Note: My wife is at the supermarket and Im home alone with
some laundry to do which made me think back to this article.
Theres a certain something about washing, drying,
and folding clothes that gets my attention.
Theres a lesson here, so pay attention.
(From Classic X, May 5, 1999)
by Ellington Darden, Ph.D.
Wednesday is laundry day for me. Thats right, I do my own laundry and Ive done so for the last ten years.
Since I relocated to Celebration, Florida, about a year ago, I now do laundry at my home naturally, with the help of a washing machine and a dryer.
But when I lived a hundred miles north, in Gainesville, I visited a coin laundromat on University Avenue. There were some interesting things about that old laundromat that I really liked.
First, it was convenient. It was located between the Gainesville Health & Fitness Center, where I did research for my books, and my townhouse, which was only a two-block walk from the laundry building.
Second, it was in small strip shopping center, which was a hub of activity. On one side was a Subway sandwich shop, a Handyway store, and a small post office. On the other side was a shoe store, a barber shop, and a video rental place. And across the street was the fitness center, which is the largest fitness club in the United States. It has 20,000 members, and 4,000 people train there on most weekdays.
Third, the woman who worked at the laundromat was a memorable person. Her name was Millie.
When I first met Millie, she was 70 years old, stood 5 feet tall, and weighed 92 pounds. She had deep wrinkles over her face from too much sun and too many cigarettes. She was meek, soft spoken, and you could tell from her actions a hard worker for much of her life.
Most of all, Millie knew washing and drying: backward, forward, inside, and out. "The key to getting your laundry right," Millie used to say, "is not overloading the washer, the correct amount of soap (less is best), a hot dryer, and quick fold."
Whats quick fold? Quick fold, according to Millie, keeps the wrinkles out of most clothes. You remove clothes from the dryer immediately and you begin folding the ones you want the fewest wrinkles in. Your best shirts and trousers first, for example, and your underwear and socks last. Her folding techniques, however, were implanted from decades and decades of experience.
Take tee shirts, for instance. Anyone who exercises owns dozens of tee shirts. If youre like me, you dislike wearing a tee shirt thats covered with wrinkles. But how do get the wrinkles out, especially if you dont like the thought of ironing a tee shirt? The secret is in the folding.
Heres how Millie instructed me to fold a tee shirt:
1. Remove it from the dryer quickly and make sure its right side out.
2. Hold the shoulder seams, one in each hand, and swish the entire tee shirt in front of you in big strokes through the air. Do the swish twice.
3. Spread the tee shirt flat on a table. The front should be face down with the shoulders farthest away from you. You are now going to make two vertical folds on the shirt.
4. Take the left sleeve and shoulder and fold it (left to right), from one-third to two-thirds of the way across and down the tee shirt. Smooth out any visible wrinkles with your hand.
5. Take the right sleeve and shoulder and fold it (right to left), from the two-thirds to the one-third division. The sleeves should now be neatly wrapped, one on top of the other, over the back of the shirt. Again, smooth out any wrinkles.
6. Grasp the bottom of the shirt and fold it in half horizontally. Smooth any wrinkles, and fold the shirt again in half horizontally.
7. Turn the material over and you have a neat, folded, approximate 6-inch by 12-inch, collar-up tee shirt which will be virtually wrinkle free when you unfold and wear it. It is now ready for storage in a drawer or basket.
Well, Im telling you, Millie could quick fold a tee shirt faster that anyone on the planet. One morning I watched her fold 25 tee shirts in something like 3 minutes. I was so amazed that timed her on the next one: 5 seconds flat.
Since Millies laundromat was located just down the street from the campus of the University of Florida, she dealt with thousands of students. She would do washing, drying, and folding at the rate of 50 cents per pound, or offer free advice if you wanted to do it yourself. I usually preferred to do it myself, especially since I enjoyed conversing with Millie.
In 1996, at age 75, Millie retired. I kept using the facility until I left Gainesville 18 months later, but it just wasnt the same without Millie. The man who owned the laundromat hired at least six or seven different women over the next year to take Millies place. None of them lasted longer than six weeks. They probably couldnt tolerate the routine, or the customers.
About six months before I left Gainesville, Im doing my laundry one morning. The place is empty, except for me. Im sitting in back reading a magazine and minding my own business. In walks a well-built, male, college student. Obviously, hes either going or coming from a workout at the fitness center across the street. He fumbles at some of the machines up front, looks around the place, spots me, and walks to the back impatiently.
"Do you work here?" he asked.
Usually, I would have given him some sort of fast, comical answer. But because this was still Millies place in my mind, I smiled, looked up at the young man, and said: "Yes, can I help you with something?"
"Do you have change for a dollar?" he asked. "The machine up front seems to be out of order."
Since I had four quarters in my pocket, I replied, "Sure," and handed him the quarters. Millie always said it was important to have plenty of extra quarters handy just in case the machine jammed.
The guy quickly walked back to the front, threw his sack of clothes into the first washing machine, and cranked it up. I returned to my magazine.
