Saturday, January 30, 2010

I Heart the Laundromat

I am entering, or well within, my Chatelaine years - the time of life wherein I am Mistress of the Household, keeper of keys and budgets, director of furnace fixers and cable installers, as well as the children. Despite my advancing age, however, (the odometer just tipped over to 45), and status as a landowner - albeit in a poor corner of a poor state - I spend the bulk of my time at the moment in rented premises: two bedrooms over a garage. Our apartment is pleasant and clean and new, but we are required to make do there without a bathtub, or dishwasher, or a washer and dryer.

Work and school considerations prompted our move to Stowe this year. We still have the Last House, and hope to hang onto it, though the long-term plan is to buy a place in Stowe. Stowe, home of the famous ski resort and one of a handful of Vermont towns which is famous for its wealth, is about an hour south of the Last House. As such, it is much nearer to work for me and the kids can go to the good Stowe schools. This year, however, and for the foreseeable future, I am a renter again.

One result of our move is that I have found myself doing laundry communally again,as I did in college. My laundromat is on the ground floor of some newish senior housing in the village. It is called, rather coyly, "The Stowe Laundry Company."

It is not a cheap place to do the wash (it is Stowe, after all). The other washer-folk appear often to be second home owner types with king size down comforters in need of a triple loader. The matron/on-site trouble shooter, is busy all day long washing the clothes of people who have obviously paid to have their laundry dealt with by someone else. Still, many of the people who wander into the laundromat intrigue me. Lots of them are middle aged. Why, I wonder, don't you have a washing machine at home? What's your excuse? Maybe they are wondering the same thing about me.

We are generally sort of a nice class of people, although apparently mostly down on our laundry luck. Manners are reasonably good, at least when I go during the day. Maybe the crowd after dinner is a little rougher. The matron, who comes from Houston, Texas (we had a chat one snowy day) says she finds people often unfriendly. "You say hello to someone and they just glare at you," she said. I chalked this up to New England reticence, at least partly. And then, not everyone who winds up in a laundromat is a sympathetic character, even in a middle class laundromat.

It's bourgeois character, however, can not be doubted. There are no ashtrays anywhere and the bathroom is scrupulously clean. The reading material, however, is strictly laundromat fare: Soap Opera Digest, wrinkled Ladies Home Journals; back issues of Field and Stream. These are arrayed in a neat fan atop a bank of Out-of-Order washers. (BTW, I suspect that these washers aren't all out of order at all, but that they have been disabled as the laundromat seems to have excess capacity. No sense keeping all the machines running if they are never all pressed into service at the same time. Maybe I'll ask the matron about this next time I go. I'll report back.)

The other patrons generally mind their own business, though some will nod and smile. The kids and I were waiting for a load to dry one day a week or two ago when the young woman at the next dryer, after a long period of futilely stabbing the laundry debit card into the payment slot, asked if we might know what was wrong. Shackleton had various suggestions and tried his own technique. She was happy for his help, maybe thinking that a person so like a leprechaun might be lucky. He wasn't, but she she smiled, and got the matron. The debit card insert required a subtle motion of the wrist that none of us had, but the woman in charge managed to add 20 minutes to the dryer time.

I was glad to think that my kids will have a laundromat memory or two. I'm sort of proud (I know it's shabby and only making a virtue of necessity) that I am laundromat patron, the way that I am sort of proud of having an address in a poor town and driving ancient cars. We are sooooo not keeping up with the Joneses.

I have also been pleasantly surprised to find that I sort of enjoy going out to wash my dirty laundry in public. There's something about going down to the laundromat that satisfies an atavistic tendency to community: like going to the river to beat your clothes on the rocks with the other ladies of the town, only without the rocks or any requirement for crouching.

And then, there are the machines. I love the machines; their massed quantity and their quality. You can do many loads at once! And the washers and dryers are so Mighty! When the spin cycles start, it sounds like a jet taking off. Best of all may be the little carts that take heaps of clothes between washer and dryer and then to that wonder of wonders, the purpose-built laundry-folding tables. No surface in our house is sufficiently clear of clutter to allow for laundry folding. Spreading your warm-from-the-dryer clothes out on one of these tables is a pure laundromat luxury.

It's not forever, I guess. But for now it's fine, and even a little better than fine.

(Photo - Wikimedia Commons - not my actual laundromat)