We had back-to-back AirBnb renters recently and Annie was worried we wouldn’t have time to wash and dry all the towels so I generously volunteered to take the mountain of towels down to the laundromat and put their industrial-sized machines to work for us.
I hadn’t set foot in one in decades and entering this laundromat was like stepping into an Edward Hopper painting, rows of Eisenhower-era washers and whale-eyed stainless dryers arrayed on the far wall, the whole place drab, colorless and filled with the CLANK, CLANK, CLANKING of clothes tumbling around in the machines. Not only was it an alien experience but I’m feeling definitely Laundromat-impaired—more used to hanging with mowers and weed-whackers than washers and dryers.
My first Man From Mars mistake was forgetting to bring detergent and dryer sheets. I looked around and found this grey box on one wall with coin slides and Tide and Bounce labels under them. I fished out a wad of quarters and tried to fit them into the slots.
But no-go, the quarters wouldn’t slide in. No instructions anywhere, no signs on the box, no illustrations. I looked around to see if there was an attendant I could ask. NOPE. Just when I was beginning to feel terminally stupid, I realized there were two slots that would accept the quarters, EUREKA!
I inserted two quarters and KACHUNK, a box of Tide came sliding down into a slot at the bottom of the machine. Two more and KACHUNK, same with the Bounce. Only problem was, my hand was too big to fit into the slot. I finally worked them out using my index fingers as prods.
I triumphantly walked back to the washers and started stuffing in towels. Loaded up one machine and started putting quarters in. But how many quarters? Again, no signs, no intructions. Suddenly my eye catches numbers flashing on the machine’s display. $1.75, $1.50—now I get it! Two bucks worth of quarters.
Now for the detergent. It’s in a throwback-looking 1940’s cardboard box the size of a deck of cards. But no tab to pull it open, No printed OPEN HERE instructions. So I have to wrestle the sucker open, working my fingernail under the flap and tearing it apart bit by bit. Finally I get it open and shake the white stuff onto my towels.
I start the machine and head over to the quarter machine to reload. It eats six of my one-dollar bills and spits out quarters in return.
I load up two more machines and feed in quarters. Now I’ve got three machines on my side, each one SHHHUSH, SHHHUSH, SHHUSHING my towels, all three counting down the minutes to done-time.
So far, so good. I go over and check out the dryers. No signs, no instructions, no pictures. A lady is unloading a dryer so I ask her, “Ma’am, how many quarters for how long?’
She looks at me as if I’m from (guess where?), shrugs and says, “I dunno, couple minutes, I just keep feeling the clothes to see if they’re dry and adding another quarter if they’re not.”
Then I get an inspiration, I’ll put a clock on the damn thing! So when my first load is done, I load all the towels into a dryer, rip apart the Bounce box, add a sheet, drop in a quarter, push the START button and activate the stopwatch on my iPhone, thinking, Piece of cake, I’ll beat this damn place yet!
As I load up another dryer, having determined that you get seven-plus minutes dry time per quarter, I’m beginning to feel supremely confident.
That is, until I put my second quarter in and somehow it sticks halfway through and now the START button won’t depress. I slowly turn my head to see if there is some security guard who has noticed that some novice laundromonger has just busted one of their machines but seeing none, quickly load my towels into the next machine, out one quarter but having ducked the repair costs.
Long story short, eight bucks worth of quarters and two hours later, I load my laundry basket piled high with fresh, clean, dry and neatly-folded towels into the trunk of my car and, saying sayonara to the laundro, I head back home, having once-and-for-all totally disproved the theory that Martians can’t do the wash.