Laundry in Public
One of the features of my life as a monk is that I don't have washer and
dryer hookups. So, for the first time ever, I had to visit the Laundromat.
I had always passed by the Laundromat and glanced at all the pitiable souls
who did their laundry there. It seemed so primitive, like people watching
black-and-white TV. Now I was one of them. So it goes.
Nervous, I dragged in my hamper and pulled up at a vacant washer.
All eyes turned toward me and recognized me for the novice that I was.
I smiled self-consciously. I felt so... white.
Being unfamiliar with Laundromat customs, I looked to others for cues.
Everyone seemed to have their own counter space, so I staked claim
to a piece of counter. Evidently, when you filled a machine, you were
supposed to place your basket on top to let others know that it's taken.
Done and done. In the corner was a detergent machine should I run out.
Okay. I seemed to have a lay of the land.
I pulled my clothes from the hamper, careful not to expose any personal
items. Like my clothes. I felt vulnerable like I were taking a dump
outdoors or like that scene in Fame where Coco had to strip for the
camera. Doing laundry had always been a private act concealed from
prying eyes. If anyone has ever analyzed your groceries in the supermarket,
it was something like that. Only worse -- my underwear had stains.
I peered over my shoulder, but no one was watching. They had all gone
back to folding and chatting. There must have been an unspoken law
against peeking at each other's stains.
I emptied my hamper and had a seat. One thing about using the Laundromat
is that when the machines are going, you have nothing to do but be.
It's not like you can return to the computer or do the dishes. It forces
you to sit still. And I hated it. Squirming in my seat, I recalled
a Zen edict: Don't just do something; sit there. So I sat. And I watched.
This is my new world. How could a guy reach my age and not have washer
and dryer hookups? What happened in his youth to retard his growth
in such a way? It was like an adult working at McDonalds.
Before spinning into one of John Bradhshaw's "shame spirals," I
reminded myself that I had chosen this existence. I'm the one who decided
to have less needs instead of more money. Being a monk doesn't pay
much, but there is a lot of "upward mobility."
To my left, an Hispanic couple folded laundry while their little girl
ran around holding a sucker. She was having a grand time checking the
dryers. She treated them like little caves filled with mystery and
treasure (loose change). Sometimes she'd shout to hear her echo, which
pleased her to no end. Then she'd dash back to her dad and hug his
leg for protection from the dryer dragons.
To my right, a woman talked to herself in animated tones. She seemed
to enjoy her own company. One thing about talking to yourself is that
you always get the right answers.
Across the way, two women were laughing as if over cocktails. They
were regulars. They looked forward to laundry night to catch up on
each other's lives. They spoke too quickly for my beginner Spanish,
and all the while their fingers folded laundry without direction from
Beside them a guy was doing an impression of Rain Man, only it wasn't
an impression. He was just watching his clothes very, very closely.
The red one always falls the same...
It was a strange world indeed, bright and alive with productivity.
People chatted, washers agitated, dryers tumbled, children fled from
dragons. I absorbed the environment not as a series of noises but as
one rumbling tumult, the way you might absorb a party. And right there,
smack dab in the middle of the chaos, I found a certain peace. As strange
as it was to enter this place, it felt like home. I had surrendered
to my Laundromat self.
A hunched woman approached to warn me about the dryers. She looked
as if she had lived in a trailer since before her parents were born.
"Someone's doing their cat pee laundry," she said. "I'd
check the dryers before you use 'em."
"Thank you," I said, and she hurried away as quickly.
I had learned about white loads and dark loads, but I didn't know
about cat pee loads.
The spin cycle finished, I selected a non-cat-pee dryer, tossed in
my quarters, and sat down for part two of my meditation. I focused
on my breathing and contemplated an issue that had been bothering me
for months: What is Carl's Junior advertising objective? I don't know
about you, but it repulses me to watch a person eat from two inches
away. I don't want to hear the juices squish around in their mouth
or see the partially digested food slide down their throat. How long
before they introduce the ToiletCam...
During my reverie, I had been staring at the outside world, where
people have washer and dryer hookups. A young man passed by and glanced
in at me. I knew what he was thinking, the bastard. What he didn't
know is that these people -- me -- didn't need his pity. The Laundromat
was a vacation from the drudgery of workaday life. It was an opportunity
to not waste time being busy. And if he really wanted to do us a favor,
he could throw us a quarter.