The Laundromat Ethos

3 Sep

There’s nothing like the reality check of going to your local laundromat.

If you’re like me, from time to time an unusual washing need or some other Murphy’s Law-type situation precipitates the need to patronize this, should I say, iconic phenomenon that is the washeteria. Now THAT is life in STEREO– unattended, screaming toddlers… the Jerry Springer Show in the background, and the droning sounds of 40 dissonant dryers.

That Laundromat Ethos– one of the few remaining outposts of genuine American society, is a case study for rugged individualism and a “come-as-you-are” culture.

Meanwhile, outside the laundromat-induced ethos, most other places in society spend disproportionate amounts of time in a shrewd form of image management. You know– instead of the Washeteria WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) Mentality, most people in our society work overtime manipulating and veiling the reality of who they are– and what their lives are actually like. That’s true even (if not especially) in American Churchianity (which, itself, is another post for another day).

Meaning [in everyday society] instead of people knowing one another at near-face value, it’s as if the average person’s Public Image is more of a construct– a facade that has been carefully built by pushing perceptions of perfection, as we possibly sought to delude ourselves and others about the reality of our human brokenness… or the fact that we live in a fractured world whose brokenness affects us with all-too frequent regularity.

But like I said, not so at your local washeteria. It’s a wild and wooly experience everytime one has occasion to go (second only to Wal-Mart). People are there from all walks of life: the almost homeless guy; the co-habitation crowd; the bachelor-stag dude; the college crowd; the single mom; the middle-class-middle-aged divorcee; extras from the set of ‘Deliverance’, and left-over relics of the goth and grunge eras.

But the cool thing is that– it’s weirdness notwithstanding– at least there’s no pretension there. After all, it’s impossible to bust a pose when you’re toting around a broken, pink-plastic laundry-basket full of soiled clothing, bent metal hangers, and a formerly-wet-now-dried-but-still-clumpy generic brand of detergent.

Now, one could suggest that laundr-o-mats (it’s fun to hyphenate it) are statistically-disproportionate with dysfuntional people, but I may counter-argue that their populous represents a legitimate sample or cross-section of society, only with its unveiled and unretouched idiosyncrasies.

Truth be told, I feel “at home” and “uncomfortable” in both places: The real world and your average laundromat. But the laundromat is at least a nice break from society’s fishbowl of expectations and scrutiny if, for no other reason, than the fact that nobody “looks for you” or expects to see you there. I guess that’s why I don’t mind going every now and then. Like today, of all times, on Labor Day. (Don’t ask).

The moral of the story? Well, this is probably more freelance rambling than anything– my “bored-while-waiting-for-my-stuff-to-dry” observation of the sociological nature of a particular place that I seldom frequent– but I guess there is a take away to chew on: It’s that there’s something precious about going to a place where we see others and they see us as we really are– unshaven, unguarded, unpretentious, and unashamed: viz., “Just as I am.”

Life would great if we had a balance of those two: The Laundromat Ethos of Authenticity and a Prudent Posturing of the Populist Public. Then we’d have just the right amount of appropriate discretion and of honest self-disclosure.


5 Responses to “The Laundromat Ethos”

  1. Rae September 7, 2007 at 3:42 am #

    Cardoza, keep up the good work. I love it and look forward to reading your stuff!


  2. Rae September 7, 2007 at 3:48 am #

    Hey Laundromats are awesome, second only to wal-mart? I might have to argue with that one. I mean, the mall has some pretty strange characters too. Trust me, I have been around the block a few times dude, I think the mall might be number one. Then again, I suppose you would not see the different mixes of people together, you would only see the set apart groups. I don’t know, but just out of curiosity, what is your argument with that one? Would the mall rank up there on your list? Or would you stick it down at number three or four???Actually, this is a test to see if you actually read the comments I leave behind for you. I suppose I will find out! Catch your act later Cardoza!RaeofSunshine08


  3. Anonymous November 12, 2007 at 9:45 pm #

    This is very strange, Cardoza. Funny, but really weird. I have never actually thought about it before……………..actually, I didn’t think anyone really would. Um……..which one are you? Are you the almost homeless guy? πŸ˜€


  4. mrsannawagler March 5, 2009 at 3:23 am #

    Hi Fred, I miss you. I am enjoying your blog. πŸ™‚


  5. Lawrence March 9, 2009 at 6:37 am #

    hmm this probably explains why people look at me funny and do not talk to me.the whole “unshaven, unguarded, unpretentious, unashamed” deal describes my natural state and highlights my unawareness to outwardly posturing.i can only now imagine how i was perceived at a top ten university. everyone putting their best foot forward and me showing up in athlete sweats (for the 3rd consecutive day), uncombed hair, unshaven, and slouching in my seat with my arms crossed. amazing sight i’m sure. sadly this was me at church today.


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