I wrote this article, “Spin Cycle”, about laundromats for my old zine Alco-beat in 2001 or 2002. Click the pages for enlargements.
Spin Cycle by Stacey
I’m not sure what exactly It is about laundromats that give me the creeps, but they do. Perhaps it’s because they are relatively new to me and I still haven’t exactly decided what proper Laundro-etiquette is. As a kid, my family wasn’t exactly swimming in cash or anything, but we were of enough economic stature to have our very own washing machine and dryer. A lot of people in the rural Midwest don’t seem to have this luxury, however. I can remember my Ma taking me to the local Laundromat occasionally when I was young; you know, in case ours was on the fritz, or in case she needed to wash an especially large quilt.
I didn’t relish this opportunity, and preferred to be given the chance to run amok elsewhere. The Laundromat was, well, depressing, even for an 8 year old. There was always some sort of a bizarre motley crew assembled in the local ‘Mat; you had your run of the mill white trash folks, your po’ share cropper types, your local winos, wrinkled old ladies, the jobless, the infirm, the insane, etc. Given, being from a town of 1400 people, this amplifies the situation quite a bunch. What it connoted to me at the time was that “Normal people have their own washer and dryer” plain and simple. I wanted to leave immediately upon entering. Upon entering the ‘Mat, people would examine you with bored, blank stares while
chewing on a wad of gum, tobacco, or whatever was at hand; whilst wrestling with one of several ADD-riddled screaming chilluns. You’d then have to sit on one of the decrepit pieces of wood they had made into benches, and observe the whole circus for at least a good 45 minutes while your Mom did her thing.
Moving out of my ‘rents house thrust me once again into the world of the laundromat. How naive I was, for thinking that any apartment I would select would provide a laundry facility for me to use!! I was utterly dumbfounded- “What?? There’s no washer and dryer in my apartment? Well, how the hell am I supposed to have clean pants?!”, I remember thinking. “I actually have to go to……one of those?”
And so I did. I think the first one I started going to was called Sud’s” — how clever — it featured a bar for you to sit and drink beer and watch TV at. The idea of drinking beer while doing laundry was to much for my young mind to handle; I kept thinking to myself PEOPLE, ARE GONNA SEE YOUR UNDERPANTS! The very thought made me squirm and turn red. But I had to wash EVERYTHING, so I tried to stash the skivvies at the bottom of the basket and then throw them in the machines as quickly as possible, so as to not draw any unnecessary attention to myself. This seemed to work, usually, until one day when a particularly creepy middle aged dude strolled over to me and attempted to strike up a conversation.
“Hey…are those fishnet stockings?” he said with a toothy grin.
I was caught off guard — holy fuck, WHO MAKES CONVERSATION WITH STRANGERS WHILE YOU ARE WASHING YOUR UNDIES??
Me: “Uh, Um, Erm. Yeah, I guess so.”
Him:”Yeah that’s what I thought. I think those are pretty sexy.”
Me: *working diligently to get all clothes into the machine before he can notice anything else…*
Him: “I bet you’d look sexy in ’em..”
Me: “Uhh, thanks.” (trying to avoid eye contact)
Him: “So….where from?”
Him: “Is that so? You go to school?
Me: “Yeah.” nervously scanning the room)
Him: I’m just passing through town actually. I’m not going to be here vey long. I’ve got my kid with me…we’re on our way across the state.
Me: “Oh that’s nice. Hope your trip goes well. (desperately trying to seem too busy to talk)
Him: “I’ve got a little free time this evening. Howsabout you come out with me tonight for a little…fun?”
Me: “Oh I’m REALLY busy tonight…I can’t go anywhere.”
Him: “Well I could even come over to your place…”
Me: (stuttering) “I have to be somewhere else, no.”
Him: Well, I’ll be around tomorrow too, how about then, you can’t be busy all the time..”
Me: “Actually, I am. Sorry.”
Him: “Wassamatter? You got a boyfriend? We don’t gotta tell him.”
Me: “Yeah. I do. We’re gettin’ married soon. Sorry.” (I sorta take off for more of a public area…)
Him: (follows me) “Well that’s too bad….” (yaps about something, I manage to get rid of him for a bit until I leave, where he re-checks to make sure 1 don’t wanna go sex him up.
