For a brief period in middle school, I ran out of underpants*. For reasons I could not provide at the time and still don’t understand, I kept this a secret. I think I was under the — quite mistaken — impression that no one had time to run me over to Bradlees and buy me several 6 packs of Fruit of the Looms.
Because I was a clever 11 year-old, I got away with a skeleton crew of undergarments for a while. But I wasn’t that clever, since my mom did the wash and pre-Vactican II Catholic school nuns had taught her to count. After we got me some more undies, my mom made strides to make sure that my underwear pile never dwindled.
And in 1998, things hit a peak at Christmas, when I opened a shoe box of underwear. I had never seen so many pairs of so many colors gathered in one place. I immediately started sorting and counting, as I knew Underpants Christmas was the stuff of legend**. My mom was forced to face the fact she had a tendency to lose count of things sometimes. She began her Christmas shopping in July with the idea that I needed Christmas underwear. So, she bought a few pairs. And then there were some sales, so she bought more. And more. When December finally rolled around she put them all in a shoe box and handed it to my brother to wrap in front of the television. My brother would never fully recover.
After Underpants Christmas, my mom decided that she would approach the Christmas/underwear situation more rationally. This began the long-standing tradition of the annual gift of a $25 gift card to Victoria’s Secret, which as any good mall shopper knows, gets you five pairs of cotton underwear, your choice of color.
But good intentions and underwear bought in multiples of fives couldn’t stop the inevitable from happening. And on Sunday, running low on undies for the first time in 18 years, I made my first trip to the laundromat.
Like a number of things I assume most adults have done or will do but am constantly trying to avoid — like preparing poultry for my assembled family at the holidays — I had hoped to avoid the laundromat. That’s not to say I haven’t used a public laundry facility; I did live away at college and my love of clean clothes isn’t a new thing. But once I graduated and moved out on my own (from one home with a washer and dryer to another), I pretty much assumed I’d be keeping my clothes in-house.
I guess I forgot that appliances break.
And about two weeks ago, my trusty stackable washer/dryer decided that it had had it during a load of whites. But not one to go to pieces over this sort of thing, I headed out to Lowe’s, where I quickly found what I needed, enlisted the help of a kindly salesman, and told him what I wanted.
And that, folks, is how you end up with your new washer and dryer on backorder. Who even knew that existed?
So, right now, I’m in a holding pattern. As I start to forget those hazy wear-what-you-want crazy days of late December, I’m anxiously awaiting a January 31 delivery. But, in the meantime, I’ve been forced to improvise. Two weekends ago I gave my parents fair warning, packed the car, and drove my clothes to New Jersey where I proceeded to co-opt my brother into being my trusty sidekick for the day***. But, in the space between weekends, the semester started, and I couldn’t find the time in my busy schedule of drinking many, many pots of coffee and sitting still on the couch wondering why my whole body hurt to cross state lines. And so I was forced to mentally steel myself for a new experience that I didn’t feel like having.
After putting it off until I was nearly wearing a bathing suit under jeans 2 sizes too big, I went through the spare change that constitutes the only physical evidence of boyfriends past in my home****, came up with six dollars in quarters, and wrestled my largest laundry basket into the back seat of my car.
The problems began almost immediately, due to my height, arm strength, general impatience, and shoddy snow removal. But even though my pants and socks were wet by the time I made it through the door, I thought it would be smooth sailing from then on out. I mean, I do laundry all the time. Like, constantly. How hard could the laundromat be?
Oh, right. At home, quarters don’t botch the whole operation.
After smiling nervously at the generally unfriendly few people gathered in the laundromat, I managed to sort my clothes into two washers, put in some detergent, inserted my quarters, and pushed the “start” button, just like the directions on the machine said. Simple, right? Evidently not. I spent five minutes pushing that damn start button as hard as I could — and holding it, because the directions said “press start and hold” — and reinforcing my thumbs when I thought they were about to give out.
Finally, a large, quiet man who had been watching me struggle finished folding his underwear, walked over to my machines, and pulled the metal sliders out of the quarter deposit. This, I learned, makes the machines go. I turned bright red, attempted some light humor to ease my own embarrassment, and gushed thank yous while he muttered something about it being no problem, he knew what was wrong with my machines because the same thing happened to him. Now that I had their attention, the two just-beyond-college women who had had their backs to me attempted to console me, telling me the machines were new, that everyone had to learn them. But it was too late.
Before the machines filled, I failed laundry day.
* Not completely. There was a shortage of sorts. I did not attend Kawameeh Middle School commando. Proof of this lies in the fact that my mother did not become the first person to die of daughter-inflicted embarrassment in 1993.
** If I remember correctly, the official count was somewhere between 18 and 25 pairs of underwear. (Update: Maternal sources seem to think the total was closer to 32.)
*** I made promises of Ikea cinnamon buns — provided they were still a dollar — in exchange for his assistance/company. And, high on sugary icing, we ran around central Jersey in my mom’s car (which used to be my car), buying bookshelves, hitting up Dunkin’ Donuts, and copying pictures at Wal-Mart. My brother is the Robin to my Batman, if Batman were a girl and the Batmobile were a Ford Escape and Batman had a serious coffee problem.
**** By the way, regardless of what I think of them as individuals, I should probably be grateful that I’ve made a habit of dating people both sloppy and careless enough to pay for years of parking meters.