Sunday, November 1, 2009

Laundromat - 11/1/09

There is no rhyme or reason as to where my writing inspirations come from. It just happens, like shit. Today I felt compelled to talk about Laundromats.

Those of you who have always lived a privileged life will not be able to relate to this posting. This is a story written from the bottom of the economic food chain.
When I was very young we had an old type wringer washing machine. It was located outside of the log cabin that we lived in. Yes, a real log cabin, just like Abe. (No, I did not walk to school uphill both ways.) We didn’t have a dryer. My mother hung the clothes out to dry. As we lived in northern Idaho, there was a large portion of the year that neither the washing nor the drying was possible without ice becoming a factor in both activities. As a side note: line-drying generally gives the clothing a freshness. Not so much in Smelterville Idaho, where the air was toxic with lead refinery smoke.

When the weather made it impossible for outside laundry, my mother would take our dirty clothes to the Laundromat. And since my dad worked in the mine, they were truly “dirty” clothes. The Laundromat was my favorite place in the world. It was a white trash amusement park. It had vending machines that dispensed candy and soda pop as well as a machine labeled change, which dispensed quarters and dimes. Incredibly, in those days, dimes were useful. The dryers took dimes as did the candy and soda machines. Pinball machines also took dimes. Now they take debit cards. For those of you not familiar with dimes, they are worth more than a nickel but much smaller in size, go figure.

Prior to the establishment of Walmart, Laundromats were where kids were allowed to run amok. It was anarchy. They rode in and raced the laundry carts, roamed the facility checking coin returns for loose change, and alternated between screaming at the top of their lungs and begging their moms for money. (A dad would not have been caught dead in there. The only men in the Laundromat were single miners washing their work clothes) For some reason nearly every child came equipped with an openly runny nose, adding to their appeal.

Mom would not allow me to participate in any of those fun activities. She would give me a lecture on the drive to the Laundromat. It was the same every time. I would get a certain amount of candy/pop money and that was it. If I spent it quickly, I would not get any more. It was a firm belief of my mom’s that “money did not grow on trees.” (I was not allowed to play pinball. It was evil, like gambling) I was also not allowed to run "wild" like those other “motherless heathens.” I was to sit and color, draw, or read. Are you kidding me? I don’t think the other mothers thought I was well-behaved, I think they thought I was retarded or crippled (before handicapped). I was not even allowed to go look when one of the kids found a dead mouse while crawling around behind the dryers. In spite of all the restrictions, I loved the Laundromat.

I am at a good place in my life. I have a washer AND a dryer, both indoors. But I have a large, thick, blanket/comforter that is too large for my washing machine. When it begins to smell too much like Skooter, I take it to the Laundromat. The Laundromat has large capacity washers and dryers. (I assure you that dimes do not work in them) The first time I went, I loaded my blanket/comforter into the washer and while it was washing I went home to get my gun. The Laundromats of my youth have been replaced with places that one would come to should he wish to be robbed, acquire crack, or prostitutes. I haven’t had occasion to shoot my way out with my blanket/comforter yet, but I am prepared to do so. I also allow it to smell quite Skooterlike before I take it in for a wash. Usually, the morning after I wake up with a mouth full of dog shed.


Dr. David Powers said...

I always loved the laundromat when I was little. Racing the carts and playing video games was the best time (although they cost a whole quarter in my day).
They do scare me now. I won't take my kids in one and won't go myself without a holstered Glock and a round in the chamber. I would never let my wife go alone.

Anonymous said...

Very good post. I think your laundromat reminded me of the bowling alley on your league nights We were given a set amount of money and knew very well not to ask for more. I've been fortunate enough not to have had to use one too many times in my life and have only had to use one outside of an apt complex a handful of times. I'm pretty sure that I openly found the rat they found behind the machines in plain sight. Love Ya. Carly

Lena said...

Great post!Randomness is always good. My grandmother always used a wringer. I enjoy the stories about your childhood!

orionsbow said...

I remember the clothesline. It stretched across about a third of the width of our backyard at the first home my father built for us in Kannapolis, NC, in 1961, right after his discharge from the USAF. At first the lines were bare baling type wire hanging from or attached to two metal posts about fifty feet apart with another post in the middle to pull up the slack. Eventually the wire would be covered with a nice green transparent plastic which kept the rust and particulate matter that the wire shed from getting on your nice white sheets. My Mom only did laundry on the weekends as she worked during the week at a small baby clothes manufacturing plant near our home. We had a clothes chute inside with a door that you could pull up when you wanted to place your dirty clothes into the clothes baskets that were placed underneath the chute downstairs in the finished basement. I thought that was strange since the washer and dryer were always located upstairs near the kitchen. But since the house was built with that particular modern convenience, we used the chute and then gathered up the clothes baskets from downstairs when it was time for the washing. Or maybe we used it because we liked watching the stuff slide down the chute and drop into the basket. And yes, many were the times I was tempted to crawl into the chute to experience the ride through to the basement first hand only to be stopped before the tragic event could befall me by my ever present guardian angel whom I knew as "Mom". If the weather was foul, our freshly laundered clothes would be hung on a smaller version of the outside clothesline rigged up in the basement by my Dad. Nothing, though, could beat the wonderful smell of clean clothes just brought in from the line.

Anonymous said...

Your description is spot on. When I lived in Myrtle Beach I would drive to the Laundromat in Surfside because it was marginally less frightening than anything in MB. I would also plan my trips in the morning ONLY. Seemed to keep the creepy rif raf to a minimum. But it always made me wonder...did I appear to be creepy rif raf to someone else.

Laundromats are like a mini melting pot of your community. Often seemed to be full of foreigners, derelicts, or young outcasts; goths, punks, etc. Very interesting topic...could probably be fodder for a sit com. clo