Since this experience happened when I was pretty new to doing the ‘Mat thing solo, I was kind of traumatized. I started driving my laundry 45 minutes to my parents house. This was, of course, A Giant Pain In The Ass, but worth not being accosted by wayward traveling pervs. That strategy doesn’t work now that I live 6 hours from the ‘rents (or other relatives for that matter). Now I’m forced to go to the ‘Mat, there’s simply no way around it. For some reason, there are virtually no domiciles available for graduate students to rent that are equipped with laundry. The ones that do have a “shared” laundry area, and these are always on sites of apartment buildings. I hate apartment buildings. For those of us living in apartments in houses we aren’t so lucky. We do live a couple blocks away from “Kirk’s Coin Wash”,
so that’s normally where I go. Kirk’s shares a parking area with a tanning spa. Enevitably, most parking spaces are taken up by orangey-skinned anorexic blondes wearing platform shoes, so sometimes the ‘Mat looks deceptively busy. Usually, it’s relatively empty. However, it IS dependably run-down! They have the cheapest machines in town (75 cents a load), and some dryers that I think I saw advertised in a 1925 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. They’ve got a couple of vending machines, like most places, only their snack machine looks something they pulled out of a junk heap. We also had a “Tom’s” snack machine at my high school, so it confirms my suspicions that only cheap bastards carry Tom’s products. The machine inevitably always has some Icky kind of “Nut-Nougat-roll”, as well as some anemic looking chips (don’t even ask about the marshmallow filled items!) They’ve also got 2 circa 1980 video game consoles, Ms. Pac Man and something that involves lotsa shootin’ (Crime Fighters? It’s the one that informs you that CRIME DOESN’T PAY!). Kirk’s is a mess, though, for real; dust bunnies, newspapers, and dryer sheets line the concrete floor, mismatched broken tables and rough wooden benches are placed near the walls, the ceiling looks as if it might cave in at any second, the ventilation vents are clogged with dust and godknowswhat…ANO the weirdest people like to hang out there. Every time I am there doing the wash, this one particular dude always shows up to play Ms. Pac Man. He appears to be around 30, and he always wears a swaetshirt and matching sweatpants. He’s kinda got a bowl haircut, and doesn’t ever make eye “contact’. And, he likes to come play Ms. Pac Man for an hour or two at a time, so he must have some sort of disposable income (maybe disability check?) I inevitably always have clothes in the machine directly behind his ass, and I always feel awkward trying to get my shit out while he pounds away at the game consoles, not noticing my plight. Who is this mysterious dude?? 1 am both intrigued and frightened by him. (UPDATE ON MYSTERIOUS DUDE: I did some laundry a couple, days ago, and the dude was there AGAIN!! He was playing Ms. Pac Man AGAIN!!! He was wearing said jogging pantsuit AGAIN!!! But this time, he was YELLING at the machine!! It wasn’t anything clearly audible, and I’m not really sure what he said. It was more of a gutteral “UUUGGHNNNMM!!!!” type sound. After yelling, I saw him leave. He drove away in a car, so he must be slightly more capable than I thought. However, I think I prefer him to the lot that hangs out at the ‘South Side Laundromat”, which seems to be the ‘Mat of choice for voung, unmarried women with lots of spazzy, undisciplined children, I don’t go there unless I’m hankerin’ for a severe headache, or hoping someone might steal one of my laundry baskets.
Laundromats are fuckin’ weird. And I don’t see any tangible way to rectify this, either. You can paint them and keep them tidy, and equipped with modern, operating machines, but beyond that, how do you, make a ‘Mat uncreepy? More perplexing, how do you make a Laundromat “cool” or “hip”? I don’t think you can. They’re all weird liminal spaces where any hooligan can drop in and hang out and bother you. It’s a funny communion; you get college students who are totally anal about following the directions on each label of clothing doing the wash next to the recently divorced 45 year old dude who doesn’t know I how to separate whites and colors. The only thing these people may have in common is that they have dirty clothes. Spooky. Wacky.
Uh. I don’t know. Maybe 1 should just get a washboard and a bucket and do it
myself at home. I’m actually surprised that I’ve never read any sort of uptight manifesto in a ‘zine that describes the evils of the commercially available washer/dryer. After all, it uses fossil fuels (unless you live an area using nuclear, hydro, solar, or air turbine power, but that’s probably not the case), it needs detergents in order to work (which are a no-no for vegans), and most of all, it does a job that you could do for yourself. Where’s the punk ethic in sticking your clothes in a machine and having them come out clean and spotless? DIY, man. Don’t be a tool of the man! I hope the washboard catches on as much as silkscreen kits, compost piles, herbal toothpaste, Tofurky, using a potato to power your clock radio, making your own volcano with baking soda and vinegar, or making a bong out of an apple have become, Anything’s I better than the laundromat. Why can’t they take a nod from the porn industry and install private booths for the customer?