Considering the spin cycle.

The laundromat, as concept, is about as old as my father. The first laundromat, the Washateria, opened in the 30s in Fort Worth, TX; in 1949, someone in Austin realized you could get rid of the attendants, and opened one without attendants. Texas, the Laundry State. Before that you either washed it yourself, or sent it out for widows to wash.

So there I was, in the cradle of post-war progress, on a Wednesday afternoon, in the laundromat closest to my apartment, where I've washed my clothes for 7 years. There, I have seen: hours of blaring daytime television, a washer on fire with smoke pouring out of its top; a fat man filling a paint bucket with quarters culled from the machines; a woman strike her 2-year-old, then announce, “people think they they're cute, but you have to know better,” to which her friends murmured their agreement.

In the summer, the narrow room, filled with gas-heat dryers, becomes so unbearable that people dart in to fill their washers or make the transition from washer to dryer, then stumble out soaked in sweat after only a moment, half-crying.

In the winter, though, it is pleasure to be here. Today the woman who smacked her 2 year old is folding laundry, and her daughter, now a well-behaved, sweet girl of 6, runs in and out of the laundromat, begging quarters from her mother, reading, watching television in 5-minute bursts of activity. And sitting on the rickety bench with a copy of the paper, lulled slightly by the sound of motors and sloshing clothes, I think back to the laundromats of memory. One comes up with clarity: an unattended place in Media, PA, where on one summer afternoon at age 14 I witnessed a smudged-faced woman in her mid-30s wearing terrycloth shorts, worn to translucent and without panties, pubic hair emergent at the crotch. Her T-shirt, equally thin, said “Bubs,” on it. A Latin-American man came in and asked if anyone had change for the phone. “Suck my cock and fuck yourself, you foreign piece of shit,” she said, and they both laughed. I stayed very quiet, reading a book, sneaking looks at the woman's outfit, cataloging it for later recall, promising myself that I would one day have my own washer and dryer. 15 years later....

Someone entered, a young, slender woman of five and half feet, with a half-filled green cloth bag. It takes very little fabric to cover a woman. I come into the laundromat with two huge bundles in a pushcart, using the largest possible washer, and the women enter with a single load, all little tops and pants made of thin fabric. As a comparatively giant individual, I can never quite get over the smallness of others, their ability to fit into things, whether shirts or airplane seats. The woman wore laundry clothes, a sartorial catastrophe with red T-shirt and green slacks that makes her look like a elf on its day off. I was in a stained blue sweatshirt and a pair of slacks; I'd patched a hole in the slacks with a paperclip.

The dryer finished its last turn, and it was time to go. One of the women who works for the laundromat said:

“I like your cart.”

“8 wheel drive!” I said, pushing it back and forth. “Got a flap on the top, look.”

“Where you get that?”

“Mazzone.” The hardware store a few blocks north.

“How much?”


“Ah.” Another woman behind her said, “looks like it's for a baby.”

I said, “big baby.” Everyone laughed.

“Very big,” someone said.

“I don't want that baby,” said another.

“All right then,” I said. “You ladies have a fine day.”

“Big baby,” said one woman, shaking her head at the cart. “Goodbye.”

And out, full of goodwill, heat rising from the cart, clothes lighter than when I entered, the dirt washed out, feeling virtuous, fractionally reborn, or at least tumble-dried.




Ftrain.com is the website of Paul Ford and his pseudonyms. It is showing its age. I'm rewriting the code but it's taking some time.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

If you have any questions for me, I am very accessible by email. You can email me at ford@ftrain.com and ask me things and I will try to answer. Especially if you want to clarify something or write something critical. I am glad to clarify things so that you can disagree more effectively.


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© 1974-2011 Paul Ford


@20, by Paul Ford. Not any kind of eulogy, thanks. And no header image, either. (October 15)

Recent Offsite Work: Code and Prose. As a hobby I write. (January 14)

Rotary Dial. (August 21)

10 Timeframes. (June 20)

Facebook and Instagram: When Your Favorite App Sells Out. (April 10)

Why I Am Leaving the People of the Red Valley. (April 7)

Welcome to the Company. (September 21)

“Facebook and the Epiphanator: An End to Endings?”. Forgot to tell you about this. (July 20)

“The Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. An essay for TheMorningNews.org. (July 11)

Woods+. People call me a lot and say: What is this new thing? You're a nerd. Explain it immediately. (July 10)

Reading Tonight. Reading! (May 25)

Recorded Entertainment #2, by Paul Ford. (May 18)

Recorded Entertainment #1, by Paul Ford. (May 17)

Nanolaw with Daughter. Why privacy mattered. (May 16)

0h30m w/Photoshop, by Paul Ford. It's immediately clear to me now that I'm writing again that I need to come up with some new forms in order to have fun here—so that I can get a rhythm and know what I'm doing. One thing that works for me are time limits; pencils up, pencils down. So: Fridays, write for 30 minutes; edit for 20 minutes max; and go whip up some images if necessary, like the big crappy hand below that's all meaningful and evocative because it's retro and zoomed-in. Post it, and leave it alone. Can I do that every Friday? Yes! Will I? Maybe! But I crave that simple continuity. For today, for absolutely no reason other than that it came unbidden into my brain, the subject will be Photoshop. (Do we have a process? We have a process. It is 11:39 and...) (May 13)

That Shaggy Feeling. Soon, orphans. (May 12)

Antilunchism, by Paul Ford. Snack trams. (May 11)

Tickler File Forever, by Paul Ford. I'll have no one to blame but future me. (May 10)

Time's Inverted Index, by Paul Ford. (1) When robots write history we can get in trouble with our past selves. (2) Search-generated, "false" chrestomathies and the historical fallacy. (May 9)

Bantha Tracks. (May 5)

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