washing the blues away

December 29, 2012

(Illustration of Ulf Bushmann‘s ‘Laundromat‘ found here).

Laundromat‘ by Nivea

Soap, Powder, Bleach, Towels, Fabric Softner, Dollars, Change, Pants, Socks, Dirty Drawers
I’m Headed To The Laundromat
And Let’s Not Forget The Food Stains, Dirt Spots, Head Sets, Chips, Pop, Pay Phones, Clean House
I’m Headed To The Laundromat
I Can’t Take It No More
Ooh, It’s Time To Hit Door
Pants And Socks Dirty Towels
Oh I Been Putting Up With Your Shit For A While Now
No More Cryin’
None Of Your Lyin’
You Got To Go Boy
I’m Cleanin’ My House Now
Ooooooh, I’m Headed To The Laundromat

One major task for all civilized peoples is clean clothes.

Endless time — one washer load, plus drying time, two hours max — all the time in the world.

Laundromat time has become through memory, one of the sweetest of times, though, maybe a concept considered much-strange amongst normal folks, but nearly-always for me some of the most-pleasant few minutes — a period of quick reflection, daydreaming, waxing mentally poetic, and soft, easy reading.
And it’s nearly-always quiet, just the hum of  machines, hushed conversations of patrons waiting for some cycle to end, a comfortable ambiance inspiring thought and fanciful rumination.
Not much disturbance that I’ve encountered, either, even in bad-looking neighborhoods where a shitload of laundromats are obviously located — many, many peoples don’t got them machines at home.

A not-too-well known fantasy within that great illusion, widely-known as the American Dream, includes a washer and dryer.
First as a kid with my parents, and later as a grown-up with my own kids, and for way-much of my life so far, those two nearly-forgotten appliances were either in my actual residence itself (majority of the time), or in some in-house/apartment complex kind of set-up — access to those cleaning devices, or maybe on occasion just one of them, were seemingly right at hand, no matter the circumstances.
Only in odd moments during my now-63-year-old living narrative has public laundering come into play — a period in college, while in the military service, a few months around the time of the first divorce, a real-short stretch after the second, all-in-all, small interruptions from my own clothes-cleaning equipment.
Until the last five years — for many reasons this current period of life seemingly so different from the previous near-60 — since my 2007 arrival on California’s northern coast, having clean clothes requires complete laundromat time.
Playing out the play.
And just only recently have I observed myself via laundromat time, seeing these little weekly episodes as strange, wonderous time it actually be.

Not everyone feels that way — when I told my son I kind of enjoyed going to the laundromat he said I was crazy, which we both know is only a way-partial lie.
He hates it with a passion — he pays extra for a service some laundromats provide: They wash/dry/fold his clothes and he then returns at the allotted time to retrieve them.
Although, I do view laundry as a chore, and really don’t look forward to it (who enjoys doing laundry?), the job’s no big deal, plus at least for a little while the world both outside me, and inside me, can be put at arm’s length and examined.

Maybe my son’s comment paused the memory button — my earliest personal recollection of laundromat time is coupled with the image at left, Mia Farrow on the cover of the first issue of People, March 1974 (Illustration found here), remembered as being in close proximity to a pile of other magazines, newspaper sections, paper-back books, religious tracts, all plopped on a table, and all literature most-likely found scattered about your garden-variety laundromat.

The establishment with the People magazine was in Gainesville, Fla., home of the University of Florida, where I was then a senior in the journalism college.
A place far, far away and long, way-long time ago, for sure.
Peculiar the memory of the young Mia Farrow, still a few years away from Woody and then starring in the original ‘The Great Gatsby‘ with Robert Redford — as opposed to next year’s Leonardo DiCaprio version.
Time is now, a reminiscence is history.

And history and time nearly 40 years ago wasn’t good for Farrow or her ‘Gatsby‘ — Roger Ebert in January 1974: But we can’t penetrate the mystery of Gatsby. Nor, to be honest, can we quite understand what’s so special about Daisy Buchanan. Not as she’s played by Mia Farrow, all squeaks and narcissism and empty sophistication. In the novel, Gatsby never understands that he is too good for Daisy. In the movie, we never understand why he thought she was good enough for him. And that’s what’s missing.

