Tag Archives: laundry

Dirty Laundry

Today is laundry day, and I’m sitting in the laundromat writing this week’s blog.

I’ve always liked doing laundry. Turning a bundle of dirty clothes, sheets and towels into neat, fresh-smelling folded piles gives me a warm feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment.

At present, we don’t have a usable washer at home, so part of our routine is to hit the laundromat every couple of weeks. We know it’s time when my partner runs out of socks and I run out of underwear. At that point we collect dish and bath towels, sheets and clothing and our stash of quarters and head into town.

Photo by Pop & Zebra on Unsplash

Sitting here, I watch a man open the mouth of a bulging cloth laundry bag and empty it into the machine. I see scrunched up socks, some more hole than sock; inside-out pant legs, whites, colors, sleeves and bandanas all tangled and mixed up together. He feeds in quarters, adds soap and sets the temperature to hot before heading back out, either to sit in his truck in the parking lot or otherwise kill time until the load is done.

I get a lot of pleasure out of the laundromat. Watching people deal with their laundry is every bit as entertaining as looking at someone’s bookshelves. Dirty laundry is a great social leveler. We all have it, and if we don’t deal with ours directly, someone else does. Our dirty laundry records the story of our lives. Our scent is imprinted on it. The presence of our pets decorates it. It remembers the day we spilled our coffee in the car, the morning the hot grease spattered and the nosebleed we had in bed. It gives away our cigarette habit and the acrid, sweaty smell of our secret copious alcohol consumption.

Two middle-aged women come in with stuffed pillowcases, a couple of plastic laundry baskets, a heavy green garbage bag and a couple of drawstring laundry bags and commandeer a whole row of machines. They work well together, efficient and brisk. Obviously, they’ve done this before. They sort lights from darks, taking care to untangle and unscrunch as they load the machines. They check pockets. One of them goes from machine to machine with soap and the other with quarters. They choose hot water for the whites and warm for the colors. I wonder if they are friends, family members or from an organization like a shelter or a boarding house. Perhaps they’re church ladies dealing with donated clothes for charity. The washing machines take 39 minutes, and then the women load up a bank of dryers. As the dryers finish, they work together to fold bedding, mate socks, and put shirts on hangers. I see no children’s clothing, only adult size. One of them says to the other they’ve spent over a hundred dollars, and I wonder how often they do this. It takes them three trips to load up a battered van with all the clean clothes, and off they go.

Photo by frank cordoba on Unsplash

Dirty laundry is a cultural artifact. Back in rural Colorado, Wranglers, snap button shirts and lots of bicycling, hiking and yoga gear slosh in the machines. Here in central rural Maine everyone wears Carhartts, long underwear and thick socks. This is a blue collar community, where farmers, heavy equipment operators, sawyers and mill workers wear the same lined heavy canvas and flannel working clothes all winter.

A worn-out looking young women with a little girl comes in. Mom loads up the washer while the little girl helps by handing her things. I see no men’s clothes in this load. They sit down at a round table, the little girl with a grubby board book she found in a basket of children’s toys in the waiting area. Mom, after checking her cell phone briefly, sits idly, now and then glancing at a TV screen on the wall where a movie I’ve never seen is playing with the sound muted.

When I came to Maine, my partner had a routine. Everything went in the same machine. Socks were permanently turned inside out, because he can’t tolerate the feel of the seams against his toes. It all got OxiClean, soap and hot water. He likes things machine dried so they’re soft.

I quailed. Half of my clothes were cold water wash. I always separated colors. I much preferred to line dry.

Negotiating The Right Way To Do Laundry is one of the many hidden landmines in every living-together relationship that no one ever talks about.

Photo by Jonas Tebbe on Unsplash

Being old and wise about choosing our battles, we adjusted to one another. I stopped trying to turn his socks right-side-out. I learned to keep my cold water wash separate. I decided life was possible if I didn’t separate whites from colors and he decided clothes were still wearable if washed in warm water instead of hot. I line dry my things and machine dry his. I don’t waste time folding his clothes, because he prefers to keep them stacked neatly in a laundry basket that lives on the floor next to his side of the bed. I fold and roll my clothes, just as I always have, for my sock drawer, my underwear drawer, my tee shirt drawer and the closet shelf where my jeans live. We happily share the expense and the work.

A woman my age with a thick Maine accent and hair an improbable rich brown with no grey comes in with a load. She’s very short, and can’t reach the top of the big commercial washer to put in detergent. She goes to the counter and gets a step stool from the attendant. Her load is comparatively small and consists of a couple of violently flowered towels, jeans, shirts, socks and underwear, all looking as though they belong to her.

I love to sit and watch the contents of the washer go around through the porthole window. The gush of water, the frothy bubbles of soap and the rotating clothes give me a feeling of all’s-right-with-the-world comfort. In a crazy world, stained by so much hate, bloodshed and tragedy, here’s something within my power. I can do the laundry.

