I keep my two prized possessions in the dankest room in the house. The first, a large rusty washer named ROPER, was a gift from my in-laws. The second, a large rusty dryer named WHIRLPOOL, was a gift from a coworker of my wife. Both machines chug and gurgle and slave away in an unseemly alcove illuminated only by Christmas bulbs. Occasionally the machines--offended by overuse or indignity or having had their outgoing pipes choked by tree roots--will make weird noises and stop working. When this happens, I get a little sad and scared because it means I will have to go back to the laundromat.
Why are laundromats so brutally goddamned depressing? I use lots of other quasi-civic services--vets, car washes, supermarkets--but none inspire the loathing (inwards and outwards) as the mats of laundering. I dread the places. So do all my pals. I don’t know of any movie or TV show that makes laundromats look good.
Obviously, part of their universal bad rap is due to unfulfilled erotic promise. Standing in a roomful of tumbling bras and boxers, it's not such a stretch to imagine a young Brazilian sauntering in, looking around sheepishly, noticing the only other person in the room (little old you), smiling even more sheepishly and then stripping nude to wash his or her clothes. It must have happened somewhere. But where?
I've certainly never seen any such thing go down in all my decades of using laundromats. Here are some things I actually have experienced while washing my clothes:
· In Rhode Island, the pug-faced proprietress of P IDE [sic] LAUNDRY hoisted my wet unmentionables from their still-spinning drum to scold me for using too much detergent (the "R" in her PRIDE sign had fallen off, signaling a general morale failure).
· In Los Angeles, 20 years ago, one of the dozen hobos lingering at a public laundromat stole all my clothes from a dryer after I trusted them enough to leave and go record shopping.
· An old ceiling vent at my local laundromat, clogged with years of mossy lint, sprouted a protrusion of hairy shmutz which dangled and waggled in the flow of cooled air, and appeared very much like an incriminating finger of filth pointing down into my soul.
· In Virginia, a hulking laundry manager, enraged that I'd used his machines only to make change, chewed me out in front of the entire establishment. "Hey," I said, shrugging nervously, "that's America."
"Thass not Amer'ca," he replied with a tone of menace. "Thass a jerk." · In Paris, angered because I couldn't tell which coin activated which machine, I myself chewed out a roomful of unhelpful strangers on the grounds that, "I know one of you speaks English."
I was struggling with some dark times in my life during that last one, but that's kind of the point. Laundromats invite dark times. They are rarely clean or cheery places. I'm sure somewhere there are a laundromats that resemble VIP airport lounges, where young Brazilian hardbodies feel free to sort and fold their socks while standing as naked as Adam and/or Eve. The laundromats I've used are more like biological gift exchanges. I leave behind bits of my own dander and DNA, and I leave with human hairs and Band-Aids clinging to my warm, fresh laundry. It is simultaneously America and a jerk, and I am--as with all who must air their dirty laundry in public—shamed.
Previously - Force Majeure