When my parents dropped me off at college, my mom gave me a laundry basket. Taped to the bottom were instructions, written in my mother’s perfect penmanship, for properly washing and drying clothes—tasks I had never attempted up to that point.
I no longer have the cheat sheet, but, as I recall, its author was very concerned that I would fail to separate colors or use fabric softener, thus accelerating the collapse of civilization.
While I acknowledge it’s pathetic that I got through adolescence without learning how to do my own laundry, I would like to deflect, if I may, by pointing out that my husband was way worse. When I met him, he was 25 years old and still sending his dirty clothes off to his mama for washing, drying, and ironing.
She would return them in those clear plastic sheaths that dry cleaners use. Where do you even buy those?
For we urban apartment dwellers, the holy trinity of unimaginable luxuries are a dishwasher, outdoor space, and in-unit laundry. If you have all three, congratulations: You have succeeded in life.
The apartment I currently share with my spouse (who must now fend for himself, laundry-wise) has only one of the three success benchmarks: a washer-dryer. And I don’t mean a washer and a dryer. It’s one appliance that does both tasks, neither of them very well. The drying in particular is inadequate. Any cycle you choose lasts at least 3 hours, and everything still comes out damp.
Our previous apartment in Brooklyn had a similar machine that did a similarly half-assed job, but at least it announced when it was finished washing or drying by playing a little electronic ditty. It sounded like a ringtone you’d download to your Nokia cell phone in 1998.
I called the tune “The Washer-Dryer Song” and eventually came up with these lyrics to sing whenever it played:
Your clothes are all clean now — Every last shirt, sock, and jean now Time they were unloaded, Ironed, and carefully folded
In order to make the last two lines rhyme, you have to sing “fo’ded” for the final word.
Before I joined the ranks of the in-unit laundry elite, I was always having to hoard quarters to use for the coin-operated machines at laundromats and in the utility rooms of the apartment buildings where I lived. Whenever I got more than ¢25 back from a purchase, I’d feel like Scrooge McDuck diving into his vault of ducats and doubloons.
The laundry room, by the way, is invariably the scariest part of any apartment building. With its concrete surfaces, exposed ductwork, dark corners, and menacing industrial rumbles, the space usually feels like a cross between an abandoned parking garage and the toolshed of a serial killer.
I’d rarely encounter other tenants in these areas, yet if I didn’t retrieve my clothes immediately after the washer shut off, I’d often return to find my soggy underpants on top of the machine and a new laundry load from an unseen stranger already churning in the drum. Obviously, I suspect the work of malevolent—albeit tidy—ghosts. I never stuck around long enough to investigate whether the undead use fabric softener.
The brand I rely on is Downy, in keeping with my mother’s handwritten instructions from 23 years ago. For detergent, I use Tide. I started out with the liquid version but switched to pods when those came out.
You have to ask somebody at the store to retrieve the pods for you because they’re kept locked up, presumably in order to keep young people from eating them. I guess mothers nowadays have to add a special advisory to their laundry instructions.