No one seemed to mind when I stood in the appliance section at Lowe's and lovingly caressed a porcelain-white washer and dryer. The pair felt clean and smooth, like when I run my tongue across my teeth after a trip to the dentist.
A 3.6-cubic-foot Whirlpool Cabrio top-load washer with Smart Sensors, Precision Dispense and Vibration Control, and its mate, a 7.4-cubic-foot capacity dryer with Wrinkle Shield Plus and an AccuDry System: In 15 years of marriage, my husband and I have never owned a washer/ dryer. Now we do.
Our previous rentals came with these appliances so essential to middle-class living: the newlywed house, where I used to hang out with them in the basement when the tornado sirens sounded. Our second home, where the washer was wedged between the dishwasher and the stove while the dryer was in another room next to the exercise bike. And the odd duplex: "It has bars on the windows, the upstairs neighbors are loons, but it has a washer and dryer adjacent to each other in a closet with folding doors. Where do we sign?"
However, since moving to Durham we have been washer-and-dryerless. So when the pleasant Lowe's associate told us we'd have to wait two weeks for delivery, I replied, "We've already waited five and a half years."
But now we must say goodbye to the culture of the Laundromat, and I'll miss it—a little. We spent many a weekend morning at Durham Deluxe Cleaners on Martin Luther King Boulevard, where the proprietor has impeccably groomed white hair and perfectly pressed clothes. I don't know if he does his laundry there, but he is a walking testament to clean clothing.
The Laundromat reveals our innermost lives in that it requires us to display our intimate belongings. From the 50-pound washer a woman extracts a prominent thong; in Dryer No. 83, wadded bedsheets and lacy brassieres roll around together. It's more than I need to know. On the folding table, I built a fortress of socks around such items.
Durham Deluxe Cleaners has a large Latino clientele, and the flyers on the bulletin boards are often written in Spanish and advertise handyman services, child care, cheap apartments and get-rich-quick schemes. Some Latino men, judging from their befuddlement over the amount of soap to use, are single. Their work clothes, the knees encrusted with dirt, turn the water in the washer to mud.
The violent arcade games bother me. I once saw a young Latino man, assuming the role of a sniper, hoist a fake gun onto his shoulder and "shoot" at a figure in the desert where, in real life, gunfire breaks out between border agents and immigrants. Not to be paranoid, but a hot, busy, claustrophobic Laundromat, where people are jostling for carts and kids are screaming, is no place to give people ideas about shooting things.
I made my last trip to the Laundromat at 8:30 on a Thursday morning. I chose that time because I knew it would be empty. A young woman wiped lint from the machines. I folded my clothes in peace, comforted by the thrum of the dryer.