Just Saying: Adventures in laundry


A turning point came in my laundering life in 1980.

I was in Philadelphia, crossing a snowy, slushy Spruce Street to the laundromat around the corner, when I slipped, threw my yellow plastic tub of clothes into the air and fell into the path of an on-coming city bus.

I scrambled up and out of the way, but the bus cavalierly ran over my clothes. Being a single man in my 30s, starting a job at the Philadelphia Inquirer, and having spent the 1970s mostly in Vermont, these were the most sturdy and rudimentary of clothes. Getting run over by a bus probably made them happy.

But I vowed, probably out loud, that I had to break the tyranny of the laundromat. When my lease ran out, I found a place a few blocks away that had a small laundry room in the basement. Nerd that I was and am, it was life-changing. Launder anytime!

My next apartment was a three-story mini-row house owned by the Quakers with a basement plumbed for a washer-dryer. Heaven. I rushed to buy a compact washer-dryer unit of my own.

This street of houses that the Quakers had come to own, Mole Street, was popular with journalists because the Quakers, whose meeting house was around the corner, kept the rents low and it was close to the Inquirer newsroom.

Mole Street was cobblestoned and one lane, and the houses seemed to be three-quarters the size and dimension of normal houses on the main city streets. I always assumed that these were workingmen’s homes and were built for people about three-quarters the size of people today.

Sure enough, the washer-dryer would not fit through the doorway to the basement. They took it away and I promptly bought full-size Maytag washer and dryer units after being assured that, for a few extra bucks, the delivery guys would disassemble the units, take them to the basement and reassemble them. Heaven squared.

Nerdishly, I would do tiny loads of laundry at 3 a.m. Why? Simply because I could.

Thoughts of the bus nearly squishing me and my clothes were always hanging around.

As it turned out, the woman that I eventually married needed to upgrade her laundry equipment, and as I embarked on a short-lived newspaper job in Hartford, the appliance guys took the washer-dryer stuff apart and took it to her house in New Jersey where it served admirably.

After we were married and had moved to Southern California, the Maytags followed us and wound up in the garage, where I’d be willing to bet large sums of money they are still doing their thing for the woman who bought our sweet stucco beach house.

I am certain that I have never darkened the door of a laundromat again.

When we bought our house on the Island, we got the cheapest units P.C. Richard offered, and I continued my nerdish laundering ways with a nerdish pride.

In the city, the laundry room was in the basement, which made the whole laundry experience somewhat of a pain, what with the three trips on the service elevator. I learned quickly that you did not want to do laundry in the morning.

Morning was the province of the maids and nannies, who I benignly lumped together as the “Jamaicans.” The Jamaicans ruled the laundry room with an iron fist, and it made great good sense to shift one’s laundering times to early evening. But it still was a pain.

In our neighborhood of the city, dry cleaners/launderers are everywhere. There are three on our block alone. The closest, Woody’s, is directly across the street. We had the apartment for 20 years and never thought to dump the laundering chore to Woody, an affable Asian fellow. A couple of years ago, I dumped at Woody’s.

Once you go to Woody’s, there is no turning back to the old ways in the basement and the Jamaicans. You fill a mesh bag with laundry, go across the street and put the bag on a scale, $1 a pound, $8 minimum. If you get there before 10 in the morning, Woody and his invisible colleagues will deliver it to the lobby around 6 the same day.

It arrives sheathed in plastic in square columns, everything perfectly folded, including the fitted sheets that no human being I know can even imagine folding.

Jane has a number of garments (quite ordinary, to me) that she refuses to send to Woody’s because she thinks that he and his invisible colleagues will cook them to death.

On the other hand, it is this industrial strength laundering that I find so appealing. Just like the clothes the bus ran over, I want my clothes to pay the price for getting dirty. It’s only fair.