I was running errands and stopped by the dry cleaner to have a shirt pressed because I had a function the next morning. The friendly Latin sister who always works the front counter and indulges my pitiful high school conversational Spanish told me it would take just a few minutes, so I decided to sit outside on a bench and wait.
The owner of the dry cleaner also owns a laundromat next door. While I was waiting, a young mother and her son were hauling in several loads of clothes. I smiled as the little boy struggled with his bundle, holding it above his head like some giant leaf-cutter ant sporting a Spider Man T-shirt and sneakers.
I have a serious aversion to laundry.
Viewing this simple, everyday scene began to bring up painful childhood memories of laundry duty.
I grew up in the inner city, and we had a washing machine that worked sporadically. The summer months were not too bad; we could wash clothes then hang them on the clothesline out back. I detested this chore because we lived in Texas and our yard was like something you might see on the Discovery Channel. It was a jungle, what with the manholes our stupid dog was always digging, the bumble bees and, worst of all, the dreaded tree spiders.
Those tree spiders were like something from a B horror film. They built webs that stretched from tree to tree. The webs were so strong that they caught sticks, shoes, frisbees and even the occasional small bird.
I remember one day collecting clothes from the line and a bee came after me. I grabbed a pile of sheets and ran for the backdoor. I could hear the bee next to my ear, and just before I knew I was about to get stung, I ran into one of the low-hanging spider webs and then hit one of our doof dog’s potholes. I lay on the ground thrashing about, screaming, convinced that the huge tree spider was well on its way to cocooning me like the guy from “The Fly.” My arachnophobia-induced panic was stalled only by the sight of my little sister holding a popsicle and staring down at me with a look that said, “And mom left you in charge.”
Nothing was worse, though, than wintertime laundry duty.
It all started when I was a kid, and I do mean kid. You know back in the day when you could drop a 10-year-old off at the laundromat without mace, a cell phone or GPS.
My mother would load up the car, drop me off early on a Saturday morning with about 30 loads of laundry, two pockets full of quarters and instructions on how to treat her delicates. I jingled when I walked like a miniature Las Vegas gambler ready for the casino.
Then the real fun would begin when I had to stalk washers like a jungle cat, listening for the distinct sound of the final spin. Once a washer was identified, I would wait the requisite few minutes then begin to empty my bounty, staking my claim. Next I would haul that 20-pound box of detergent and drop two scoops, spreading it evenly to avoid any wet clumps later. Yeah, folks, this was the ‘70s, so there were no compact, child-proof capped, liquid, eco-friendly products available.
Finding and holding a dryer was even trickier. It was seldom that a washer stopped at the same time a dryer was available, so I learned to throw a few wet clothes in a dryer until the rest were ready to transfer. I found that using my own underwear was useful, as most people avoided the undershorts of boys and men like the plague.
My worst moments were when I was not on my game and a machine stopped without my notice.
I grew up in a house full of women, so inevitably someone would reach into my unclaimed washer and grab a handful of pre-Victoria Secret bras and panties, wave them above their head and announce loud enough for the entire laundromat to hear, “Who do these belong to?” (Insert extreme zoom and close up and freeze frame of my facial expression and exact moment of public humiliation to be shared later in therapy and with other similarly traumatized support group members.)
A hush would fall on the laundromat, and only the drone of the machines could be heard as everyone paused to see if the owner was present.
I would sheepishly look up from my comic book and, with all the dignity and decorum I could muster, I would slowly stand, shoulders erect, and answer firmly in my most manly 10-year-old voice, “Those are mine!”