I’m 33 Years Old & I Do Laundry With Quarters, (& Other Injustices Suffered By Single Women)

Pairs well with, Trashcan, by Delta Spirit

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I’m 33 years old and I do laundry with quarters. There are no laundry facilities in my building. There is a small laundromat half a block away from my home and it is the primary reason I rented my apartment. Well, that and its position on the top floor of a four-floor walk-up building solving the problems of both not enjoying the sound of feet above my head and having a wiggly lower body in need of toning. I use communal machines that smell of Tide, the Boones Farm of laundry detergents. Not the organic, lavender-laced delicacy I prefer to cleanse my clothing and linens with. I’m always concerned my underpants are collecting residue of that ungodly swill.

I rise at 7:00 am every Saturday morning to descend four flights of stairs, walk half a block to the laundromat, and claim a washing machine. If I wait until 7:30, the large, mean, greedy woman from my neighborhood will have already arrived and placed no more or fewer than seven items of clothing in no fewer than five machines, thus occupying the entire laundromat, ensuring I have no clean underwear for the week and have to go to Target to buy more, and making my four flight walk back up the stairs with dirty laundry the stuff of passionate, burning wrath. As if the entire laundromat belongs to her, I get a look from her like I am somehow invading her space for walking through the door of a public facility. I get up at 7:00 am every Saturday morning so that I don’t go to prison for assaulting this woman.

I can’t do my laundry on Sunday, because there is a mildly insane man that considers the laundromat to be his own personal bar, like Cheers. Heaven help you if you make eye contact. He talks to anyone in the laundromat nonstop, without asking questions, simply speaking at them for hours on end. He stays at the laundromat for the majority of the day and there is no way to avoid him. The sweet women who run the laundromat won’t ask him to leave, and neither would I, as it’s clearly something he enjoys and looks forward to. He’s not mean or violent, just a talker. But I kind of hate him. After my first two years in my apartment the sound of his voice was so offensive to me that I willingly gave up my Saturday mornings for the foreseeable future, just to avoid the sound.

Many people in New York simply send their laundry out. It isn’t expensive and I’m told it’s very convenient, though I don’t see how. I can’t send mine out, because most of my shirts and sweaters can’t go in the dryer, and I haven’t the money to waste on ruined clothes. I don’t trust the laundry service employees to know that Free People sweaters shrink to the size of Underoos if you dry them in the dryer. Also what if they use Tide? How is the majority of a major metropolis also comfortable with strangers touching their undergarments? I don’t need a woman I’ve never met silently judging the thong I should have thrown out six months ago. She doesn’t know my life.

So every Saturday morning it’s me, my laundry, and my quarters. A load of laundry costs $5.50 all told, and three trips up my four flights of stairs. I don’t sit at the laundromat while my laundry is washing or drying. It’s a risk, sure, but sometimes I play life fast and loose. I get a lot done between the first rinse and the cool down, that’s productivity time for me. Waking up at 7am on a Saturday to play Candy Crush on my phone while the Ukrainian ladies inspect each article of clothing they own before they place it in a washing machine and before they place it in a dryer will send me off the ledge of insanity. I’d rather come back to my apartment and get my cleaning done for the week.

Three trips, four flights, fifty six stairs each time, 168 stairs climbed total. That is of course if all goes according to plan. If I forget the detergent or even one quarter, things really start to get interesting. When I moved in, the broker who took $2,200 of my money for three hours of work on his part told me I’d get used to the stairs. I’ve lived here three years. You never get used to the stairs. I don’t have cellulite though, so…bright side.

