Laundry, like love, transcends cultures. It could even be cosmic. If there's life on other planets, somebody's doing laundry there, too. Where there's life, there's laundry.
I've done laundry domestically and internationally. It's been a strained relationship at best, even when I lived in France, where things mundane, like eating, take on poetic and grandiose proportions. Though doing laundry sounds elegant in French (faire la linge), the potential art of it is lost on me. The simple beauty of the interplay of suds and soaked clothes will not reduce me to tears. But the thought of actually having to do the laundry will. It takes up time I could be spending doing something more enjoyable.
Laundry is a chore, like other housework. For me, it's the final frontier. Especially when you have to go somewhere to do it.
Since moving to San Francisco, I've apparently taken a step backward in this department. In the past decade I haven't lived anywhere with an on-site washer and dryer. To complicate matters, my closet space is at a premium, free time is a rare commodity, and the extent of my wardrobe is way out of proportion to that of my storage space and obligations.
It took me a while to figure out that I can pay someone else to do my laundry.
I felt guilty at first about not doing my own laundry, especially when I thought about my mom, who did laundry for six people until past midnight on weeknights. She also had a full-time job (and on-site washer and dryer - big difference!).
But my predominantly Asian neighborhood features "leave the washing to us" laundry places on practically every other block - more prolific than a certain coffee-shop chain I could mention. It seemed only reasonable after a while to take part in the culture around me, and that culture includes wonderful Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, and Korean restaurants as well. I can eat while having my laundry done and call it soaking up some local color, guilt-free.
My first and ongoing foray into having my laundry done has been exclusively at the Saigon Launderite a few blocks from my apartment. The first time I brought in about three weeks' worth of laundry. The lady there asked, "You have big family?" Well, yes, but they happen to live back East, and it's just me out here. Her question was the start of a continuing dialogue, a neighborhood connection, and a growing affection for having my laundry done.
This lady took an interest in my life ("Are you working?" she asked, when I was temping). And though her English was limited, I eventually learned a little about her family. The best part for me was that the laundry was always organized and folded neatly, and there were no missing socks. Having socks in matching pairs was enough to make carting my laundry down and up a San Francisco hill totally worthwhile.
THE Launderite has changed hands, but the neighborliness of it has only increased. Today, when I brought 42 pounds of dirty laundry (two-plus weeks' worth), I left to do my errands with a cozy feeling that at first I didn't bother to categorize.
When I got stuck downtown with no bus in sight, I called the Launderite and asked if they'd be open a little later than 6 p.m., and, if so, could I pick up my laundry then? The lady answered, "You have 42 pounds?"
"Yes," I replied.
"We wait for you," she said. And to top it off, "You have purple robe with ripped zipper? We sewed zipper for you."
I said thanks and hung up. When I got to the laundry they were waiting for me. With the 42 pounds of laundry. And big smiles.
As I left, it hit me like a flash: I was right at the intersection of love and laundry. It does exist, the way life on other planets might, and I had experienced it.
It felt like a warm hug in what can be a cold city. It could only be the beginning of a beautiful friendship and lots of clean clothes. And if this really takes off, I may go where I haven't gone before: I may find myself doing my own laundry willingly.
Now that would be out of this world!