Monday, July 13, 2009

Keeping it clean

The scene: a wooden bench at the Laundry Cafe here in London. My wife and I are here doing laundry. I'm tapping this out on my BlackBerry. Why? Please read on...

Sad news from our basement this week: Our dryer stopped drying. We knew this day was coming, as it had been slowly losing steam over the past number of months. The standard 40 or 50-minute cycle had crept up to 60, 70 and then 80 - the most the poor dial could support.

Eventually, even 80 minutes was insufficient. And we kept adding time. And adding, and... When we hit two-plus hours per load, we knew it was time.

So off we went in search of something newer, something capable of swallowing the clothes of three growing kids, their parents and the dog (he has a hoodie. With a maple leaf on it.) Something manufactured after the Paleozoic Era that used less energy than Hoover Dam could crank out would be a bonus as well.

We found a lovely red set that seems to fit the bill. I hate to admit how excited we are at our impending ability to do copious amounts of laundry. Of course, our new wondermachines arrive on Friday. So Debbie and I looked at the mountain of dirty clothes that blocked the light down the middle of the laundry room and decided a trip to the laundromat was in order.

I must admit I'm enjoying being here. There's a cross section of humanity that provides endless opportunity to observe - the middle-aged guy who played pinball until the machine went dark, the near-shaven-headed dude in cargo shorts who can't tell the difference between whites and colors, the bored 12-year-old boy whose scowling, cornerback-esque mother dragged him here against his will, the modern-day Cheech and Chong wannabes who seem fascinated by the unique facets on a Canadian quarter coin, the sad-faced, long-haired woman using the payphone who doesn't seem to have smiled in years, who wears a windbreaker on a warm, humid night and who wears a weight on her shoulders that can't be seen, but can be clearly felt.

By the yellowed old newspaper articles on the wall, this place has been around for at least 20 years. It looks it, wearing its age with a quiet sense of pride. The multicolored brown tiled floor is a relic of the 70s. The hastily painted blue wooden magazine rack clings to dog eared copies of magazines that are probably out of print. The sofa in the corner is just dirty enough to make you think twice about sitting in it. The gray/white plastic on most of the commercial-grade machines has faded to a pale yellow. Thankfully, the dark green, bright yellow/orange and red walls perk up the mood.

Life happens here in all its mundane, forgettable glory. Yet I find myself not wanting to forget what it's like to be here, to observe strangers trying to mind their own business, to spend quiet time with my wife in a place few would ever think to go on a date. Yet a date, strange as it may seem, is what this evening has turned out to be, and as the last dryer finishes its last tumble and the last house fly continues to buzz around my ankles, Debbie's already gotten more than enough change for a return trip. The pile on our basement floor demands it, and I'm only too happy to spend another evening here drinking it all in.

Your turn: Finding magic in an unexpected place. Please discuss.


Star said...

If you do return I hope you tell us more. I love people watching. And composing background stories for all the characters

Mojo said...

I have to confess, when I think of "date night", the laundromat is not the first place on the list. But having spent quite a few evenings watching the clothes go round and round during my brief army career, I sort ofunderstand the attraction. Living in a base town of course, the "cross section of humanity" wasn't nearly as broad, but the army provides a pretty diverse cross section of its own... it just strips away the differences after the fact.

I note that this post isn't -- directly -- in support of this week's thematic prompt, but all that's really missing is the picture. The distance is metaphorical, but there nonetheless. Next time, you really need to take the camera along!

A bit of that metaphorical distance factors into this offering... as well as some more conventional physical distance. (Nice segue huh?)
Thematic Photographic 57: "Distant" v.6.0

lissa said...

Laundromats have a special place in my heart too. Having gone to Cape Cod for weeks on end, every summer of my first 25 years, laundry was done in the laundromat; rented cottages didn't come with their own machines. Laundry became an adventure for at least 2 of the 3 kids in the family, my mom and her mom, going out on muggy Cape Cod nights to do laundry at the local strip mall. Sometimes it was even after 9 p.m., after we'd go for pizza, or shop till we closed the mall. We always got yodels, or ring-dings at the 7/11-type store, sometimes if it was early enough, we'd get to go across the street to the big mall while the clothes got done, but mostly, we'd just enjoy each others' company. In my younger days, coloring books and crayons were a staple to bring to the laundromat. Later, it was a good novel.

I can remember the smells, the sounds, the sights and the feel of heated air on top of the humidity the Cape is famous for, and it still brings a smile to my face.

As for my personal magic found in ordinary places? The book store. Familiar titles already read make me smile with the knowing of their contents, new titles jump out at me and tempt me to buy, I discover sections never before visited (graphic novels are a new interest) and new additions in favorite sections excite me (must-visits include the technology section, the writers' reference corner, and the young adult fiction, not to mention adult sections, both fiction and non).

I can walk into Chapters, or the US Barnes and Noble, or Borders, and feel the tingle in the air. Even browsing the bookmarks can make an ordinary day magical.

Thanks for making me smile, Carmi - and mazel-tov on the new addition to your basement, may you have many many years of good, clean and DRY laundry ahead!!

awareness said...

I love this.... ! Told you so. :) I had a similar experience/feeling one Sunday morning when my dryer decided to give it up.....

It truly is a cross section of humanity.

G. Harrison said...


Wait until you retire; you'll be people watching everywhere you go.

The Black Walnut and Red Roaster (found at the corner of Coffee and Hardware in The Village) offer hundreds of opportunities per day.

And photo ops. (I'm w mojo: where's the camera?)

though I must admit, a pen and pad are less intrusive, and side stories abound,as you proved quite handily.



Anonymous said...

hi... just dropping by!

NJ said...

When we were building our house and living in temporary accomodations with no laundry I had to use the local laundry. I never really minded the time at the laundry mat it was the time hauling the laundry there and back that bothered me. There was a young friendly man who worked there and he always seemed so willing to be helpful. Imagine my surprise about a year later when he was put away in prison for murdering another local man by shooting out his kneecaps. It was quite a while ago and I'm sure he's out and about again.

I must say though Carmi you must be a true romantic if you can even find romance at the laundromat. Good for you.

invisible said...

I know exactly what you mean. Our washer and dryer fritzed, and have been replaced with whiz-bang super duper R2D2 computer controlled, flashing light, steam cycle electronic marvels of the future.
All Hail the laundry machines !

David Edward said...

on a memorable Christmas eve, I met a mother and daughter at my local laundromat, they were washing EVERYTHING in their house because the daughter had just come from 70 days in the hospital ( leukemia) and had an impaired immune system from all the Chemo. I managed to stay in touch with them for years, until they moved last fall.

you typed that on your blackberry? DUDE!

Phronk said...

"Mundane, forgettable glory" is a great way to describe all the magical little moments that life contains.

Also I love the exchange with Brian (aka shaved heard cargo pants guy?). Such a great little bit of serendipity added to an already magically mundane experience. :)

Pamela said...

Life has squeezed my priorities recently - so I've just found a few minutes to read - and possibly comment on a few.

So glad I perused your list on my feed -- this was a great post.

I remember a few winters ago - when I had to visit the laundromat - and watched very similar things. Even a guy who carried his dog bed in -- leaves, mud, etc all still matted into it -- and threw it into a washer.

I never wanted to wash my clothes at a mat again.

charlene said...

ah, nice story carmi! reading it makes me miss the laundry cafe - they used to have good bagels and coffee. it is a good people watching place.

your new red duo sounds like a turqouise blue frontloader set we have our eye on because our washing machine is on it's last rinse cycle.

thanks for a sweet saturday morning read with my coffee.