The other laundromat patrons are, apart from the aforementioned nuisances, pretty average. Some of them let their children use the narrow corridor that makes up the laundromat as their own personal playground, but that’s fine. I don’t want children and the shrill shrieks of five year old girls at 7:36 in the morning do nothing but reinforce my convictions. Most of the time I complete the laundering process free of incident, aside from the time a man reached his arms in my dryer and started touching my underwear. When I yelled at him to stop he said, “I was just trying to help you, dumb bitch.” But that was just once. On one occasion the clothing in the dryer next to mine was stolen, by a woman who simply walked into the laundromat and pretended the clothes were hers. But she didn’t take mine. So overall it hasn’t been too bad.

I don’t do my laundry on weeknights because there’s never a guarantee of machine availability. That and I’m always exhausted. The ability of sitting at a desk for ten hours to drain me of all physical energy has confounded me for years. After work I can barely throw ingredients together to make dinner, stick my head under the intermittently strong shower nozzle that cannot commit to a temperature, and fall into bed. The idea of 168 stairs is less likely than my nextdoor neighbor being the Messiah. I’ve heard my next door neighbor and trust me, she ain’t Jesus.

I’ll often try to come home early on Fridays. This is never tough to do, as the workweeks typically remove any desire to “party” on a Friday night. People who go out on Fridays after work and absolutely rage baffle me. Your weekend hasn’t started yet and you’re already fucking it over? Hope the Snapchats were worth it, review them while you’re hung over for the next 24 hours and let me know. Saturday brunches or Thursday evening dinner plans are my preference. Friday nights are really for peasants, anyway. Plus, the idea of going an entire week without clean clothing or sheets is enough motivation to get me in bed at a decent hour. I don’t understand people that don’t have to wash their sheets once a week. If I had better access to laundry facilities I’d wash my sheets twice or three times a week, planet Earth be damned. Sometimes I’ll visit a gentleman’s home and sleep on his sheets. The frequency with which a man washes his sheets correlates directly to how many minutes I spend in his bed. I’ve seen sheets that have made me have sex standing up, I’ll leave it at that.

The real struggle of course is the situation itself. I am 33 years old and still doing laundry with quarters, which I have been doing since age 18. I haven’t progressed. I’ve earned degrees, acquired increasingly good jobs and better titles, have started savings and investment accounts and have learned the basics of home repairs. But I am at a standstill in my life and am reminded of that every time I push “start” on a 32-minute wash cycle. Well that’s not true. I’ve learned that it’s much smarter to buy those little pods of detergent rather than schlep a whole bottle up and down the stairs every time, so that’s good news.

I am very close friends with a married couple. They’ve been together seven years, and married for three of those years. There was a lovely little wedding in Williamsburg at an event space typically used for wine tastings, I know the owner. The couple lives in my neighborhood, too. We’re good friends and quite comfortable with each other, they never make me feel like the third wheel. Our openness with each other means we have certainly had the salary conversation. Which means I know they both make roughly the same amount as me. Well, he makes a little more than she and I do because, you know…patriarchy.

In Brooklyn, the kind of apartment you live in is not dictated by the amount of money you make. No single person, even with a steadily increasing six figure job can live in a “nice” apartment alone. In Brooklyn, the niceness of your apartment is determined by whether or not you are single. After a certain age, having a roommate is (and should be) out of the question. I am in my thirties I will not spend my Saturday nights hiding in my room while some medical student makes out with her boyfriend on my couch. Further, having a roommate means paying for a two-bedroom apartment, which increases cost to the point where having a roommate isn’t, overall, worth it. Coupled people share one bedroom apartments and split the rent. Which is why I wish them all ill.

Where the nicest apartment I can live in is dictated by my salary, and how rent-poor I’m willing to be throughout the year, the nicest apartment my married friends can live in is dictated by two salaries. The result is that they each pay less money than me, and get to live in a much nicer space. Which is some bullshit. Their apartment is exactly the same square footage as mine. But it’s got new hardwood floors, where mine are from the 70s with peeling varnish that’s hard and cracking and literally lodges itself into the bottoms of my feet like demonic little splinters. Their home has a dishwasher, and I don’t think I need to tell you that mine does not. My apartment has good natural light from noon to 3:45pm during the months of April through September. That’s the amenities list.

