Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A day in the Laundry

Doing laundry has always been an exercise in futility for me. I am not good at laundering. Have had no formal training in the craft. As a 25 year old male, I am currently residing in a quaint a one bed room apartment, cozily tucked in with my lovely wife, Annie and persnickety basset hound, Ellie. 
Ellie and Annie
This minuscule complex does not have adequate laundry facilities, so I am often lugging my soiled unmentionables to the local laundromat.

For those of you who have not been blessed with the public laundry experience, you are unfortunate, as this is a ripe forum for studying the social habits of your fellow human, as well as pondering your own perceptions of reality. This may be due to the extended amount of time spent sitting idle, or the extreme hours in which I do my laundry, but my mind always seems to stray to questions of a more metaphysical nature during the spin cycle.

It all begins as I lug my laundry bags into the florescent dinginess of the drab facility. I throw open lids of three or four adjacent wash-o-matics, and do my best to remember the formulaic bifurcations of hot versus cold, dark versus light, delicates, sweaters, permanent press, polyester, socks, suits, and all the rest. Erratically, I race the rushing water of the machines to get the articles into the appropriate bins before the agitating cycles begin. Myself slightly agitated, yet content that my clothing is on its way to downy fresh status, I sit down and begin the wait. 23 minutes of contemplation before we tumble dry on medium heat for another contemplative half hour.

As I sit in one of the uncomfortable plastic lawn chairs that are scattered about the laundromat, I become aware of my fellow washers. The facility is not full, but has seven or eight other patrons scattered about, sorting, washing, folding, and waiting.

Unintentionally, these people beg me to define them. We do not speak, rarely make eye contact, unless it is to beg forgiveness for squeezing by one another in the narrow aisles between machines. But there are stories to be heard. In what they wear, in their gait. In their ethnicity, and the items they clean. It is as if they want to share their stories, and do so with every method and manner feasible, all but actual vocalization. They are leaking out the stories of their lives in every action they take, and every decision they do or don't make. Each nuance gives another clue to their existence. Each item pulled from a laundry bag is an epiphany. A woman answers her phone, another piece of the person is revealed. Every reprimand to a child gives an insight into a new world. Within a few moments, a patchwork story is revealed.

On one particular day at my particular laundromat, there were the following characters:

The college girl.
The young professional.
The woman with
Three children running.
The disheveled old man.

Each has their own relationships with the other characters, each has their own narrative. Granted, it is a narrative that I have gleaned from the surface contact I've made with these people, but from the information they've proffered, what other conclusion could I arrive at?

And then there is me. In my observation of the other inhabitants of the world, I neglected to consider my own presence. If I was reviewing these, was there any reason that I myself would be safe from the same judgments? I had been prejudicial in my assumptions of these launderers, and now realized that the same preconceived notions could very well be put upon my own inadvertent communications.

I began to realign my perceptions of my fellow washers, adjusting the reality I thought I'd defined so succinctly.

And so again I watched, and waited. Then I began to see a new narrative unfold:

The woman with
The disheveled old man.
The girl in her twenties.
The young person folding someone's business professional attire.
Three children running.

The relationships I'd assumed were not as they'd first seemed. The lives of these strange entities were not as they'd first appeared. Their stories morphed and interweaved as they skirted the laundry baskets and hemmed the edges of my own life. They finished their folding, drew up the drawstrings of laundry bags, and walked out of the fluorescence of this world we shared for a few brief hours. With their freshly washed garments, the people exited into the oblivion beyond the reality I'd presupposed within those washing machine walls.

In my reality, this was their reality. These people did not exist outside the four walls of the laundromat. If they thought about it, I'm sure I wouldn't be any more substantial away from the rinse cycles of those machines. Outside the big glass windows, none of us existed in the others' minds.

My dryer buzzes. I take my warm, freshly cleaned unmentionables and follow my laundromat life into the oblivion of my fellow launderers' minds.

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