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Friday, March 12, 2010

The Miracle of Laundry

I knew they were dying. It was just a matter of time. They had been faithfully serving me for almost 9 years, even though they were both 19. They were suffering, and from the noises they made, they were obviously in pain.

So they are dead now, but not yet buried. I disconnected Amana, the dryer, from life support, called it, cleaned out the vent hose, and replaced it with a scrappy 2-year-old named Maytag Neptune. I snagged it from a wealthy couple in a gated community for $250. Thank you, Craigslist. It purred and dried a load of towels in 40 minutes, something that took the late Amana close to four hours to do.

Meanwhile, the washer, Miss Whirlpool, had been bleeding small amounts of water, so I was thinking of calling the repairman to take a look at her. This need intensified once the “new” Maytag Neptune dryer started making the sound of several thousand bowling balls being dropped from the ceiling of the Republican national convention.

So the repairman came out, quickly fixed Maytag Neptune and felt up underneath Miss Whirlpool washer and proclaimed her terminal. She obviously heard that, because 48 hours later, she stopped spinning and dropped dead.

Forty-nine hours later, Bungee, in one of her vengeful PMS moods, jumped up on our bed, vomited and peed on the heavy, king-sized comforter. And the sheets. And the mattress pad. And the pillow top foam pad underneath that.

So there we sat with a pile of laundry stench and no way to clean it. Bungee, meanwhile, basked in a lounge chair by the pool, smoking her Terrytons using a long, Marlene Dietrich cigarette holder. At the same time she sipped from her pitcher full of Long Island iced teas, munched on cucumber sandwich points and pawed through centerfolds of back issues of Playbitch magazine.

When Saturday rolled around, neighbors started calling the police because there was an awful dead smell coming from our house, so we relented and threw the big soiled pile in the back of the truck and drove to a coin laundry.

I grew up in a laundromat and hated it. Once I turned 16 and got my driver’s license, laundry duties for our household were assigned to me. For two or three hours a week, I sat in a hot room and observed the public laundry behavior of Homo sapiens, if you want to call them that.

Sadly, the laundromat has not changed much in 40 years. The last time I used a public washer, it cost 75 cents to do a load. It is now $4.25. That’s the only difference. The aura of the inhabitants of the coin laundry is identical with the laundries of 40 years ago. Back then, there was always the prototypical single Mom with two toddlers and a Chevy Vega. These days she’s a single mom of two with a sputtering Saturn. Then and now, she smokes generic cigarettes while screaming things at her children, such as:

  • I’m gonna tear you up when we get home!
  • All right, but don’t you ask me to buy you anything else. Today or ever.
  • Don’t you touch that, or I’ll cut off your hand.
  • When we get home, you’re going to spend a two-hour timeout inside the locked Coleman cooler.
I decided then and there that I’ve worked hard all my life, and one of the things that comes with a steady paycheck is the option to decide if you want to spend your weekends witnessing child abuse. I decided that I didn’t care if I had to pay full price for a new washer, but I was not going back to a laundromat. I’d cart my laundry to a creek somewhere and beat shirts against a submerged rock before I would start collecting quarters again.

With clean bed coverings back in place and the bedroom door locked to prevent further doggie violations, we set out to find a new washer. So for the next week I used a nit comb on Craigslist, searching for the perfect affordable cleaning machine. I made an offer on a snazzy KitchenAid monster. In her return e-mail, and the seller told me she would call me on Saturday with directions so we could come for a pre-adoption interview. She did not give her phone number.

On Saturday, after three desperate e-mails from me, KitchenAid lady did not contact me. Laundry was piling up, so we actually had to leave the house and shop for a new one. The best we could find for a new washer at a store was $750.

After physically shopping, we came back home, and I did some virtual shopping. I didn’t find any better online deals, and the laundry was threatening to take over the house. So I finally let go of the rope. I unhooked Miss Whirlpool, and decided it would be wise to replace the faucets, which were also leaking. I attached and turned the pipe wrench, and the whole fixture snapped off, copper pipe and all.

I sent Other Bill back to Sears to buy the $750 Duet. I stayed home, seething, waiting for the plumber to show up. On a Sunday. $265 and a couple hours later, I had new faucets and a $750 receipt for the Duet.

“The bad news,” Other Bill announced, “is that they can’t deliver it for three weeks.”

