Laundromat

by G.T.

I had just placed my wet clothing in the top corner dryer, the most neglected of all the dryers, aside from the one below it for that matter, in the stainless steel row that spans the length of the laundromat wall. To avoid the crowds of mothers and their children, always bored to tears, I restrict my laundry doing to shortly before dawn and long after dusk. Fortunately the operating hours of the laundromat accommodate my own peculiar hours of activity.

The laundromat is not a very spectacular place. Essentially, most people need a space no larger than a typical bathroom or a luxurious walk-in closet: the kind of closet that my well to-do Aunt and Uncle have in their master bedroom. A room to be disregarded unless needed — to tend to laundry and nothing else. And a folding table beside the dryer. Maybe, just maybe, a utility sink for any superfluous washing or rinsing of anything that is beyond my own recognition. It is for this reason that most people, or those that I join at the laundromat, have such solemn expressions upon their faces when they must make a full fledged trip to a vastly oversized laundry room that they must share with several other strangers at any given time in the week. Having to haul as many as a half dozen laundry baskets, detergent, fabric softener, hangers, and whatever else to a public laundry room, a basement collective, where they must wash and dry and fold their jeans, their children’s school clothes, their towels, their blankets, and intimates all amongst one another, having to expose their dirty laundry. Accenting this all are three machines that burp out quarters into small metal trays, a vending machine, a boxy antique Pac Man arcade, and a small television eternally tuned into Telemundo.

I feel somewhat pompous when I walk into the laundromat and see all of these faces, most of whom would prefer staying at home where recliners would await them after they have loaded their laundry into the washing machine that they would otherwise have. As for me, I need only to dry my clothes. I have a washing machine, but my dryer is awfully shoddy. A month ago, it had finally spun its last cycle, which I had anticipated but denied. It would take an average of two hours to dry a typical load of my garments, but I would always retain a shred of faith that the dryer would not fail me anytime soon. Soon enough it did, and I’m back at the laundromat. However, I need just one dryer and at the most four quarters for a single forty minute cycle. I read as the clothes dry, or I write while subtly observing those around me. I occupy myself amidst the backdrop of Spanish conversation and mooshy Mexican soap operas.

The other night, I set my clothes in the corner dryer, and take a seat at the chair directly beside it. As the dryer whirls round and round, an older fellow wipes the circular glass of a dryer situated at the opposite end of wall. I’m reading A Moveable Feast, by Hemingway; the chapter entitled “Shakespeare and Company”, which is a reminiscence of his friendship with a librarian who allowed him to rent out books, but waived the fee until he could get the money to pay it. That was post WWI France, and a type of generosity that is rare to come by today, especially around here, and very likely around you wherever you’re reading this. It made me think of a Puerto Rican restaurant that I frequented last Summer. Coquí To Go Café was its name. While I waited for my lunch, the owner and sole cook of the establishment would cut a slice of his special lechón asado, and with that cut of slow cooked pig roast at the tip of the carving knife, he extended it beyond the counter for me to enjoy while I waited. Other times, he would give me a cup of coconut flavored shaved ice when it was a humid July afternoon, or a cup of beans simmered with pigs feet as an added side, on the house.

Coquí To Go Café didn’t make it through the winter. The little café is no longer open, and I’ve taken it as a personal loss. Surely it was not the brightest spot in town, or the trendiest, and it is because of its faulty image that I blame for its apparent demise. Certainly not the owner’s fault, but the faults of locals who have no qualms about eating overpriced, microwaved entreés as long as there is a television airing Sportscenter and the walls are adorned with antique signs advertising classic sodas and long gone brands of twentieth century toiletries. Most everyone is starving for a good image, not the food.

As I read, the laundry attendant who had been busy wiping the dryers clean had stopped his work for a moment and approached me with a pot of coffee and a petite stack of styrofoam cups. He simply asked, “Coffee?” in a deep latino drawl. He stood there with a pleased, seemingly rehearsed grin, and the plastic wrapped around the little cups just enough so that only a single cup could be pulled at a time. I did not expect to be offered coffee, for there is the vending machine tucked away in the back of the laundromat. The man had a coffee maker in the storage room out of which he worked. I took a second just to admire the generosity and rarity of this event that is so mundane, so dismissible, so typical or so it would seem to anyone to didn’t experience it themselves. I said, “Sure!” and pulled a cup and held it outward as the man was gracious enough to pour me a cup of coffee. I returned to my reading, pleased that such menial occurences like that, how a little cup of coffee offered to me, makes me feel pleased with circumstances at least until midnight.