Watching the clothes whirl is like watching the inside of my head. Amongst a jumble of ideas, thoughts, feelings and memories, bits and pieces show themselves or claim my attention for seconds or minutes or hours or days, only to disappear as other colors and patterns come to the forefront of my mind. Now I catch a glimpse of my favorite pair of underwear, purple with turquoise spots. That’s like the brilliant scene, passionate and gripping, I want to write today as I work on my second book. Then a heavy brown sock shows itself, one of the pair I wore on the day I did Tai Chi in the church basement, sock-footed on the cold floor, reminding me that after this I’ll swim, and tomorrow is another Tai Chi day. White socks tumble by too quickly to tell if they’re mine (right-side-out) or my partner’s (inside-out). We need to run to the store. My partner did this chore last time. It’s my turn, but I don’t want to do it today. Tomorrow after Tai Chi? What’s on the grocery list? The sleeve of a plaid flannel shirt plasters itself momentarily against the window and is pushed away by the leg of a pair of heavy canvas Carhartts. Why are men’s Carhartt canvas pants size 32 x 30 a perfect fit, but the same size in denim is too big? The red cloth napkins we’ve been using flutter past.

The expression ‘airing your dirty laundry’ makes me smile. Oh, the shame of admitting feelings, anxieties, mistakes and less-than-perfection! Those unsightly yellow sweat stains under the arms of our shirts must be hidden from the eyes of the world at all costs, along with our humble granny panties, our favorite tattered and torn ancient tee shirt and the old towel the cat lies on. Whatever happens, we mustn’t confess the tangled smelly jumble we occasionally make out of our lives, or uncover our wounds and scars. We must never reveal neglected, malodorous piles of stained laundry in which our hope, innocence or self-esteem are buried.

Some people think admitting to dirty laundry is simply not nice. It lacks class. It’s impolite, and breaks the code of maintaining appearances at all costs. The Emperor is certainly wearing clothes, and they’re never dirty.

Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash

I challenge that. Cleansing is a sacred act of courage and wisdom. If we can’t clean out our infected wounds and cleanse our spirits, our homes and yes, our laundry, our lives won’t work well. Beating, shaking, washing and airing our laundry in the sun and fresh air is an act of healing and renewal. Allowing the world to see our dirty laundry is the beginning of cleansing and repairing, the beginning of uncreasing, unscrunching and untangling the things that disempower us. Doing laundry is a spiritual practice, a reminder that we are just like everyone else, an offering to others of our authenticity and humanity.

Dirty laundry. My daily crime.

All content on this site ©2018
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Write Where I Am

Photo by Volkan Olmez on Unsplash

Do you ever wonder what you’re doing wrong?  I do.  I’ve been up since 4:30 this morning telling myself I will NOT be stressed and overwhelmed.  It’s not working

So I’m going to go with it.  I’m going to allow myself to be stressed and overwhelmed.  I’m going to stop running away from the feeling and embrace it, drooling, like a spider with a plump licorice fly, one of those big slow sticky ones you can’t bring yourself to swat because—you know, guts!

The thing I most hate about days like this is that nothing is really wrong.  There’s not a crisis.  It’s just life.  Everyone deals with life.  My life is far, far easier than the lives of many others.  Why am I such a jerk that I can’t deal effectively with a perfectly normal day?  Why do I have to make such a big deal over everything?  Why can’t I suck it up, stop whining, pull up my panties and put big girl socks on?

I own a little black Elantra.  I bought it used, paid it off, rarely drove it in my old life because I was in a small town and walked everywhere.  I kept it clean, kept it serviced and loved it.

Then I came to Maine and it became the only household car.  That’s okay.  My partner is a great driver and he’s reasonably neat and tidy.  It’s not like having complete control of the fan, the AC and heat, the radio and the windows, but I can live my life without complete control of the car.  I’m an adult.  I can share.

Then my two adult sons came to Maine.  They came in a U-Haul.  Without a car.

Just to be clear, they’re both well over six feet tall.  I’m talking about a Hyundai Elantra.

They also work at a local organic farm that raises vegetables, pork and dairy.

Now the four of us share a car.

Sigh.

I love my sons.  I really, really do.  I keep telling myself that.

The car Kleenex disappeared because one of them caught a cold.  The lid to the wet wipes came off and when I unearthed them from under the seat they were all dried out.  I pulled down the mirror on the passenger side to put lip balm on and the mirror was splashed with dried blood.  (“I was playing with my girlfriend’s puppy, and his tooth caught my nose and ripped it, and there was blood all over and it was the only mirror I could find—sorry, Mom.”)  The cloth grocery bags wound up on the floor under work boots caked with…uh…farm stuff.  The back seat is covered with dirt because they had to haul potatoes from a far field back to the house.    There are assorted Gatorade and plastic water bottles rolling around in every stage between full and empty.  The seat and mirrors are never in the right place for me, but as I rarely get to drive anymore, I suppose it doesn’t matter.

