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Laundry Day | Sam Debatin | Tue 07 Jun 2022 04:30:19 PM EDT

I, much like less than 20% of Americans, do not own a washer or dryer. Nor do I have access to one in a building, despite the mysterious presence of a laundry shoot in one of my seven closets. I'm sure dumping your clothes straight into the ick of a basement floor was somehow helpful in the olden days, but for my purposes I'm really looking for somewhere I can throw my laundry that will end with it being clean.

That place just so happens to be a laundromat, where you don't have to pay for water or electricity, but actually you do because it's five dollars to wash your clothes in a place far from home.

So now I’m sitting in a laundromat -- or rather, I was sitting in a laundromat. I am actually sitting in my car writing, because somehow it is less embarrassing to sit in the passenger seat of my own car writing on a MacBook than it is to do so sitting at one of the many dingy tables dotted around the perimeter. Each time a car goes by it rattles my little 900-lb shitbox as if a small tornado were blasting by. I’m pretty sure my seats are lower than the curb. Also, because its laundry day and I have procrastinated deeply since moving, I am completely commando in skinny jeans. Probably another good reason to sit in the car.

The adventure has been rather unadventurous so far, although there have been a couple moments of note. First, a girl sitting at the next table smiled at me. Having not spoken to anyone all day, I did not smile back and instead grimaced at the coins in my hand. This being a coin laundry, you have to change your bills into coins -- paper for metal. “Seems like a good deal,” I thought (as metal is obviously more valuable than paper), and it seemed even better when the machine spat two silver dollars back at me along with the three standard gold dollars.

In my haste, I figured these silver dollars might be worth something, so I put in another dollar to avoid having to use them. Three coins to wash, one to dry. As I sat down contemplating the coins (and subsequently ignoring the friendly girl), a man speaking loud Spanish to his mom expertly snapped his pants straight, folding them into neat, creaseless piles. Someday I will learn this trick, just as I will someday learn Spanish.

At the same moment, a woman pushing her cat in a stroller began pacing just outside the laundromat, muttering about whether to take her cat home before or after she went to the bar. She decided on before, whining to no one, “maybe I should take you home first?”

After considering a number of options (cafe, library, and grocery store were all on my mind as time killers), I decided to just sit and wait at the laundromat. I have a prime parking spot and making a forty minute trek to a library I don’t have a card at for a half hour load of laundry seemed overkill.

When the wash cycle was finished, I expertly used a cart to transfer my laundry from washer to dryer, only dropping a few items on the greasy floor. It’s ok, I thought, my socks stuck to the walls of this thing anyway. Drying is only one dollar, so I popped in my last gold coin like the good laundry goblin we all should be, selected medium rare on the washer, and returned to my table, again staring blankly at the beige (and pinkish?) walls adorned by a tropical wallpaper runner. Homey.

I don’t know if there is a way to change the time options on these machines -- they use oddly specific times. Washing takes thirty-one minutes and drying takes forty-eight, for a grand total of seventy-nine minutes, or an hour-nineteen. Because of this, I wasn’t sure if this was some kind of “auto-dry” scenario where the dryer suspiciously knows how wet your clothes are. Humans actually have no sense for wetness, and as it turns out, neither did those dryers. Twenty-some minutes in I went to check if I still had drying time, and lo-and-behold, my dryer is motionless. “Finished!” I thought. Wrong -- because of the way the dryers are stacked, I had mistakenly selected the upper dryer and not the lower one. The upper one was completely empty, but spinning quite nicely. I paid a dollar to heat a couple cubic feet of air and someone else’s bone-dry sock. So much for saving the silver coins -- I paid another dollar. Thankfully they weren’t real silver anyway.

I was hoping for some kind of solidarity with the other laundromat users. But seeing as I’m an idiot, I am now stuck here for longer than the normal generation of launderers. Gone are my familiar kin, the smiling girl, the Spanish pants-snapper, the indie-headphone-eye-roller. I am here with a new crowd, one who started their laundry later than me and will likely leave before I am done. My old table has been taken over by a middle-aged man with an iPad, peering over his reading glasses-sunglasses dual setup and tapping fretfully over some website. I wish him luck.

