HINKAMP: Washing Machine Dreams

Scholars, beer drinkers and fat talk show hosts alike have failed to come to a concrete definition of adulthood. Opinions are muddled between chronological and biological signals. Some argue that adulthood is more associated with leaving the safety of the parental condo, starting a career or paying off your student loans. All these mental banana slugs are missing the obvious. You obviously become an adult when you buy a washing machine.Up until this time, you can fool yourself that you're footloose with the wind in your hair. You can pretend that you're living for the moment and that you can put all your possessions in the back of that VW van with the three-times rebuilt engine that never runs that's the real reason you stayed in this town in the first place, but that's another story.Nonetheless, a washing machine/drier set lays those lies bare to the bleak, carcinogenic light of day.How do I know this? It happened to me just a last summer. Dreams die hard and I should have seen it coming.When I was home visiting my parents last Christmas, I kept asking them about the number of settings on their washing machine instead of trying to get out of the house the instant the last crumpled ball of Christmas wrap hit the floor. Three months later I was drawn into the classified ads and seduced by the promise of clean clothes in the privacy of my own home.I made the call. I did the deed. I'll live with the consequences.Mine is a meager, used washer and drier set, but the implications are all too clear. My conscious is haunted by the things I could have bought with an equivalent amount of money. I found it hard to walk by the bike shops and computer stores for several weeks. Those cheap airfares ads for Mexico taunted me like Republicans at a Whitewater hearing.Like seagulls attracted to garbage, I found myself magnetically pulled towards the laundromat seeking solace of my former brothers and sisters in suds.I truly miss the guy who wanders the town at night and comes in there looking for someone to talk to even though he seems to be able to hold up both ends of the conversation by himself. I miss the maniacal little laundry urchins who used to ram my Achilles tendons with their laundry carts; the Satan-spawn- from-hell who bring in 12 loads at a time and tie up all the dryers for a half day; the giggling young couples commingling their socks and underwear in the suds for the first time; and the TV starved zombies that intently watch the clothes go around in the drier windows creating a Picasso-inspired music video to go with whatever they are listening to on their head phones.I miss the guys in the parking lot standing over the hoods of their cars adjusting their valves and giving tours of their carburetors to anyone bored enough to look.I'll miss them all. These are the real people. The people living on the that serrated edge of life unfettered by fickle machines churning in their basements; real people not too proud to sort through the laundry hamper in search of that day's wardrobe.I was just such a real person for 39 years. I fought the good fight. But time marches on and into each person's life must fall a Speedqueen or Kenmore. We must all heed the call the grim rinser cast our quarters to the wind and bow to adulthood.But, fear not. Unlike most other things in life, in this case you can have your lint and eat it too. Did I mention that I bought a used coin-op washer and dryer? Even if it is more of an adult piggy bank than a home laundromat, it still evokes fond memories to ask for all my change in quarters at the supermarket.

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