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12/22/00 My Fantasy World
12/02/00 Merengue!
11/19/00 Laundry in Public
11/09/00 The Fly
09/20/00 Land of the Jogger
07/30/00 Noisy Neighbors
07/14/00 Bulk-Shopping Madness
06/23/00 My Backpack

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 the brain.

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.


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