Attendance is low this morning. Three men with a construction truck parked at the front door haul a mountain of dust and dirt. Another woman, expert in the mores of a laundromat, immediately decides she likes me and nods toward the better machines when I enter with a small armload. It’s the Department of Defense sticker on the car that she noticed; she’s familiar with the military and figures me to be okay from such an affiliation. We’ve all come to wash away a week’s worth of grime in a soapy, sweet smelling baptism.
With clothes safely whirling around, I go next door to the aptly named Blue Moon Cafe. It’s been a very long time since I’ve used a laundromat. I’d rather not sit on hard plastic curvy chairs and the promise of coffee, breakfast and something to read is more appealing. I skip reading and start to write, to the degree possible on a BlackBerry.
The experience this morning brings back memories of working in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. For about six months I lived in a hotel that had many luxuries, but it was without self-serve laundry. I tried to keep up with a strategy that involved handwashing some things and purchasing an amazing amount of lingerie. Despite the effort, one Sunday I rolled a packed suitcase of dirty laundry onto the elevator and through the crystal chandelier lobby. The bellman walked up when I neared the front desk, taking the bag the rest of the way to the main door.
“Where you off to, Miss Kim?” he asked as he signaled the valet to get my car. I could only tell the truth: “The laundromat.”
Just then the valet pulled the car under the canopy while the bellman loaded the suitcase into the trunk. As he closed it, he gave me a sympathetic look as he muttered, “the laundromat.”
On what became something of a regular Sunday morning ritual, I maneuvered along pock-marked Magazine Street to a laundromat that was always packed, mostly with hispanic construction workers who had flooded the area to make money cleaning, repairing and rebuilding. I’d park the car on a side street, mostly because I had a sticker on the car that identified me with the Corps of Engineers, an organization that was none too loved.
Armed with iced coffee from P.J.’s and a copy of New Orlean’s Times-Picayune. I was in the midst of one of the places where we are all the same. There are few hierarchical distinctions in a laundromat. You got dirty clothes; I got dirty clothes. We haul them in garbage bags, laundry baskets or even suitcases. To get around this unique world, we rely upon the coin of the realm, the almighty quarter. We may come in with a mess of waded up clothes, but we leave with them freshly scented and neatly folded, all set for another week (or so).
This sometime-Sunday ritual, then as now, is a lot like church. We come dragging a week’s worth (or more) of the messiness of life, wanting to have it washed away so we can face the week ahead with hope and optimism. We want the stains of our mistakes removed without leaving a spot. We want to leave with things neat, folded and sweet smelling. Theology in a laundromat? Maybe it is a stretch, but at least I leave with clean undies.