A quiet night at the laundromat, as I type away on my iPad standing up because some irksome young girl is sitting on the bench. Normally I have no qualms about sitting next to 20-something females, but it’s hard to type away a commentary about them on your iPad while sitting two inches away from them. I have to admit there’s a vicarious thrill of doing that, but not tonight. Tonight I just want to get my darks and lights out of here and go home to make dinner.
Lately I have been lucky enough that I can afford to drop my laundry off with the very nice Chinese couple at the end of my block. They say hello to me on the street and asked about my job prospects when I was unemployed. Hearing “Yoo fine job ye?” from a four foot tall Asian woman was somehow heart warming despite the bitter part of my brain that said she was just worried a bout her bottom line. These days though when I go into their storefront, they’re happy and polite as always and know exactly where my shirts are. It’s a tiny thing in the grand order of life, but for one that I am grateful.
Tonight though I’m doing my undies and sheets and towels myself because I blew my budget over the holidays and need to be frugal before I’m forced to dip into my savings just to eat. That giant jar of quarters of my dresser thumbs its nose at me and screeches “ONEPERCENTER!!!! Do you own damn laundry!” in a voice that is oddly just like my mothers forcing me to admit that the one of the many reason I hate doing laundry at a landromat is out of laziness.
Normally there is an epic cast of characters streaming through here. Tonight it’s just the one girl (who’s wearing amazing shoes, by the way). There’s also the one guy who has dragged his clothes in here in an Ikea bag. Headphones almost surgically inserted into his ear canals, he shoves all of it in one of the super machines. His laundry soap is Dawn… and his shoes are appalling.
I know that a lot of students live in my area. The same students who will push up the cost of living in this neighborhood if they stay and become young professionals demanding more high end services for them and their inevitable stroller bound offspring. It’s already happened in the 6 years I’ve lived here. There’s a young family in my building that I have overheard going through the joys of potty training (also known as begging and pleading). The crack den…ooops, I mean the low end laundromat on Haight and Pierce closed and a couple of other low end stores have shut up shop. Buildings are getting painted and remade. My favorite building, known as the Pink Palace, sat empty for years. Yet a couple of months ago, construction started on the interior and I can assume that condos will be going in there. I think it’s a good thing over all, but I just really hope they keep it pink.
A cute guy in his late 20’s comes in talking into an ear bud and pulls his laundry out of a dryer. He wants an order of sesame chicken, an egg roll, mushu pork and two diet cokes. I now know where he lives as he gives the person on the other end of the phone his address. He’s cute and I feel like a dirty old man as I watch his tight butt leave with his clothes. This leaves the girl with good taste in shoes and me alone, together, ignoring each other, again.
She eventually gets up and wanders over to transfer her clothes out of a machine and into a dryer while another girl in a violet hoodie comes with an empty backpack and begins to dump her clothes into that with out folding them. Maybe she has mushu pork waiting for her at home.
The thing that has gotten to me lately about doing my laundry here is that I’m easily 20 years older than most of them. There is part of me that always questions where I went wrong in my life that I don’t live in an apartment or house with a washer/dryer in it. On the surface it’s a litany of errors and mistakes and judgments and bad choices. In reality, it’s probably not that unusual. I at least have the option, most of the time, to drop mine off with nice Asian immigrants less that 100 yards from my front door.
The girl with the violet backpack heaves it onto her shoulders with a huff and waddles out like a sherpa on her way to Everest for the summer. Outside I hear some woman laughing in such a way that she sounds a little deranged.
But then a fire truck blasts by and destroys the quiet of the evening. It’s an unusually warm and dry one for this time of year in San Francisco. So I take my iPad outside and sit on the bench under the tree that still has holiday lights in it. This is the kind of weather I love to gloat about to friends on the east coast as they bundle and shiver their way through the winter. Usually though we’re in the middle of rainy season and most everyone is wondering if we’re back in a drought. Others worry about fires in the hills. Given California’s history with wild fires, they have reason to be nervous. But tonight, I’m outside enjoying the relative peace of my gentrifying neighborhood.
The girl with nice shoes comes out and crosses the street and walks away, leaving me alone to silently type away about her behind her back. My mind suddenly goes blank while watching a woman walk her tiny dog up the block. There’s nothing significant about them, but they capture my attention anyway. Something about the way the dog walks isn’t right. As they come under the light of the tree I notice the dog has only three legs. She’s walking slowly to let it go at its own pace. We give each other a quick smile before she turns around and takes the dog back the way she came. The dogs tail is whipping ferociously in happiness as he hops down the street behind her. “Come on you…” I hear her say but by then they have wandered back into the dark and I tell myself the same thing because its time to go inside and fold my underwear and sheets and socks.
Another woman comes in with a large yellow comforter shoved under her arm. She’s waifishly thin and boyish. She tries to stuff it into a top loader before realizing it won’t fit. She looks around and sees one of the bigger machines is empty. She bends over and peers inside it carefully before shoving the yellow monstrosity inside it. She slams the door closed and mutters “damnit” before running out, leaving her comforter in the machine. I keep folding. She comes back a few minutes later with soap and quarters. Apparently not enough quarters because she goes and fights with the change machine for a minute before getting enough to set her machine off.
While dumping soap into her machine, the boy with the ear buds surgically implanted in his ears comes in and takes his stuff out of the washer next to hers. She leaves and her belt clanks and chinks as she walks.
As I’m folding, I discover my favorite merino wool sweater has gotten mixed up in the rest of my clothes. The body is fine but I can see that the sleeves have diminished considerably in the heat of the dryer. I love this sweater. I got it at the Barneys Basement Sale in New York for $25 many years ago and it’s one of those pieces that never went out of style. I’m mildly heartbroken about it. I fold it gently and plow through the rest of it. It’s only a sweater but it was one I liked wearing and it made me feel a little elegant.
As I fold, I look at the condition of everything. These sheets are old and while they used to be white, there are places that haven’t been fully white in a while. This t-shirt is too small for me and I really only wear it under other things. These socks lost their elastic a while ago. This red flannel shirt is only in the laundry because I discovered it shoved under my bed, forgotten. This pair of underwear is being held together by a force of nature not understood by modern physics. They all need to go. I try to donate what I can to the Good Will on South Van Ness because they have a fabric recycling program without having an overtly homophobic gospel on their lips. It may be time to take a big load of stuff to them.
The t-shirt holds memories though. I bought it on my first trip to San Francisco and a week later wore it on my first trip to Provincetown over ten years ago. As I leaned up against a pillar in a bar, trying to look like the kind of guy who didn’t care about getting cruised, all while desperate to get cruised, a man walked up a looked at the logo on the t-shirt and said “So who’s the big bear?” I looked him in the eye and coldly said “I am.” In my head I was jubilant that I managed to come up with such cool answer. He gave me the once over before stifling a short laugh and said “Good answer” as he walked away. I was rather crushed. But that was a long time ago and I was a different person then. Today I’d work harder to be nicer… while having the same response. As for the t-shirt, it barely fits over my middle-aged tummy these days and I’m not exactly comfortable calling myself “Big Bear” lately because of the size of that tummy.
I finish folding and once again break the laws of physics by getting everything the bag at once. As I leave I almost slam into the man with the ear buds as he is walking in with his Ikea bags. I say excuse me as pleasantly as I can as he coldly and harshly says “Sorry”. I sling the bag over my shoulder like my own Sherpa and head out in the night under the stars in the tree to go home and make dinner…which I promptly spill all over my shirt requiring more laundry.