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A snowy evening.
All is quiet on the Harvard campus, floodlit buildings glowing against the pale peaceful background of a Massachusetts winter.
Or so it seems.
If you listen long enough you can hear a low whir, the steady hum of hundreds of continuously spinning machines. It emerges from underground, from tiny over-bright rooms tucked away in basements and steam tunnels where piles of abandoned clothing litter the floor like casualties of war.
Down there, beneath the snow and the cinderblock and the surface gentility, a hidden battle rages.
Doing laundry at Harvard is not an easy business. It seems simple enough: Amass clothing. Put clothing in machine. Add detergent, fabric softener and more loose change than you ever dreamed possible. Go away.
Maybe it should be that easy. But it isn't.
Because when you return, your clothing is no longer tumbling merrily in the washing machine where you left it. It is sitting in a damp, dejected heap on the decidedly unsanitary floor.
Where did you go wrong?
Interviews with students as they did their laundry this week suggest there are rules to the competitive clothes-washing game.
Whether or not students follow them depends on what their personal moral standards are, what their faith in the personal moral standards of others is--and whether they have enough quarters to rewash their laundry after t hat faith is proven woefully unjustified.
Rule 1: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
"When someone takes my stuff out, I'm pissed, because I usually wait [for others]" says Currier resident and launderer Haile N. Adamson '96.
Marc J. Kuchner '94, a Dunster House resident with years of laundering experience behind him, has developed a tougher attitude.
"I neither have qualms about taking stuff out nor am I upset when it happens to me," Kuchner says.
Rule 2: Time is of the essence.
"I came down three minutes late once and someone had taken it out," Adamson says.
The signs on most laundry room walls say that a wash cycle takes 34 minutes. They do not mean 35. Students say that if they fail to come downstairs to remove their laundry, someone else will do it for them.
"They'll sit around for 10 minutes or so going 'uhhh, I don't know what to do,' and then they'll take it out anyways," Brian Black '97 said Wednesday as he folded clothes in the basement of Weld Hall.
But if there is a laundry room honor code, it only holds for a limited period of time.
"I feel guilty for a little while, but then I think, I got there on time, so why didn't you get there on time?" says Jim Monroe '86, a Yard proctor who does his laundry in Weld.
Rule 3: Come prepared. Stain Stick is only the beginning. To kill the 34 minutes (or 56 for a dryer) in a socially acceptable manner, students carry everything from romance novels to Rousseau.
"I would have to do the reading anyways," says Craig A. Lancaster '97, who brought along a copy of "History of the Modern World" to his laundry date in Weld.
Rule 4: Avoid rush-hour.
Weekday afternoons and late nights are reputedly uncrowded, veteran launderers say. Instead, most people do their laundry on weekends, a sad commentary on Harvard's social life.
"It's that no-party-in-the-Yard thing," Monroe says.
Rule 5: To forestall becoming a casualty of the laundry wars, avoid washing clothes on campus.
There really is no other way to assure the safety of your garments. Funds permitting, try the off-campus option.
There is another choice, however, used by the brave, the hardy and perhaps the stinky.
"I just don't wash my clothes much any more," Kuchner says.
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