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Singing the laundromat blues

When we were first married and living in Philadelphia, Larry and I would drive from our city neighborhood into the suburbs to wash our clothes at the laundromat there. We arrived at this decision after having an unpleasant real-life experience at the laundry near us -- one we didn't want to repeat.

I remember how the washers and dryers would quickly eat all the change we had accumulated that week. If we were lucky, which usually wasn't the case, we had just enough left over to buy burgers at Roy Rogers for lunch.

Of course we always waited till the last possible moment to visit the laundromat, wearing every piece of clothing we owned before we absolutely had to make the trip. But you can't wash terrycloth towels in the sink, I learned, that is unless you like them to be stiff enough to stand on their own. So, when the towel supply ran low, packing the laundry baskets up and going to the laundromat was the only option.

Laundromats have changed some since those days, as I found out when I took some comforters and a dusty sleeping bag to the local laundry last fall, but the machines still eat coins like candy.

It was a rainy, dreary day here, the perfect day to spend time sitting around with the washers and dryers. I was a little shocked when I realized it would cost $2.50 to do a triple load, which would only hold one of my three items. Always the frugal one, I thought about cramming two items into one washer to save a couple of bucks, but the triple-loading Wascomat Senior ain't what it used to be. (Lord only knows how much the regular-sized washers don't hold.)

Signs are a big deal at the laundry because there isn't anyone there to tell you what you need to know, like, "Do not wash horse blankets, dry tar, asphalt or grease, or throw rugs with rubber backing" and "Please pick up any clothing you have left behind. We are running out of room!"

Today's laundries boast change machines made even more necessary because of another sign: "Gas has gone up: Dryers are 25 cents for 8 minutes." Eight minutes doesn't go too far when you are drying a comforter, I can tell you that. I had to keep feeding the dryers, even resorting to going out to my car to raid the change lying in the cup holder.

But the most obvious new wrinkles at the laundromat are the metal signs affixed to all the dryers which warn: "Check inside machine for children, pets or foreign objects before loading and starting." And you know what? I did. No one ever said we Baby Boomers aren't good at following directions.

I had the place pretty much to myself that morning except for an older gentleman who came in carrying his laundry in a white plastic bucket. He said, "good morning," and then proceeded to take care of business. Later, when he noticed that I was having trouble getting the change machine to take my bill, he came over, took the bill out of my hand, and flattened it out over and over again until the machine accepted it. I had the feeling he had had some practice doing this. Then, without a word, he went back to watching his washing machine.

Laundry is one of many thankless jobs we humans have to put up with in our daily lives just to get by. Often, when I go into my laundry room at home, I'm stunned at how much has accumulated since the last time I ventured in there. Didn't I just wash and put everything away? Surely I did. But the piles are as high as ever.

It's a mystery, and one I would like to solve in my lifetime. My mother used to say that when she went to heaven she knew she would be put in charge of laundry because she had spent so many years doing wash. I have a feeling that someday I may be her assistant.

By Teresa K. Flatley


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