Anyway, we’re getting off subject, which laundromat time will sometimes do.
Maybe a brain thread mis-firing or something, but pearl-mouthed Mia Farrow rings the bell for dating my own personal laundromat time — I came from a clean family, as have been millions and millions and millions of other people — and I’ve always desired at the way-minimum to be considered clean, and mostly unthinking about it, other than to not offend anyone, just try to look clean.

Memories of laundry doing are so mundane, such a seemingly non-dramatic slice of life, no one really considers our notion of clean, not only of our assorted outer/inner garments crammed into a machine, but of also our bodies, like how many times a week do I shower — for me it’s usually six, I skip Saturdays — and the use of a personal bar of soap.
Nowadays, people don’t think about being clean –we just clean ourselves, our clothes, our cars, and basically appear civilized, all without really grasping the movement: “Dude, I’m going to clean my clothes, a chore I do at least once a week, and I be doin’ it now, like, forever, and why, so weird.”
In a review of “Foul Bodies: Cleanliness in Early America,” by Penn Professor of History Kathleen M. Brown, is put forth the point that cleanliness has a cultural bias. How we take care of our bodies is a mirror to society:

“Part of the fascination with yucky things by modern people has to do with the fact that we find our bodies more loathsome than early modern people found their bodies, and that’s surprising. … Their bodies were much more disgusting than our groomed and cleaned and manicured and scented bodies are.
But in fact, our threshold for tolerating what the body might be in its uncared-for state is much, much lower.”

And the evolution of clean:

“I was surprised that in the 17th and 18th centuries, people most obsessed with [cleanliness] were not women, but elite men,” she says.
Other studies often depicted women as “having the foulest of human bodies,” Brown writes.
But that perception of women and cleanliness changed much over the course of three centuries.
Women became “the standard bearers and enforcers of a new ethos of bodily refinement and domestic purity,” she says.
As America grew and prospered, industrialization and economic development also have impacted the way people cared for their bodies.
By the 19th century, a public health crusade, led by middle-class reformers, aimed to get people to take better care of their clothes and bodies.
Bathing grew in acceptance as a means of reinvigorating the body.
Health officials advocated for the reopening of public baths.
“There was now this belief that bathing could stimulate the body and better prepare it to go about business in a challenging world,” Brown says.

Ironically, with all our clean-crazed modern times, we could be less healthy.
Katherine Ashenburg, author of “The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History,” claims this clean nowadays is really all about looking good — why the shit shower everyday if you’re not working in the construction industry?
In an interview via Salon, Ashenburg also said in tracking the record of clean, modern people might be less healthy.
Some snips:

By about the 1840s in America, architects who made pattern books — books that everybody could buy and then build according to the patterns in the book — added a little room that was called a “bath-room” for the first time, which meant that, eventually, there would be fixed plumbing in that room.
But for a very long time, until well into the 1920s in rural places, you would just move your tin tub into the kitchen on Saturday night and fill it with warm water, and then everybody in the family, one by one, would get into the same water, starting with probably the father, who was the most important, and going down to the daughter-in-law, who was the least important.

Advertisers want to find more parts of our bodies that we can clean and sanitize, and we’ve gotten less and less comfortable with ever smelling like a human body or having maybe ivory-colored teeth, or even cream-colored teeth — normal teeth colors.
Our teeth were not meant to be paper white at all, as any dentist will tell you, but we’re kind of constantly upping the ante.
We’ve gotten so far away from naturalness that it’s really over the top now.

And them showers:

It’s totally a social convention, according to the doctors I spoke with.
They said it’s very important to wash below our wrists [i.e., hands], and the worst thing that could happen to you, if you suddenly became a 17th century person and never washed beyond your wrists, would be some skin conditions or fungal things.
It’s no doubt comfortable to be clean.
But there is no health benefit to washing above the wrists [i.e., the body] other than possibly preventing some fungal things.

Therefore, a clean body must be housed in clean clothes.

So about the time everybody started thinking about bathing more often, along comes the big advance in clothes cleaning — the electric washing machine.
In 1907, Chicago’s Hurley Machine Co. started marketingThe Thor‘ all-electric machine (seen at left) and the public grabbed them so fast, in less than a decade other companies — household names by now, Maytag, Bendix and Whirlpool — put out their own versions, 700 different manufacturers in all.
These early machines did have a couple of major problems — they weren’t grounded, so getting electrocuted was fairly common, as was losing fingers and other body parts in the attached wringers, a grinding horror.

My grandmother had one of those contraptions, and I remember as a little kid being scared to death of those hissing, sputtering rollers — it didn’t take that big of an imagination to picture my hand being dragged into the crush along with my grandpa’s overalls.

