I chose not to have a washer and dryer at Brookside Apartments on Metropolitan Avenue in Atlanta, because I love the laundromat. The laundromat is a slow, soothing, peaceful, city space of mine to unwind. Even though the long row of pin-ball machines I played as a child were absent, I knew I could still have fun by meeting and becoming familiar with more women and children at the local Bustin’ Suds Laundromat across the street.
The task at hand was rather difficult. For one, I know I should not carry anything heavier than a couple small books in my backpack. The load of heavy clothe baskets are not good on my small frame, and somehow, hand held objects distract my walking balance and coordination. While working as a nurse in the hospital setting, I flagged patient charts with bright orange stickers, “HIGH FALLS RISK,” if my initial nursing assessment warranted a disaster. I have stamped one of those orange stickers on my forehead, one suspended around my neck, and one on my toe tag I stuck between my teeth for good measure:
Patient Name: Stacy Renee Sweeney
Time of Death: undetermined
Organ Donor: why not?
Cause of Death: she fell from grace, into a tumbler, and dried
Another shirt hanger for me is heat. When the mercury rises, so do my exhaustion and frustration levels. The laundromat is a hot place. Disaster first struck with my cash loaded laundromat card. The friction between me and the laundry lady all started with my goose down sleeping bag, because I could not properly insert my card into the washing machine. I never wanted her help, but instead, I tried to insert the card different ways in other machines like an obstacle course, slapping the impossible ones, saying, “good grief,” under my breath. The laundry lady rolled her eyes at me, and swiped my laundry card right out of my hand, never explaining her directions or what she was going to do with my card. She looked at me wide eyed and asked, “You don’t trust me?” I tilted my head, exposed my palms face up and said, “Okay, I trust you,” and I bit my lip. All the laundromat ladies laughed. “I know your problem. Your Bustin’ Suds Card no longer work. You buy new, Easy Card,” she motioned. “I’m not buying another card from you. You should give me the new card in exchange for my old card.” I stated. “No, no.” her stubborn, straight face said. “You buy new, Easy Card,” was her final answer.
“That’s the stupidest answer I have ever heard. Where did you come from? Who let you in my country?” I threw my invalid, Bustin’ Suds Card at her. She threatened, “I call police.” I emptied my pockets full of coins, and slid them across the floor in my best windmill, fast pitch ever and said, “Call them, you freak!” I was hot that day. When things don’t go my way, I quit.
Laughing in astonishment, my excitable Caiden asked, “Why did you throw our card at that lady? You could have given me all those coins.” My level headed Keller piped in, “You should have paid 0.99¢ for the easier card. You’ll have to go back and apologize.” I yelled at God, “Yes, but not today.”
Sometimes, I, the customer, am wrong.
Dear Feisty Korean Lady,
I am really, really sorry for attacking you. You are a good woman. I attacked who you are as a person. I yelled at you in your place of business. I disrespected you in front of your loyal customers. Will you please forgive me? Will you please give me a second chance to be your customer? Please check one box:
[yes] or [maybe]
She checked the “Yes” box and said, “My name is, Corine.” She handed me the new, Easy Laundry Card. “Have you ever washed a super hero’s outfit?” I asked her. I thought this would be a great conversation piece. “I want to own your laundromat,” I told her. I asked if she would sell me her business. Her expression was priceless. “Its hard work. You not want this,” she warned. There was laughter again coming from the female peanut gallery. “Do you know how much one of these costs?” Her short stature caught me at my nose. “Two thousand,” I said. “Huh! Try $12,000 for one commercial, speed queen washer,” she counter offered. “Okay. I counted fourteen front load washers, six top load washers, and 54 dryers. I want it. How much money will you accept for all of it?” I asked. “Its not for sale.” We hear laughter again, coming from a row of ladies seated in orange chairs along the wall, washing clothes and watching their favorite afternoon soap opera.
Corine assured me that it was hard work. She worked for a laundromat on Cleveland Avenue one block southbound for nine years. “I sorted dirty clothes, washed and dried them, folded clean clothes and placed them in a laundry bag. You also need to clean the dryer vents twice a day. Then there’s equipment breakdowns, crazy people like you disrupting peace on private property, and being robbed.” she finally ended. I asked “Well, why do you do what you do?” She said, “To support my family. We’ve never been on government support. Never. If you want money, you have to earn it.” Son Lee, her uncle, had lived here alone for 60 yrs before she moved to the states to live with him.
“People don’t like to share,” a lady sorting her grand children’s clothes said, “and nobody gives nobody nothing, not even an Easy Card.” She looked lonely and seemed discouraged. I can read body language, you know. She had 3L of oxygen flowing up her nose. She had Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) where fluids back up in the cardio-pulmonary system like a washing machine fills with water.
“Why do you think your heart’s failing?” I asked her. “Because I took care of everybody but me.” she said for certain, pushing a rolling basket full of dirty clothes to the washing machine. She asked what I did. I told her I was a registered nurse.
Tonisha, a 25yr old woman, pulled her shirt up above her 6 month pregnant mass, and asked me to feel for her fourth baby.”Feel for your baby? Oh, I feel for you, baby!” I giggle. “You’re going to be spinning around and around crazy when this baby comes.” I continue out loud with my Leopold maneuvers, “Smooth, long back. Rounded head. Bumpy feet and arms. He has happy feet, and he’s making his way to the special wash cycle, head first.” She smiles very pleased, and puts her ear buds back in her ears, jazzing to the silent beats only she can hear. She lingers over a folding table to rest her body near the warm dryers, as I clean, maintain, protect, and iron out the fabric of our colored garments, which only make up the outer, visible pieces of our wardrobe.