linoleum flooring. Faded pictures and warning emblems threatening sure and certain death from things like asphyxiation, electrocution, strangulation and loss of appendages. I am particularly disturbed and most concerned with the latter.
The community bulletin board is always a symbolic mecca for the cultural awesomesauce around which a neighborhood is formed; an eclectic mix of lost pets, waterbed auctions, spanish and math tutoring services, guitar or tuba lessons (your choice) and a never-ending supply of for-sale-by-owner-1984-in-good-condition-runs-perfectly-Honda Civics.
And yoga lessons.
Because with a wash-rinse-dry-fold cycle time of approximately 2 hours, down dog and vinyasas are a natural way to pass the time. I must admit to never having witnessed yoga in a laundromat. Unless you consider two newlyweds making out in the corner as Yoga.
I recall the sweet and confusingly intoxicating smell of Downy. That earthy, hot, suffocating perfumed humidity of 1000 dryers tumbling in a rhytmic chant of anti-moistness. Low frequency undulating serenity drummed into my consciousness, starkly punctuated with the the alarming and syncopated rupture of tempo by unrecovered pocket change falling out of jeans, producing a staccato “pitta-chank, pitta-chank, clink, donk.”
And then, the fear. The fear that I don’t have enough quarters and that the change machine doesn’t take ten dollar bills and that I’ve forgotten to bring something to read, nourishment, hydration, motivation…
I recollect the homeless man curled up in the corner under the flickering TV that only gets Korean soap operas with a vertical lock problem and the industrial-sized machines used for washing tents, small couches or horse blankets. There’s the cigarette, whiskey and cruely time-stained woman in 50 cent curlers in her high-fashion and Heathcliff slippers, unshaven legs and a hawaiian print moomoo reading People magazine, snickering at the misfortunes of multi-millionaire actresses jilted by their spoiled no-talent actor suitors. Venom.
But most fondly I smile — almost vindictively — at the memory of the man staring hopelessly at the bank of identical washers, each in spin cycle, wondering which three were his and hopelessly wondering why it is that he is mesmerized and distracted then by the one pink sock in a load of all black washing, flitting back and forth through the porthole in the jumbo drier.
It’s then that I flash forward to the now, staring at the highly advanced, extremely efficient and 100% available and dedicated GE Monogram front-loading washer and dryer standing before me in my basement. They’re color matched in a silver hue not unlike that of a fighter jet — beautiful, sexy and — if you paid attention to the warnings in the laundromat — potentially deadly.
Speaking of which, I’m quite sure it *is* possible to drown in a front-loader, but the process eludes me. Perhaps out of respect for the grieving family of anyone stupid enough who has managed to kill his or herself in a running washing machine. Perhaps because I’m thinking way too much about how this can be done.
The physical attractiveness is not the most compelling element of my dirt-ridding-appliances. It’s the fact that they belong to me.
No vehicular excursions. No lady in a moomoo. No territorial battles waged over timing issues between washing machine to dryer transfer latency.
You see, although I recognize the idealistic beauty and utility of the laundromat, it’s beaten down and mocked selfishly by the bully that is the convenience of dedicated capacity.
The convenience of discretionary load times. The availability of highly-customized wash/dry settings. Knowing that I didn’t just put my clothes in a vessel that rid unmentionables from someone’s love-stained sheets.
No nickel-and-diming me for quarters because the spin cycle was too short or where I end up paying twice as much for the utility of centralized community resources that do only 80% of what I need in drying cycles because my heavy thread-count towels are just too damned thick. Nobody else gets to mistakenly touch my loads or scowl at me because I wasn’t neurotically hawking over the dwell times and exfiltrating things the microsecond a cycle was complete.
It is true, however, that I had to pay for the privilege of doing my laundry when and however I see fit and yes, frankly, sometimes the demand for use outstrips the supply, but ultimately, unless it’s comforter day, I can just plan better to make better use of what I have available to me. Or I’ll make use of the industrial sized washers for my comforters in well-planned, more reasonably strategic washing sessions for when I need that scale, bulk or don’t really need a delicate cycle.
I can’t tell you what it *actually* costs per load of laundry in my basement. I admit I’ve long written off the books the initial investment of purchase. It seems less than what it costs per load to visit the laundromat. Perhaps that’s just wishful thinking or perhaps it’s worth every penny not to have to share folding space with a man who reeks of kielbasa and Marlboro lights. That’s not to say I don’t find him amusing in a cinema-verite sort of way.
Nor do I write off the efficiency and service this place provides. It’s just that it doesn’t provide all things to all people and that’s OK. The point is, those that need or like this place come here but you don’t hear them espousing that the only one true way to do laundry is at the laundromat, nor do they speak of the “laundromat revolution” whilst sipping hot chocolate or gatorade and finger-snap clapping to the pretentious preaching of bitter launderers.
It just is and I’m cool with that. Just like my washing own washer and dryer is. This simply isn’t about religion, righteousness, idealogs or dogma. It’s about getting my underwear clean.
I visit the laundromat still. Because it’s useful to me. Because it offers utility for things that are important to me. But not because of some idealistic need to share space with others or make someone else money. Afterall, utility is about choice. There’s no right or wrong if a solution meets my needs.
So my underwear is washed and prior to drying it — at my leisure — I have managed to consume a snack in between watching something on Netflix, playing with my dog and — surprisingly — contemplating those guitar lessons. I can’t say I miss the lady in curlers, but the dead potted plant that exists in both realities — my house and the laundromat — offers some comfort through familiarity.
Do I feel guilty for the inefficient hoarding of resources in my basement and not suggesting to my neighbor that they abandon their machines or pool them with mine to produce a kibbutz-like washing utility for the neighborhood at large?
However, I would consider having a folding party if that makes you feel any better.
Utility is in how you use things, not necessarily how it’s offered.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.