(Illustration found here).

Bright sunshine for northern California’s coast this last weekend of 2012.
I started this particular post weeks and weeks ago as a kind of personal, feature-like story as opposed to the short, news-clip posts during the week, and the occasional more-in-depth pieces I sometimes do on the weekend. A lot of these works-in-progress, however, get pushed farther and farther back on the agenda until the story line is forgotten, or I use the material elsewhere.
Originally, this was supposed to be just a glance at a thing people do all the time, but never think about it, and the narrative posed was one of cuteness, of a faint-enjoyment in doing dirty-ass laundry via public washing machines. Maybe a short history of clothes washing (riverside washing, evolution of washing bats and beetles to washboards, etc.) would be included. Even as my son figured I was crazy, so this story was one hopefully against the norm — no one in his/her right mind enjoyed ‘doing clothes,’ or washing dishes.
Most of the time, I don’t mind doing either.
Laundromat visits in the past were indeed easy mental retreats, but nowadays the flower-scent of detergents and softeners has been sucked up by the smell of a grim-faced factuality lurking quickly ahead. In the ensuing weeks since I started this little post-project (first version in July), which maybe/might be of some interest to somebody somewhere — laundromats are quietly nestled into everywhere — reality of the real world most-capriciously has imploded itself onto the fantastical.
So this washing-clothes story stalled, and despite a few futile attempts to continue, never went past the washing-machine poster and Grand-dad Odie’s overalls — it descended into the Recent Drafts file.

A major problem is me — I’m not too much in any mood to write whimsical. And a goofy piece on laundromat visits was originally meant to be playful.
A more somber feel in the air since summer.
Especially the last few weeks.

Hurricane Isaac, and then right on time, Hurricane Sandy, both displaying reality of the near-future of our environment, and that not-going-away drought, which now might close the mighty Mississippi River.
And then there was Sandy Hook — only one day and two weeks ago, yet seems so far away in time, like it happened a long, long time ago.
Horrifying trauma makes time seem way-heavy, too thick to fit on a calender.
Many other gun-killings since then has only added more weight.

After I returned from the laundromat this morning — Saturday or Sunday is wash day — and decided to bend the washing-clothes narrative to a serious and ugly-frolicsome point of view.
Happy, happy, joy, joy.
Earlier this week in Monticello, Indiana, a strange little crime spree involving a bank heist, a car-and-foot chase, and the shooting of a suspect by police — the tale starting at the Twin Lakes Coin-op Laundry and owner Andrea Metzger:

A little after 10 a.m., a man entered the Laundromat and approached the attendant, Metzger said.
“He shoved her into the office and knocked her to the floor,” Metzger said.

But the business doesn’t keep much money on hand, Metzger said.
Employers have been told to not resist robbers, she said.
The attendant gave the man money, and he ordered her not to come out of the office while he made his getaway, Metzger said, repeating what the attendant had told her.
“She’s too shook up to talk,” Metzger said.

Twenty minutes later:

Indiana State Police said a suspect matching the description of the man who robbed the Laundromat robbed the Bank of Wolcott around 10:25 a.m.
About 25 minutes later — around 10:48 a.m. — a Monticello police officer spotted an SUV and driver matching the description of the bandits.
The officer tried to stop the SUV, but the suspects sped off. The officer gave chase.
After about three minutes, the SUV crashed in the alley running parallel to Main and Bluff streets, and one of the suspects ran from the vehicle.
Police caught him, Indiana State Police Sgt. Tony Slocum said.
The man driving the SUV didn’t give up as quickly.
He drove about one more block before he too jumped from the vehicle and ran, with Monticello officers on his heels, according to police.
Police fired a Taser at the suspect, but it had no effect on the suspect, Slocum said.

Eventually, cops nailed the guy after a extended foot chase.

So here my clothes-washing narrative eloped — a laundromat tightly tied-in with guns, a gal ‘too shook up to talk,’ a bank robbery, and a way-tough bad guy immune to neuro-muscular incapacitation.
And two hours of wash-and-dry really won’t wash your blues away — time won’t allow.
Rapid the seemingly wash of time, moving faster than even our eyes behold, just think of the “stopped clock illusion” and the sorrowful euphoria of nowadays: It gives us the disconcerting idea that even something as undeniable as time can be a bit less reliable than we think.

Until the next load.


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