Turkey, ham, tamales, eggnog y todo, this is the time of the year where you put a lot of stuff “on hold” till next year, while we get together with familia and friends. It’s a beautiful time of the year, where putting something on the back burner for awhile isn’t such a bad idea.
Some things, however, can’t be procrastinated upon, lest other problems be incurred. Keeping oneself in clean clothes is one of them.
Like a lot of single guys, I’m grateful my mother taught me how to do laundry when I was young, and it’s been a lifelong commitment to do it right ever since. Unfortunately, like a lot of single guys, procrastination seems to come back at me at the worst possible time, causing twice as much time to be taken than the original chore would have had it been done earlier.
So it was, the day before I returned to work after a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration week-end that I found myself with three weeks worth of laundry to be done and only one day to do it in. Living in a small apartment complex where only two washers & dryers are available for 20 units, I decided to go somewhere other than my mother’s to do it all at one time: the neighborhood laundromat.
I live in a heavily Latino populated neighborhood (where else?) where Gente from Mexico, South and Central America, along with the locals, have all learned to co-exist. There are rules, however, if you are to get along in the urban jungle known as the neighborhood laundromat.
Packing my clothes in plastic trash bags, collecting my quarters, detergent, bleach and fabric softener sheets, I proceeded to my chore, which I assumed would take no more than two hours, tops. Upon arriving, I was surprised to see a security guard casually chatting with some of the many men pulling babysitting duty outside of the building. As I walked up with my stuff, I was greeted with some apprehensive looks, as I am not a regular and did not have a woman and kids in tow. Nothing strange about that. Why a security guard at a laundromat, I thought? It looked calm enough.
Inside was a different story that explained why the many men would rather be outside watching the kids or showing interest in a week-old newspaper left behind by other patrons, than to spend too much time in this unique public gathering place.
The heat from over 30 large dryers, the hum of numerous washing machines, the sound of Spanish language television turned full blast to compensate for the machine noise, toddlers and young children noisily running around, and the nonstop Spanish chatter and scolding by the many women in crowded conditions produced a controlled scene of pandemonium that belied the calm exterior of the building.
The running insult of “¿cuantos pinche niños tiene?” when some women would take up to five washers and dryers at the same time could be heard over and over, as the women jostled for use. On at least two ocassions, the husbands and security guard were called in to settle a dispute (sheesh! at a laundromat!).
I quietly sat against the wall with two other solitary men, watching and waiting for the chance to rush a free washer. Watching these women expertly practice the art of separating, washing, drying and folding clothes for what seemed like small armies, while keeping their eye on their children, husbands and TV, and catching up on the latest chisme, was impressive.
They easily gave up advice from across the room:
“No le pon este en la secadora.”
“Sepera los colores.”
“Espera por esta secadora. Si sirve bien”
“Nomas usa agua caliente para las blancas.”
My three loads seemed puny compared to theirs, and I could only appreciate what my mother must have gone through with seven kids and a clothesline in the back yard back in the day.
Regretting not bringing a Walkman or a magazine, I endured about three hours in that place, exchanging glances with various strangers while we all handled our undergarments in complete anonymity. Not a place for the shy, no indeed!
As I left, feeling both relieved and a sense of accomplishment, I could see other families arriving with their “borrowed” shopping carts filled with clothes, soap and bleach, kids in tow. Next time, I’m going to do my laundry at the apartment complex, keeping loads small and doing it late at night as to avoid the crowds. Like taxes, death and bodily functions, doing laundry is unavoidable.
The security guard could only sigh as I bid him farewell. The laundromat still had about four hours before closing time.
Having clean clothes does have it’s price… I paid mine!
Fast forward to today: Happy Holidays 2017, Mi Gente! …so glad I ain’t single no more!
(I bought My Lady a washer & dryer she lets me use at our house! LoL!)
- This “evergreen” 2003 story was reprinted with permission of our good friends at LatinoLA.com. All rights reserved.