Cincinnati’s Dirty Laundry

So the basic point of living in Cincinnati seems to be to teach us a lesson. Having lived our lives before we met more-or-less surrounded by people we loved and with whom we shared basic principles, we relocated together to Cincinnati. She for school and I for her. Both of us to learn something.

The tiny apartment on campus was ok for a few minutes, but we got out as soon as the lease ended and moved into a much more grown up neighborhood near a park and a few generally quiet fraternity houses. After a year there we moved to a bigger place to have a baby, and from there, to a house. The one thing these apartments had in common was a small or nonexistent laundry room.

We laundered out. This is where we met Cincinnati.

I now believe that you can never really know a place until you’ve washed your clothes in public. People who move to a new town and immediately get a house with their own washer and dryer will never really belong to, or understand, a community. Those of us who have spent months looking for that perfect Laundromat are able to learn more of the character of a town than could otherwise be learned in years.

The first Laundromat we found was a little hole in the ground half a block up the street. I don’t think it even had a sign. It was only the smell of drying clothes that tipped us off. Wedged between two row houses, it was a small, dark place with about six machines. The lids were rusted around the hinges and no matter how many quarters you plugged into the dryers your clothes never seemed to loose that almost-wet, almost-dry kind of dankness. After a month or so the place just up and disappeared. We were not surprised.

We found another place a few streets away. This one was much nicer. A friendly woman ran the place and always had change. If you ever left you clothes too long in a machine she would move them for you. She lived nearby and her grandchildren came to play with her on weekends. It must have been six months that we cleaned our clothes there. I don’t remember exactly why we stopped going there, but we did. Sometimes it’s just time to move on. Perhaps we’d already learned what that Laundromat had to teach us. We went back once or twice, but it didn’t feel the same. It didn’t feel like we belonged. Not like it used to.

No place after that was quite right. Some, in fact, were quite wrong.

There was the one that was several miles away and kind of a pain to get to that had lots of machines. It was fine, but after several trips it was just too far.

There was the Laundromat/night club where we went only one time. We got home and all of our clean clothes smelled like old cigarette smoke and stale beer.

There was the evil little place too, where as soon as we had filled four machines and started the wash cycles, the crotchety old folks in back started talking in conversational tones about the “niggers.”

This one was important. It was in a town called _______: a tiny city surrounded by Cincinnati. A little island of ignorance in a sea of intolerance. People like these scared and repulsed us. I knew people like this existed, I had just never been this close to them. It was, as if, after a lifetime of visiting zoos and reading National Geographic Magazine, we suddenly found ourselves stranded in the middle of the African savanah. There was nowhere to hide. Nowhere to run. The damn laundry cycle had just started. We couldn’t very well take our soaking wet, soapy laundry out and just leave. That would draw their attention. Attention can be dangerous in a place like this.

So we waited it out. We sat on the other side of the room and tried really hard to seem completely engrossed in…well, in anything at all really. We waited it out and as soon as the laundry was dry, we split. No folding. We just piled the clothes in our basket and fled.

_______ was one place we would never return to. This Laundromat; this center of energy; this place where a neighborhood goes to clean out it’s dirt; this Laundromat was itself so dirty that we could only imagine how soiled the community would be.

Two months later we moved to an apartment with nice new machines in the basement and our Laundromat days in Cincinnati, for the most part, ended. We had learned a lot about out new home. We new which areas were unpredictable and transient, which were family-friendly, which were this and which were that. It was time to settle down.

We got pregnant a few months later and started looking for a bigger place to rent. It had crappy machines in the basement but they were free. A year passed, our daughter was born, and we decided to buy a house. Should we have been surprised when the landlord screwed us out of our deposit? Hell no: The laundry machines were pieces of crap.

When we were trying to get pregnant we were very conscious that the Universe had a way of giving you less what you want than what you need: Parents tend to get children who can teach them something. Rarely, do people get a child who embodies their own strengths and values. More often, they get one who will challenge them.

We forgot this about the Universe when we went house hunting.

I cannot remember the exact moment that we realized that the Universe may have the same thing in mind for us in terms of finding a house that it usually does in giving out babies. Not the exact moment, but the exact day for sure. It was the day that our realtor called and said “I know you said you weren’t interested in living in _______, but there is one place I think you should look at.”

So here is what I know:

The Universe is consistent and has a remarkably tuned sense of humor.