The College Secret

On the way to work this morning, I found myself thinking about something I did in college. Approximately 25 years ago. That’s more than half my life ago, a fact which barely seems possible.

Way back then—more than half my life ago—occasionally, I would realize that I way too behind on my studies to go out with my friends on a Saturday night. This should have happened more than it did, but at least it happened occasionally.

When I lived on campus, I had a plan for those Saturday nights. It was a plan so good that I actually tried not to let anyone else in on it, because I was afraid they’d do it to.

After my roommate went out for the night, I’d pull out my duffle bag and shove my laundry bag in it. I’d figure out exactly which books and notebooks I needed and take everything else out of my backpack. Wherever I could find room, I’d shove in my detergent, my stain stick, my roll of quarters.

I’d always be completely overburdened, but I’d always do it in just one trip. I’d shuffle to the closest dorm that that had washing machines, and then I’d slink down to the basement.

The dorm in question was old and brick. It had an original straight line of rooms, completed in 1902, and then a much uglier 1958 line of rooms, extending back from original line at a perpendicular angle. The new wing was not at one end of the building forming a corner, and it wasn’t at the center, forming an even T. I tried to find a picture to show you how disconcerting this was, but that building has been renovated past recognition, and strangely, ugly dorms of the past is not a section featured on the school website.

I also wanted to tell you about the brutalist TV room that burst forth from the front of the building like a pustule, but this is not an architecture blog, and it is getting late.

Where were we? Yes, it was 1990-something, and I was one my way to do laundry. The stairs entered the basement from the old section slightly before the junction with the newer section, and you had to walk through a set of double doors to reach the newer basement and the laundry room.

There were eight washers. Typically, I’d find they were all empty, and typically, I would use four or even five—simultaneously.

I went to a large state university. The ratio of washers and dryers to on-campus students felt low. People who washed clothes on Sundays derived a thrill from competition and conflict that I will never understand. Even on weeknights, students eyed each other as they hovered around machines nearing the end of their cycles like lions around an injured gazelle. Ouf, and if you weren’t there to collect your clothes when the buzzer dinged, you could expect to find them chucked on one of the beat-up tables from God-knows-where.

On a Saturday night, the tables were both empty and dry. I’d find a beat-up-chair, also from God-knows-where, pull it up to one of the tables, roll up my sleeves, and study with a sense of purpose I struggled to find at other times.

Honestly, I don’t know why I didn’t study in the laundry room on a weekend night more often. In retrospect, trying to have fun at college parties was often the least fun part of college.

I guess I know myself better now. I’ve been doing some research and some writing most of the night. And now it’s time to move the wet clothes in the washer to the dryer. At least I can go to sleep before they dry.

8 thoughts on “The College Secret

  1. Your post brought me back 30 years, collecting quarters and using laundry as an excuse to stay in on a Saturday night! “Lions around an injured gazelle” captures exactly what laundry was like every Tuesday on campus. Fantastic ending.


  2. I LOVE this one! I kept waiting for it to be a much juicer secret that it was, but it was better! Seriously, this made me chuckle the whole way throughout. The details are all spot-on mundane college life but vivid as hell. Your voice is so strong making for an easy read. Excellent slice!


  3. Thanks for being me back to my college years! I have to be honest though…I don’t think I ever did laundry on a Saturday night. I was one of those crazy Sunday evening people waiting to pounce on the next empty machine.
    Thanks for sharing such a well written and enjoyable piece.


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