In anticipation of our move to a slightly smaller house with a smaller laundry room (area), we have sold our washer and dryer. The sale itself was a little on the weird side; having accepted the cash from our buyers and given them a bill of sale commemorating the transaction, they proceeded to leave the machines here for almost two weeks. This was a good news/bad news situation in that we were able to make use of our laundry room for a bit longer than anticipated. But the “Other Shoe” dropped on Tuesday and they were finally picked up, leaving us with a pretty good sized basket of dirty clothes. So I had to do something I haven’t done since my long-ago Bachelor Days. No, I’m not talking about peeing from a moving vehicle, although I’d forgotten how much fun that can be until just now. No, I had to actually go to a Laundro-Mat.
The Laundro-Mat is one of those places like jail, the DMV, or a Greyhound Bus: situations where you ar forced to be with people with whom you would never, ever otherwise be associated. This particular Wash-a-teria is here in Napa; and as such lacks the civil trappings of one in a more “urban” environment; most notably, a nearby cocktail bar.
The one and only good thing about going to the Laundro-Mat is getting an entire week’s worth of clothes done in an hour and a half. Consequently, most people who go there are wearing the very last clean items from their wardrobe, like a cable-knit sweater and a pair of swim trunks, which makes them suitably dressed for the trip to Wal Mart they will undoubtedly be making afterwards. I almost want to wear a paper bag over my head. The looks of sympathy and mild disgust from people as you pull up and unload your baskets of unmentionables are more than one should have to bear. “Oh, what kind of sad, deprived life must this guy have, that he is here at the Laundro-Mat, and not at the laundry room of his two-bedroom, Swinging Singles Condo.” I feel like people must think I am just one step above Homeless Guy on the evolutionary scale, the only difference between us being the pocket full of quarters jingling in my sweats. But, being that these looks are coming from people who, themselves, are at the Laundro-Mat, not so bad. I resist the urge to explain to them that, no, I’m not a regular here; just a victim of circumstance.
From the looks of things, this Washateria has been devoid of any mechanical maintenance or janitorial services for some time now. A couple of the gigantic dryers lining the wall have their facades intact, complete with the coin slots and buttons to set the temperature, yet with no actual dryer behind them; just a dark void allowing a glimpse into the unsightly underbelly of the plumbing, the electrical conduits, and a whole bunch of trash. A full 20% of the washers are marked with Out of Order Signs in Spanish only (such racial profiling!) and there are huge chunks missing from the Formica tabletops in the Folding Area. The final, unifying accent to the motif is a pay phone on the wall.
There is a six-foot tall steel pole towards the front, with the World’s Last Television That Uses Rabbit Ears mounted in a locked, steel cage at the top. A fuzzy channel is blaring out an incredibly loud combination of static and Jerry Springer; I am so not going to listen to this white noise for the next hour and a half, so I boldly make an adjustment. I look around at my fellow Fluff-N-Folders, and since no one voices an opinion on the new volume setting, I hit the Off Switch and put the device out of its, and my, misery.
Now that the static machine has been deactivated, the other sounds of the Laudro-Mat come into focus. There are washers filling and spinning; one is shuddering and dancing under the duress of the thousand pounds or so of Levis in it. There are dryers humming and tumbling and a couple of them are making a disconcertingly loud rattle, like someone has thrown a handful of pennies into them. Next to the TV is a Coke machine, whose refrigeration unit is making a muffled, whimpering sound like a litter of crying puppies. Two people sitting on the formed plastic chairs under the windows are having the most uninteresting conversation about recording something on DVD’s and the plusses and minuses of different recording speeds. All this blends into a kind of cacophonous white noise background that almost makes me turn the TV back on.
I load my four washers with clothes and, completely ignoring the instructions not to overload, start my Wash Cycle. I’m out, retreating to the relative comfort of the front seat of my car, some coffee from the Starbucks across the parking lot, some FM Radio, and about five cigarettes.
Twenty-seven minutes later I’m back inside, and ready to make my move for the dryers. As previously noted, several of the dryers are down and literally out, so the available dryer space is severely diminished. There are three of us standing by our spinning washers, eyeing each other like gunfighters in the Old West, to see who will win the quick-draw for the final three available dryers. The whistling part of the theme” from “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” is playing in my head. My washers click off one by one, and I am on the move. I get to the three dryers a full minute before my competition, load my loads, and start depositing coins.
25¢ for SEVEN MINUTES! I haven’t put that many quarters into a machine of any kind since my last trip to a casino. At this rate, the only other time you get less for a quarter is the 12 minutes of parking 25¢ will buy you from a meter in downtown SF. I deposit the rest of my roll of quarters, and start the dryers rolling.
I know from past experience that drying on “Regular” in these massive machines will generate enough heat to cook a turkey (when you can actually smell the elastic in your Tidy-Whiteys as you are folding them, you know things have gotten a little too warm), so I opt for the Permanent Press cycle. And it’s back to the car, the radio and the Camel Filters.
About a half an hour later, I saunter back to check my loads for doneness. The drums of Laudro-mat dryers are the size of a Monster Truck tire, so the clothes are really having a good tumble. I open the door to see how things are progressing and discover that this particular dryer’s “Kill Switch” is broken, and it continues to make its gigantic rotations as my clothes literally start flying out. I’m reminded of an episode of “I Love Lucy” as I’m catching them and stuffing them back in, finally getting the door closed and re-establishing containment. Being an upright-walking, tool-using Homo-Sapien, I am able to adapt to changing conditions such as this one, so I grab one of the handy little wheeled carts, place it just below the dryer’s door, and open ‘er back up. My laundry tumbles itself perfectly into the basket. I allow myself a mental Fist-Pump, and it’s off to the folding table to finish up and get the hell out.
So, for the next week until the delivery truck arrives in Atlanta with our shiny new Bosches, nothing in my wardrobe will be considered dirty, unless it is covered in mud, catsup or red wine.