I've often said that a defining point in a couple's relationship* is the point where they agree to do laundry together. It's a mix of the mundane and the sweet. The couple is so enamored with each other that they will choose to accompany the other even during a stunningly boring chore that most despise.
There are of course division points within this Waterloo. One is: Laundry Together, Separate Loads. This is safest. It even makes sense: both have this task to do-- why not do it at the same time at the laundromat, and get it done all at once?
(This can pretty much only be accomplished at laundromats. Except for the expense and the hassle of loading up the car and unloading the car, I kind of miss laundromats. When I was a bachelor, I would wear every stitch I owned before finally loading up about five or six loads of laundry to the coin-operated laundromat, and getting it all done-- a month's worth at least-- in about two hours.)
But the Separate Loads method will inevitably evolve into Laundry Together, Shared Loads. Your laundry partner will have just a small number of whites, or delicates, and there you are with your own half-load, and it will make perfect sense to share a load, even if you never leave so much as toothbrush at your Significant Other's residence. Don't want to waste another buck. It's simple economics.
But that way leads to sorting laundry together, which involves sorting dirty laundry together. Friends, I've long advocated not living together until married ("if you're going to act like you're married, get married."), partly because of the issue of sorting dirty laundry. It's an intimacy that some people aren't ready to face, the first time they have to reach for the Spray 'N' Wash to get out a skid mark from their belovéd's drawers. A marriage contract can provide the necessary ballast.
So, back in October, 1991, I met this young lady, and we started going out. We spent a lot of time together, and by spring of '92, we were in that place in the relationship where we did laundry together.
One night, we were at the big coin laundry across the street from the university. My girlfriend and I had about 4 loads, and we got them all fired up. We decided to walk over to the grocery store and get some items for that night's supper while they washed. When we got back, we found that our washers were empty. As I looked around, I was approached by the laundry attendant. He was very direct, and slow. I put his IQ in either the Very Low Normal range, or the High Functioning Retarded range.
"You had not come back when your washers ended, so I took your laundry out," he said.
"Okayyy...?" I responded hesitantly. His shirt was buttoned to the top button and was tucked in carefully. His head was crew-cut with a zero-guard all the way around his head. His tone was initially a little bit accusatory, as if I had left a baby unattended. But he had done something nice for us.
"I put it in those dryers. Now you have to pay for that, and there is a bundling fee," he explained. "You can pick it up in an hour. I will have it ready." He wouldn't shift his gaze from my eyes. Most people don't look directly into your eyes like that.
"Okay... what, um, what's the price for this?" I asked. It seemed kind of presumptuous of him to have taken our laundry out and started up his "service" so quickly, as we had only just missed being back in time. The laundry was certainly not full, and there were machines idle. But something about his manner made us feel like he would snap if argued about. The laundry was kept neat, and he seemed to feel that everything was Just So.
"It is by the pound. I can not tell you how much it is until it is dried and weighed. There are the prices up there," he said, pointing behind him to a board with a schedule of prices for laundry done and folded, by the pound. It got a little more economical for each progressive weight by 5 lbs. Even as he pointed, he kept staring at my eyes. It was kind of creepy.
My girlfriend and I decided to just go to the video rental store next door to pick out a movie while we waited. We surely couldn't afford to eat out, now. (We were both so very poor.)
When we returned, my new simple friend was hard at work bundling laundry. We sat on some molded plastic chairs in a corner, and watched the inane show on the television hanging from the ceiling. Besides my girlfriend, me, and Our New Special Friend, there were only some immigrant ladies and their small children, who ran around unsupervised.
As I paid the guy to get our laundry out of laundry jail, one of the ladies that we had sat with began demanding of her children, in increasingly more frantic tones, "Felipe? Donde es Felipe? Donde es su hermano? Mi bambino!" (Where's Philip? Where is your brother? My baby!)
Everyone began looking around for the baby. I had earlier seen a very little baby sleeping in a car seat/carrier earlier, and was thinking of that kid. He had been mostly wrapped up in blankets.
At just this time, one of the laundry loads got off-center, and began to slam the drum against the housing. Thud. Thud. Thud.
My girlfriend and I looked at each other with wide eyes as we heard "Mi bambino! Donde es mi bambino?!?" and boom-boom-boom, as our New Special Friend stepped into my consciousness and said, "Sir, that will be nine dollars and forty nine cents."
"Boom! Boom! Boom!" went the off-centered washer. Someone must have put in a heavy blanket, or a quilt, or...
"Sir, I am going to have to ask you for correct change." I thought about that pile of blankets, with the baby in it.
Our jaws had gone a little slack before they finally found Felipe playing out in the parking lot. Turned out he was about three.
I married that girl on the last day of February, 1998. And even now, my wife of 12 years (as of Sunday) and I can still make each other laugh by exclaiming, "'Felipe!' Boom! Boom! Boom!"
See what doing laundry together can get you into?
* I almost said "relationship between a man and a woman," but I suppose homosexual relationships have this, too. But then, I'm not so sure. There are vast gaps in my knowledge.