Don’t even get me started on the issue of gas!  (“There’s enough to get to town Mom.  I swear to God!”)

Then, two days ago, we got a call from them at a time when they should have been safely and gainfully occupied weeding and harvesting in one of the farm’s massive gardens.  You know, earning money to buy themselves a car?  The front passenger wheel on the Elantra started making a terrible noise and they pulled over.

So, everyone knows the drill, right?  You arrange for a tow, pick a garage or mechanic for a destination, adjust your schedule, find a ride.  We did all that.  Then you wait, if you’re me, with dread for the diagnosis, obsessively moving money from here to there in your head, wishing you hadn’t bought that expensive thing last week, calculating your next paycheck, figuring out where the money is going to come from and what bills can be late.

In the meantime, we all complained about all the things we were going to do in the next couple of days.  What about work?  What about the laundromat?  What about cashing checks?  What about groceries?  What about my swimming day?  All of a sudden, sharing a car seemed like a piece of cake when compared to having no car at all.

Then came the list of diagnoses, the bottom line dollar figure, the realization that we were half way there and might as well take care of everything that needed taken care of.  It’s not as though there’s ever a good time to fix a car.  Nobody ever sits on the side of the road and says, “Oh, good!  This is the perfect time to have the car break down!  I just happen to have a spare few hundred dollars right now!”  At least no one does at my income level.

Then we waited a little while and the phone rang and it was fixed.  But we couldn’t go get it because it was in the shop and we were at home.

We’re in rural Maine, so we called a local cab.  (Item:  On the dashboard a sign with the fare price, including “Puke charge $100.  You clean it up.”)  Fortunately, no one puked.  We got to the shop.  We wrote a check.  We got the car.

All that was yesterday.  So why, I ask you, was I lying in bed awake at 4:30 in the morning agonizing about it all?  The car was right outside the window, parked in its spot, fixed and paid for.  True, I paid for it out of my mortgage money and now I’ve no idea where the mortgage is coming from.  On the other hand, the mortgage isn’t due until September 1, so there’s time, right?  I’ll figure something out, or my partner will get a client, or something.  Also true that the upcoming day (today) was complicated.  I wanted to take my weekly swim.  We all had things we needed to do, most of them involving using the car.  I had this blog to write, in addition to working on my book.  My brother is coming to visit Friday, so I wanted to clean a little, change the sheets (hence the laundromat), etc.  We all work on Friday, so today was the day to GET ORGANIZED.

Stop it, I told myself.  Sleep.  It’s not even light yet.  We’ll figure out what everybody needs and

Photo by Todd Quackenbush on Unsplash

make a plan.  It will be fine.  Don’t think about the mortgage now.  Stay in the moment.  Breathe, dammit!  RELAX.  Whatever happens, you’ll get to swim.  Think about that.  The car is fixed.  Your brother doesn’t care what the house looks like.  Just think about the pool, cool, quiet, the rhythm of stroke and breathing.  A locker room filled with women!  Not a guy in sight.  You’ll figure out what to blog about.

But what WILL I blog about?  What can I write that’s intelligent, sympathetic, well thought out and interesting?  I know, I’ll write about…no.  No, that’s no good.  My mother will read that and be hurt.  Well, then, I’ll write about…no.  If I write about that the kids will take it the wrong way.  Oh, I’ve been wanting to talk about…mmm uh-uh.  My friend will read that and she’ll feel bad.

Oh, good. Back to people pleasing, are we?  You know you can’t write around that.  Might as well give it up now.  Hardly anybody reads the damn thing, anyway.  It’s a waste of time and it’s not income producing and the car just cost $300…!!! WHAT ABOUT THE MORTGAGE?  What am I going to do?

So I got up.  At 7:00.  And I hated myself because I wasted three hours tossing and turning when I could have gotten up and WRITTEN THIS BLOG.

“Honey,” said my partner, “if you feel overwhelmed, write about that.  Write where you are.  It’ll be brilliant.”

So we had breakfast, organized the troops, gathered up the laundry, synchronized our watches.  I had a narrow window to swim in, but we reached the laundromat, got the laundry going, and my partner settled down with a book, I jumped in the car, raced joyfully to the pool, free at last, and found a sign.  “Pool closed until Monday, August 22 due to construction.”

There was no Kleenex in the car, and I needed some.

It’s a beautiful afternoon.  The laundry is strung on the line, waving in the breeze.  My sons,

Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash

shirtless, are going lovingly over a used red (some of the red is paint instead of rust) truck they just bought, trying to figure out what it needs to pass inspection.  A mechanic in town is going to look at it at 4:30.  I haven’t vacuumed, cleaned the bathroom, written a word of my book or made my brother’s bed yet.  I still don’t know what I’m going to do about the mortgage.

But I’ve written this blog.

All content on this site ©2016
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted