give no quarter

For six or seven years now, I have been dependent on Quarters to maintain my reputation as a wearer of clean clothes. Before that, when I lived in Lincoln, I used to walk to my parents’ house, borrow their car, drive back to my apt. to get my laundry, and do my laundry at their house. I’m pathetic.
Chicago is much too far away for that maneuver though, so once I moved there it was curtains–I mean quarters for me. The first year I lived there, my building had wash/dry machines in it, which was convenient although very difficult to find a time when they were not in use. When I moved, I just sort of assumed there would be machines in my new building; but I was so wrong.

From then on, the sight of me airing my dirty laundry down 53rd street on the way to the laundromat became a common sight. Well, not all that common, I did it as infrequently as possible.
In theory, things like buses and laundromats make sense to me–individual ownership of large, expensive machines seems a little odd to me, different in scale but not in concept to us each having our own space shuttle. (Which shouldn’t we have, by now? We’re well into the 21st century, what’s the hold-up? The Jetsons promised me so much more out of the future.)
In practice, of course, owning cars and wash/dryers onself makes life a lot more pleasant, which is why we all work our butts off to have them. But still, it feels churlish to complain about having to go to the laundromat when you think of our ancestors, cleaning one of the two outfits they owned during their lifetimes by whacking them with rocks. (Having washed my dirty dig clothes by hand in the sink last year at Ashkelon has also given me new appreciation for the institution of the Laundromat; as did the hotel laundry service, which charged about $40 for the equivalent of one load of laundry).
There was a laundromat a few blocks away from me called “Launderkoin,” which we immediately began calling Das Launderkoin. It was one of several establishments in Hyde Park with Germanlike compound names, like the art shop called “Artwerk.” The laundromat I used did not have nearly such a kicky name; it was called “Coin-Operated Laundry.”
Most of the time, going to the laundromat wasn’t so bad. It was too loud and busy to really study in there, so it gave me an excuse to read non-school-related books. Although you were supposed to stay and attend your laundry, I frequently went grocery-shopping or went to get a bagel and coffee while my clothes swished around. Most people at the laundromat were nice, and helpful when I was stumped by some aspect of the machines, the instructions for which were often obliterated by years of use. I tried to be helpful in turn, by explaining to newcomers the difference between the Wascomat Junior and the Wascomat Senior ($1.25).
But there were the infrequent unpleasant Laundromat experiences that made me reluctant to go there, lest today be the day another Hyde Park Experience manifests itself at Coin-Operated Laundry. These included: screaming children (I don’t know what would be more boring to a child than two hours spent sitting in a room that contains absolutely nothing of interest to children), people selling random objects (usually rapidly ejected by the Laundromat Attendant), people askign for money (same as previous), chatty people (old ladies, fine; random men, no thanks), and the memorable occasion a homeless person decided to follow me down the street and hit on me in the laundromat (he was ejected in about 2 seconds by the Laundromat Attendant. Thanks, Laundromat Attendant).
You see, all I want is a quiet life. If I need to do my laundry, I just want to do my laundry. I don’t want to meet new people, I don’t want to experience new and bizarre situations, I don’t want to get any insight into the lives of my fellow community members. I want clean clothes, that’s all. Of course, life is not like that. In life, you always get more than just clean clothes: that’s my motto. The Laundromat just makes that more obvious.
Now, I once again have laundry facilities in my building. But getting quarters to feed their hungry maws has gotten more tricky (no change machines here). At first, I got rolls of quarters from Customer Services at various stores; then one of them told me they weren’t going to do that any more. Then, I got quarters from the bank for a while, but these were full of Canadians, as much as $3 worth out of a $10 roll. They would reluctantly replace these, if I remembered to ask. The last time that happened, my teller called out to another that I wanted the Canadian q’s to be replaced with Americans; the other teller said she could do that “if she wanted.” Excuse me? She gets to “choose” whether to give me legal currency or useless metal discs in return for legal tender? I’m having flashbacks to a run-in I once had with the Chicago post office, who informed me that it was up to the individual mail carrier’s discretion whether to deliver my mail or not.
So, now I have started marking out every change maker I see in town, in case it’s needed. I practically cackle with glee whenever I get quarters in change. Maybe that’s the real reason that store wouldn’t give me quarters any more: all the cackling was scaring off the customers.
What will life be like for me when I have my own washer/dryer? In some ways, less convenient: I won’t be able to do 4 loads of laundry at once any more. Yet, I long for the day when quarters are nothing to me but annoyingly heavy money that I always forget to use at the cash register. Won’t that be marvelous.

2 Responses to “give no quarter”

  1. KDC says:

    Great post – I too, felt churlish. Until we got here and purchased a brand-spankin’ new washer and dryer and are getting our laughs just giggling over how much time and money we will save in the long run by JUST GOING DOWNSTAIRS to do laundry. You’re right about the 4 loads of laundry bummer, and Kim-Loi will convince Val in vain to air-dry our clothes. But it’s very, very nice.
    BTW, Wascomat Senior was way more than $1.25 by the time we moved away – I think closer to $3.50.

  2. michele says:

    Congratulations on your new laundry equipment! That’s pretty awesome. Hope everything is going well in your new home!
    Yes, the W. Sr. went up in price from $3 to $3.50 or so while I was there. $1.25 is the approx difference between Wascos Jr. & Sr…I think. We have only one size here at the apt. complex, so no more economizing by doing massive quantities of laundry in a single load.

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