Their building was built in 2014. That means everything is new, everything is nice. Their walls are not duct taped and painted over at the cracks. The giant hole from a previous break in that has also been taped closed and painted over doesn’t exist on their front door, and I can see mine from where I’m sitting right now. Their refrigerator is stainless steel, mine is Sears beige. Their deep, porcelain kitchen sink allows them to fill up large pots of water for boiling pasta or making soup. My shallow sink soaks me in water every time I attempt to wash a spoon.

None of this matters, really. It’s all folly. Truly the one thing their apartment has that turns my heart into a bitter, burned black toaster strudel is the washer and dryer. They have a washer and dryer. In their home. In a little closet in the hallway. They also have a hallway. They do laundry whenever they want. Even on a weeknight. Even when they’re tired after work. Because if they don’t feel like folding the clothes at the end of it all, they can just leave them in the dryer. No one will steal them. They could pretend the dryer is just a round version of a dresser for all I know, it wouldn’t matter. The washer and dryer are theirs.

They’ve progressed. They’ve leveled-up in life and the washer/dryer combo is their trophy. They have the kind of apartment you can have a dinner party in. The layout of their space allows for that, it’s not bent into an L shape like a tenement relic. And if someone spills something at the dinner party, they just put their linen napkins and tablecloths right in the fucking washer and dryer. But they couldn’t do it alone, could they? If their relationship were to crumble, there would be financial ruin and mess and several nights where at least one of them would live on my couch while searching for an apartment and hoping something in my crap-ass building opens up soon. Real estate decisions in this town balance on the edge of Ikea bookshelves. The length of a relationship has been known to directly coincide with the length of a lease.

Coupling up is filled with endless little gifts, isn’t it? Tax breaks, wedding presents, 2-for-1 deals. It isn’t enough that they’ve of course found each other and thusly don’t have to walk this earth alone. They have company. They have love. They don’t have to freeze half of everything they cook because there’s someone else there to eat it fresh. They can go to Target and buy two twelve packs of flavored sparkling water because they have enough arms to evenly and easily distribute the weight on the walk home. They get to take turns making dinner and when that’s all over neither of them have to do dishes because they get to just throw them in yet another privileged appliance. They get all of this, and they get a washer and dryer. Price Is Right contestants don’t know riches like these. They each pay less rent than me individually, and they get more than me together. It’s a tax on being single and it’s a goddamn crime.

I’m already dealing with the harsh truths of single life, shouldn’t I get a break at some point, too? Why isn’t there an washer/dryer outreach program for women who are single in their 30s? Don’t we deserve something good? Most of the things we get are awkward and embarrassing and we don’t want them. They’re not nice. They’re dick pics and cancelled dates and text message responses six hours later and Saturday mornings monopolized by linens. These are not gifts!

Single tables at weddings packed with cousins you don’t know, because if they seat you with all of your actual friends, the table will be oddly numbered, and why would you even ask them to do that for you? It’s such an inconvenience. Sitting at the head of the dinner table when it’s not your birthday, because couples always need to sit next to each other or people feel awkward, which puts the single person in perfect positioning for heads turned to gaze down the table as soon as some baffoon asks “soooo, you seeing anybodyyyyyy?” Plus one invites on invitations but you go alone. The bride complaining that she gave you a plus one, and why didn’t you use it? Reservations for one. Having to say “it’s just me,” before being escorted alone to the bar area as if you can’t find your way there on your own and the host is some kind of service animal. Being forced to regale bored married friends with wild tales of single life and single sex, like it’s fun, like we’re free entertainment. All of the niceties and norms of being a single, 33-year-old woman, but the greatest insult I’ve ever suffered is laundry.

Written by

NPR once called me a humor essayist, let’s go with that. Host of A Single Serving Podcast. shanisilver[at]gmail

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