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Rage Against the Machine: Lessons Learned at the Laundromat

This November I am thankful for unexpected inconveniences. They force me out of my comfort zone and provide opportunities to examine things from different angles.
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Colorful shirt and trousers in a white laundry.
Colorful shirt and trousers in a white laundry.

November has become the "it" month for thankfulness. Although I missed the original memo last year, when everyone began posting affirmations of gratitude on Facebook each and every day, I put two and two together.

I get it. Thanksgiving falls in November so it makes sense to be thankful. Still, I kept catching myself rolling my eyes. What I wanted was a month dedicated to celebrating sarcasm. And I was willing to do my part to kickstart it. So, the day after Thanksgiving last year I posted this status update: "I am thankful that Thanksgiving is officially over so I can quit feeling all this pressure to be thankful and just go back to taking everything for granted."

Payback is a bitch.

No sooner had I clicked "post" did my washing machine go on the fritz. The lynchpin of household order -- the major appliance I take for granted will always be ready, willing and able to wash our never-ending mountains of laundry -- froze up in mid-cycle and began flashing the F-21 error message.

What the F-21?

I promptly called Mr. Appliance and a repairman was not-so-promptly sent over. The technician explained to me that my "high-efficiency" washer that I purchased barely four years ago for over six bills (because I believed the salesperson when he told me that it would both help save the planet and save me money in the long run) was now going to cost me another $300 to repair.

F-21 my life.

But the bad news didn't stop there. Mr. Appliance had to order the part, which pushed back the actual repair date by a whole week. That meant we were going to be without a washing machine for 10 days. Ten days without a washing machine. I immediately kicked myself for not approving my daughter's frequent requests to expand our respective wardrobes. Some extra changes of clothes would really come in handy right now.

I came to the grim realization that I was going to have to go to the laundromat. I gathered up the laundry detergent, dryer sheets, fabric softener, enough cash to convert into 60 quarters, and loaded a pile of laundry the size of Mt. Everest into my car. I drove by a couple options before settling on the Quick Wash at the corner of William Cannon and West Gate. They had me at "Quick." My plan was to wash and dry my clothes as fast as possible and haul them home to fold them. I didn't want to spend a single extra second there.

I sorted my clothes and shoved them into four different washers. While I waited I got out the busy work I had brought to pass the time. As I stood there at a folding table stuffing Christmas cards into envelopes, I looked around for the first time.

I noticed a woman in her 30s in nursing scrubs. She seemed lost in her own thoughts -- a little tired, maybe, like she had had a long day -- but she didn't seem agitated like me. She was comfortable enough with this routine that she could take a little mental break and do her laundry on auto-pilot. She looked familiar, and I realized it was because she reminded me of an attendant I used to run into at the assisted living facility where my dad lived before he passed away.

There was a young 20-something couple with matching his-and-her dreadlocks. They both had a sense of humor, but she was the one who kept them on task when his antics escalated to the point where they started to slow the whole process down.

The TV was blaring in the background, and when a story came on about how J-Lo had been publicly cavorting with her much younger boyfriend and engaging in a lot of PDA, the dreadlocked guy remarked that he thought Marc Anthony should pay her back by going in the opposite direction and taking up with a smoking hot 70-something-year-old lady. I couldn't help but laugh.

The washing machines stopped one by one, and I moved my clothes to various dryers. I kept stuffing envelopes but I was less agitated than before.

A young couple with a toddler arrived with four baskets of laundry. While the couple was busy with the laundry, the little boy entertained himself by pushing around one of the roller carts.

My small load of whites finished drying first. I put my Christmas cards to the side and started to fold the pile of T-shirts and socks. Then I sneezed. And the guy with the dreadlocks looked up from what he was doing and shouted "Bless you!" over the noise of the two dozen washers and dryers and the ear-splitting television.

That sneeze changed everything. Suddenly I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be. Just like the dreadlocked couple or the woman in nursing scrubs, I was part of the cast of characters at the laundromat. I was the impatient lady trying to get her Christmas cards done. It wasn't like my epiphany made me happy to be there, but I didn't resent doing my laundry there any more than I resented doing laundry in my normal habitat surrounded by my regular cast of characters.

It boiled down to this: Whether at home or in a laundromat, we were all just a collection of people trying to get our chores done and hoping that everything would come out in the wash.

And then I found myself feeling grateful. Not for the fact that I normally get to wash my clothes from the comfort of home, but oddly for the fact that my washing machine had given me the big F-21. If it hadn't, I wouldn't have realized that my washing machine wasn't the only thing that needed some maintenance. I needed to adjust my personal settings by turning up my gratitude receptor and dialing down my sarcasm so I could fine-tune the picture that everyone is in this big mess together.

So, this November I am thankful for unexpected inconveniences. They force me out of my comfort zone and provide opportunities to examine things from different angles. Oh, and I'm also thankful for my washing machine -- because at the end of the day being able to do laundry at home is the epitome of convenience.

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