Friday, May 18, 2007

"A Clothes Call"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

Every time I write about something that happens in our house, which I do almost every time I write about something, my wife says I am airing the family’s dirty laundry. This time I am really doing it because our dryer died recently and my wife sent me to the Laundromat with – you guessed it – the family’s dirty laundry.

Actually, it was the family’s clean laundry because the washing machine was still working. But the clothes were all wet, just like me, so I had to take them to a nearby establishment to run them through a couple of huge dryers, which, also like me, were full of hot air.

Because this might have made me a basket case, my wife kindly gave me a basket, in which she had put the color clothes, and a large shopping bag, in which she had put the whites. "Don’t mix them up," she said as she handed me a bunch of quarters and sent me on my way.

When I arrived at the Laundromat, I discovered a world where life is cyclical: Some people had their clothes in the wash cycle, others in rinse, still others in dry. I skipped the first two and went straight to the dryers, which were lined up in a long row, two deep, on the left side of the place. Each was big enough to swallow a full-grown man. Fortunately, most men don’t go to the Laundromat, and those who do probably couldn’t figure out how to run a dryer after falling in, so there were no casualties.

After I put the color clothes in Dryer No. 13 and the whites in Dryer No. 14, I struck up a conversation with Mary Ann, the co-manager of the Laundromat, who was folding clothes for a customer who had dropped off his laundry, not only because he didn’t have time to do it, but also because – and this was the main reason – he didn’t know how to do it.

"Some men are completely helpless," said Mary Ann, a friendly, witty, middle-age woman who declined to give her last name but who did say that she has one husband, four sons and a daughter.

"I do laundry for all of them," said Mary Ann, who performs the same service for many of her customers. "At least they pay me. My husband and kids don’t," said Mary Ann, adding that men aren’t the only ones who need help. "I do laundry for wives and college students, too," she said. "Girls in college don’t do their laundry because they’re princesses."

The most extreme example was a student whose mother went to the Laundromat for her every week, then drove five hours to return the clean clothes to her daughter at college and pick up the next load of dirty laundry. "I told this mother that she was out of her mind," Mary Ann recalled. "I asked her to give me her daughter’s name because I wanted to make sure that none of my sons ever marries her."

Then there were two guys who came into the Laundromat so they could have cocktails. "They would sit in the back and mix drinks," Mary Ann said. "They drank vodka and Hawaiian Punch. I told them they couldn’t stay here unless they had clothes to wash, so the next time they came in with vodka, Hawaiian Punch and a basket of laundry. At least these guys were clean."

The biggest problem Mary Ann has encountered at the Laundromat is what she calls the Mystery of the Missing Sock. It’s a subject that was made famous about 40 years ago by Erma Bombeck, but it still, according to Mary Ann, is baffling. "No one knows where the mates go," she said. "A lot of my customers claim the dryers eat them, but I am not taking responsibility."

When my clothes were dry, Mary Ann gave me a lesson in folding, which she said is the hardest part of doing laundry. "Underwear is the worst for most people," she said. As for socks, or at least those that are still in pairs, "Don’t put the top of one inside the top of the other because you’ll wear out the elastic," advised Mary Ann, who sent me on my way with a big smile and a basket and a bag full of perfectly folded clothes.

My wife was impressed, although I admitted that I had some help. Still, she won’t mind if this time, I air the family’s clean laundry.

Copyright 2007 by Jerry Zezima

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