Our Dirty Laundry

One of the most consistent challenges of this trip is trying to keep on top of our dirty clothes.  This doesn’t seem like it should be much of a problem – after all, at home I do laundry once a week, maybe week and a half. But there is a major difference between home and the road, and it boils down to this: underwear. I’ve got four pairs with me – or, rather, three plus an emergency back-up – and I’ve learned the hard way that I can only wash them in the sink so many times before they’re in need of the real deal.

This hasn’t been too much of a problem, given that we’ve stayed in apartments or hostels with machines often enough to avoid letting anything get truly offensive. But the result of our laundry uncertainty is a compulsion to wash our clothing whenever we’re within 10 meters of a washing machine. Who cares if the previous load was two days before – I can always find something in need of a good soak.

What we’ve discovered is that washing machines in Europe are far more evolved than those in the States. Or, at least, they’re more complicated. Instead of a simple dial decorated by minutes and a couple pictograms of cotton balls and delicates, these machines have multiple knobs, multiple buttons, multiple temperatures, and, quite often a life of their own. Yesterday, for example, Peter decided to do a load of laundry at Dmitry’s (our homestay host in St. Petersburg) – a good choice considering that we’d been spending every night sweating through our clothes. But having recently destroyed his shower curtain and commandeered his fan, we felt a little weird asking if we could use his washing machine. So we did the obvious thing: put in a load while he was at work.

Fine, it was a little sketchy. But what was the harm? And besides, we could just wait till the wash cycle was done and hang the clothes surreptitiously in our room.

But we had underestimated the options available on a Russian washing machine. Peter started a load on what he thought was an express cycle; 35 minutes later, it was still doing exactly what it was before: adding small spurts of water and then rotating the drum one turn, then spurting water again. Noticing that it was stuck on what appeared to be Step 3, he tried to move it toward its rinse cycle – but the dial responded by clicking forward on its own, working through 14 different steps before settling again on 3.  The water, while copious, was still filled with suds. Making things worse, it was a front load washer – which meant that even if we could get the machine to stop spurting, we couldn’t get our clothes.

Eventually Peter managed to get the machine to go through a spin cycle and, with some coaxing and unplugging, got the door to unlock. But there was a problem. Not only were our clothes wet and slightly slimy, but the detergent we had used smelled like ammonia – so much so that I insisted he had washed our clothes with toilet cleaner, despite the fact that the bucket was directly next to the washing machine and had a picture of a shirt on it.

We shut the door again, tried to start the wash on a different number. It clicked forward to 3, the washing machine equivalent of “Fuck you.”  Accepting defeat, we left the house.  I can’t tell you what happened next.  Maybe the machine spent the entire afternoon stuck in its wash cycle, running up Dmitry’s hot water bill. Maybe it grew tired of its little game and stopped on its own. Maybe Dmitry came home, wondered why we tried to wash our clothes with toilet cleaner on the endless cycle, and reset the thing for us. All I know is that when we got back that night, the machine was silent and its door was unlocked.  Our clothes smelled fine.  As for my underwear?  I’ve got four clean pairs.

One Response to “Our Dirty Laundry”

  • Doug Says:

    Thanks for the shout-out on your 8/8 post! I was actually away all last week so did not suffer btwn that post and this one. My friend DJ, who Peter knows, was in Helsinki at the same time as you. Funny. He was djing there for about a week.

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