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Soapy showdown at the coin-operated laundry corral

Big Jim poked at the campfire. “Reckon we’ll get these cattle to the stockyard in two, three days.”

Buck nodded. “S’long as we stay ahead of them rustlers. Ain’t enough of us to hold off them bandits.”

Ol’ Cheyenne squinted at the dark horizon. “Somethin’s out there, mark my words. I kin feel it in my toes.”

“Maybe you’re wearing your spurs on the wrong end of yer boots again,” Slim hooted.

I snickered with the boys until a harsh bark ran the smile clean off my face: “Move your stuff to the dryer already, dude. I need the washer.”

“Yeah, sure, thanks.” I pushed out of the plastic seat and ambled away from the television set. “Sorry, man, I got lost in the Western. I don’t have this channel at home.”

“It’s the only good thing about coming to the laundry,” he said as I hauled sopping socks and soggy jeans out of the washer. He blinked. “Say, don’t you separate colors?”

“Nope, pa’dner. It’s why I buy only black socks and gray boxers. They all jam into one load and nothing turns pink.”

“Smart.” He shook the contents of his basket into the now-empty washer. “Better load your dryer quarters quickly. Looks like the rustlers are slipping the herd out of the corral.”

I was a quarter short. I glanced at the change machine, then at the TV. The dryer could wait until commercial break. Big Jim, Buck and the boys needed me.

There have been periods in my life when meeting TV cowboys and weary strangers at the coin wash was the highlight of my social life. Now we have our own washer and dryer, so I have no social life at all, except when it’s time to launder mattress pads, comforters and other pieces too bulky for our home machine.

My adventures in automated laundries began when I sauntered off to college. I soon learned the value of accumulating quarters throughout the week. I could either waste two bits on rec center video games like Space Invaders or Ms. Pac-Man, or I could wear clean clothes.

Which is how I learned that if you turn T-shirts inside out and air them over chair backs for a week, I could set a new high score on Ms. Pac-Man.

Eventually, as can happen when a guy blinks, I woke up one morning to discover that I had a wife and a baby daughter, both of whom were fussy that Saturday. I tripped over an overflowing laundry basket and realized we had yet to acquire a washer in the apartment.

You know, it had been months since I had watched a good Western.

“Tell you what,” I offered. “You two stay here and nap or something, and I’ll run to the laundromat.”

One of the fussies said, “I’ll sort the clothes, first. I don’t trust you.” The other fussy bawled for her pacifier.

A couple Westerns later, I had three baskets of laundry washed, dried and mostly folded. I gave up on the ink-stained fitted sheets, and just crumpled them into balls.

“What are these ink stains all over my sheets!” one of my fussy ladies demanded after I rode home. “Didn’t you check the pockets like I told you?”

I nudged the brim of my cap, cowboy style. “I ‘spect it was them low-down rustlers, ma’am. Those sneaky varmints must’a spilled Bic ballpoints all throughout the sheep, uh, sheets. Check to see if they go away with any lambs or wool socks, and notify the sheriff. Now if you’ll excuse me, the little missy over there needs her pacifier and I aim to get it for her.”

And that’s how my adventures in coin-operated laundries rode off into the sunset.

Send Cole through the spin cycle at burtseye view@tribtoday.com, the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook or at www.burt on.w.cole.com

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