Okay, I confess. More than half a year has passed since I’ve done my own laundry.
And before you start imagining putrid piles of clothes cluttering a Brooklyn abode, or bi-weekly garbage bags of musty discards making their way to the Salvation Army and a wallet of maxed-out credit cards to boot, let me say: it’s not even like that. Since I discovered the luxury, I’ve indulged in drop off service. Ten dollars for ten pounds. I pick up my threads next day, my unmentionables folded into origami hellos—smelling of a springtime not of my choosing.
The last time I tended to my own laundry was this past summer on a Greek island, where I spent a month at a writing workshop. Washing machines were not prevalent on Thassos, so I scrubbed my clothes in the bathroom sink and hung them on the line to let the breeze do the rest—an unexpectedly gratifying task. Yet, upon my return to New York, I returned to my spoiled ways. Packed up my blue IKEA bag and dropped it off like a mother does a child at daycare.
Today after work, I packed my IKEA bag with dirty darks and left my apartment. I passed my usual laundromat before descending to the L, then lugged my load to the G. My destination: Wash and Play Lotto Laundromat in Fort Greene. My plan: to perform the mundane task of washing clothes with a few friends… who happened to be poets. Pop up poets.
Which brings me to confession number two. For the past year, it has been my secret dream to have a poetry reading in a laundromat—a space that is so inherently community, yet so…isolating. I mean, when was the last time you rang a friend and said, “Hey, I’m running low on clean underwear. By any chance… are you? Wanna have a laundry hang?”
That’s what I thought.
Maybe I’m just ignorant to what happens in these vital spaces, but every time I pass a laundromat, it’s the same scene. Neighbors, strangers, lovers, listlessly waiting for their clothes to get clean, already. Similar to the subway, everyone is locked in their own private spheres. A Venn Diagram waiting to happen. An audience ready to bloom into being.
Tonight, eight other poets (one as young as nine) graced the Wash and Play Lotto Laundromat after a full day (some of with bulging bags, one with woodwinds, one in costume) and we sang and shared poems in succession with whoever was lucky enough to be there doing laundry, and boy were they surprised! We were all surprised in some way. Talk about good clean fun airing out our poetic laundry, utterly transforming such an every day space into a ripe language event, peppered with musicality and theatricality suitable for any stage. Even the laundromat owner’s son felt compelled to scratch a poem of his own during the lyrical mayhem, and read it aloud from his composition book.
Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve noticed that I tend to arrive at my best ideas, lines and epiphanies in the shower—or on the can. There’s the potency of confinement to consider, but I also think it has something to do with the removal of one thing to let in something else. Similarly, as I watched my clothes swish around, the sonorous poems filling the space, I marveled at how married it all is—how poetry transforms the dirt and chaos of our lives to something pure and beneficial—folded in verse.
Tonight I shared my ode to gentrification as I folded my warm garments—and undergarments—back into my IKEA bag. It wasn’t my plan, but felt right on time. It also felt surprisingly exposing to perform a relatively intimate act at the same time as an inherently communal one, and if there was ever a time I wished I could grow two arms out of my back to show just how well I could multi-task, it was then.
And it happens that performing the poem wasn’t the true challenge; it was folding my threads.