The Laundromat

I’ve just put my clothes in the washer, and I’ve taken a seat in the corner of the laundromat. It’s 9pm on a Friday night, and there’s no one else here, probably because of the rain. I take a sip of my soda from the 7-Eleven next door, as I wonder if I’ll be seeing anyone else here tonight. There’s a couple dryers spinning, so I’m assuming that someone will show up for that, but it would be ok if I was alone for my time here. I could use some “quiet” time. But unfortunately, with the “quiet” time comes my wandering thoughts of impending loneliness and my inadequacies due to the failures in my life. That’s one reason why I try to stay busy most of the time so that the negative thoughts don’t creep into my head.

But just as I begin to feel sorry for myself, an older couple walks in, probably in their 70’s. The woman is pulling a laundry basket with wheels, and the man, with a noticeable limp, is carrying two trash bags of clothes. He sets the two bags down on the floor and goes back outside while the woman begins to fill a washer with coins from a little ziplock bag. The man comes back in with two more bags of clothes and sets them on the floor as well. As the woman begins to fill another washer with quarters, the man starts to fill the first washer with the contents of the laundry basket, and as the woman moves down the line, depositing quarters, the man follows her, loading the machines and starting them. It’s a military-like precision that could only be accomplished by years of experience together doing their laundry here. And as soon as they have six washers going, they gather their belongings on a table next to the dryers and take a seat next to the vending machine. The woman turns to the man and says something, and the man leans into her, places his hand on her shoulder, and kisses her. I smile at what I consider to be a very heartfelt moment between the couple. I wonder how long they’ve been together and marveled at the fact that they still kiss in public. I look at them again and notice that they’re holding hands as they talk softly to each other, and I smile again at the tenderness of the moment. 

And that’s when a woman walks in while talking on her cellphone. She’s holding a crying infant with two little boys in tow, carrying a laundry basket between them. None of them are wearing jackets on a cold and rainy night. She seems upset as she points to where she wants them to put the basket. They put the basket down as she tells them to sit down next to the change machine. They comply but ask their mother for change for the vending machine. She either ignores them or can’t hear them over her phone conversation, which is getting a little heated. The infant in her arms is still crying as she tries to slide a dollar bill into the change machine unsuccessfully. After a few tries, she seems to give up, and she begins to dig through her purse for an alternative. She takes a seat next to her kids, who are again asking for change for the vending machine. She doesn’t answer them again, and she looks as if she’s about to cry but takes a deep breath and composes herself before she pulls out a dollar bill, hands it to the oldest boy, who is probably around four or five, and tells him that if he can get the change machine to work, she’ll give him some change for the vending machine. As the little boy is trying to figure out which way the dollar bill is supposed to go in the machine, the woman stands up, turns away from her kids, and with anger in her face, she concludes the phone conversation with an expletive and hangs up. She sits down again, covers her face with her hand, and begins to cry. At that moment, quarters start to rain down into the little tray on the change machine, much to the excitement of the little boy who raises his hands into the air in victory. The woman wipes the tears from her eyes and congratulates her son for getting it done on the first try. She gets up from her seat, kneels down in front of her son and gives him a big hug as she thanks him…and the little girl in her arms begins to laugh…..and again I smile.

The two spinning dryers finally stop and before I can look around for the owner of the clothes inside, the restroom door opens, and out comes an old man. He’s probably in his late 70’s. His face is weathered, and his hair is either wet or greasy. He’s wearing a dirty pair of jeans and a tattered flannel shirt. He smiles at me as he walks by, revealing his missing teeth. I don’t think he’s doing his laundry here. He’s probably homeless and looking for shelter from the rain. Instinctively, I look over my shoulder, out the window, to see if there’s a shopping cart full of stuff outside, but I don’t see anything. He does have a large backpack slung over his shoulder, and as he sits down next to the old couple, he begins to shuffle through it. After a while, he stops looking and places his backpack on the floor in front of him. He sits back in the chair and lets out a sigh of frustration. He looks tired as he stares at the row of dryers in front of him. And then the little boy with his newfound fortune and his brother in tow passes the old man on his way to the vending machine. He looks at the homeless man with curiosity, with no reaction from the man. The choices in the machine seem endless, and even to me, it’s always a tough choice of what to buy. His little brother knows exactly what to get. He puts his quarters in and presses the appropriate button for the Nacho Cheese Doritos. With a big smile on his face, he retrieves the chips from the machine. And now the older brother has made his decision. He places his quarters in the machine and pushes the button for a Snickers candy bar. He, too, has a big smile as he retrieves the candy bar from the machine. As the boys walk by the homeless man, the older boy stops in front of the old man. The old man looks up and smiles at the little boy. And that’s when, after a moment of thought, the little boy hands the old man the Snickers bar. The old man accepts the gift and as he thanks the little boy, the other little boy begins to give the old man the bag of Doritos. The old man, with a toothless smile, waves him off and says, “Share that with your brother.” And as the two boys walk back to their mother, they walk past the old couple who smile at them with approval. I laugh a little under my breath at the incredibly unselfish gesture by the two boys. 

I look over at the homeless man unwrapping the Snickers bar with a smile on his face, and to the old couple, still holding hands and smiling at each other, and then to the mother with her kids, smiling and listening to her son explain why he didn’t come back with a treat from the vending machine. 

I find myself thankful that I’m not alone at the laundromat tonight as I take another sip from my soda and get up to put my clothes in the dryer.

By Mike C


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