Survival of the Cleanest

10 Jan



The way I see it, there are only three compelling reasons to go to a laundromat:

  1. You might meet the love of your life when you take his detergent by accident (or throw your panties into his basket by *accident*) and then start talking about your pasts, presents, and futures. (At your wedding, you can hand out travel-sized bottles of lavender detergent – because your wedding is a destination wedding and people need to be able to store the detergent in their carry-on bags – and panties. Symbolic, practical, and oozing sex appeal.)
  1. When you wake up at 1:30pm on a Sunday and realize you’re blouse sleeve is soaked in rum, it’s nice to know there’s a laundromat ready to deal with your sticky situation.
  1. Laundromats are often located in central locations, where there also happen to be bakeries where you can buy yourself a cake.

Today, these were my three reasons behind going to the laundromat. I also had about two month’s worth of laundry to do, but laundry or love life, you tell me which is more compelling…

Believe it or not (and you should believe it), I had never been to a laundromat. I’d walked by the one in my town on the way to 7-Eleven, and I always just assumed it was there to add some “Leave it to Beaver” small town appeal and that no one actually used it.

At BU, we had laundry machines in our basements, which was a blessing I never appreciated enough.

Here in France, I have a washing machine, but it is the size of an Easy Bake Oven and it doesn’t dispense soap, so my clothes come out soaking wet and smelling like charred bits of ham (or whatever I tried and failed to cook that day).

After weeks of trying to convince myself that people like the smell of ham and I needn’t bother to lug all of my clothes across town and pay 10 euros for a good cleaning, I finally decided that the charade needed to stop. Well, I should admit that the bus driver told me I couldn’t take the bus at rush hour unless I started smelling less like ham and more like a human woman. So what, just because I’m a woman I have to smell good?? (None of this ever happened, by the way.)

So today, I shoved all of my laundry into a suitcase and dragged it to the laundromat.

One thing I hadn’t taken into account is that having laundry to do doesn’t necessarily mean there is a place in which to do it. When I got to the laundromat, nearly every single one of the machines was being used! Who are all of these people who dare to do laundry on a Sunday afternoon? Why can’t you do it during the day on any given day of the week? (Oh right, not everyone works twelve hours a week…)

I put my clothes into the machine and then realized I hadn’t brought detergent. Ka-ching, ka-ching, there went my month’s earnings as I popped euros into the detergent dispenser and hoped that “scentless” detergent would be strong enough to overpower the ham scent.

Thirty-five minutes on the clock. What to do, what to do…

I’d come prepared with boredom-combatting supplies, including Vanity Fair, Marie Claire, two Lindt truffles, a water bottle, headphones, cough drops, and a journal, in case I finally decided to start that compelling diary that would ultimately be transformed into a haunting, yet ultimately uplifting, Blockbuster.

But thirty-five minutes is a lot of time! Why sit inside when I could go outside!

Oh, it also just happens to be the major post-Christmas sales period in all of the shops in town…I guess it wouldn’t hurt to just take one little peek in H&M. Just a petite peek.

One “petite peek” turned into 1.5 hours of trying on multiple skater skirts that transition perfectly from day job to evening date (in case I ever get asked out on a date) and ultimately, buying nothing except for a black workout top.

When I got back to the laundromat, all sweaty and hurried, I was greeted by oodles of taken machines and a few fellow laundry do-ers.

Okay, so on the one hand, not ideal because taken machines mean possibly spending hours waiting to dry my clothes…but on the other hand, any one of these men could be my soul mate!

And so I waited. And waited. And waited.

People who wait in communal spaces often form intimate bonds, simply due to the fact that communal spaces lead to a lot of accidental eye contact after you zone out and then realize you’d *accidentally* zoned out on someone’s crotch, and then try to remedy the situation by looking at the person’s face (so the person knows he/she is more than just a crotch) and then realize the person saw you zoning out on their crotch and is now looking at you in an accusatory yet “could I get some feedback on my crotch” kind of way.

Communal spaces also lead to inside jokes.

For instance, there were two dryers that had been done drying for about an hour, and yet the clothing’s owner had yet to claim the clothes.

We laundry do-ers waited and waited and waited. We rolled our eyes at each other. We made comments like, “This bozo better have been run over by a detergent shipping truck, or I’m gonna run him over!” We laughed and laughed at our own wit and understanding of “irony.”

We mimed swinging open the dryer doors and flinging all of the clothes onto the sidewalk. (Pierre, one of my new laundry friends, was so good at that impression. When Pierre gets going with that laundry miming it’s like WOAH, WATCH OUT, WORLD, THERE’S A CLOWN ON THE LOOSE!)

Then there was the guy whose New Year’s Resolution was to fold each of his items of clothing tenderly and lovingly, with the same finesse of an angel trying to pick her split ends. I’ve never seen a human being move more slowly, especially with the knowledge that people were WAITING for him to be done so they could dry their clothes! It also didn’t help that he was on the telephone, and that he was conducting some big, dramatic conversation with the phone in the crook of his neck, while his hands barely moved or made any folding progress. The rest of us looked at each other and did some more eye rolling, as if to say, “Okay, he’s out of the group. We’ll be holding auditions for his replacement during the coming weeks.”

At this point, it had been quite a while, and I felt my sugar levels crashing. Pierre agreed to watch my suitcase while I went out in search of cake. The search went incredibly well.

When I returned, the man who’d occupied two dryers for over an hour was back, and the mood was sour and judgmental. On top of it all, my clothes still weren’t dry, and I needed to pay extra for another thirty minutes of drying.

And that is how I learned how quickly a chummy group can turn on itself. It was as if I’d eaten the last squirrel on the island, while everyone else starved. Suddenly, people were staring disapprovingly at my face, and not even glancing at my crotch! That Vanity Fair that I’d been reading stopped being “cute and foreign” and started looking like something they could use to kindle the fire that would turn my clothing (and possibly me) into dust. I held my cake closely to my chest, hoping that my new collection of enemies had a debilitating gluten disorder…

After what seemed like days, the dryer shut off and my clothes were dry (if not nearly on fire because I’d really overestimated the necessary length of drying and everything smelled vaguely of barbecue). I quickly piled everything into my suitcase, whispered “bonsoir” like a scared mouse, and left the laundromat.

Yes, everything is clean, and going to the laundromat saved me from having to dry my thongs on my very public clothing line, which happens to run right near my landlord’s window.

But, I managed to make a lot of enemies in the four hours that I was awake this fine day. And, on top of it all, I didn’t even find the love of my life.

Just kidding. That cake was delicious.



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