It’s amazing how boring my life would be if I didn’t occasionally have to do laundry. I’d wager that more poems have been written in laundromats than in the Lake District. Google it. I inevitably ponder the meaning and the meaninglessness of life, given that I am the only person left of my generation who as an adult has never lived on the same premises as a washer and dryer, not counting the time with my parents after I got out of jail.
The laundromat ambience is a set-up for poetry, and was so even before the enhancement of TVs hung in remote corners safe from channel-changers. In this laundromat there are 2, the one in front showing a 70’s western dubbed into Spanish and the one in back, where I am gathering my godawful socks, a guy promising easy riches through real estate, insisting with all sincerity that if there is one page, ONE PAGE in his book that doesn’t enhance your earning potential you can rip that page out and send it in and get a full refund, and KEEP THE REST OF THE BOOK FREE.
The Statue of Liberty dances by the windows. Still no kisses blown my way. She’s still smiling, still reminding me how good I have it. Really, how good life is. Go ahead, smile, like her, like the guy who just walked in, a big one pasted on his face. He looks like a Latin version of my cousin Ralph, pudgy cheeks and porky eyes. He’s got a bud in his ear, and I think if I were listening to a good comic or good music I might be smiling like that. But he doesn’t seem to be doing laundry. He goes to the back, stands at the folding table; smiling, smiling, walks back toward the entry, stops, and bounces on the balls of his feet, fuses crackling. Maybe he’s having an inspiration for a poem or a blog.
I turn my attention to the other inmates. The Chinese woman attending the place is yakking with an open dryer. Of course I’m joking. She has one of those things in her right ear. Bluetooth? That word always makes me think of my Polish friend Henryk who came back one day from the dentist with a tooth the color of the distinctive blue granules in Cheer detergent. Anyway, who can blame her? I wonder if it cancels out the guy begging, go ahead, rip that page out.
There’s another woman, maybe from El Salvador or Guatemala, using the dryers who looks a little like my Aunt Clara, severe, but even more severe than Aunt Clara, as if her look alone could make a machine break down, and sure enough, she puts a quarter in the dryer and no red 6 appears. She calls to the Chinese attendant but before the attendant responds she presses the pad again and the red 6 lights up, like it knows what’s good for it, and the drum turns beautifully.
For a few seconds it seems life rolls along carefree as my tumbling t-shirts but then the El Salvadorean woman puts quarters in an adjacent dryer and nothing. Nothing. The Chinese woman is summoned, who opens the dryer, massages the damp comforter inside, and smells a fish and starts shrilling at the other woman. The only words I understand are “two quarters” and “ten minutes”, which she repeats to no effect. Her page-boy haircut and the way she tucks into her words makes her look a lot like my cousin Bernita who never takes shit from nobody nohow.
I don’t know what did it, I suppose a combination of things, but a spark, a kind of erotic thrill ran through me and I sprang onto a top-loading washer and embraced the man encouraging me to go ahead and rip it out, and I did, ripped the TV off the wall and tossed it over the corona of the jubilant Statue of Liberty, then I came home, put on my sort-of clean socks and wrote a poem.