At The Laudramat

Written By: Bobbie Kaufman

At The Laundromat My kingsize quilt explodes through the rips in the black plastic bag as I twist and pull it from the back seat of my Mini-Cooper. Its white edges drag along the ground and then the floor of the LAUNDRY SERVICES where a mustached man sees my confused expression as I enter. “This Full Service Laundry,” he says in halted English. He smiles, points “Laundromat next door, next door.” “Oops, sorry, ” I reply. I didn’t know there was a difference. I walk into the VILLAGE LAUDERETTE, a long room cloaked in humidity and filled with the energy of chatting women, running children, and carts overflowing with laundry being moved from washers to dryers to folding tables. A sense of community of palpable Thirty or more washing machines and even more clothes dryers of varying sizes are whirling and humming. I will need an extra large washer for my comforter on which our dog peed and vomited. Spot cleaning with a wash cloth isn’t working and there’s no way I can fit it into my Magtag. I have walked and driven along Nugent Street hundreds of times in the past twenty plus years. Yet I never noticed this laundromat and I bank at Astoria and HSBC banks diagonally across the street. I had to ask my husband if he knew where it was. It takes me a few minutes to find an empty washer this early Saturday morning. When I do, I can’t figure out how to start it and there are no instructions. I see women placing dollar bills into a black box that returns a card and then use the card to activate a washing machine. I insert a ten dollar bill and get a card. I shlep my oversized quilt, and, since the lower washers are full, I balance on my toes and stuff it into an upper washer . I put the card into the appropriate slot, pull it out. I do this again and again because a blinking light says ” re- enter, re- enter.” Nothing happens. I notice a few customers have developed the fine art of jiggling their cards until the machine starts. I giggle. Still, nothing, I look for help, but almost no one speaks English. Finally a man, seeing my hands thrust up and my head shake in frustration, catches my eye. We communicate with hand signals and charade-like actions. He walks over, inserts my card and pulls it out a bunch of times. He shakes his head. Then I notice the door to the washing machine is not latched well. I close it hard. The washer starts. He smiles and gives a thumbs up. The amount $8.50 displays. Is this what folks without their own washer have to spend for just one load? This is so costly. An English speaking woman tells me a that full cycle takes thirty minutes. I decide to drive to Waldbaums for a few items. The air conditioning there is so cold I have goose bumps. I can’t wait to go back and soak up the humidity. When I return, my comforter is finishing its spin. I drag it into a cart and wait a for a large enough dryer. Now that I know the routine, I insert my card. Damn! The dryer doesn’t register enough money and the exchange machine accepts neither my card nor money. I would like to scream. I don’t. Instead I tap the arm of a woman pulling clothes from the next dryer, point and shrug. She re-inserts my card and, as I feed her singles, pushes a black button, then a red button. $7.00 light up which is 30 minutes of drying time. That will be enough. I think. A few of the woman folding clothes are munching on chips and candy they take from their swollen pocketbooks. I am suddenly famished. Why didn’t I bring a snack from home? I walk past Smith’s and Stitches to the Golden Pear, buy a cup of coffee and a pumpkin muffin. I return and wait A young, long lyrically beautiful woman with a belly that suggests an imminent birth is wearing a hot pink tee shirt, and head band, grey sweats and pink and grey sneakers. Her smooth, taut pouch overhangs the front of her sweats . Every few minutes she hikes her pants up but they quickly slide down. She lifts an item from the cart, gives it a hard shake. She then folds, caressing the crease of each shirt, each pair of pants lovingly, smoothing each as if she were touching the very child or man to whom it belongs. She has a load of pink shirts, black shirts and sweats, and blue and black jeans of varying sizes. Each folded piece is precisely stacked in either a shirt or pants pile. As I wonder how she will get her mass of clothing home, she catches the corners of an oversized hot pink laundry bag over the corners of a cart and forms a square fabric container. She meticulously places the separate stacks in it, and when finished, wheels the cart to the exit. A stocky woman wheels her cart of black, gray and blue clothes near the vacated space. She does not give each piece of clothing a good hard shake. She simply takes an article from the cart. If it is a shirt, she swiftly folds it upright without laying it down. A pair of pants gets folded on the table, then rolled flat . All the folded pieces are placed on top of each other until the pile becomes unsteady and a new one is started. The woman hums and works quickly. Three girls around 5 years, with smiling round faces, skip towards her. They are holding hands and giggling. Two have long black braids with yellow barrettes. I can’t tell if they are sisters, cousins or friends.The other has short, loose dark brown hair. They run up and down the now emptying aisles as comfortable as if home. The short haired child jumps up and down until she gets an assist from her mom to sit on counter. With ease and agility she helps with the smaller shirts. I have extended my dyer time and check to see if the machine has stopped. It has, but the comforter is still damp in one corner. I pull it out anyway, stuff it into a cart. I try to move it onto an empty folding table, but it is far too big. I grab two of the corners and hold them in my right hand; then the other two with my left. I place these edges over the others. Half the quilt lands on the floor. I sigh and let it all drop. I swing my pocketbook over my shoulder, scrunch the overflowing bundle back into my arms fervently wishing I had an oversized laundry bag, preferably hot pink. Bobbie Kaufman. 1/ 11/13.