I might be renting out a room this summer to a friend. She made a phone appointment with me and asked a list of questions about living in my place in Brooklyn. How far is it from Manhattan? What trains do you take? Do you have Internet? Can I use the kitchen? Then she asked about laundry.
“I heard you take your laundry on the bus!” she said like it was some sort of urban myth. I took one of those prolonged intakes of breath.
Laundry is complicated.
The first laundromat I found was five blocks away from my apartment on Nostrand Avenue. I got tired of schlepping my duffel bag full of clothes and detergent five long blocks to the place. When I got there, it was always packed with women, children, and granny carts stuffed with trash bags bursting with clothes. Still, I needed clean underwear. We’ll get to back to underwear in a minute.
“Yeah, I used to take my laundry on the bus,” I told my prospective subletter. I tried to normalize it. “The laundromats in poor neighborhoods are always fuller.”
Then I got too busy to do my own laundry and I started to drop off my laundry. More feelings of class betrayal, especially thinking of what my mother would say if I told her I paid someone $20 to do my laundry. The guilt was assuaged when I factored in the physical labor of carrying the bag of clothes on the bus roundtrip.
Then during a conversation with one of my sisters it came up that I drop off my laundry.
“You let someone wash your calzones?” she asked, incredulous.
According to the popular sentiment in our house (promoted by our mother), the most shameful thing you could have or let anyone see is your dirty underwear. According to her, it’s akin to being laughable, incompetent, and a disgrace to have dirty panties, especially for a girl. When she made fun of someone who was a fuckup, she’d call the person “calzones cagados” or loosely translated, skid mark.
So now I was a traitor to my family, and possibly my gender because I let someone wash my underwear.
But I couldn’t go back to spending two or three hours in washing and traveling by bus again. Especially when I got my neatly folded clothes back tightly packed in a plastic bag that was formed into a rectangular prism.
Then a new laundromat opened up only one block from my house. There are seats to sit in, and a TV, and they also take debit cards if you drop off your laundry. And although I had a choice to stop being a traitor, I decided to drop off my laundry.
I noticed two things when I started leaving my laundry there. The first was that they use a lot of really strong cheap detergent that kind of gives me a headache. The second thing was that the Caribbean ladies who work there look at me with disdain.
One friend said that her Caribbean friend told her that Caribbean women never put dirty underwear in a hamper—they wash it by hand themselves. I’m assuming they must do this everyday. I’m also assuming that’s why the Caribbean ladies at the laundromat are so judgemental when I drop off my clothes and they ask me my name.
When I say my last name, I become a traitor to my race.
While this place doesn’t put my clothes in a plastic bag, they do neatly fold my socks and stack my panties in size order like magic. And they switch up the kinds of detergent they use from week to week, so it’s like my clothes are playing in an olfactory lottery.
But there’s something bugging me about the women who don’t trust their hampers with their underwear. It suggests that underwear tells our secrets about being human, and all the peeing and shitting and fucking that goes with it.
And even though I think I know the answer, I ask myself, is it just women who are concerned with getting rid of all the evidence of being human?
Editor’s note: This story from Celina is a reader-submitted story received via our Web interface. Thanks, pocha! If you have a story or a cartoon or a video or a photo or a cool site you know we will love, please: SUBMIT!