Last night was my first trip to the coin-operated laundry since the move. Some cute Latin chicks at the coin-operated laundry. Well, two. Also, some very aged Latin couples. Unshaven white dudes with huge guts and foot edema pushing against their sandals, clueless about laundry separation and stinking to the heavens.
I didn’t hear English once. In fact, one Latin woman in her sixties approached, rested a hand on my shoulder, and began speaking to me in Spanish. Eyes swimming behind large glasses, permed hair obviously dyed. She stood while I sat, but we were eye-to-eye.
“No habla Espanol,” I told her.
“Ah,” she said. Instead of prompting her to walk away, this led to a spiel. Normally I understand seventy percent of Spanish spoken to me, although I can’t speak it myself unless it involves ordering a cafecito, but I got nothing from her. She gripped my shoulder, not quite massaging, the way a grandmother does when she wants to impart something very important with her affection. I arranged my features somewhere between sympathy and polite interest. It worked for her.
I wonder what she said. Especially since it went on for some time.
“You remind me of my grandson. He’s doing time for armed robbery, but he’s such a nice boy once you get past the homemade tats. I wonder why he hasn’t settled down. I know he’s in prison, but those serial killers, they get letters from nice girls all the time, but not my Javier, no…”
“Do you have any change for the washing machines? I spent the last of my money on a lottery ticket at the pharmacy and my whites aren’t quite dry. I play my dead husband’s birthdays. I’ve been married four times. You know what they say about Spanish blood! I haven’t gotten lucky yet…hey, there’s probably a metaphor in there somewhere.”
“I don’t see a wedding ring on your finger, are you single? Seeing anyone? Gosh, look at your face! Not for me, for my granddaughter. That’s her over there with the Tina Fey glasses, wearing a sleeveless lavender hoodie and black jeans with the white piping around the seams. Terrible outfit but nice butt, don’t you think? I can give you her number. The best part is, one look at me and you know she’ll hold up like a rock.”
I learned a few things, too.
-When I last used a coin laundrymat, I thought it was ripoff when I saw $1.25 per wash instead of $1. Now, try $1.75 per load.
-You must dry your clothes on the same side of the laundrymat, clustered as closely as possible to your neighbors’ tumbling loads. This gathering of heat is rumored to dry everyone’s clothes faster. Any attempt to use the dryers on the opposite side, in the corner, or even on the same side as everyone else but away from the group, will be regarded as an act of hostility.
-There is no air conditioning.
-Some people have personal hygiene problems.
-After twelve years here, I should learn Spanish already.
-Undershirts with yellowing armpits look a lot more yellow when they’re being washed in public.
-Women are impressed by a man who separates.
-Reading while waiting for your laundry is an act of aggression, the willful separation of yourself from the group. If you don’t sit there with your arms folded, eyes glazed, and occasionally striking up conversations with total strangers, you are giving them permission to stare at you as though flowers are growing from your scalp. This is true even if you don’t speak the language.
-You don’t speak the language.
-If you are younger than forty and your hands aren’t actually touching laundry, you must be texting.
I also learned that laundry on the way home is heavier than laundry on the way there. Odd, as I was minus some detergent. Is it muscle exhaustion, since I’ve already lugged the laundry all the way there? Is it mental fatigue, knowing I’m so close to being home making everything that much more strenuous? Or is clean heavier than dirty?
I get the feeling weight will factor into my future wardrobe choices.
“I’d love to wear that sweater, but do I really want to carry it six blocks to clean it?.”
“I know I’ve worn this t-shirt twice already, biking under Miami’s sun in 90-degree weather, but I’m sure it’s got another wear in it.”
“People don’t actually wash comforters, do they?”
My favorite part of the evening was walking home with the big blue Ikea bag, stuffed with laundry, nodding to my neighbors as they walked their dogs. Apparently in Coral Gables, tall, dark, sweaty men carrying a sack of suspicious size and heft are looked upon with suspicion after ten pm. Go figure.