On any given Sunday they congregate, stepping into sultry air and hard fluorescent lighting, revelers in the soil of life. Sinners one and all seeking, salvation, reunion, wholeness through convenience store glass doors, hoping to air their dirty laundry, hoping to be clean once again. For what else is trafficked in here but purity? What else is made but a claim for redemption, a ransoming from stale, onerous body odors and embarrassing marks where life has laid its hands upon us but good? They come in, these children of a sullying world, baskets in tow with weary faces and bedraggled hair; entering with a sense of dread and leaving with a more buoyant soul, brighter colors and whiter whites; understanding renewal, understanding new life and the reinstatement of perfection. The warm air of the dryers expunges moisture. It forces wrinkles from their lives, adds the scent of detergent into their nostrils and the hint of fabric softener into the air which rises to the drop ceiling tiles above and circles the room like incense.
The intense heat reminds the congregants of the fiery winds of Gehenna, that waste dump of souls, where the longing for purification reminds them of how it will be on that last day when darks will be separated from lights; when permanent press will be segregated from the knits, and the hand washables shall inherit the earth - or at least some bureau space – when all God’s fabrics, rayons and cottons, wools and acrylics, will hang side by side and when each article of clothing shall be judged not by the colorfastness of its dye but by the content of its very character and its resilience to machine washing.
Around the outside of the room, slot knuckled machines sit like votive candles, like beggars with a hand out waiting for quarters to commemorate those missing socks, those torn and twisted favorite blouses, those bleach dripped jeans with white burn marks like holy water on the forehead of the Great Beast himself, making the jeans un-wearable except as cutoffs in the summer. The congregation gathers around the waist-high tables like altars with bowed heads and folded arms, flagellating garments as a penitential rite at the First Church of the Holy Laundromat; purging the speckled soiled chunks of daily living; dishing Whisk as the holy sacrament of stain pretreatment; avoiding the purgatory of effervescent static cling by way of a waxy dryer sheet or two. This consecration of holy water and blessed cleansing soap reenacts the miracle with each load of each garment’s first birth, held in a warm tub, immersed in salvation and squeezed pure by the spin cycle that is reminiscent of Christ’s very descent into hell to free us from a soggy damnation, shaking loose the stain of original sin: not pre-treating that blueberry stain – yes, blueberry that most Satanic of all stains – immediately after receiving it. The penitent pre-treats, then soaks, then scrubs with hopeful digits, like fingering a rosary or prayer wheel, achieving a singleness of mind that would rival the Buddha himself, hoping to achieve the return to that pristine state.
For that is what is they are all doing here on this Sunday night before another week of work begins, before they expose themselves again to things that darken, things that break them down, things that glorify the dinginess of being in this world. There are things that mark us, that make us different, that move us off the mark that is perfection. The congregants are all here. It is a quest for re-entrance into the pure light and the soft Snuggle bounce of a fabric softness we know is there and aim to achieve.
Absolution is what spins around those machines and every chugging drain from each machine carries away the separation we hate to admit runs our lives. When the silver slot knuckles of each machine swallows those quarters, we sit in mediation praying to be made new again, hoping for another chance to be good, clean, new, fresh, at least for that first moment Monday morning, when we reach into our drawers, when we pull out an article of clothing, folded with the veneration of a sacred vestment, when we slip the shirt or pants over our head or legs and for that one split second the gates of heaven open up to us and we feel like we are home once and for all.