When you have a house, and one set of laundry machines, you can do your laundry one of two ways, I've discovered. You can wash and dry it in a series of back-to back cycles and try to get it done all in one crazy day, or you can wash a load or two every day and just keep it constantly cycling through. Unless, I guess, you have 7 or more people and/or the amount of clothing we seem to have, in which case the laundry plan pretty much devolves into running the washer and dryer from dawn to dusk all week and hoping nobody throws up on anything.
This week, as I may have mentioned, we're living in a hotel. Which means we don't have access to our usual hardworking laundry facilities. Instead, we pile up our dirty clothes in a closet somewhere until nobody has clean underwear anymore, and then we pack it all up and head off to one of man's most brilliant creations: the coin laundry.
The beautiful thing about the coin laundry is all those machines lined up side by side, waiting to take your week's laundry all at the same time. Half an hour or so through the washers, 40 minutes in the gigantic drum dryer, and you're done until next week. Done. Until next week. I will have a hard time going back to the old way, having seen the light.
But the obvious tradeoff is that you have to haul all your dirty laundry down there, and sit around while it washes. And feed quarters into the machines, of course. But the laundry we've been using has a few compensations to help you make it through. Two English-speaking TVs (and one Spanish), a children's toy area, a couple of ancient exercise machines, an arcade game or two, and a little short bookshelf full of books.
I skimmed the bookshelf the first time we went to the coin laundry, and was impressed with the selection there. There was a string of battered paperbacks, but many of them bore the silver seal of the Newberry Award. Between these venerable titles, I found a book covered with Quentin Blake's unmistakable illustrations, and found I was holding the second half of Roald Dahl's autobiography, Going Solo in my hands.
I had read The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, a collection of short stories by Dahl, a couple of which are autobiographical, and had been charmed by his story of how he discovered himself to be a writer. I didn't know there was more autobiography to be had. I'm not one of those who looks up every published work by an author I've enjoyed reading, so this type of surprise isn't unusual to me. I operated that way once. But then I made the mistake of reading Jude the Obscure back-to-back with Tess of the D'urbervilles and was so depressed that I decided a little airspace between works by any one author might be best.
So I opened Going Solo and began to read about Dahl's trip to Africa to work for Shell Company, about the barmy empire-builders he met on the way, about deadly snakes and learning to speak Swahili...and the clothes were finished drying. So we folded them and left.
My usual reaction to finding a book I've enjoyed part of is to buy it and have it sent to me, or at least check it out of the library. But I have no library card. I have no address. I have got a Kindle, but I've about decided to throw that baby out in favor of the irreplaceable sensory experience of paper, and that book isn't available in Kindle format anyway. There was no way for me to continue to read about Roald Dahl except to return to the blue plastic seats at the coin laundry and take their crumbling copy off the shelf.
And, well, I liked him. I know that I'm one of millions who have loved his easy storytelling style and bizarre sense of humor, but somehow when you're reading a book it feels like you're alone with the author, hearing a story that's never been told to anyone else. So I was sad to leave him, cut off in mid-story, on the shelf at the laundromat.
But the clothes piled up, and we were still hotel-dwellers, so a week later, I found myself in front of the laundromat bookshelf again. Another few chapters' worth of flight training, snake-hunting, and amused easy grace, and I was completely smitten. I looked Dahl up on my phone. He'd been dead for 24 years. Good. I could be in love with him all I wanted.
But there remains the problem of getting my hands on his book, and the first half of his autobiography, Boy. By the end of the week I'll have an address and the slow-style laundry to go with it. There will certainly be a measurable loss in the speed-laundry department. But there are compensations there as well. Who cares about all the other perks of having a house? If I have an address, it means I can order my book.