What Is it About Laundromats Anyhow?

Where was a laundromat pub when I needed one?
Where was a laundromat pub when I needed one?

Have you ever noticed how lifeless everyone looks in laundromats? Doesn’t matter who we are, we step over the threshold and we become glazed-over drone people. There’s something about the overhead florescent lights and the rows of shiny machines and the dingy floor tiles …

Laundromats are just so … I don’t know … reality-based. There’s no ignoring the fact that life can be a grubby, tedious affair. Whether students or people this close to homelessness or senior citizens or people like me who avoid laundromats, laundromats render us equals in grubby tediousness.

One time I saw a woman who appeared well to do (and she was driving a Mercedes too). She looked sheepish, being there, with shoulders hunched up against the dire reality of it all. She loaded her gigantic, plush comforter and dashed out. No way she was going to wait around with the hoi polloi. I couldn’t help thinking that despite how she may have viewed herself, she was one of us. It’s not like her bedding eludes grime, right?

I’m one of the lucky ones. Like the Mercedes lady, I only need to bear my grubby soul to wash my bedding. Unfortunately, since I adopted Fawn “Big Ears” Alber in June, I’ve been going more often than usual. At one point I gave up on my mattress pad and bought a new one. I couldn’t bear going to the laundromat again so soon after her last accident. I needed a new mattress pad anyhow, so I was OK with the expenditure.

Fawn "Big Ears" Alber aka The Culprit
Fawn “Big Ears” Alber aka The Culprit

But then what happened? Yes, Fawn let loose again. Thankfully, my bed wasn’t made, so I didn’t have to deal with the comforter. I washed my sheets in my washer and shoved the used-to-be pristine mattress pad in the closet where it languished for six months.

Thankfully, my vet diagnosed the physical issue underlying Fawn’s pee issues. Last week, however, she vomited on my bed. Sigh …

There was no putting it off now. Off to the laundromat I drove with my bedding and the languishing mattress pad, cursing my king-size bed the whole way. And, oh for a laundromat pub! I live in Portlandia for Christ’s sake — where are the hipster laundromat-pubs when I need them!?

I entered the usual Twilight Zone world with clothes bouncing around machines, quarters clacking out of the change machines, roller cart wheels squealing, and two glazed-eyed women ignoring each other.

Frankly, I couldn’t take it. So I spoke. “I’m never sure how much detergent to put in–do you know?”

It was like a shroud lifted. The women’s expressions brightened, light entered their eyes, and a discussion ensued. I learned that all these years I’ve been using too much detergent.

I was noodling with ten dollars’ worth of quarters when a small man in a large tweedy overcoat arrived. He sported a neatly trimmed beard, hipster sneakers, and a bewildered expression. He stood just over the threshold as if about to bolt, gazing around before setting his hamper down. It took him a minute to open a washer door. They are tricky. You have to push down on a button at the same time you turn the handle.

It was just the four of us in the place at this point. We three women watched him out of the corners of our eyes. (We were back to ignoring each other.) After wandering around, checking out the change machines and the dispenser of mini-boxes of detergents, he asked, “How much detergent do I put in?”

I’m sure my expression brightened. “I just asked the same thing,” I said.

Blurry picture because I took it on the sly. Lots of suds, not clothes.
Blurry picture because I took it on the sly. Lots of suds, no clothes.

He was so befuddled by the laundromat process that he got the washer going without clothes in it. “Oh,” he said, “after fourteen years in a relationship, I’m useless.” He managed to get his clothes going in another washer and spent the rest of the time staring into space with a woebegone expression or pacing around like a penned-up stray.

Oh, the humanity!

Yes, we are all equals inside laundromats, with our backstories and our hurts and our grubby belongings.

Do you have any laundromat stories?


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