Ripped at the Laundromat in 1999

[Editor’s note: For this week’s essay we’ve once again pulled out a relic from the archive of Slim Goodbuzz, who served as Duluth’s “booze connoisseur” from 1999 to 2009. In this essay the ol’ Sultan of Sot went out for a “soak and spin” at the Chalet Lounge, 4833 Miller Trunk Highway. The article originally appeared in the December 1999 issue of Duluth’s then-monthly Ripsaw newspaper.]

I hate doing laundry. It’s just one of those exceedingly practical things that isn’t any fun in the least and does nothing but stand in the way of gettin’ ripped and having a good time. Luckily, I found the Chalet Lounge — Duluth’s only Laundromat that is attached to a bar.

Actually, the place isn’t in Duluth, but Hermantown. “Laundromat Hermantown, MN” the sign outside boldly states. On the sidewalk beneath it lay two battered and broken washing machines.

I hauled my basket of dirty clothes inside, eager to get the wash going so I could start drinking. A big guy in a leather jacket leaned against a dryer reading a copy of Real Estate Viewer magazine. I tried really hard not to let him see my Snuggle fabric softener. The thought entered my mind that it might actually be more fun to have a few drinks and then do the wash, but I quickly dismissed this idea, imagining dire consequences.

The Laundromat section of the Chalet is seemingly engineered to be the most visually oppressive environment imaginable. The machines are the standard dog-puke orange and drainage-ditch-scum yellow of all commercial washers. But in addition to this, naked flourescent bulbs glare down from the ceiling, buzzing like angry wasps. The awful light reflects off of walls the color and texture of a prison interrogation room. Handwritten signs scrawled in what looks like black crayon warn of special procedures. A couple of rickety chairs provide the only comfort.

But as you stand in this terrible, terrible room doing your chores, you can see there is a small, greasy window with horizontal bars on it. And if you look through this window, you will see a pleasant room full of people who are drinking and having fun. Next to the small, greasy window is a door. All you have to do is open it.

I knew I was in the right place when I walked in the room and immediately overheard a group of people arguing at the bar. “We’re not polkaholics!” one guy yelled. “We might be alcoholics but we’re not polkaholics!”

The barroom was a lot bigger than one would imagine and filled with slightly strange objects. A video game in the corner flashed the words “Winners Don’t Use Drugs,” crediting the quote to “William S. Sessions, Director, FBI.” A larger-than-life plastic Santa Claus glowed with interior electric light. The wallpaper displayed faded pictures of beer cans from the 1970s. Here and there stood vending machines, providing the inebriated with easy access to candy bars and gumballs. In addition to this, there was not one but two claw machines provided, in case anyone really wanted a stuffed monkey and didn’t want to wait in line to get it. Several drinkers sat comfortably watching Larry King Live on the giant-screen TV. The guest was Gail Sheehy, author of Hillary’s Choice.

I got myself a pitcher for a measly $4.75 and sat right by the little greasy window so I could monitor the progress of my laundry. It didn’t take long for me to become more interested in the progress of the revelers all around me.

Two men and a woman, all of them profoundly ripped, faltered through an embarrassingly long game of pool. “Bill!” one of the men yelled to the other. “Bill! It’s your shot!”

“No it ain’t!” yelled Bill, who was at the bar ordering yet another round. “I already went! It’s the Love of My Life’s shot!”

“Well, where the hell is the Love of Your Life?” the first guy yelled back.

“Hell, I don’t know,” answered Bill, who then started weaving about the bar calling, “Oh, Love of My Life! Where are you, Love of My Life?”

“Here I am!” answered the Love of His Life, staggering back from the jukebox., where she had just spent five dollars on Elton John and Meatloaf.

I decided to check out the jukebox for myself and see if I couldn’t find something a little more to my liking. In addition to Elton John’s Greatest Hits and Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell, the selection included every album Bruce Springsteen ever recorded. I left the jukebox alone, spending my money instead on four games of Hardbodies pinball.

Last call came and went, and I got up to leave. I put on my jacket and walked out the door, feeling as though I was forgetting something. Oh yeah, my clothes.

I guess this gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “spin cycle.”

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