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The First Church of the Holy Laundromat

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.