The Laundromat. I am a foreigner here.
I have never owned a washer or dryer, yet, I have somehow racked up enough karmic skeeball tickets to cash in on years, perhaps a decade even, of accessible laundry facilities, making a trip to the Laundromat unnecessary. Until now.
Oh, we moved into a house with “hook-ups”. Big freakin’ deal. People advertise this in rental ads like it does us renters any bloody good. “W/D hook-ups.” As if we couldn’t buy the house, but we thought we’d haul a pair of incredibly heavy, unwieldy appliances with us from temporary spot to temporary spot, just stoked to pay for extra Uhaul space.
My black jeans ringed with snot lines just above the knee on each leg, I shake off my babe and head to the Laundromat.
My college memories include hauling the dead weight of dirty socks into a small, olive green room and up to old machines, half of which had their coin slots covered with looseleaf paper scrawled with the word “Broke.” I walk into our local Laundromat with a baggie of quarters and no real sense of what I’ll find.
I can hardly tell which are the washers and which are the dryers. These are chic, new models that flash the number of quarters they are still waiting for as you drop in one after another: Kansas, New Hampshire, Maine. An altar to the Virgin of Guadalupe perches on top of the vending machine that dispenses soap, bleach, and laundry bags. I am the only one who has brought reading material. Everyone else has brought family and friends to entertain them. The place is buzzing with activity.
The first thing I do is check out the huge, extra-expensive machines to try to salvage my oatmeal-splattered futon cover. Missing the sign that reads Machines lock at start and remain locked for the duration of wash cycle and concerned about screwing up my cover with detergent, I put in the soap, drop in my $2.50, and proceed to lock the empty machine. Okay. Well, I don’t think anyone noticed, and surely I’ve lost more money on less noble endeavors.
Eventually, I manage to get my futon cover and two other regular loads of laundry moving along, after which I sit, rather self-consciously, and flip through my magazine, uninterested. Kids ranging in age from about three to about seven race around laundry baskets and in and out of the doors as happy as if the washing machines were slides and swings and the dirty linoleum floor sand to dig in. At one point I make a field trip from my seat (you know, the sea foam green plastic chairs bolted to each other in a long line) to investigate the dryers, since soon it will be time in this little adventure to spread my wings and tumble. I slink over to a vacant metal monster, its big, round mouth open and hungry. I must make more coin offerings to the beast in order for it to grant my wish of dry clothes. Better coins than word puzzles or witches’ brooms, I’d surely end up schlepping home with sopping wet underwear.
I return to my seat, but without all of the information crucial to my next step. I interrupt the two men about my age talking in Spanish next to me. I ask them how much time you get for a quarter on the dryers. I’m proud of myself for pulling words like “ la secadora” out o my butt since it’s been way too long since I’ve conversed in Spanish and never, to my recollection, about laundry. The man closest to me hesitates, then tells me, “Ten minute.” Exchanges like this have always left me wondering – was my Spanish that bad that he couldn’t bear to continue the conversation in his native tongue? Was it important for him to let me know he speaks English?
Time to dry. In an effort to try and shake off my feelings of outsider, I linger over the baby clothes before throwing them into the great mouth, holding them out as if to align myself with the other parents there, looking for any place to stand in this foreign land of rinse cycles and social gathering. I have never gone out of my way to advertise my parenthood and at this point, I just want to go home – It’s Saturday for godssake!
I do go home, briefly, to hang the futon cover on the line. (Yes, we have a clothes line. How very cool. I think clothes lines were prohibited by the city in our last neighborhood. -- I am not joking about that.) I live really close to the Laundromat, and anyway, I’ve always been one of those trusting souls. If anyone cares to take my wet sudsy jeans, maybe they really need them. I’ve been known to wander from my purse in shopping carts engrossed in the differences between free-range, “vegetarian-fed” and organic eggs (does anyone know?), abandon my luggage in the middle of bus stations to go buy a ticket or visit the restroom. Maybe I’m not the smartest cookie, but I play the odds and expend less energy worrying that the old lady in the babushka may steal my dog-eared Berkeley Guide.
When I return, I wait. …
It’s an art.
I wait longer than I need to take my clothes out of the dryer. I’m still ignorant of the rules of this land and after what happened with the futon cover machine, I’m afraid if I stop the dryer to check if my clothes are dry and they aren’t, maybe I won’t be able to start it again. When I do stop it, things are burning hot. I’m not exaggerating here. I am trying not to cry out as I extract onesies from the depths of this fire pit that singe my arms with their metal snaps. I begin to understand the presence of the Virgin of Guadalupe. These machines are mean. You need someone on your side.
Clean and folded, my laundry has grown in size exponentially from what it was coming in. Lugging it in two bags to the car, I feel a little like Isaac trying to carry around his dad’s work bag. I teeter-totter, making funny faces and walking a dizzy line, finally tripping and falling forward over my burden. No one picks me up and cuddles me. No one tells me I’m cute. Inside, the demon machines roar quietly in smug recognition and crank up the heat another notch.
The week following these incidents, I am reluctant to partake in certain activities I used to enjoy, like sitting with Isaac as he practices spooning yogurt into his mouth. I’m jumpier playing outside with him. I mean, what’s that line all those parents use? Something like “Don’t get dirty, Honey!” And that certain laundry pile was much bigger. The half-dirty pile. The one of “if I get to do a wash soon, this could go in, but I’m not making full commitment to its filth and if I need to wear it again before I get to do a wash, shit, I’m putting it on.” What’s a snot line here or there, between friends?
Sunday, March 12, 2006
The Laundromat. I am a foreigner here.