I went into the garage to find something sharp. I needed to cut myself in several places.

“THREE WEEKS!” I, according to Other Bill, yelled. “Wasn’t the whole point of this to—”

“I don’t mind going to the domestic violence laundromat for three weeks,” he said.

Biting through my teeth and holding a bag of garbage that contained not even one rusty razor blade, I spun around and marched into the alley to dump the bag in the big can.

But then something strange happened. The gray clouds parted and a bright ray of light shined down across the alley. I heard Gregorian chants. The light pointed to—yes!—my neighbor’s Maytag washer. It had a sign on it that read: “Still Works.” Just like the “Eat Me” cake in Alice in Wonderland.

It was a miracle from God. I called Other Bill into the alley to witness it. We stood there with our jaws dropped and our eyeballs Marty Feldmanized.

I ran to the garage, jumped into the truck and drove it down the alley, where Other Bill, armed with semi-automatic weapons, guarded this new miracle, which we named Baby Jesus Maytag. True, it was still a top loader. But it was bigger than Miss Whirlpool, plus it had bleach and detergent dispensers. I hooked up Baby Jesus, washed a half load with minimal holy water, and he worked perfectly and quietly. He was, after all, Jesus; what else would you expect?

Other Bill called Sears and canceled the order for the $750 Duet.

Meanwhile, I was planning on starting to attend church.

The next day, lo and behold, KitchenAid Craigslist lady sent me an e-mail, apologizing for failing to call me back on Saturday. Translated into Craigslist-ese, this means: The person who offered more money was a no-show. She also asked if I was still interested in the washer.

I started to doubt my religious beliefs. True, Baby Jesus Maytag could wash a mini load of clothes, but he hadn’t yet been tested under tougher conditions. Could he handle the Super Capacity load? Could he turn rinse water into Moet? If he was so perfect, why was he was a water hog and not energy efficient? I e-mailed Craigslist lady back and told her I’d have an answer for her within a few hours.

I stuffed Baby Jesus to the gills with towels and anything dirty that I could find. I set the water level to the max. The agitator moved about as fast as the Fickle Finger of Fate Award, for those who can remember that far back. For those who don’t, let’s just say that with a full load, Jesus looked like a nose hair trimmer powered him. Jesus wasn’t washing. He was soaking in it. Once again, I was disappointed by religion.

He also leaked a bit. Fortunately, the puddle looked nothing like the Virgin Mary; otherwise I would have had to go find a theatrical agent for the machine.

Several hours later we found our way back from the rich side of town, toting a massive KitchenAid monster made of concrete, covered in stainless steel, and filled with an IBM mainframe computer and its own water heater.

At this time we had five (count ’em 5; V) laundry machines in our garage: Our original broken washer and dryer; the Maytag Neptune dryer, Baby Jesus Maytag, and the KitchenAid Hulk.
A neighbor walking her dog came by and inquired, “Are you guys opening a laundromat?”

After it got really dark and the neighborhood got quiet, we loaded the Baby Jesus and Miss Maytag into the truck and idled down the alley with just the parking lights on. When we got to Jerusalem, also known as the house across the alley, we lay Jesus back in the manger and then dumped Miss Whirlpool across from him, behind our fence.

Now we were down to a washer and dryer that worked, and a broken dryer, which would have to stay in the garage until the next bulk pickup in a month. The only place to put it blocked a door.

But the next day, I received my salvation. Sure enough, another alley miracle occurred. I heard a scavenger rattling around back there. He had a pickup truck full of scrap metal, broken fertilizer spreaders, and Baby Jesus. Once again the sunrays beamed down and Gregorian chants played in Dolby sound. He was one step ahead of the city’s garbage truck, and he was clearing a path in the bed of the truck for Miss Whirlpool. I went out and helped him make room for it. Any man whom can singlehandedly lift a washing machine into a truck usually is very well built, and he was no exception. The truck was packed tall and over the tailgate.

“Do you want a dryer?” I asked him.

“You have a dryer too?”

“Yeah, pull around front. If you think there’s room, I’ll pull it out for you.”

“Oh, there’s room,” said the muscular Fred Sanford.

So at last, peace, order, and cleanliness, next to Godliness, have at last been restored to Bill and Other Bill’s Obsess-O-Mat, and I’m thinking of taking communion on Sunday.

Creative Commons License by Bill Wiley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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