Water cooler has washers

Deep in the basement of every residential college, amid piles of clothing and chunks of lint and dust, lies the darker side of Yale. Late at night and all through the weekend, students converge on the laundry room with the common purpose of restoring a semblance of order to their lives by at least having a clean shirt to wear the next day.

But at college, the usually individual act of doing laundry becomes a group activity, involving calculations worthy of grand strategy. Governed by an unspoken set of rules, laundry rooms at Yale have a culture all their own.

Since some students have not done laundry on their own before arriving at college, the laundry rooms can come as a bit of a shock. Arianna Davalos ’07 said her roommate once came back with an entirely pink load of laundry, a story many students have heard, but usually only as a warning enforcing color separation.

As students wandered in and out of the Bingham laundry room to check on the open washers last Sunday, Davalos changed her three loads of laundry from washers to dryers. For her, and many other students, a lazy weekend afternoon calls for doing the laundry that has built up over the week — or over several weeks. Wearing flannel pajama pants, a sweatshirt and flip-flops, Davalos was in full laundry-doing mode.

Other students have more creative solutions to the problem of what to wear while doing laundry. Richard Berger ’05 lived right above the laundry room in Trumbull his sophomore year. After putting all his clothes in the washer and turning it on, he would pull off the shirt he was wearing, throw it in and make a dash back up the entryway to his room. He was spotted once, he said, which, he said, shrugging, was “a little awkward.”

One not uncommon problem in the laundry rooms — especially bigger, busier ones such as those in Farnham and Bingham Halls on Old Campus — is theft. Even in the more private college laundry rooms, theft is a problem, with more than just the lone sock going missing in a load.

Angela Wade ’07 managed to catch her laundry room culprit. After tossing in a load of laundry earlier this year, Wade turned around and found that her laundry hamper was no longer behind her. After she exclaimed that it was missing, another laundry-doer told her she had seen someone leave with it and knew who he was. Wade tracked him down, showed up at his door and recovered her hamper. Now, her once plain white-mesh hamper is covered with drawings of flowers and her name in bold letters, which she hopes will be enough to deter future hamper-thieves.

The lack of privacy of the laundry room creates an atmosphere that is different from anywhere else on the Yale campus. While waiting for those last two minutes of the rinse cycle, people who did not know each other previously come together, bonding over the dirtiness of the room or the pain of doing laundry without their parents’ help. And by its very nature, a load of laundry can reveal things its owner would rather keep hidden. Once, after dressing in drag for a party, Justin Ross ’07 had to move his laundry from the washer to the dryer in front of the crowded laundry room, women’s clothing included, he said.

Of all the issues that arise, the most contentious by far is what to do with clothing that has finished spinning in the washer — or dryer — but has not yet been picked up by its rightful owner. Students frustrated with already-crowded laundry rooms and long waits for machines become impatient, emptying others’ clothing into any open receptacle.

Marcus Leonard ’07, who does his laundry every other week in Bingham, said he tries to be polite, but it is difficult.

“I guess there should be [rules], but people don’t follow any kind of decent etiquette,” Leonard said.

Berger said one motivating factor to treat others’ clothing with respect is the potential for awkwardness if you are caught taking someone else’s laundry out of the washing machine when that person shows up. The variety of colorful undergarments Yale women wear can make the experience especially awkward, for both men and women.

While most laundry rooms continue on as lawless societies, Saybrook College has recently adopted some loose rules. A sheet of paper posted on the laundry room door reads “Laundry Etiquette FAQ’s,” which include the warning, “clean, wet clothes that have been left in a washer for more than 15 minutes may be moved to a DRYER.” The TABLES are reserved for clean, dry clothes that have been left in a dryer for more than fifteen minutes.

Though most Saybrugians look to the FAQ’s as useful guidelines, at least one student seems to be taking them extremely seriously. On a Sunday afternoon, when tensions in the laundry room are always high, one student, who declined to be named for fear of retribution, made the mistake of moving wet clothes out of a dryer and onto a shelf.

When the offending student went to retrieve his dry clothes, he found an angry post-it note stuck to the dryer: “Next time you take wet clothes out of the dryer, put them on the TABLE!”

The student ripped the note off the dryer and muttered defensively, “People are so anal. They should just buy their own machines.”

It remains unexplained why the clothes were sitting wet in a dryer — the post-it indicated that their owner knew where they had been. The note’s recipient wondered why the owner of the clothes had not turned the dryer on, and why, if he or she were such a stickler for the rules, the note had said to put wet clothes on the table normally reserved for dry articles of clothing.

Yet another unsolved mystery of the laundry room.

Students in the Farnham laundry room put their clothing into washers. The University laundry rooms are places full of calculations and clothing capers.
Philip Rucker
Students in the Farnham laundry room put their clothing into washers. The University laundry rooms are places full of calculations and clothing capers.

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