Earlier today I missed a call from a certain gent because I was at the laundromat. The sound of the machines and the dryers were so loud that I couldn’t hear the salsa music that my cell emits to let me know a call is coming through. I only realized that I’d missed a call when i felt some residual vibrations in my pocket from the voicemail he’d left me. When I managed to finish drying and folding and cart my clothes back to my apartment, I apologized and explained the reason why i had missed the call. He very much understood because laundromats, as he said it, “are rather loud and icky.”
The funny thing is that I’m actually deeply fond of them.
For some reason, the smell of fresh laundry reminds me of my visits to Puerto Rico to see my grandparents when I was a child. My older brother actually shares the same nostalgia of the crisp fresh scent of laundry detergent and softener. I really can’t remember why this would evoke such a memory. I don’t remember my grandmother doing laundry so often. But the scent seems to be one I will always associate with her house. Just like the scent of a certain laundry de-odorizing liquid always reminds me of my aunt. She’s particularly neurotic when it comes to cleaning and every time she does a load of wash she adds a dash of that strangely scented liquid.
But it’s the memory of laundromats that bring me back to when I was living in New York. We used to live in the apartment building on the corner of 80th St. and Northern Boulevard in Queens for most of our years in Jackson Heights. However, for the first year or so we used to live with my father’s step-mother who was close to my mother even after the separation and subsequent divorce to my father. There we used to live in the downstairs part of the house and we’d walk a few blocks to the shipping center to the laundromat on a weekly basis. We had this large white metal cart which we’d push along with us to carry all the loads. That upright cart was with us for all the years we were in New York.
I was too young to remember much from this period before we moved to the second floor of the apartment building on Northern Boulevard. Right around the corner there was a laundromat just one store away from the 7-11 on the other end. In the first apartment we lived in when we moved into that building, a one bedroom, the windows would face out over the alley that lay between the building and the laundromat. Wafts of steam would rise up and the scent of those softener sheets would permeate the city air.
Then as my older brother and I got a little older, whenever we had to wash sheets, we’d get sent around the corner to the laundromat. Sure, we had a washing machine and a dryer in our apartment but they weren’t large enough to take such big loads. So using this little bit of independence (actually we had a lot of independence most of the time because my mother was a single working woman) we’d spend about 3 hours at the laundromat on a Saturday morning (Sunday mornings were reserved for church since both my brother and I were altar servers and we’d go to school at the Catholic school right next to our local parish that shared the same name, Our Lady of Fatima). We’d carefully turn into quarters the entire amount my mother would give us since we were never quite sure just how much it would take. Also, they simply refused to break bills and you were stuck with about $20 in quarters whether you wanted it or not.
We’d use the quarter machines that dispensed little individual packets of detergent and softener. And load up as many machines as we could, watching the television in a corner or reading from the books we’d bring along that we’d borrowed from the local public library (somewhere we went to often and always had several books from). Afterwards came the time to load up the dryers, charging them up with as many quarters as we could estimate they would need to dry. Then we’d add a few more just to be sure.
With that was left of the quarters one of us would head on down to the 7-11 and buy our breakfast. The clerks at the mini-market actually knew us quite well. We’d often stop in for small necessities or our lunches to take to school. They didn’t mind that on those laundry days we’d pay them entirely in quarters. I remember they had these wonderful deli-like sandwiches which we’d have with colorful slurpies and some sort of cookie for dessert. The memory of these chocolate cream cookie pies always come to mind. I wish I could remember their names. We’d always spend whatever was left of our money in goodies and then we’d feast upon them in the laundromat waiting for things to dry.
I don’t think my mother ever expected change from these expeditions.
Taking care to fold our laundry on the specially designated tables, I remember feeling so grown up. Thinking back, I was probably no older than 8 or 9. Interesting how old you feel when you are young. But I used to love those trips and pushing along that metal cart as if I were so important.
Now obviously, as a college student, i often just wait to go home in order to do my laundry. in my house, laundry day is strictly on Saturdays unless we have terribly important plans. Rarely do we ever really move around this day to do laundry. I actually feel a little strange if I do laundry on any other day. However, since I’m on the outs with my mother, I have not been back to my hometown for about a month. While it’s comforting to know that I seem to have enough clothes for that long stretch of time (aside from the few times I had washed a few unmentionables and essentials), I really was out of options and needed to get my booty to the local laundromat. Every time I’d plotted out time to go something always came up. I’ve been trying to make it there for the past week.
Finally today I managed to go, pulling along a small little white metal cart, one that looks like the mini version of the one we’d had in NY for nearly a decade. I’d bought it first year of college, nearly in the first month of the semester. When I’d spotted it in the supermarket I just knew I HAD to have it. I’ve used it so many times over the last 5 years, most of the occasions have been to go to the laundromat at RadioCentro just 3 blocks away.
Out of all the domestic chores, I’d have to say laundry would be one of my favorites (besides cooking and baking, of course) and yet it’s one of the ones I least look forward to doing. In my hometown we do the wash but usually we hang it up to dry, a very tedious task but one that saves on electricity. I’m always pronouncing that it looks like it’s going to rain just so I can use the dryer instead. Usually nature accommodates me at those times and proceeds to drizzle and cloud up to give my laziness some credibility. I suppose I’m just in love with the smell of clean fabric and the luscious softness as it comes out from the dryer.
I wonder why it is that I don’t go to the laundromat more often…
The funny thing is that I still feel like that little girl, pretending to be so self important each time I hit up that place. I’m just that little girl, pretending adulthood as I do my laundry, fold it with care to have the world believe that such a good girl NEVER goes around with her clothes unfolded after the wash (in all honesty, rarely do I EVER fold my clothes with such meticulous care).