Web Exclusives: Raising Kate
a PAW web exclusive column by Kate Swearengen '04 (kswearen@princeton.edu)

March 7 , 2001:
Living with laundry

How the Princeton experience includes becoming friends with the lint trap

By Kate Swearengen '04

My friend Liz accosted me in the dining hall last week. "You don't have any clothes in the laundry room now, do you?" she asked.

"No," I said. "I did laundry yesterday. Why?"

"Because some jerk took my soaking-wet laundry out of the drier and put it in a big heap on the counter," she breathlessly told me. "So I pulled her clothes out of the drier, threw them on the floor, and stepped on them a few times. Just wanted to make sure it wasn't your stuff."

I pulled my laundry out of the washing machine a few days ago to find several pairs of men's underwear twined disgustingly around my khaki bellbottoms. The week before that I had to rescue my laundry basket, which had become moored to the counter by the ever-present sticky layer of lint and spilt detergent.

At Princeton, law and order is maintained through the dual entities of Public Safety, which protects students from their own or others' excessively boorish behavior, and the Honor Code, which protects students from excessively high grades on midterms or final exams. When it comes to the laundry rooms, however, even these formidable constraints on student behavior are impotent. The laundry rooms are Princeton's Wild West, where not even mild detergent and static guard will insure that your clothes make it through the wash safely. Some students sit in the sordid laundry rooms like grim cowboys, keeping watch on their sudsy herds. Others leave their laundry unattended, returning hours later to search for it amid the massive outcroppings of abandoned socks and mildewed sleeping bags. The situation is best expressed through the words on a black laundry bag left on a counter in the 1915 Hall laundry room: "If this bag moves, shoot it."

There are, of course, alternatives. An advertisement on the Princeton Student Agencies calendar reads: "Is that dirty laundry standing up on its own? Call the Student Laundry Agency for help!" A paragraph in the Student Guide to Princeton warns against the "total carnage" inherent in the Princeton laundry experience, and presents the laundry agency as a viable alternative. The two girls who live across the hall from my friend Charlotte have their clothes washed by the Student Laundry Agency. They also have water delivered weekly by the Student Cooler Agency and receive two subscriptions to the Daily Princetonian, both of which are lobbed, untouched, into the trash can at the end of the day. What's my point? Appealing as the laundry service option may sound, there's something fundamentally democratic about washing your own underwear. Besides, laundry service is expensive.

Membership in a varsity athletic team does not carry the special privileges that it used to. My friend Lauren once heard a group of football players complaining about the situation. "Athletes here are abused. If I were playing for Nebraska, I wouldn't have to work for my grades," one said. Although participation on an athletic team is not a guarantee of an easy A, and although the "big man on campus" has all but disappeared, membership on a varsity sports team does carry certain privileges. During their sports seasons, athletes are provided with giant diaper pins with which they can attach their sweaty workout clothes. These bundles are dropped into giant hampers outside the locker rooms, and are then washed by a laundry service. Elated at this perquisite, I eagerly hauled my sheets and dinosaur-patterned comforter down to the boathouse, only to discover that the system applied only to clothes worn during practice.

As nice as it is to be able to dictate my own schedule and to eat junk food with impunity, life was better before I was introduced to the lint trap. Back in the day, when my mom did the wash, I always ended up with an even number of socks.

You can reach Kate Swearengen at kswearen@princeton.edu