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Doing laundry at home is infinitely preferable. Still, a life outlined exactly to our preferences is one that has lost its potential. It is the irritants and the unexpected that offer progress.

I've only know one person who loved doing laundry. He was a gay would-be actor who worked as a waiter, which narrows him down to about 10% of everyone in Los Angeles. He had carloads of personality that he marshalled instantaneously in situations that could throw others into an absolute tizzy. There was a worm in a salad one day. It's hard for most of us to come to terms with, but there are varieties of worms that eat very much what we do and sometimes have their meals interrupted. Anyway, the people at his table had stopped eating and had ghastly expressions on their faces. Something was obviously wrong. He could see the outlines of a worm, a bright green worm bathed in Ranch dressing with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese. "There it is," he announced, snatching the plate from the table. "I've been looking everywhere for that." He swished into the kitchen, swished out again with another salad. Never said a word. Everyone resumed eating. The average waiter might have apologized or groveled and the worm, whose meal was interrupted, would have floated in the air all through dinner. Rocky transformed every space he occupied. Rocky. It was probably a stage name, but it's the one I remember.

Rocky and his girlfried — I'm not being satirical — would stay up late, drink, make the rounds, and then do laundry at an all-night laundromat. I think they sometimes emptied out drawers of perfectly clean clothes to experiment with new detergents or softeners, or possibly to have the wherewithal to experience new and unexplored laundromats. My memory is somewhat vague because it always fell just outside the domain I wanted to know more about. They were almost inseparable. She'd sneak off to get laid, a process that seemed inevitable, but she'd also hold his hand through nerve wracking blind dates that people concerned, I suppose, about the ever presence of his girlfriend, set him up with. She'd go through the introductions, make sure he looked just right, and then drop them off somewhere.

I meet people all the time who say they love doing laundry. I've learned to be skeptical because it always turns out that what they really love is their new washer and drier and the opportunity to share their features or capacity with you. In the late 1950s we had a new washer and drier in our new tract home. Everything in our world seemed brand new at the time. There was a strip center up the road, not that we knew the term strip center. It seemed utterly new and modern. It was nicely done, propped up with Palos Verdes stone and lush planters. A liquor store on the corner, a hardware store, a barber shop, a 31 Flavors ice cream parlor that we were utterly beaming with pride to have in our very own neighborhood, and a hair salon. Beyond that was a field followed by more fields until finally a gas station. We drove or walked to it almost daily. It's hard to believe, but haircuts were every two weeks and sometimes more often than that. Of course, the 60s put a screeching halt to that obsession. There was also the odd fact that some women never washed their own hair. Was it hair spray? Was it the absence of hand-held hair driers? Anyway, the strip center became the alternate center of our existence.

Then came the unexpected. The center expanded. Where there were once rambunctious weeds, there was now something miraculous — a laundromat. Banks of driers and row after row of porcelain white coin-operated washing machines. It had the first change machine I ever saw. It broke dollars down into three quarters, two dimes and a nickel, and it also broke down quarters. Believe it or not, it built them right back up if you put five nickels in. It was amazingly cheap: 25¢ a load and 10¢ per time period for driers many times the size of the one at home. The time period started out as ten minutes but soon dwindled to half that — the first sign of edging inflation. It was not uncommon for people to do their washing in the laundromat but take things home to hang outside on the line. Some habits die hard. Anyway, as I said, we had a brand new washer and drier to go with our brand new tract home, but to run six or eight loads at once and know that driers 3, 5, 8 and 9 had your familiar towels, sheets and blue jeans tumbling clearly, almost identifiably in the drier windows was somehow irresistible. We piled mountains of laundry in the back seat, knowing that 31 Flavors and a sampling of our neighbors awaited us. This too seemed terribly modern at the time.

Today it would be fair to say that I hate doing laundry. I do it grudgingly. Somewhere the excitement dwindled into an irksome irritation. The results, of course — I love the results. Clean sheets and pillowcases, clean towels, clean, freshly ironed clothes. I never asked Rocky about ironing. Everyone loves the results. Does anyone really look forward to wearing clothes that aren't clean? I remember nothing more spectacular, more supremely luxurious than stuffing a green pull-string bag with my name and company number on the outside and three days later finding on my bunk a rectangle of brown paper tied in twine that was my perfectly pressed, neatly folded laundry. It made the rest of life seem almost worth living.

Yesterday, on final rinse, a young man carried baskets of laundry in for his mother. No longer a boy, he seemed in his early twenties. He wasn't there five minutes before he went from person to person saying, "It's really boring in here. I wonder if they know the TV's off. Any idea how to turn the TV on? It's really boring, isn't it?" He said this same speech over and over again hoping, I suppose, that someone would push the magic button and return television to his life. He had become a singular source of entertainment in himself. He gave this speech to a dark-skinned diminutive lady in her forties or fifties in a plastic chair with her hands folded softly in her lap. She was waiting for the drier to stop. She shrugged in an uncomprehending way and then resumed her perfectly motionless pose. She was Indian in appearance. We have a percentage of Mexicans in this area who speak neither Spanish nor English. She had obviously not been raised on television. What went on inside seemed entirely pleasant since it caused not the least change in her demeanor. I had the feeling she could wait effortlessly until tomorrow if that's how long it took.

I think of Rocky at times like these, folding my underwear into precise rectangles in the corner of a dismal laundromat with the drone of washers and driers and humanity in the background. I seem to learn something each visit, but it's always an enormous relief to carry my few things into the parking lot where I can breathe freely again. I sometimes experience a sense of fulfillment, as though I had connected with a soiled part of myself long hidden, but it's not fulfillment exactly. It's merely relief. It's knowing that my favorite frayed t-shirt is available again, that I have socks for tomorrow. It's the knowledge that my hamper is empty. I hope Rocky found some nice young man to settle down with, or even an old one for that matter, or that maybe he and his girlfriend found the perfect person to form a modernized couple with, someone who likes doing laundry.
 
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