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author:  Margie Culbertson

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Got Them ol' Laundromat Blues


Gloria Slater

For many years, before "city water" came to mylittle community, ourwell went dry with the regularity of someone onMetamucil, forcing meto undertake the vile and loathsome chore ofLaundromat Duty.

Now, this is similar in many ways to military K.P.,however, there isno dog–faced drill sergeant pointing out a mountainof spuds waitingto be peeled. Instead, there are several childrenwho have worn thesame jeans for so long that one can stand them up ina corner for thenight (the jeans, not the kids). Or there's a husbandwith a few tender words such as,

"Honey, dinner was great and the candles were anice touch, but thisis my last pair of clean BVDs."

My options at this point are few. Down to the creekto beatseventeen loads on a flat rock, or perhaps hiresomeone else to dothe wash at a rate high enough to buy new wardrobes,or face themusic and haul three week's worth of ripe laundry tothe local Wash–a–teria.

Off I go. As usual, the bleach spills in the carand forms yetanother pink amoebae–shaped blotch on our otherwiseburgundyupholstery.

Upon arrival, like every time before, there is noone around when Ineed help schlepping the behemoth baskets throughthe door. Yet,like magic, as soon as I do, the place fills upwhile I play doormanfor everyone else and my washers get pirated by asweet little ninety–year–old who tells me she has only a few dainties todo.

Then, there is the question of etiquette. Shouldone introduceoneself to one's laundromat mates? Who speaksfirst? Should onespeak at all, given the fact that the guyhypnotically watching hisarmy blanket dry, is a dead ringer for CharlesManson out on aweekend pass and looking edgy?

I choose to talk to a five year old whose mother(the one smoking twoCamels simultaneously and chugging a 32 oz. JOLTcola) snaps, "Don'ttalk to strange people!"

The first order of business (after the lady with mywashers isfinished with her dainties) is making change in theinnocent lookingdollar–changing machine where I spend the next 15minutes in a battleof wills, flattening and re–flattening my bills, inhopes that theevil contraption will accept them and give me myquarters. (This canbe very hard on those already suffering from lowself esteem. Onemust try not to take it personally, it's your moneythat's beingrejected, not you.)

When my wash is finally in, I realize I have left mybook at home.How to amuse oneself for the next two hours?There's always thecomplimentary reading material, Newsweek, vintage1983, pages stucktogether with a gelatinous substance vaguelyresemblingFlufferNutter.

Eventually, my attention is diverted (thank you,Lord) by my machinelurching out of its place from the orderly lineagainst the wall,like a soldier gone berserk—breaking ranks. Ipretend I don'tnotice until all my `mat–mates have, in turn,mumbled "not mine."

I stand in front of it. Try to stare it down.There is nothing elseto be done, of course, since it's one of thosewashers that, until itis finished, are sealed tighter than the lips of thefolks who knowthe whereabouts of the WMD. Trying to push it backcould be fatal,so I stare at it a while longer and mutter somethingastutelike "stupid machine." (Make sure at least one ofyour `mat mateshears you, this absolves you from any furtherresponsibility.)

The final indignation is the THIRTY SECOND WAITINGPERIOD AFTER THEWASHER HAS STOPPED BEFORE YOU CAN OPEN THE DOORrule. What couldpossibly happen if it's opened before the little redlight goes out?One might be sucked in to some parallel universe,alarms and sirenswould go off, immediate arrest and hard time?

"Laundromat police, you'll have to come with us,Ma"am."

Maybe, it's like those little tags on mattresses,simply a passiveaggressive method of world domination and humblingof the masses. Atany rate, we conform for the most part, and areobedient children.

But, not today. No sir, I won't be bullied anylonger. As I give into temptation and choke back my fear of becoming thenext episode ofCops (even though I have all my own teeth, do notown a tank top andto the best of my knowledge, have never kept apython in my barn), Itry the handle, in hopes that it will release mysoggy clothingthirty seconds sooner than promised.

Oh, the joy! Thirty seconds stolen from the tyrannyof automation…Imagine thepossibilities.

©Gloria Slater

Gloria Slater, an expatriated Floridian, is a writer living and freezing in western NY. Her essays have been published in The St. Petersburg Times, The Buffalo News, The Rochester D&C, Country Journal Magazine, as well as such online magazines as LaughterLoaf, and NightsAndWeekends. Her fiction and feature articles have been seen in Mockingbird Journal, Artsphere, WriterOnline, Flashquake, and Life in the Finger Lakes. She reports for the Mendon–Honeoye Falls–Lima Sentinel and she writes column called "My Front Porch" for the Discover Conesus and the Livingston County News (for which she won 2nd Place in the 2005 NY Press Association's Best Humor Column in her circulation category). Yet she somehow stays on the good side of the authorities and most close relatives. She promises never to refer to herself in the third person ever again.

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