Somewhere in the distance, I heard the sound of coin after coin dropping into a silver tray. I jerked awake expecting to find myself in a Las Vegas casino, sitting next to a gray-haired lady with an unfiltered cigarette dangling from her mouth who just happened to have a lucky streak on the slot machine I had just left, but then I remembered … I wasn’t anywhere that exciting. I slowly pushed myself up back into a sitting position in the hard chair, wiped the drool off my chin, and stared at my clothes as they spun round and round in a commercial washer. The television blared in the background. Ah yes, just another day in the Laundromat.
Lately I have been forced to utilize the services of my local self-service Laundromat while I wait for a massive cleanup of my house after my own washing machine dumped 50 gallons of water into my living room, kitchen, and family room. As I continue to wait for the contractors, flooring professionals, and insurance adjusters to work their magic, I have been hauling load after load of clothes into an establishment where others just like me must also endure the humiliation of folding their underpants in front of total strangers.
It was never more evident that I am a novice at Laundromat etiquette, its unspoken rules, and secret tricks as it was the first day I took my wash to Laundryville, a clean, no-frills establishment located just a few minutes from my house. I desperately tried to look like I knew what I was doing as I plunked quarter after quarter into the standard washing machines, sorted my clothes, and poured laundry detergent—all while secretly watching the other patrons like I was running my own covert CIA operation. As each minute passed, it was becoming more obvious that these regular Laundromat patrons were the experts and I was the nerdy college intern who was majoring in Laundry and minoring in Stupidity, but despite my palpable weaknesses, still needed a summer job. I looked down at the brown paper that had once held my own stack of quarters and gasped. All the quarters were gone and I hadn’t even dried my clothes yet.
The lady who had just changed a ten for 40 quarters started plunking them one-by-one into six dryers filled with her own clothes. She turned to me and smiled as she provided advice that thankfully didn’t cost me any more quarters, “Next time, you might want to try one of those larger commercial washers,” she whispered, “You can wash four loads for only $3.25.”
“Bless you,” I said as I bowed my head to her as if she were Laundromat royalty. I walked over to the change machine and fed it a five dollar bill. “Come on!” I yelled. “Mama needs a new pair of shoes!” Quarters flew out of the machine. I jumped up and down and clapped my hands. “Jackpot!” I shouted as I looked around. No one looked in my direction. I sighed. Apparently people won money all the time in this Laundromat. I wasn’t as lucky as I thought. I gathered my quarters and moved my clothes from the washing machines to the dryers, relying on a basket with wheels that closely resembled a grocery cart to transport all my lingerie and unmentionables in front of the other patrons.
As I stood in front of the dryers, I squinted as I stared at the price to dry one load. “50 cents for 7 minutes?” I muttered, “What kind of racket is this?” I shoved two quarters in a dryer, pushed start, and waited for the miracle. It didn’t happen. Seven minutes seemed like five and in reality it was, because three minutes of the seven were considered “cool down.” The queen of the Laundromat smiled again at me and whispered in my ear, “It takes $1.25 to completely dry a load. Put all the quarters in at once and then sit back and watch Judge Judy.”
“Can I vote for you in a General Election or something?” I asked, “Because you’re really smart!”
She grinned, “Been doing this a long time.” Without a second thought, she folded her flowered panties in front of me while a bra hung off her forearm and a baby doll nightie tumbled around in the dryer behind her. In that moment, she became my hero for life.
This week is my fourth in a row at Laundryville. I’ve moved from novice to expert and now I’m providing advice to others as they wander into the Laundromat where in minutes, they too will lose their coveted titles as “Laundromat Virgins.” When my new washing machine is delivered next weekend, I know all will be normal again in my house, but somehow I’ll never be the same.
With every new experience comes a great memory. Now I can honestly say that I’ve learned to fold my underwear in front of total strangers while watching Judge Judy. And that memory was definitely worth all those rolls of quarters.