Wednesday, May 6, 2009

I Should Go to the Laundromat More Often

There's no remote, no wall-mounted dial, nothing that can change the channel on the flat-screen TV at the "18 Min. Wash" laundromat to "Jeopardy!" I'm stuck with Entertainment Tonight and the only interesting parts thus far have been the segments on "Star Trek" and the "Meryl Streep Exclusive" featuring her on the set of her new film with Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. The cotton candy-head who's narrating the segment says that tomorrow, there'll be an interview with her and Baldwin and Martin from the "secret" location of "The Untitled Nancy Meyers Project." I won't watch. I haven't watched in years.

Then the program switches its focus to Elizabeth Edwards being interviewed about the kind of marriage she either has or had with John Edwards. I don't know whether they're going for the halcyon days before he cheated on her, or the aftermath. But, knowing "Entertainment Tonight" by reputation, it's got to be the latter.

I'm sitting on a light green plastic chair bolted to the floor, against floor-to-ceiling length glass windows with the standard view of parked cars in front of the laundromat. My dad is sitting on an orange chair one seat down, gabbing on his cell phone. I hear the names "Herrera" (former principal of Silver Trail Middle) and "Melita" (I think she's still an assistant principal at Silver Trail) and automatically know that he's talking to someone in South Florida, as Silver Trail was in Pembroke Pines, the middle school I went to for 7th and 8th grade. My dad taught computers and business education there. I look up at the TV again, mounted on a wall near the first two (one above and one below) dryers in this laundromat. Whoever is narrating the bit about Edwards is getting embarassingly breathless about it.

By this time, we've already loaded the comforter from his and my mom's bed into a free washer, plugged a few quarters into the slot, poured powdered detergent into the hole on top of the machine, and started it. The washer and dryer we have at home is not big enough to handle comforters. It wasn't an oversight when we were looking for a new washer and dryer to replace what the previous owners had left behind. There's little room in the garage as it is, and the only space available was between the door that leads into my parents' bedroom, and the space heater. To have a washer and dryer that could handle a comforter would require the dryer to most likely sit in front of the space heater. That wouldn't work.

I get up a few times to check on the rotating comforter, watching it get splashed with detergent suds and water over and over. My dad's still listening to the person on the other end in South Florida giving him news about what's going on in the schools, news that has no effect on his daily work life, but he likes to know.

I'm not bored while I'm sitting on that chair; just looking for something. I don't know what, but even though I brought along a novel called "Dog On It" by Spencer Quinn, I know it's not in the first few pages, even though it is interesting to read a detective story from a dog's point of view. I don't dare get up too often to check on the comforter, as a mother and daughter are standing on opposite sides of the row where my washer is, and I don't want to be a distraction.

I go outside and watch the traffic. It gets lighter as this early part of the evening goes on and more people come into the laundromat, having settled the tab on most of their day, knowing that they have to get some laundry done. A dirty blonde-haired woman walks in with her husband, a man who has to shop from the Big and Tall catalog. There's a janitor at my dad's school with a metal leg who is probably 3/4 of this guy's size. And he looks more amiable.

They take the washer in front of my green chair, which means I'll get some entertainment. I like watching sheets and blankets and shirts and other comfortable things tumble in a dryer, and especially in a washer. I get to thinking about how long it's been since these things were washed or what stains had been on them, or even what attracted that person to that particular blanket or quilt. This is one of those rare places in Santa Clarita where it looks like there are stories to find, where something is going on, where people aren't walking around with blank stares that advertise that there weren't many I.Q. points awarded them in the genetic raffle.

There are more people in this laundromat now. More clothes going into the washers, a lot more dryers running. When my dad and I walked in with the comforter in a blue hard-plastic basket, the powdered detergent in a baggie, and the quarters in another baggie---all on top of the comforter---there were only three people there. Now it's growing. Not just the mother and daughter, not just the opposite of Jack Sprat and his wife, but a woman who works as a cashier at a Home Depot, whose father can't get a lot in the way of benefits for his military service, which got him three Purple Hearts. My dad and I find this out in the parking lot when the woman strikes up a conversation with how warm it was getting inside the laundromat with all those dryers running. This leads to discussion about the economy and the problems felt throughout the country, but even more personally here. She moved back in with her father to take care of him and is finding it hard to make it at the Home Depot with a $10-an-hour wage, but she prays 24/7. I believe her. She has the lines on her face and a wrinkle here and there that shows she's been through some relentless hardships. She has an ex and that's as much mention as he gets, "the ex." Good enough for me. I can already imagine what the man might have been like. A lot of yelling, I'm sure, and total emotional breakdown.

The comforter is nearly done drying. Dad checks it, closes the dryer door, puts it on another setting and then presses the red "start" button. I alternate between watching the suds and water in front of me at my green seat and the wall of dryers. I should go to the laundromat more often. I could sit in that green seat on other days with a book, reading, and also watching the activity, like I have a collection of clothes in one of the washers. There's a sign carved into a wooden board on the wall that says, "No attendant on duty." Someone opens the laundromat and closes it. I know that by the flat-screen TV tuned to something I won't watch and there being no remote. I know that by the lights being on. So I don't think I'd be looked at funny for staying too long. Each hour, the customers change. Mothers may come in with kids, housewives come in, people come in after work and dinner, whatever.

I'm not saying I'd go every day. I wouldn't become a fixture there. But I don't think I would go every day if there was the chance to do so, if I didn't have so much to do in my days already. There's something to really appreciate about a laundromat, how everyone is on equal footing here. We're all middle-class, just wanting to get some laundry done so we can feel comfortable about at least one part of our lives, satisfied that we've got clean clothes, bedsheets, towels, comforters, whatever it might be. It's a routine, yes, it's a necessary chore. But that sliver of satisfaction is there, at least to me. And it's why, when I was watching those bits of Entertainment Tonight while being annoyed at not finding any remote control, I looked at the people in the laundromat. These are the real people. I know there are people who watch Elizabeth Edwards being interviewed because they may have the same problems in their own marriage. I understand that. But all the celebrity, all the glitz, yes, again, an escape for some. But I think the regular people are more interesting than the celebrities. There's a lot more personality just in comforters and quilts alone. Designs, prints, why did we buy them? We have our reasons and those reasons are what keeps me more engaged than news and analysis about who was eliminated from "Dancing with the Stars."

The comforter done, Dad loads it into the basket, and we go to the car. The post office next, followed by a stop at the new Dickey's Barbecue Pit in the Pavilion's Shopping Center in Valencia, only to pick up a menu. It's a possibility for eats in the next few days. We all love barbecue and to have barbecue this close might be nice. Barbecue brisket, Southern pulled pork, "The Turkey," hickory grilled chicken, polish sausage. I only hope the result is as promising as the names.

Then home. Sometimes life can be interesting in this valley, but the laundromat isn't always enough. I got more out of that laundromat than this entire valley this year. It's not a sad statement, just that what you know from five years of living here is all that there is. Nothing ever changes drastically or becomes more interesting. At least there's the laundromat.

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