My washer quit working most of a month ago and has since been caught in the purgatory of a home warranty dispute. That leaves me making friendly with the folks at my local laundromat, usually waiting to get caught in the whir of commercial clothes cleaning until everyone else in my house is headed towards bed.

But last week, my wife out for the evening, I sold my kids on the idea of seeing “a house of detergent and desperation” (my term) for themselves, up close and personal.

Once we’d stuffed in the piles of shirts, pants, and assorted socks, poured the caps of liquid soap in and pumped the mammoth washers with coins like they were some kind of high-functioning slot machines, I peeled off the rest of the quarters meant for suds and let the kids play the weathered Ms. Pacman machine and Cruisin’ USA car. And somewhere during the spin cycle, we sneaked to the pizza place next door and gorged on a pie stacked with cheese and peppers.

When their mom returned home that evening, they regaled her with stories of the “amazing” time they’d had… washing her clothes.

“All the fancy things we do for them,” we laughed together later when they were fast asleep, “and they come home obsessed with how much fun they had at the laundromat?!?”

I’d love to take credit for that parenting hack, but any attempt on my part to make the mundane spectacular springs from an aspiration to match the mastery of my mentor in this game – my dad.

That dude must have gotten a degree in spinning experiential straw into gold.

Let me offer a few of the more noteworthy examples:

It wasn’t until I was a young adult that I truly deciphered that when other people talked about “running errands” they were referring to what we called in my house “car picnics.”

This was when – before leaving to visit the bank, the dry cleaners and Dad’s office, or to get an oil change and take a sibling to the dentist – we would pack sack lunches full of grapes and PB&J and make a community-theater level production out of eating while riding in the car. The oldies station was up loud as we tried to sing-along to Tommy James and the Shondells while peeling peanut butter from the roofs of our mouths.

I still get nostalgic every time I find myself eating a soggy sandwich on the interstate.

Dad also made his love for secondhand junk contagious. Carrying on a yard sale-ing tradition passed down from his frugally fancy mother, Dad sold Saturday morning front-lawn scavenging as a treasure hunt. We were pirates: A yellow Chrysler Citation our vessel, the scraggly cul-de-sac our high seas, slightly-used sweater vests and dog-eared paperbacks the booty we sought.

This isn’t to say we never went a little rogue. Even the best pirates occasionally rebel (that’s the thing about pirates…) During one particularly taxing marathon session at a giant church yard sale, my sister and I made a contest out of seeing who could shove the most worn brassieres into Dad’s yard sale grab bag when he wasn’t looking. We were temporarily reassigned to the poop deck, but our booty that day was the legendary story of the look those shenanigans put on Dad’s face. We still tell that one around the table at most holiday gatherings.

Dad even made going to work with him seem like a VIP experience. A preacher by trade, he spent significant time during the week visiting the older set who had fallen ill or were spending their last few years in a facility best suited for that pursuit. In lesser hands, such a task may have been dreaded, seen as a drain. But Dad made it look easy. He was good at it. And I got to be his right hand, his guest star, and co-conspirator in making even the saddest and sickest smile through a bad joke or a listening ear. Most of what I know about talking to strangers and communicating with all kinds comes from watching Dad navigate those long afternoons spent in sanitized hallways and one-room residences.

Most of the time, after finishing up and trying to sneak out of the hospital basement entrance towards the parking spaces marked “clergy”, he’d let me stop by the Coke machine and get anything I wanted. This was an awesome privilege until that one time we ran into a church member on our way out who mocked my choice of TaB cola. Much to the detriment of my dental hygiene, I didn’t drink another diet soda for decades.

Sure – some guys get home improvement tips or car repair insight from their dads. We share none of that. But I can always call a handyman or hire a mechanic.

It takes a special skill set to make the laundromat seem like an amusement park.

You’ve got a “know a guy” to learn how to do that.

And I’m forever thankful that I do. 

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