The laundromat as a third place  JAN 28 2010

At a laundromat in Brooklyn, a revolving cast of characters conduct business, people-watch, sell, argue, flirt, and gossip. Oh, and do their laundry.

Every other Saturday, Carlene James climbs into bed at 10 and sets her alarm for 2:30 a.m. She rises without rousing her husband and four kids. By 3, she is at the Clean Rite. She chooses this moment to do her linens. She requires three super-giant washers, and there are exactly three. At this ungodly hour, competition is zero.

She is 36, a school office manager. Her apartment building has its own laundry room, but it's too slow there. "I'm very fussy with my clothes," she said. "I put soap in during both cycles. I'm always here when they're done so no one touches my clothes. I once got in an argument with a guy who said I was taking too many dryers. That's why it's good to come at 3 a.m."

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