Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Laundromats Aren't Nearly As Fun As You Think

I went to the laundromat the other day, and while I was waiting for my clothes, took a few pictures with my cheap Target camera before an employee approached me and told me to stop (He thought I was some sort of spy, come to steal the laundromat's secrets). I'd only taken about six pictures by then, four of which were variations of this shot, so I only got two prints, but I'll post the other image I got at the end of the article.

I realized that I never managed to post about my last trip to the laundromat, which was memorable. I started a whole post about how I'd always romanticized laundromats, which are actually pretty boring. It seemed every television show I watched as a child featured a small escape hatch in one of the dryers leading to a secret underground lair, or else it was a portal to another world. And often shady businessmen and gangsters would make deals in these establishments; or the hero would offhandedly flirt with the cute girl loading the machine next to his, which almost always led to lots of hot sex later, sometimes right there in the laundromat. Or maybe that was a beer commercial. Anyway, I had never really been in a laundromat, and I had high expectations.

Well, you can imagine my disappointment. But even considering that, my first laundromat trip was an experience.

I came into the laundromat and loaded up the first washer I saw, poured in some detergent, pumped in four quarters, and pushed the button. Nothing happened. I poked around a bit and discovered that this machine cost $2.50. Figuring there was nothing for it at this point, I put in another six quarters and hit the button again. The machine started cycling at this point, but as I turned to look at my laundry - and I had a lot, all my sheets and blankets and towels and virtually all my clothes - I started doing some mental calculations and blanched. Then I turned around and found another row of machines that did washes for only a dollar. Oh.

I washed all my other clothes (it took five more loads) in these washers, and when they finished, the first washer was still going. Figuring that maybe this just meant it was a special washing machine, and hence the extra cost, I put all my other loads in the dryer. But every time I went back to check, it was still going, turning my clothes over and over.

I bided my time reading and watching Spanish television (no one at the laundromat speaks English). A few seats over from me, a mustached man wearing cowboy boots and a distanced look in his eye that announced perhaps he'd rodeoed a little hard in his younger days sat watching the tv. I never saw him go up to check on his laundry - I'm not even sure if he brought any in - but he seemed to be enjoying the entertainment show dishing on Hispanic celebrities I had never heard of.

By the time all my clothes were out of the dryer, I'd decided that the first washing machine must be some sort of washer/dryer, and that's why it had cost extra. Surely my clothes would be coming out soon, clean and dry. To while away the time, I started folding all my other clothes.

By the time I'd finished folding, I'd been in the laundromat for over four hours and the laundry had still failed to come out of the washer. I decided it was time to end this once and for all, so I reached out and turned the handle (it was a front-loading washer) to open the door. The handle - and door - did not move. I started tugging harder, but to no avail. Alarmed now, I looked around for an employee, but there was no one in the store but me and the entranced cowpoke sitting on the bench up front.

I wandered back to the front, where the cowboy greeted me joyfully. "You jus' missed it - a black fella an' a white fella were fightin' like crazy, punchin' n' stuff, 'swas great."

I looked at the television; it had switched over to news and seemed to be doing a piece on border patrols. "I'm sorry I missed it," I said, eyeing him cautiously.

The man grinned, his eyes not leaving the TV. "I love this stuff, man. I can't understand a word of it, but I love it." He leaned back in utter contentment, and I started to wonder if maybe he came here every day, for the scene. I wandered off to try to find an attendant. I had realized by this point that the employees were evidently exploiting the fact that customers were unlikely to walk off with the machines and therefore they were free to come and go as they wished, which is a plush job to have but didn't seem to be doing me much good at the moment.

About 45 long minutes of Spanish television later (if I'd seen that particular episode of "Gunsmoke" in English, I might've enjoyed it more), an employee wandered in and I pounced on him.

"Sir, can you tell me how long those metal washers are supposed to go for?"
The man glanced over. "About 25 minutes."
"My washer has been going for about five hours. Can you stop it?"

He wandered over and looked at the washer, shaking his head remorsefully.
"Sometimes this happens when you leave change in your pockets. Do you have any pants in there that might have change?"
The man nodded gravely. "Well, that's what happens when you have change in your pockets."

He wandered back to the desk and grabbed a screwdriver. A few minutes later he had the front panel off and was poking around at the quickly-rotating machinery underneath. My confidence lowered as I discovered that his mechanical method was to simply poke items in the machine with the screwdriver and see what happened. He was very systematic about this, like a doctor working with a stethoscope, testing each spot. Every few seconds there would be a whirring noise, or the sound of a belt squealing, or sparks flying out the bottom of the washer. Finally, there was a WHIP-CHUNK-PING noise, and screwdriver disappeared out of his hand and into the machine.

"Woah-hoh!" he said, looking up at me with one of those "look what you did!" looks, the sort of look you'd get if you showed up at a mechanic with a car on which you'd tried to reattach the wheels with scotch tape. He got up and walked over to the wall where all the power sources plugged in and started pulling out cords. "Did that work?" he'd shout. "No!" I'd shout back, staring in disbelief as washers and dryers around the store stopped dead. He finally unplugged every cord from the power source and discovered that my washer, along with about half of the other washers in the store, were still running. I looked up at his face and got to see the exact moment when he realized that there must be another power source somewhere in this store and he had no idea where it was. Undaunted, he turned and opened up the breaker box and started flicking switches. The lights went on and off, as did the electric signs, and the television, though the cowpoke didn't move. Finally, my washer ground to a halt.

Since the handle still wouldn't open, the man opened the door with a screwdriver and I removed my clothes, still wet despite five hours of tumbling. At this point, more and more employees started to drift in, as evidently the store pays about a half a dozen employees simultaneously in the vain hope that at least one of them will be in the store at all times. As I loaded my clothes into the dryer, they all congregated around the washer, gazing curiously at its innards.

It was another half an hour before my clothes dried, and it was a long half hour. The employees had decided I had deliberately sabotaged the washer for some reason, and eyed me everywhere I went in the store. I would walk by the washer, and five of them would be crouched there, all of them holding screwdrivers, poking away. As I walked by, five heads would turn and give me a double-barreled glare of unspoken accusation.

Six and a half hours after loading my first pile of whites into that fateful washer, I emerged with clean laundry and a completely shattered dream. Six and a half hours in that laundry room, and no briberies or secret lairs and not even the hint of hot sex. I didn't even see the black fella and the white fella fighting like crazy. It was, all and all, a most disappointing experience.

Oh, and here's that other picture.


At October 17, 2007 7:54 PM, Anonymous Assistant Village Idiot's wife said...

You should read "Gregor the Overlander". It goes with one of your fantasies of laundromats. Did you ever ask how your father came to do the laundry in the family? It all started with a laundromat.

At October 17, 2007 10:37 PM, Blogger Erin said...

Seriously, you should consider a padded room. Have someone bring you food and DVDs. It wouldn't be that bad. Just make sure the TV is padded too.

Otherwise, I think God is smacking you over the head to go into creative writing. You can't ask for more materials than your life!

At October 20, 2007 12:34 PM, Blogger Dana said...

i totally agree with erin. You need to write books...and sell them. i love the way you write. it's like my life...only more interesting. lol. i miss you like mad. :)


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