I remember as a small child the family washer and dryer would occasionally be under the weather, so off we went to the local laundromat. It was a dreadful affair, and probably even worse for my mother, who had to deal with a four-year-old’s curiosities about the most mundane of things—how dryers work, etc., not to mention that four-year-old’s favorite question in general: “Why?”
Since moving to Philadelphia I have gone back to laundromat hell after many years of blessed absence, but I try to go as infrequently as possible. At this time of year, I run without a shirt, no matter the weather, just to make the laundry cycle ever so longer. (This upsets the prudes in the neighborhood, but they’re just jealous.) Last night, there was no more lengthening which could be done. I had to go to laundromat hell.
The first rule of doing laundry in a public place is to do it as far into the dark night as possible because there will be fewer people, and especially fewer running, screaming children—and there will be no soap operas on the boob tubes. I pulled into the parking lot and found only two cars. Good start. Inside I went, only to discover that all the single load washers had been taken out. This was a problem; I had three single loads of completely different colors: black, white, and red, which certainly should not be mixed, unless one is a fan of a kind of non-descript, vomit-like purple. So I put three single loads into double-load machines, and dropped nine bucks just on getting a modest amount of fabric washed. I got over that and went to the soda machine. It wouldn’t take my dollar bills. Went for a stroll around the block to see if there were any convenience stores. Nada. Finally I got smart and used the quarter machine, but at the risk of running out of small bills to put onto my “Smart Card,” which is only smart if you’re the business owner who gets to keep the customer’s money whether or not he uses up the whole card. I decided to take my chances; I needed caffeine. (Notes on the machines, BTW, claimed that the business was not responsible for money lost therein. Bienvenuto!)
Time for a break. I had taken my iPod and a book, but South Park was on. The only problem was that this particular television was in front of those cheap automatic massage chairs that old folks like to test out at the local shopping mall. I didn’t want any massage, but I decided to sit in one of them anyway; what are the chances that anyone whom I respect will come waltzing through the doors of this particular facility at such an hour of the night? My feet had barely begun to enjoy the respite when I heard some sort of electronic mumble come from behind me somewhere. It sounded like Charlie Brown’s elementary school teacher. The noise repeated itself, but I was in denial about the message. The third time there was no mistaking it: “Please insert money. Please insert money. Please insert money.” Good grief! You can’t even sit down for free at the laundromat anymore.
Immediately, without having to search for it, I recalled a conversation I had with my friend Jeffrey Tucker some years ago. “Michael, Michael!” he said in his characteristic rapid delivery, “no one has ever claimed that capitalists aren’t crooks; the point is that the customers don’t want them to be.” Quite true. I got up from the chair. I’ll be damned if I pay to sit down, even if South Park is on. I found a corner, turned on my iPod, and slogged through the rest of the laundry, over-priced load by over-priced load. I kept listening to my iPod while tolerating the tornado-like noises of poorly maintained equipment. “This would make a good prototype for Hell,” I thought to myself.
Then the dryer malfunctioned halfway through my job. Switched dryers. Finished. Got the hell out of there. What a racket! No wonder the place was a ghost town when I got there. I, the customer, have survived a run-in with an entrepreneurial snake, but I won’t solve the problem by calling the Better Business Bureau. Rather, I’ll simply use the age-old, tried and true method: I’ll go somewhere else.
For now, however, the biggest conundrum remains: What in the world am I supposed to do with one green shirt and one orange shirt?