Monday, May 15, 2006
Laundry: A Personal History
No matter what the lore of the laundromat—soulmates found and so forth—I never liked doing laundry in New York. A basket of clean, dry, folded clothes was satisfying, but getting to that point was never fun.
In my first apartment, near Columbia, there were washers and dryers in the basement of the building—but there were also gigantic, slow-moving cockroaches, so going to the basement was a horror.
In my second apartment, near Columbia but actually in Harlem, I had to walk one block and one avenue to the laundromat, pulling my laundry along in a wheeled suitcase. The laundromat there was filthy—the clothes always seemed dirtier after being there, not cleaner—and there were always several wild children running around, screaming and knocking things over. Once, a child hurtling through the laundromat knocked over my open bottle of laundry detergent, which I’d (unwisely, I see now) balanced on top of my suitcase while I arranged the clothes in their washers. Detergent poured into the suitcase, soaking and pooling at the bottom. Without any paper towels to mop up the mess, I had to wait till my laundry was done; I stuffed it all into pillow cases and pulled my empty, soapy suitcase home. Wiping it out with towels was hopeless—the soap seemed to get sudsier no matter what I did. So I got into the shower with my suitcase and let the water rush through it until it was finally clean. A friend in Ohio who heard this story told me it convinced her she could never live in New York.
In my third apartment, in Brooklyn, the laundromat was just down the block, and it was pretty calm and quiet. If I went at the right times—any weekday evening, before noon or after four on Sunday—I never had to wait for a washer or dryer. And because it was so close, I didn’t have to wheel my laundry in a suitcase (though I sometimes did if I had a lot to wash). As far as laundry and laundromats go, there wasn’t much to complain about in Brooklyn. It was almost peaceful, reading The New Yorker while standing outside the laundromat, watching the Park Slope people walk by.
But doing laundry in Barcelona is different. We have a washer right in the apartment, so there’s no hauling of any kind. And outside the living room, on the edge of the balcony, are several lines for drying. It’s all very romantic and European, the neighbors’ laundry drying in the sun, wafting in the breeze. Hanging our laundry during the hot afternoons is a small pleasure, a quiet domestic task that feels pleasingly Spanish. I may not be able to say “laundry,” but I can hang it out to dry right along with everyone else.