Monday, January 23, 2017

A launderer's tale

published August 7, 2016
First, pick a day. If you can, try to stay away from weekends and holidays. The laundromat is guaranteed to be full by then, and the washing and drying machines will be stretched to near-breaking point. You’d have to wait for your number to be called, and then you can be sure you would not finish within the two-hour window you have set for yourself. 
Most likely, you’d be laundering your own clothes—no one else’s. Most of the people in the laundromat are students from the nearby university, or young professionals. Your other family members may or may not be with you, but even if they are, chances are they would get their own stuff on their own machine. Gone are the days when you tossed your clothes into a communal hamper for the househelp to wash, hang, fold and farm back out to your respective closets.
If you’re missing a shirt, or a pair of jeans, or a sock, then blame nobody yourself. If you accidentally leave food or coins or, horrors, lipstick, in your pockets, prepare for the dire consequences.
Remember to bring your own detergent and fabric conditioner. There are some for sale at the laundromat, sure, but they are priced more steeply than the ones at the supermarket. Measure exactly how much you will need given the volume of your current load. Too little, and you don’t wash enough, Too much, and you would have to pay for extra rinsing time. 
Choose the settings for your machine. Is your load light, medium, or heavy? The machine can accommodate up two weeks’ worth of clothing of a reasonably well-groomed person. The heavy setting—34 minutes—is always ideal so all traces of soap could be rinsed out. It’s not a long time to wait. 
There’s aircon, there’s wifi, and comfortable pink-and-white couches for you and your fellow launderers. You can get lost in a book or spend time on social media. Ponder the things you did and did not do. If you’re lucky, the employees on duty will play songs that you yourself might have on your playlist. If not, make sure you have your earphones with you. But don’t get too lost—you have to put in the fabric conditioner at the designated pod, ideally with 16 minutes remaining of the washing time. This is optimal, according to the staff.
Get hold of your pushcart or basket and be ready when your time is up. Gather your articles of clothing and when you think you’re done, look again and run your hands along the inside of the machine to make sure nothing is left or stuck inside. Try not to blush when the fellow beside you stares at everything you wore over the past week or so, from the most overused jeans to the most intimate, delicate article. Think of how his or her own basket contains a story, as well. 
Move your basket to the dryer —spacious machines with big windows. The heaviest settings —this time, 29 minutes—are also the best. The price differences are just 10 pesos anyway for every five minutes more. When you go “heavy,” there is no chance your clothes, even your bedsheets, would come out still damp in some places. 
Be amazed at how you can observe, through the large round windows of the dryer, your clothes tumbling upon each other —as if in a dance­— as the barrel inside turns clockwise. Wait for the next few minutes to pass by. You can get yourself Malaysian coffee from a Belgian waffle stand just outside the laundromat. Say hi to a friend who just happened to drive by. Get yourself some milk tea from next door. Finish your book, upload your Facebook status, or even write an editorial for your newspaper. Plan your week or reconcile your finances. 
Before you know it, the minutes are up. Get your basket back, open the door of the dryer and try not to hurt yourself taking out each article of clothing from the oven-like contraption. Do not just toss the clothes into the basket; they become crumpled. Save yourself the trouble of ironing and neatly stack them against each other. Be enraptured at how fragrant, fresh, hot, and new everything seems.
Finally, push your basket onto the row of tables and begin the arduous task of folding the clothes. As you fold, remember to separate the tops from the bottoms, the towels from  the sheets, and everything in between. Put them back into the bag you used to haul them in. Be meticulous, so that all you have to do when you get back to your house is to put each group to where it belongs. 
Stare at your neat closet and at the now-empty personal hamper, and look forward to the next time you can get your clothes clean—and your mind clear. 
adellechua@gmail.com

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