The Prince of Tide

Sometimes remodeling can turn you into a basket case.

This is what our lives have become. It’s Friday night and there’s takeout from District Taco strewn across the floor. Something from Netflix is streaming on the TV because we’re living without cable for the next six months. (“Off the grid!” I tell my wife every chance I get, my comic timing more sharply honed by the hour.) And, piled with sloppy precision around our bedroom, are mounds of dirty clothes. A month’s worth at least.

We’ve been living in a two-bedroom apartment in Waverly Hills for three weeks now, displaced by an epic home-renovation project that’s transforming our tiny, charm-free Cape Cod just a block and a half away into a slightly less tiny, fully updated two-story house. We stopped doing laundry a fortnight before we moved out, because nothing was as important as the pitiless imperium of packing, with its never-ending assortment of life-changing decisions. Keep or toss? Free-cycle or donate? Apartment, POD, or trash? Nothing, it seemed, was above debate. There were days when I was surprised to find our daughters, 9 and 6, still in the “keep” category. I mean, what the hell were they doing to pull their weight?

Meanwhile, the laundry piled up. When it was finally time to clear out so that our extreme home makeover could get under way, we carried with us not just baskets and suitcases of dirty clothes, but boxes and trash cans and trash bags full of them.

By the Friday night in question, I find myself disturbingly excited about the possibility of knocking out the entirety of our laundry—11 densely packed loads, not counting sheets—in one feverish spin cycle, leaving us free to spend the weekend on something genuinely exhilarating, like unpacking the kitchen. I’ve already scoped out the laundry room in the basement of our building and discovered it has seven washers and six dryers. Seven! And six! That means I can pop down from the third floor with every non-dry-cleaner-worthy garment we own and wash nearly everything at once. Maybe this won’t be so bad, living away from our single-family home withits single-family washer and dryer.

I am, perhaps, overly ambitious. Also naive. Possibly delusional.

Who knew that some of the Marymount University students who live in our building—the ones I’d assumed would be out partying or hooking up or tweeting—would be just as sad and broken-down in their TGIF planning as a 41-year-old home-renovation refugee? Or that one of our neighbors would queue up with what seems to be the linen allotment for an aircraft carrier or medium-sized prison? Or that the electronic card we’ve been issued to run the washers and dryers requires actual cash to load it with credits from the vending machine in the laundry room?

But most of all, who knew that it’s not unusual for the laundry room to blow a fuse during peak hours, leaving only three washers and one dryer in operation?

The evening ends on a sodden note, sometime around 11, with two baskets of clean, wet laundry dumped inside the front door of our apartment. My many attempts to get at the one functioning dryer—returning to the laundry room every 20 minutes, then 15 minutes, then 12, then 10—have been futile. So I’m determined to be awake and out of bed as early as possible on Saturday to get those two loads into the dryer before they start mildewing.

The next day, I career into the laundry room a few minutes before 8, only to find that somebody with the same idea is already there. Eyeing the one dryer, I smile tightly. She smiles sheepishly. We agree that the blown fuse is unacceptable. Then she shrugs and loads the dryer, and I shuffle back to our apartment, feeling more and more like an Arthur Miller character, the laundry baskets in my arms drooping with metaphorical weight.

I’m supposed to say that this whole experience has taught me something about what really matters. And, indeed, I’ve never been more aware of the position of privilege that my family is lucky enough to enjoy—living in a house full of modern conveniences that we, and only we, have license to use.

But, in the end, what really matters (at least to me, at this particular moment) is that by the time you read this, our renovation project should be winding down. We’ll be packing, getting ready to move back into our old life—a life that used to include, and that will include once more, our very own high-efficiency washer and dryer. And just our own dirty laundry to contend with.

Christopher Durso is a magazine editor who, by the time this essay goes to press, will be living in a newly renovated home in Arlington. He hopes.

Categories: People