Relay: Watching the Clothes Go Round

Quality time at the Sag Harbor Launderette

I thought what made America great was its product supply chain. The distribution system never lets up, the trucks keep rolling, and the shelves are always stocked. 

So why did I have to wait weeks to get a simple washing machine part, a little piece of metal with flanges and threaded plastic connectors, the source of a small but persistent leak puddling the floor, staining the baseboard, making a sponge of the carpet? After all, it’s not like it was coming by slow boat from South Korea.

Because of over-engineering, that’s why. Less is more, we were told by Mies van der Rohe, the architect who gave us the, uh, Barcelona chair. But not unlike the latest version of Microsoft Word, with its clutter and unnecessary extra steps and regular seizures, or your new car that shuts off at every stoplight, leaving you in the lurch, among other quiet thefts of your autonomy, my fancy front-loading washer looks good, with its spaceship array of lights, and sounds cute, with its singsong chirping that signals a completed cycle, and in theory I appreciate the reduced water use and increased efficiency, whatever that means, but does anyone really need a “Pre-Wash / Child Lock” setting or a “Fresh Care” button? 

Hot, warm, cold. Small or large load. That should about cover it.

The thing’s only four years old and this is the second repair to this one crucial juncture where water meets tube. No, for prolonged use and even abuse, you need an old top-loading job, with the rotating spike of an agitator like some medieval torture device and just as effective. 

That or a visit to the Sag Harbor Launderette. 

Putting aside the usual laundry list of complaints (pun unintentional, but I’ll leave it be), for us regular folks and year-rounders the Harbor is just not what it used to be. But in the face of gentrification, bad taste, whatever you want to call it, at least we still have this urban touch on the old main drag, with its long rows of stainless-steel shine — industrial-strength Dexter Laundry machines straight out of the Corn Belt. (You know, Iowa? Where they once made those reliable Maytags?)

The speed of laundry generation by a family of five is daunting, and the piles of clothes at home were taking on the permanence of burial mounds, so the Launderette was a godsend on a recent weekend, even with its corridor of a space filled like the 7 train after a Mets game.

I’d call it sobering, the contrast between the, shall we say, brusqueness of the summer crowds here and the courtesy among the other than rich in that rumbling, thrumming place redolent of fabric softener and sharp with static cling — a helpful tip about a dryer lacking heat here, a heads-up that another was open over there, and nowhere in evidence the petulant practice of removing someone else’s clothes and dumping them because they left them in the machine too long. It was like a Friedrich Engels fantasy in an Ayn Rand world.

Or maybe people just wanted clean socks. 

The appeal of the Launderette is the appeal of being alone in a crowded place. Like riding public transportation. Or lingering over a cup of coffee at a greasy spoon. Features of city life, to be sure, but here as the clothes tumbled and the patrons folded, the limited choices of what to do with myself was a relief — read a book (“The Early Work of Philip K. Dick, Volume One”), stare out the window, watch the Premier League on a flat-screen. 

And then the part arrived. It had been more than a month. I figure I’ve got a couple of years until it gives out again and I’m back at the Launderette. If not, there’s always that tune by Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders, on spin cycle in my head since high school: 

“There go the whites, mmm, getting whiter. / There go the colors, getting brighter. / There go the delicates, through the final rinse. / There goes my Saturday night, I go without a fight. / Watching the clothes go round, watching the clothes go round.”

Baylis Greene is an associate editor at The Star.