Emily Tannert
Drum corps is not an activity that one might normally associate with cleanliness. Between being outside all day and sleeping on a floor all night, it's very difficult to maintain anything even close to sanitation. Although living conditions sometimes resemble those of a backwoods village in a third-world country, we do make some effort to stay ahead of the stench and squalor. This results in every member's favorite occurrence -- laundry day. While laundry days aren't exactly free time, the necessity of cleaning one's daily attire does create a certain deviation from the norm. Different corps vary on how much free time they build into their summer schedules, but everyone has to do laundry eventually. Laundry days always fall on rehearsal days, so as not to totally waste the day, and the afternoon block always seems to drag on and on. Tempos in the run-through are especially brisk, and everyone warily sprints to the shower after the rehearsal, eager to remove twice-worn clothing with a level of disgust that the day before rated merely vague indifference. Regardless of the fact that the evening break is only three hours long, everyone dons their best off-day clothing. The locker rooms are filled with the sounds of hair dryers and requests for hair gel. Finally the drum major manages to herd the last primper away from the mirror and into the bus, where of course the primping continues. Each bus departs to a different section of town, since even one busload of corps kids is a stretch for a single Laundromat. Inevitably, the establishments lie in areas given over to, shall we say, more temporary housing due to the economic principles of supply and demand. Location and surroundings are, of course, highly prized elements of the laundry day experience, as this is often the only opportunity the corps has to purchase incidental items like shampoo, toothpaste and all manner of horribly unhealthy food items. Thus the relative nearness of a Wal-Mart or drug store, even just a well-stocked gas station, can greatly raise the value of one Laundromat over another, regardless of whatever else may be nearby. Once the bus arrives at the Laundromat, an amazing transformation takes place, as the previously very civilized corps members become veritable beasts, fighting and clawing to get off the bus and to a washer first. The second wave is at least as vicious as the first, as members rush to put dibs on washers that have only just been put into use. Once the initial furor has died down, the long process of waiting begins. Most people depart for various shopping venues, regardless of whether they actually need something. But even the attractiveness of the gas station on the corner pales over time and eventually everyone ends up in the molded plastic chairs of the Laundromat watching clothes spin. Inevitably the sounds of hacking and buzzing fill the small room. Rifles start to dot the air around the building. Conversations are shouted over the sounds of drumsticks on practice pads and the clatter of laundry carts as everyone kills time, as you watch your clothes spin around the drier for the 500th time and your CD clicks over to the beginning again. You suddenly find yourself wondering why this seemed so very exciting earlier in the day. Eventually everyone's laundry comes out washed and dried, and of course one sock short of a pair, and everyone clambers exhaustedly back to the bus -- for whatever reason, merely existing in "the real world" is enough to zap every ounce of energy out of your body, and keeping your eyelids open on the way back to the housing site is a chore beyond imagining. But the fun's not over yet, because once you get back to the gym, you have to cram all those clean clothes back into your bag, and you have no idea how you got it all in there in the first place! You find yourself wondering whether you really needed to bring so many clothes, and suddenly the notion of wearing something two or three days in a row -- a concept that a mere four hours ago was abhorrent to your finely tuned sense of civilization -- seems downright attractive compared to squeezing that last pair of shorts into your suitcase. The need for sweet-smelling laundry is miniscule next to the need to sleep, as you tuck yourself into your sleeping bag on the dirty gym floor. By the next morning your freshly laundered shirt is nothing more than a fresh sweat rag, because the only thing you care about cleaning is your show. The stench and grime of drum corps life reasserts itself, but that's OK -- because you have more important things to worry about, at least until the next laundry day. Send Emily feedback and ideas at emily@imoses.com. Emily Tannert is currently living in Knoxville, Tenn., taking a year off from school before she returns to Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., for a master's degree. She was the 2002 drum major for the Pioneer, and plays in the 2003 Glassmen pit. She will age out this summer.