Late Night Laundry

Posted February 27, 2000 at 5:30 pm No Comments

An all-nighter tends to come in three stages:

  1. I’m in the zone!  I’ve never felt better.  I’m ripping though this problem set like a bullet through tissue paper!
  2. Vision… blurring… eyelids… drooping… shoulders… sagging… must… stay… awake…
  3. I’m way too tired to fall asleep now.  I’m tired beyond tired.  My heart is beating like a jackhammer, and I’ve broken into a cold sweat.  I’d feel like I were in the zone, except that my thought patterns are strangely jumbled.

As the sun rose, I stumbled home from Wean Hall, deep into the third stage.  I was sleepy but satisfied: the virtual reality simulator was complete, and six boxes of equipment had been shipped to the Johnson Space Center.  In two hours I would be on my way to the airport.  It was then that I realized that I had no clean clothes to pack.

laundry.jpg (22731 bytes) The laundry counter is closed on Sunday mornings, but luckily I had four old laundry tokens in my wallet.  It would work out perfectly, I figured, since I would have just the right number of tokens for two washer loads and two drier loads.  After filling two washing machines with clothing and detergent, I inserted a token into the first machine and pushed the start button.  Nothing happened.In this situation, the most sensible course of action would have been to switch the load to another machine, but my sleep-deprived brain decided that instead I would put another token into the same machine and push the button again.  Not surprisingly, the machine still didn’t respond.

It was at that point that my I hit upon the idea to switch machines.  I soon had both washers going, but now I was in a tight spot: in 45 minutes I would have two loads of wet laundry on my hands, and I was out of tokens.  Unless I acquired some tokens quickly, I would have to depart for Houston with a suitcase containing 50 pounds of waterlogged clothes.

As I paced back and forth through the laundry room, I noticed an ancient coin-push token dispenser, requiring exact change of three quarters and a nickel.  I checked my pockets and found one quarter and two nickels, and my wallet contained three one-dollar bills.  I gave the token dispenser a bleary-eyed stare.  This is the sort of math that becomes difficult at 7 AM.

There weren’t any change machines around, so I ran to the vending machines at the nearest dorm, where I saw that I could buy a package of gum for 50 cents.  Since that sounded like a good idea, I bought two packs with two of my dollar bills, leaving me with a grand total of five quarters, two nickels, and one dollar bill.  Here’s where it got tricky — I needed another quarter and a nickel, and all of the items in the machine cost either 50 cents or 65 cents.  Buying a 50-cent item would leave me with another two quarters, and a 65-cent item would most likely yield a quarter and a dime.   Holding my breath, I put a dollar into the machine and bought a 65-cent bag of pretzels.  Score!  I heard three clinks as the machine returned a quarter and a pair of nickels.

As I stuffed my suitcase full of unfolded, unsorted, and still somewhat damp laundry, I reflected on the degree to which my packing job resembled our overall preparation for this trip.  Our research proposal had been written in a weekend.  The internal review process, which typically takes a month, had been pushed through in two days.  The stand for our magnetic tracker base was rigged out of twine and PVC piping, and had collapsed during our final test session.

Heaving a sigh, I zipped up my suitcase and threw it into the trunk of Frollini’s car.   For better or for worse, I was on my way to Texas.

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