"Hey, man," he hollered several minutes later. "Im going across the street to workout. When the machine stops, could you move my wet clothes from this washer to that dryer (he pointed as he talked)?"
Not even waiting for my answer, he hurried out.
Gee, I thought to myself: What an asshole. How did Millie tolerate all these types (and worse) for half her life?
She would have dealt it, I realized, with a smile on her face and a helping hand.
So, thats what I did. I transferred that assholes wet clothes to the dryer. I waited around another 15 minutes after my laundry was finished, took the assholes clothes out of the dryer, quick folded them (he had six tee shirts), and put them back into his sack. As I walked home, I felt sort of misunderstood and uplifted at the same time.
Thats not the end of the story, however.
Approximately a week later, Im at the fitness center putting one of my research subjects through a high-intensity workout. The subject happens to be a very attractive woman who Im planning on featuring in my "Body Defining" book.
Since the Gainesville Health & Fitness Center contains more than a dozen lines of strength-training machines, I usually exercise my people in an upstairs, out-of-the-way area to get away from the crowds and the noise. No one bothers us in this remote part of the gym. But today, Im incorporating negative chins into this womans routine and the multi-exercise machine that I use for chins is located downstairs in the middle of all the action.
So, downstairs we go into the chaos. As I suspect, someone is already using the multi-exercise machine. This guys doing sets of fast calf raises. There we stand: me with my pencil and clipboard and her with a body that would stop traffic on a busy street. A minute goes by. Then two minutes. This guy just keeps doing more sets. What an asshole he is, I think to myself.
Finally, I decide to say something to him. "Excuse me, could we work in for a brief set?"
He steps aside, turns around, and yep, this calf-raise asshole is the same asshole from the laundromat. We make only brief eye contact. Im not sure if he recognizes me or not.
It doesnt matter, however. My trainee is already into position for her negative chins and we continue with her workout.
Then, another two weeks go by and something else happens.
Im good friends with Joe Cirulli, the owner of the Gainesville Health &
Fitness Center. Hes in charge of training all the instructors, which number more than 100. Most of the instructors are college students who work 20 hours a week. Every three months, theres an orientation session for individuals who are interested in becoming instructors. Since I wrote "The Nautilus Book," which is used at the fitness center as a training manual, Joe often asks me to say a few words to the prospective instructors.
Anyway, here I am, dressed for the presentation in a coat and tie, speaking to this group of about 50 young people. As I look out over the audience, seated in the back of the room, is you guessed it that asshole.
After my presentation, theres a 15-minute refreshment break. Several of the people in the audience approach and ask me to autograph their copies of "The Nautilus Book." As Im signing the books, several more individuals walk over and start peppering me with questions.
I like such questions because they let you know that during the presentation, you caused the audience to think a little. As Im pitching my answers in my Texas drawl, I notice that the asshole has drifted over within ears reach.
After several more minutes of chatter, someone asks me about career possibilities in the fitness business.
"Look," I say in response, "qualifying and becoming a part time instructor at the Gainesville Health & Fitness Center will provide you with a great view of what it takes to be successful in the commercial health club business. But if you fail to qualify (theres an initial written test, as well as a supervised high-intensity workout, that a prospective instructor must pass), then maybe I get you some equally gratifying work across the street at the laundromat."
Because of the way I emphasized "at the laundromat," everyone chuckled, including the asshole. I still didnt know if he recognized me from the laundromat, but it appeared that I now had his undivided attention as I moved in for a final jab.
"After 30 years in the fitness business," I concluded, "theres only three things I really like to do: train people, write books, and do laundry . . . in no particular order!"
Again, because of the way I accentuated those last concepts, everyone laughed. Just then, Joe Cirulli asked the group to be seated as the orientation session was about to continue.
Later that day, I had finished training the attractive woman that I mentioned earlier, and was heading out the front door of the club. Suddenly, I feel this tap on my shoulder followed by . . . "Dr. Darden, have you got a minute?" To my surprise, its Mr. Asshole. Except now theres something different about him.
We go out the door together and walk to a more private area. He politely introduces himself to me. Sam is his name.
Yes, he remembers me from the laundromat and he thanks me for helping him that day. Yes, he definitely thought I worked there. No, he didnt make the connection several weeks ago at the calf-raise machine. He didnt connect all the dots until this morning from my final comment about those three things that I really like to do.
As a result, we had several good belly laughs together.
Maybe hes not such an asshole after all, I think to myself, especially since in addition hes just asked me several intelligent questions about my book.
In fact, Sam went on to become an instructor and a darn good one. He even helped me train some of my participants in a later research project.
For the remaining time I spent in Gainesville, sometimes when Id see Sam at the fitness center, my parting line to him was: "Do you have change for a dollar?"
It always brought a smile to both of our faces.
I never helped Sam do his laundry again, but I did advise him how to quick fold a tee shirt. Sam said he would spread the word . . . not only about quick fold, but also about having extra quarters handy. You never know when youll need to make change for a dollar, right?
Millie would have been proud of us.