It’s come down to this. A marriage depends on a man’s ability to get a second load of laundry done. And before I could do that, the first load had to be wrapped up. Gone are the days when you’d put your change in a bucket and then fish out some dimes and quarters, toss your gatkis in a bag and take the elevator to the basement. Cleanliness and titillating entertainment. As Andrew Dice Clay used to say, “If they had any underwear to put on, they wouldn’t be doing laundry.”
I wasn’t even supposed to be home that day. My wife, in remission from metastatic cancer, needed some looking after from time to time; that was one of those days. It was my bad luck that I was a Wednesday, the day our cleaning lady came. As much as I loved biking to work, charging in, and making money, that’s how much I couldn’t stand being home when Julia, a lovely and hard-working woman who curated our apartment as much as cleaned it. But somehow wherever I needed to be, in our home office to remote into my work office, office, take a shower, make some breakfast, that’s where she was tidying or organizing or resetting the clock on the electronics we never took the trouble to learn how to use properly. She was so organizational that she would collect like items together and put them in one spot, but without telling us where. In fact, as I write this, I can find only one of the dozen or so pairs of reading glasses we own.
Julia’s true value, though, a rarity as I have been told, is that she can time out doing the laundry cycles to maximize her curation time upstairs. Most domestic helpers use the dryer cycle for smoke breaks or schmoozing. But on this day, of all days‑I was putting the finishing touches on a schedule supporting a six-figure settlement, peering into my tiny laptop screen at the giant document—disaster struck. No more shiny coins cheerfully clinking in a pocket, waiting to do their job. Laundry had now been assimilated into the digital Internet of Thing Which Never Really Needed to be Assimilated into Anything before. Access to cleanliness was now relegated to a plastic card with a strip and a chip. Julia returned with a swivel cart bearing the first load, folded neatly, hung from the cart’s top rail, pants and skirts six inches apart. Then I was handed the card. I think I heard “No mas cambio,” or something like that. We quickly managed the communication that the laundry card was left with 15 cents and that the box that converted cash to Summer Breeze was not working. Not taking cash. Not reading credit cards. A quick look around resulted in the disappointment of learning that our back-up laundry card was absent without official leave. Swell, just what I needed. I was headed for performing Tech Support, the other half of my day job when I’m not making settlements. And tech support of unfamiliar equipment at that.
You can hang all of the Matisse and Monet reproductions you desire on a wall, but that wall is still going to be in a laundry room. Anyway, I did what tech support always does first: I fondled the power cord back to where it was plugged into an outlet, under Calme et Volupte by, of course, Matisse, which kind of looked like people washing things. I unplugged it, counted to 30, plugged it back in, and gave it a few minutes to reboot. No change. I humbled myself and called the help desk number on the box. Someone would be there within 48 hours to fix it. Fat lot of dripping, pre-moldering good that did us. At least the entertainment factor was fully operational. There was major jiggler, one of the lucky ones with a complete washed and dried load, spreading out and then tossing each item into one of the three bags pursuant to each piece’s sartorial taxonomy. Not only that, I discovered that one of my neighbors owns a Fleur du Mal sheer demi-bra and that one neighbor has multiple pairs of cheater panties. I could not determine if that was all one neighbor or two separate fellow residents.
I switched back to the main thing I did for a living: settling things. I had the folks say how much they thought they had on their existing cards. It was as easy as falling off a Speed Queen commercial washing machine during an off-balance spin cycle to do a spread sheet in my head, combining the right cards to maximize possible loads. Really. It’s almost impossible not to fall off under those conditions. Three people who were planning on refilling their cards and who hadn’t started their loads yet shared cards with the folks staying and schlepped their dirty clothes to Spin City a couple of blocks away. We assembled combinations of cards with odd leftover amounts sufficient to dry two people’s wet loads. And that left me alone, unwilling to be too far from my wife, with an undone load and a metallic taste of fear.
They say you should never trust a programmer who carries a screwdriver. And “they” are correct. I paced the laundry room, 12 washers west and 12 dryers east, while I was fingering the Leatherman multitool I almost always carried. I should have kept my tool in my pants; while lost in thoughts of planning and strategy, $90 worth of fine machining dropped into a drainage grate that in 25 years of living in Minuet Town I never knew existed. Probably because this was maybe only the fourth or fifth time I’ve been down here. I was perilously close to disappointing a woman who could tolerate only a bare minimum of additional disappointment. My wife set great store in us always having well-fitted, color-coordinated and properly sized outfits. Clean underwear was a bonus.
More pacing in an attempt to stop feeling sorry for myself. I was able to give dire warnings to new people wishing to smell Spring Clean. It was David, my immediate downstairs neighbor who snapped me out of it. I saw him out of the laundry room window getting his mail, and I waved.
“Dave, can you do me a favor? Do you have a laundry card with a balance on it, enough for a wash and dry? The machine isn’t taking cash or plastic, and Harmony is going to be very sad if the wash can’t get done.”
“Sure, c’mon up, I’ll have to call my wife, she knows where the cards are.” The ride up was sub-optimum. We’re right off the East River, a high wind area. For some reason I’ll have to discuss with my old school chum Nick the physicist, when the gusts hit 40 miles per hour, the west elevator in our building slants in a way that keeps the door from closing properly. It won’t move and eventually it issues its piercing “Idiot, let the door close” alarm. Showed David the trick; everyone has to stand as close as possible to where the elevator door meets matching concavity in the cab. Then the east elevator won’t go because it thinks the west elevator should be moving. Oy. Yet another thing. Dave called Queenie at her job. I suffered through the pain of husband/wife 20 questions. Which blue drawer has it? When you say left, do you mean your left or the furniture’s left? Eventually, the card was found and ceremoniously handed to me. Just in case, I took the stairs up to my apartment and commenced the search for Julia. Naturally, and such is my luck, she was trying to get her elevator door to close. She got me on my cell and I used Google Translate to text her the trick. Harmony was ecstatic and kissed us both. As for me, I was completely unsatisfied, even though I managed to complete the mission.
Someone had to pay for my, possibly “our,” inconvenience. I went through the numbers, the small amounts people had on their cards before they were refilled. What millennial would waste time looking for a card with 45 cents on it when you could get a new card. When the machine is working, that is.
The idea started popping into my head like the old Maxwell House commercial. Pop. Pop Pop. Pop pop pop pop pop pop, pop pop pop pop pop. Fifteen percent of additions to the card would, according to a quickie calculation, be unredeemed. Money people paid in good faith that their clothes would be washed. I started writing up a report for authorization to pursue and then settle the case of the forgotten laundry money. Estimated recovery, one point seven million, easy.