Good writing, with a strong point and with life oozing out.

Farewell to the Laundromat

December 22, 2009

If all goes well, I’ll bring back our 10-year-old washer and dryer from the family Christmas in Tennessee, and will not return to this laundromat.  It’ll be a huge relief to not have to carve out several hours each week, and to be able to clean one or two pieces of clothing instead of piling it all up to do en masse.   On the other hand, I worry that my life will be further truncated as I gobble up another portion of the American Dream and do my laundry in utter isolation. 

But even with the romance of our final date well in mind, I’m irritated as I lug the bags of laundry through the doors and go in search of two of those wheely cart things.  I’m irritated because of the noise.  Rising above the general clatter and conversation and din of 10 televisions broadcasting at least two different languages is one particular TV that is blaring some loud music.  Which lead to the following series of thoughts:

1.  What is that racket?
2.  Can I climb up there and turn it down?
3.  Will it drown out my ear buds when I’m playing Blitzen Trapper
4.  Wait, that is classical music of some kind– is there some cultural imperialist here who’s trying to force their impeccable taste on the rest of us?

So I put my head down for the work of sorting the clothes and then shoving them into the washing machines.  At which point I paused to realize that the music was familiar to me, and that this was a ballet playing on the TV.  After a minute, I noodled it out:  The Nutcracker.  Oh, right, because it’s Christmas.

I scoff, but am eventually drawn in and join the 10 or so people transfixed by the images and music.  Moms watched wordlessly with their little girls.  Kids sprung from school by the snow gape unselfconsciously.  Grown men stare.  An overly introspective hipster dude pushes back tears by taking it all into his Moleskine.  The man with his leg frozen stiff by a brace props the anchor on the bench and leans on his cane to take it all in.  Even the tough-guys sneak a peek when their women aren’t looking.

We laundromat patrons would not be considered cultured or tasteful by most standards.  We’re here with our stinky clothes because we don’t have any other place to take them, and we’re doing our best to get done and get gone.  But we know beauty, and can feel movement.  We can be inspired.  We can gather around that which is beyond words, and which transcends our various languages and ethnicities. 

…and that which transcends time.  Because as I stand there, I’m suddenly sitting in a fancy theater on a Saturday afternoon in Rockford, Illinois.  My Grandma is sitting between my brother and I, and my sister is eating the popcorn that we stingily share with her.  We’re trying not to look bored as this ballet goes on and on and on, and as we anticipate the intermissions and the chance to run around.  Desperately wanting to do something new and fun and fast and American, rather than enduring this old-world stuff with our grandma. And wondering the whole time when those giant nutcrackers are going to finally smash some stuff. 

So 30 years too late, I want to say thanks, Grandma.  We thought we were humoring you, but it turns out you were humoring us.  And enlarging us in the meantime. 

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4 Responses to “Farewell to the Laundromat”

  1. I can't think of any greater slice of humanity in it's purest form than the laundromat on a crowded day. Perhaps acquiring a new washing machine for your home may rob you of this rich experience, but I wouldn't worry too much about being further isolated in a world of material convenience. It's pretty old technology, so at worst you may suffer from a mild case of 1950's housewife suburban isolation. I'm sure you'll recover quickly. Merry Christmas.

  2. i will miss your laundromat stories. even this farewell tale was beautiful. but i am pretty sure it wasn't the laundromat that made them beautiful but the heart and the pen of the person sitting and listening. i'm sure you will find someplace else to sit and listen.

  3. kate says:

    I can't believe you did the laundromat deal for so long, Mike! Congrats for finally (almost) being past that stage. Good on ya for finding the good in it while it was a necessity. Maybe doing my laundry at my home (or even in my building, when that was the case) is a luxury I put too much stock into but … ahhh, so it is. :)
    Can't wait to see this fantastic home you're constructing!

  4. Meuricy says:

    We gave it some consideration, but thhgout it made more sense to offer credit and debit card payment systems on most of the washers and dryers. As far as we know, Vancouver Laundromat is the only self-service laundromat in Clark County where you can pay by cash, credit or debit card.

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