I recently had the pleasure -- and by pleasure, I mean responsibility, and by responsibility, I mean soul-crushing duty -- of needing the services of a laundromat.
Our dryer went on strike. The drum would still tumble, but the motion was accompanied by a metallic shriek that echoed through the entire house and scared the dog.
Thinking that discretion was the better part of valor, we pulled the plug.
But in a house with three girls who can't seem to wear an outfit for more than 10 minutes without tossing it into the wash, and a Labrador Retriever who has an affinity for slopping into rain puddles, causing a steady rotation of towels through the laundry, doing without was not an option.
And for some reason, my idea to string a clothes line across the backyard and let Old Sol do the heavy work was met with equal measures of scorn and laughter.
Go green my eye!
So for about two weeks, the drill was to send the clothes through the washer (still operational, thank you), load the damp output into laundry baskets and shlepp it to the laundromat for the industrial-sized dryers there.
I am not unfamiliar with the charm of the local laundromat, unfortunately.
About a year ago, our washer went on the fritz, and for the same reasons noted above, deferring laundry for any length of time had to be avoided at all costs. So armed with a fistful of quarters taken from my coin-saving jar (which always seems to get raided, despite my assertions to the family that it is to be used only to collect coins that we will someday redeem on a trip to Walt Disney World), I entered the magical world of do-it-yourself commercial clothes cleaning.
It's a weird place, especially for a male. I got a lot of stares. And side-glances. And smiles from women I didn't know or want to know. Kids were bouncing around, and I was reminded about what a lousy place a laundromat is for kids.
A claim I make from experience.
You see, beyond my recent exposure, I've got history with laundromats.
Back in the Stone Age, when our family vacation consisted of two weeks in a crackerbox of an apartment in Ocean City, NJ, Mom would schedule one day -- and one day only -- for a trip to the laundromat. Among the amenities our seaside palatial estate did not have (air conditioning, post-1953 furniture, more than one bathroom), laundry facilities were one of the most dearly missed. We were promised year after year by our landlord that they were "...coming next year for sure!" But they never arrived.
So the jaunt to the laundromat at the shore was a yearly ritual.
It was also hell on earth.
And why I was roped into this particular chore, I'm not really sure. Without fail, the designated day sported outside temperatures and humidity levels in the triple digits. So entering a cramped room where dozens of hot air dryers were humming in unison made comfort impossible.
Mom would stake her claim, and I remember a lot of jostling and elbows, getting two machines next to each other. She'd fill the drum, jam in her change, toss in soap and shoot the slot home.
My recollection is that the machinery was spacious, but achingly slow. Processing a week's worth of laundry for a family of five took the better part of an entire morning. I remember being placated by the purchase of a few comic books from a grocery store next door, but not even that pacifier was really sufficient, as the stock seemed to comprise nothing but that wimpy Richie Rich brat.
Dump. Sort. Wash. Dry. Fold. Repeat.
It was dull at the shore.
And it's even duller at home, where there was no promise of "hitting the beach" when finished.
Luckily, our dryer at home has been repaired, thanks to an able fix-it guy who replaced a melted ball bearing.
So we're now back in fluffy operation under our own roof.
And my change-jar is again safe.
Unless, of course, I get a sudden urge to revisit Richie Rich comic books.