Friday, June 02, 2006

The Metaphysics of the Clothes Care Center. Part IIb: Time's Topography

You can read Part I of the Metaphysics here and Part IIa here.

The routine of Clothes Care would seem to suggest that a laundry room's layout would most likely be some iteration of the ancient notion of the Eternal Return, and in a small way, which I'll come to later, that is the case with the Center. But I will be arguing here that its layout, even the very nature of its machines, serves as a mute but profound meditation not just on Time but how we invest in and spend it.

The Clothes Care Center is a single rectangular room measuring approximately 20' wide and 50' long. It has two entrances, as mentioned before, one at either of its narrow ends.

The first time one enters the Center, all appears chaotic: the rows of washers appear haphazardly arranged, contrasting with all the stacked-unit dryers built into one of the long walls. But the two enormous folding tables, placed back to back and dividing the room width-wise into two equal halves, serve to orient the disoriented. Standing by the table, one instantly sees that the two rows of washers, far from being arbitrarily placed, are in fact at 45° angles relative to the walls; moreover, they are oriented so that the ends nearer the dryers incline toward the dryer-end of the folding tables. Thus, the placement of the washers and the tables suggest an arrow . . . pointing at the dryers!

And that reflection in the dryer doors that you think is you . . . actually, it's Mary Magda-- Sorry--wrong tale.

If you're not getting goosebumps yet, though, you're not likely to from here on out: I'm afraid I don't have any surprises waiting in DaVinci frescoes to spring on you. I figure it's better to foreshadow the very real likelihood of your eventually being let down so that when it does happen, well, you've already been warned.

It seems pretty clear that the arrangement of the washers and tables indicates that the Center's dryers are the Center's focal point, so we should give them a little attention. These are stacked units built into one wall in three groups consisting of four units (that is, eight dryers/group), for a total of 24 dryers. Seeing as a quarter buys 10 minutes of drying time, the user has a fair amount of control over how much time s/he can buy.

The two sets of washers, meanwhile, are in rows of six placed back to back, for a total of 12 in each set and--possible goosebump alert--24(!) washers in all. Though the washers have various temperature settings, the user has only two wash cycle options: Regular (33 minutes) and Super (36 minutes). The prices for these are fixed, of course.

Yes: 24 washers, 24 dryers, yet grouped and arranged differently so as to go unnoticed by all but the more contemplative among us. Add to that the fact that the Center is open 24 hours a day . . . But this outer, admittedly simplistic nod to the solar day's length holds deeper significances. 24 washers divided into two rows of 12 each; 24 dryers divided into three groups of eight--the strong suggestion is that we can divide and spend the solar day in multiple ways, yet the total allotment of hours per day remins the same for all of us. That sounds trite as well, admittedly, until we consider the literary example of Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus: he sells his soul to Mephistophiles in exchange for 24 years in which he can order Mephistophiles to do (just about) anything he commands. Putting aside the question of whether Faustus should have entered into such a bargain in the first place, it's more than a little sad, not to mention instructive, to see this man with such immense power at his disposal content himself with supernatural high school pranks like putting antlers on a man's head and turning straw into horses that will turn back into straw as soon as they get wet. Kind of like the person sitting in a room filled with books, not all of which he has read, and with the intellectual resources of the Internet at his disposal who instead whiles away his time writing blog posts about laundry rooms as meditations on Time and hopes to sucker other people into reading them.


So: there is the consideration of how one's life is spent as we ponder the 24 washers and 24 dryers. But even though we get only 24 hours in a day, those of you reading this have gotten considerably more than one day and, God willing, will get a few more of them. Our respective allotments of those days aren't infinite, of course; we have no choice in that. Similarly, many times circumstances present themselves in which we have little choice: simple either/ors. But about a great many things, though, we do have considerable say and, in the abstract, an enormous range of say as to the time we invest in those things. Those matter define who we are to ourselves and to others, we tend to think, and here again the Center's topography comments on this.

I had mentioned before that the washers present the visitant with only two wash-cycle lengths, whereas the dryers permit him/her the option of paying for multiple 10-minute increments. I think it's telling that the washers and folding tables are arranged to form an arrow pointing at the dryers: I think it's our sense of things that in the normal course of living (apart from moments of crisis) it's the accretion of choices freely made from a range of options that amalgamate into something called "us." I think it equally significant that, until I actually counted them, I thought the Center had more dryers than washers. That accretion seeming to have more significance for us is, in the end, illusory. It is more likely that the Center's topography suggests that that accretion's significance is balanced by the choices we make when we have, or sense we have, fewer options, even if we tend to be more focused on those matters over which we have more say.

At the center of the Center, as mentioned, are the back-to-back folding tables. Folding and hanging, it goes without saying, are the endgame of Clothes care, the narrow neck at the center of the hourglass. With washing and drying, we guess-and-gosh our way through the process: This feels like a Super load; that load should take 50 minutes to dry. At the folding table we assess the results of guess-and-gosh: we tally; we come across the results of oversights that now, in retrospect, our work nearly done, we wish we could rectify but now can do nothing but curse our luck or shrug our shoulders; we pledge to amend our Caring next time. Even though the table serves as the shaft of the arrow that points toward the dryers, it is in fact the axis of the space of the Center. It is the site of recognition of sins of (c)omission and the site of communion with that for which we've come to the Center in the first place.

The table is the embodiment of the Center's--and Time's--yin and yang. It is the terminus and so embodies Time's linear quality. Yet while standing there folding, one cannot help but think, "Next week, give or take--probably take--I'll be here again," and be reminded of the coming resumption of the Cycle.

Technorati tags:


Steph McCarty said...

Hey John B.,
Received your comment on my Rubrics Twist blog and I would be honored to have a link on your page. I plan on linking up to your page as well. Thanks for reading!

fearful_syzygy said...

the plot hard to follow
the text obscured
in the folds of sheets
slowly gathering the stains
of seasons spent lying there
red and brown
like leaves fallen
the colors of an eternal cycle
fading with the
wash cycle
and the rinse cycle
again an unfamiliar smell
like my name misspelled
or misspoken
a cycle broken

John B. said...

Steph, welcome and thank you. I hope you'll return from time to time.

F_S, thanks for the poem. Yours, I assume?

fearful_syzygy said...

No, actually it's a bit from 'The Slant' by Ani DiFranco.

Raminagrobis said...

If it had been his own, he never would have spelled 'color' that way.

It is quite good, though. Ani DiFranco you say? I might have to check her out.

She's not like Tori Amos is she?

I like this series of posts. I especially liked the Dr Faustus comparison. And we bloggers won't even get near Helen of Troy for our troubles. Oh what a world!