(This happened in September, two years ago.) Once, while driving on Hamline Avenue on a tepid, stuffy night that made the streetlights wobble slowly when you squinted at them, I noticed a laundromat that I had never seen before. Generally, I am attracted to laundromats, although I cannot say why or that I have ever actually been inside of one. Even the ones with red neon signs that have one letter blinked out and chipped paint on the walls are soothing to me. Because of this, when we were stopped at that vacant intersection with the quiet trees, it wasn’t terribly surprising to me when it happened like it always happens. I looked out the window and to my right was the laundromat, all bright and greenish and empty in the dark, and I felt, suddenly, the customary twinge of familiarity steel into the Buick and settle down beside me.
Some would refer to this as déjà vu, but I would say it was more like the feeling you get when everyone is in the family room at Christmastime. I wanted to throw open the car door dramatically and run to the laundromat and explain to everyone in the car that this place, with its orange polypropylene bucket chairs and scuffed floor, was actually where I had been raised. I would tell them that I spent my young years here chewing Fruit Stripe gum and pacing back and forth in front of the dull roar of laundering clothes. I would explain how I made up stories with my hands about the sea and ships for my little brother who always sat quietly, cross-legged, on the broken and bulging tile, watching me.
Mother would be seated with the newspaper, of course, elegant somehow in slip-on Keds, waiting for the surge of clothes. Occasionally she would look at us or look into the black circle of water that was my favorite blue blanket, Dad’s black sweatshirt with the wolf howling at the moon, and all the other navy or black clothes we owned. The swishing of wet, frothy soap and the thrumming of those shuddering appliances would unfailingly assure us that everything in the world was right. We were irrevocably safe here on the vinyl floor while women in flowered dresses and old men who had no teeth discussed Julia Child and the rainstorm coming that afternoon in a quiet murmur.
Well, I don’t have a brother, and that night, I had no story to recount regarding the idyllic romanticism of being brought up amidst thirty laundry machines back in the nineties. I stayed in the car, and we drove back to the dorm with the radio blaring and the windows down.
Just because I was curious, though, that night after Hamline Avenue, I emailed my mom to find out if we had ever gone to laundromats when I was young. It felt too familiar to be all in my head.
She emailed back promptly and explained that yes, when I was two, while they were first married and living in a small apartment for a few months beneath my grandparents. During the transition from apt. to the house that they were building in the suburbs, all laundering was moved to said laundromat.
It was satisfying to know my intuition was real. Those feelings of security and comfort were there because I had actually felt them in the past.
I still feel pretty affectionate about laundromats. So... if you ever feel like adventuring to wash your clothes, I'm down.