Survival of the fittest in the Bobb laundry room
    Beware. Always. Photo by Julie Beck / North by Northwestern

    My craziest evening at NU so far didn’t end over the toilet. It wasn’t on a weekend or even a bar night. Instead, it consisted of me, about 15 pounds of dirty clothes, and tens of anxious people waiting for an open laundry machine. I knew I was in for a struggle, but I didn’t expect that the night would end up showing me more about the jungle that is Northwestern than any late night party scene.

    It all began with a very simple motive. I hadn’t done laundry in almost three weeks, and the situation was becoming desperate. Despite my incessant fear of shrunken jeans, let’s just say I was running slightly low on… knickers. Thus, the time had inevitably come to face the Beasts of the East (literally, the dryers in Bobb that face east).

    On the walk downstairs to meet my hydraulic match, I could already feel the bad vibes. The basement was ten degrees warmer, it smelled like fresh urine and, as I nonchalantly entered the artificially-lit dungeon, I could feel 20 pairs of angry eyes boring into my soul. These kinds of angry eyes could only be found at Northwestern, where students’ competitive natures influence them even down to the dryer sheet. Suffice it to say I was not prepared for the Northwestern teeth to come out in the laundry room.

    I immediately picked up on two opposing groups within the laundry room: the pacifists versus the intense legion of laundry tyrants. In real Northwestern life this translates to those who feel the need to let everyone know they were the Top 10 percent of their high school class and those who are content with the knowledge of their past. It was like an epic battle between hunter and the hunted, Stalin and Gandhi, Wildcat and Wildcat. The former, the type-A competitors, were running around literally shouting commands to their loyal comrades, disturbing the meditating hippies listening to Bob Dylan on their MacBooks. “Seriously, how long have we been waiting for number 22 to empty their washer?!” screamed one laundry tyrant. Another responded by screeching “Get that shit out of there!” The laptop music was suddenly paused and the pacifists watched in horror as 22’s wet clothes were thrown on the floor.

    While the angry laundry competitors bumbled around, shouting obscenities and wreaking havoc among the laundry room’s 20 occupants, the pacifists took initiative and attempted to calm the detergent storm by writing notices for the machines that didn’t work properly. Which, of course, is usually about 15 on a good day. This leaves five fully functional washer-dryer sets for 20 frazzled students at any given time.

    War-weary and already two hours into the process, I finally hurled my washed clothes into my well-deserved dryer, gloating at all the rookies, poor kids with no idea of the grueling endeavor they were in for. But as I slid in my last four quarters, high on laundry fumes and with the finish line in sight, the owner of machine 22’s load — yes, the load so rudely pummeled to the ground about 90 minutes prior — walked in. I waltzed out of there before 22 could realize that his damp clothes had been rotting on the soiled floor and look for someone to blame. Passing through the last of the excrement-scented hallways, I bounded up the basement steps, smiling at all the optimistic fools on their way down, carrying full hampers.

    That night, I did more than survive the terrors of college laundry. I learned that, at the very heart of it, we as students let our competitive nature seep into unexpected aspects of our lives. In class, activities and beyond, we all need to be on our toes, for ruthless competition lurks everywhere at Northwestern — even when all we want is some clean underwear.


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