As I sit here, I'm also thinking about yesterday. Yesterday, my first official day of work, I had the fortune of inspecting an older gentleman's piano. On the phone he had seemed mildly testy, but that is also to be expected from somewhat geriatric rich people. He told me somewhat gruffly to "meet me at my apartment development building, it's in a commerce zone," which wasn't exactly a clear description of location. The address was much more informative.

Upon meeting him, I introduced myself. "Hi, I'm Sam, techical service director at Solich Piano," or something similar that tried desperately not to belie the fact that I had worked at this job exactly one day and done exactly zero piano inspections in my life. Instead of returning my greeting, our man (let's call him Michael, shall we?) promptly began telling me about his proudest accomplishments as a brass musician. And as a carpenter, and also as a millionaire, parent, and real estate agent. Tit-for-tat, I guess -- my greeting wasn’t exactly authentic either.

Politely nodding and agreeing, I let him run his course, and each time his body language said "we're going inside," he would rock back on his heels and begin a new set of ramblings. I really have no idea how long we stood there, probably only five minutes, but it was enough to learn that there wasn't a single band back in the day that would play without him on backup brass, he built 22-million dollar homes for 100-million dollar men, and that his children have learned the value and appreciation of music solely through him foisting piano lessons upon them through age eighteen.

When he decided I was wise enough to his life to enter his "apartment development building" (which was in fact in a "commerce zone," located on a similarly vaguely-titled "Commerce Drive"), we made our way to this room that supposedly held a piano. Between the front door and our room was a massive indoor garden, but despite being likely planted in '93 all the plants were still inches high. This is because plastic does not grow.

"Michael" showed me to an entirely gauche (and not entirely womblike) head-to-toe pink room, which contained 1. a couple dozen sets of antique furniture, 2. an overwhelming smell of cheap whiskey and 3. one pre-1980 Mason and Hamlin piano. The furniture, much like the piano, came from Michael's old house, which he had built and was accordingly over 9000 square feet, all of which he frequently (and proudly) navigated blindfolded. I'm not sure if the whiskey smell was of the same genesis. As I inspected the piano, he began to once again run through the same sequence of accomplishments. Carpentry, house building, house selling, house navigating, and house owning. And also child producing and child rearing.

I told him his piano looked nice. He said he knew that, and also that it was solid mahogany, and that it was better than other pianos because it was mahogany. As a carpenter, he should know. He escorted me out, and blankly stared at me while I told him it was nice to meet him, then told me once again that he was a brass player. I got in my 2001 Saturn, and he got in his 2019 Cadillac. We played a game of chicken, wherein the winner is the last to leave the parking lot. I won, but only because I was embarrassed that my car’s muffler was so loud and didn’t start my car until he had picked his music and driven away.

My laundry has six minutes left. A man walked by muttering that his bicycle has caused him a world of pain, only to disgustedly throw it on the ground in the doorway of the laundromat. I suppose it is free. Unlike my fellow experienced launderers who brought suitcases, duffel bags, and carts, I brought two largish shopping bags. While others are using the folding tables to neatly and crisply fold their laundry while it is still hot, I will instead expertly shove my laundry into these two largish shopping bags and fold it when it is wrinkly at home. I’m glad Spanish-mom-phone-pants-snapper can’t see me now. I am still judged by Sitting-iPad-man, who has now upgraded to Standing-iPhone-Man, still peering fretfully over his phone but now at the folding tables.

On my way home, I missed my turn and made an old man angry for stopping to look at sparrows dust bathing. I haven’t met my upstairs neighbors yet, so when I heard one coming down as I was keying into my apartment, I pretended to fumble with my keys to stall so I could introduce myself. I blindly said “Hi, I live here!” to which she replied, “Me too, upstairs!” I feigned surprise, despite watching her walk from one of the only two apartments upstairs. At least I can put underwear on now, though.