Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Ode to the Os

Once you've opened your heart to their possibility, you see them everywhere. Two circles pressed together like a pair of spectacles--two big Os staring blankly back at you like Dr. Eckleberg's billboard in The Great Gatsby. From every medium they peer out: TV, mailings, catalogs, magazines, newspapers, circulars.

I am talking, of course, about the newly-fashionable, newly-affordable, extra-chic, super-big, front-loading (hence side-by-side Os) washers and dryers. You've seen them. They are shiny, in interesting colors like Prussian blue and coral, able with minimal effort to gulp dozens of dirty towels at a time. The doors shut with a rubbery click instead of that horrid clang of a laundromat top-loader. They're the most beautiful things I've ever seen. Or heard.

I do not own them. And now I'm going to sound first-world, covetous and ranty, but I don't care: I want them. Laundry is that important. You know this after twenty-plus years of dragging it Elsewhere to do it.

That is, some of us don't have any kind of washer and dryer, fancy or not, in our own living space. At this point not only am I well into my third decade of no laundry in my apartment, until recently I had no laundry in my building (not to mention often no car). I am like a sea captain who's seen it all-- there are very few laundromat stories I don't have to tell. I have seen roaches in the washer bins. I have had washers die in the middle of cycles and had to drag clothes dripping wet to other machines, only to have them die too. I have had people take my laundry out of dryers--and washers--and dump it on the floor. I once had my car broken into and my stinky clothes spread out all over the street as they searched through them for diamonds or something. I have put my clothes in washers that wouldn't stop until the power was cut. I have gotten fed up with it all and gone on massive laundry strikes where I Woolite-d crucial pieces in the sink over and over for months, letting the rest sit in bags.

The laundromat, the laundry room, is a crucible of this earthly battle—you are fighting for washer/dryer space, a chair to sit on, what TV station to watch, to have enough quarters or the right change, for the working machines, to get your washing done before closing time, to block out the constant screech of bored children, to not run out of detergent, to not have your plastic laundry bag rip on the way out, to not pull a muscle hoisting your laundry around (don't laugh). I hate it all. I hate laundromats themselves too. It feels counterintuitive to take my clothes to get clean somewhere where I don't want to touch things. They have sort of the illusion, especially in the neighborhoods I've lived in, of clean well-lighted places--oases of respite--but that just seemed to make them more likely for shit to go down. If nothing else, the fact that they often are the only places with payphones these days means that I am much more familiar with gang activity than I might be.

This is where I'm really going to sound pissy, because it turns out being significantly closer to the laundry holy grail doesn't make any difference. Two years ago I moved on up into a building that had laundry in it. I even have an elevator. And you know what? I am actively grateful for this, I don't take it for granted after the years of ghettofabulous laundering, but I still hate doing laundry this way. It still takes more time than it should. If I have to put on a bra and find quarters, it's too much. I can't handle it any more. I don’t want to go anywhere. I don't want to have to fight anybody for a washer ever again in my life (that still happens, of course, just through the cage of genteel smiles). I want to throw in a load any time of the day and know I can take it out when I'm good and ready. This laundry captain wants to no more go a-roaming--I'm done.

All this angst is connected, as you might guess, to the deep down dirty (hah) secret that I love to do laundry. I like doing intelligent little loads with just the right settings. I like having clean clothes. I even like the everyday maintenance and upkeep, the small mending chores, the spot removers, satisfying ironing jobs. But it's gotta happen in my own space. I can't seem to get interested any other way. I know I'm lucky--I know I'm not banging my clothes against a rock or fighting roaches for a washer anymore--but if there ever was an unflattering fact I know about myself now, it's that I want my own washer and dryer. I am a monomaniacal new bride in a 60s sitcom. Nothing else will do.

Maybe once I achieve In-House Laundry life won't hold the joy I imagine it will, but, like very few dreams at this point in my life, I am willing to grant it its power until I know otherwise. In the meantime the allure of the frontloaders hangs in the sky like a double star. And I clock washer-n-dryer sightings everywhere. They beckon me, tease me, those big eyes. The large Os blink at me, a single tear forming in their corners, seeming to plead: When are you coming to get us? When will you open our big front-loading doors and crawl through to paradise on the other side?

No comments: