New York City is built on dreams. Well, more specifically, it’s built on the wreckage of dreams -- the broken promises, unrequited loves, and cruel failures of the 8 million MetroCard masochists who call it home. I am one of those gluttons for Gotham’s punishment, and I have my own fantasy to sacrifice at its expensive, all-consuming altar. On steel-gray New York days, when the train delays are legion and the garbage water flows, my mind often wanders to this secret delusion. I allow myself, if only for a moment, to imagine life with my very own washer/dryer.
I have no more tears to cry.
To someone who lives beyond New York City’s toothsome embrace, it may be alien to fetishize laundry this way. This essay is not for you. Nor is it for the self-satisfied, me-too commuter who owns a fully-amenitized condo/prison in some far-off Mordor like Edgewater or College Point, because all the stainless-steel appointments in the world can’t brighten the grim irrelevance that coats such a place like a film. No, this essay is for people like me: overweight, underdressed, and balding by the minute. No wait, that’s not right. “Like me” in the sense that I’ve made peace with NYC’s many indignities, but I still hold close an audacious hope that one day, I will be able to wash my own shirt inside my own apartment.
As most New Yorkers are all too painfully aware, this is pie in the sky. Finding an apartment with a washer/dryer that you can afford is like finding a unicorn who can do an impression of Frank Caliendo doing an impression of Jimmy Hoffa’s unmarked grave. In other words, “somewhat difficult.” I should know -- I’ve seen me do it.
Unless your name is Tad and you work in leverage finance, you’ve probably had a similar experience. (Or you live in Queens, which, like... congratulations on “having it all,” bruh. All of us over here in civilization are really happy for you.) When I finally found a place that didn’t suck pigeon taint, I was so punch-drunk over its multiple windows and recently caulked grout that I was able to push my washer/dryer pipe dream to the side. I resigned myself to reality. I made a compromise.
Laundry in New York is bleak choreography.
I have regretted this moment for six months. I will regret it forever, I think. Just like that, with neither pomp nor circumstance, the city snatched another shred of dignity from the tattered rag heap of my soul. I accepted my fate with uncharacteristic grace. I had no more tears to cry.
I am a man whose back has been broken by the crushing weight of inescapable disappointment, but I still have laundry to do. There’re plenty of ways for this town’s hapless proles to clean their clothes, and each is categorically inferior to a washer/dryer of one’s own. Allow me to contrast the sublime grandeur of the in-unit apparatus with the heinous realities of these various methods.
There is the laundromat, a low-ceiling neighborhood clearing-house of sorrow & off-white cotton panties, which are really the same thing anyway. Time slows down here. When you emerge, you will feel older. Your laundry bag will be full with clammy clothes, and your mind, with the jagged ramblings of a person who has experienced a great loss. The loss is your afternoon. There, amidst the tumbling machines, the squawking strangers, and the injection-molded bench seating, you dug its grave. Schlepp back to your apartment sans washer/dryer in the gathering twilight, and wonder exactly when your life became such a bleak choreography.
Perhaps you are not fool enough to tumble into the sweaty black hole of a New York City laundromat. You elect to send out your laundry. A wiser choice, kemosabe, but doomed all the same. You still have to pack-mule a Santa sack of soiled gear some number of blocks to the local wash-’n-fold. Carrying laundry is like making love: more work than it seems, smellier than it ought to be, and embarrassing to do in front of strangers. But you’ll carry it anyway, to a steamy storefront where an ill-tempered detergent tycoon will weigh your satchel, yell (possibly at you) for a while, then issue you a ticket of receipt. Or you'll scramble home from work to await the delivery of your goods like a puppet on a string. At one point, sent-out laundry seemed like a different, more efficient option than the wash-'n-fold. Those of us who launder here know it's the just the same dog with different fleas.
The machine takes quarters, and you're short a few.
Will your clothes be cleaned? Who knows?! Driven by laziness, you’ll let a massive pile collect in your hamper before you make a laundry run, so stains that would’ve been easily vanquished in the moment have taken hold. This is the cruel promise of sending your laundry out. Your clothes will come back crisply folded, sure. But a sharp crease does not a grease stain remove. Anguish will reign.
The devastating "in-building" trap
The third alternative to a personal washer/dryer is the in-building facility. In New York City, on-site washer/dryer banks are often advertised as evidence of a building’s “modern convenience.” Like most things having to do with NYC real estate, this is a diabolical joke. There’s nothing modern about dragging sullied wearables through the too-quiet halls of your too-new luxury tower and down to the basement. There’s nothing convenient about discovering, once there, that half the machines are broken while the other half are occupied with the stale, mildewy remains of your neighbor’s most recent laundering effort. Cautiously, you’ll move her items to the top of the machine, gingerly avoiding her undergarments lest someone walk in on you and deem you a pervert.
A washer/dryer is having the courage to eat a greasy calzone.
If the machines take quarters, you’ll be short a few. If the machines take one of those magnetic cards, you’ll inevitably forget it in your apartment. At some point, usually after a break-up or a rough day at work, these small dilemmas will be so staggering that you will give up in a huff and go to the bar. And still, your laundry will remain.
I think it’s pretty clear, at this point, that the average New Yorker’s laundering opportunities are utter & complete garbage. But is having your own washer/dryer all that much better?
Of course it is. Are you kidding me, bruh? That’s the thesis of this entire essay. Just... shut up and listen, alright? In New York, an in-unit washer/dryer is more than the sum of its clothes-cleaning function. It’s the courage to eat a greasy calzone in your slightly-more-expensive-than-average T-shirt, and the courage to buy a slightly-more-expensive-than-average T-shirt in the first place. It’s the glory of a Saturday spent drinking in the sun with vague acquaintances from your recent past. It’s the same thrill of self-governance that in college compelled you to put frozen yogurt on your Belgian waffles just because you could, how do you like that MOM & DAD?! WOO! NO PARENTS!
In a New York existence choked thick with obligation -- to birthday brunches, to post-work happy hours, to your own ill-advised attempts at physical fitness -- a washer/dryer in your New York apartment is a brief, rare flicker of free will. That’s what I dream about, you guys. Not the knobs of a washing machine or the gentle white noise of a dryer on tumble. Free will. It sounds nice. I hope I can afford it someday.
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Dave Infante is a senior writer for Thrillist Food & Drink, and often packs suitcases full of dirty laundry if he knows the destination has a washer/dryer. Follow @dinfontay on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat.