I went to the Laundromat with Mary Monday.
It had been a number of years since I’d had to use one, so she felt the need to prepare me.
Mary cast a critical eye at my clothing. “You may be overdressed.”
“Well, for one thing, you’re wearing pants.”
“I wear pants a lot.”
“Yeah,” she says. “But there aren’t any stains on them. You appear to be putting on airs.”
I start to laugh.
“I’m serious! We need to maybe find you something with an elastic waistband and a cigarette burn in the crotch.”
“That reminds me – what are you doing for New Year’s?”
“Don’t try to butter me up. And you’re not wearing jewelry, are you??”
“Oh, come on,” I said. “I think you’re exaggerating.”
“Maybe,” she said. “But maybe not.”
A trip to the Laundromat begins with a single step, followed by hundreds of other steps. Seven loads of clothes were piled into the back of my car, detergent, hangers. Accommodations were made to ensure the availability of copious amounts of quarters.
“I just feel like I should warn you. This place is always weird.”
I start the car, put on my seatbelt, insist that Mary put hers on as well. “What kind of weird?”
“Well, a couple times ago I ran into Vince Neil.”
“Vince Neil, singer-for-Motley-Crue Vince Neil?”
“Yup. Even went up to him and told him that he looked just like Vince Neil. You know what he said? He said “Well at least I don’t look like that bastard Sammy Hagar. I hate that SOB.”
The drive to the Laundromat took just minutes. Located in a strip mall built in the 60s, it‘s the only business open.
I get out of the car and walk around to let Mary out of the passenger side. My car, long known for its peculiarities, its front end held together with shoe laces and shims, no longer opens from the inside on the passenger side. Mary sits patiently while I come around and let her out. “Thank you so much,” she murmurs.
We unload the car, we get inside. We sort lights, darks, and Jon’s ridiculously greasy work duds. Mary has identified her favorite washers (“the proven machines”) and we are nearing the end of our stay at the Laundromat when He comes in.
But it’s not Vince Neil.
He is small, wiry, dirty. His matted hair juts out from under a dark blue stocking cap. There are crumbs in his beard. “Aaaaaaaauuuuuuuccccccccccccchhhhhhh.” He has cleared his throat, as he will continue to do. Our eyes meet. They are bright blue. He bares his teeth at me. “Aaaauccgheghhhh. Garbin flapping rightwing carport.”
He sets his hamper down, pulls out bedding, stuffs it into a machine. “Aaaucccghegh.” He pulls a bank bag from the bottom of his hamper. He mumbles rapidly. Coins clink audibly against each other as he finds the proper number of quarters, pumps 12 of them into the high-capacity washer.
Mary walks past me. “I had nothing to do with this,” she hisses.
The throat-clearing/gargling sounds have taken on a querulous tone. His head and shoulders disappear as he digs through the hamper.
“Aaagheccccccchh. Farflung wife! Dargun dadgum reactionary pixie stix.” The washer with his bedding in it is agitating as he leaves.
I look at Mary.
“He lives over there,” she is pointing at the large house kitty-corner from the Laundromat. “I think it’s a boarding house.”
“He left his change,” I say. I pick up the bag. There’s probably 40 quarters in it.
“We’ll run it over to him if he doesn’t come back by the time we leave,” Mary says.
Twenty minutes later, he is back. He is holding another blanket and he is angry.
Mary looks at me and I nod. “Are you missing your quarters?” Mary asks him. “Do you know you left your quarters here?”
“Aaaghcheggggggh! Farbin flippen crock bottom! Grackle copper! Stealin! Stealin!”
“No,” I say. “We didn’t steal them. You left them here.”
“Aagheeeech! Robbed! Obbin freabin robbed!”
“No,” Mary says. “Really. We wouldn’t take your money! It’s all still here, see?”
Nothing we could say was good enough to make him believe we had not tried to steal from him, despite the fact that his bag of quarters was right where he left it.
We left ten minutes later, the backseat of my car loaded with freshly laundered, freshly folded clothing.
He watched us as we drove away.
The Laundromat: Here we thought it might be a weird experience for us.
Turns out that it was weird for everyone.
4 hours ago