Compared to the horrors our people suffered, heck compared to anything anyone had ever suffered, this is nothing to kvetch about. But here goes:
For thirteen months, I had no washing machine.
We were living in the shul in North Bergen, New Jersey and the machine broke and since everything there was supposed to be temporary, the $600 to fix the machine was never found, nor was I authorized by the board to pay for it myself.
So, like the rest of my Spanish speaking neighbors, I found myself at the Lavanderia de Ropas.
The parking lot was deceptively large, but besides the Laundromat it served a Dunkin Donuts, a Quick Check, a CVS, and a Burger King. AND it was the hangout of choice for the Young and Latino.
It was impossible to find a spot. I schlepped the twinkies’ stuff, Sruli’s stuff, and my eighteen black items in various containers ranging from the purple mesh bag leftover from Zachary’s dorm days to the plastic white plastic laundry baskets from Target that really don’t fit so nicely on your hip.
The place was teeming.
Kids running around with candy, people screaming superfast into cell phones, six TV’s all tuned to Univision, blasting the fights of the handsomest soap opera couples I have ever seen. The Young and the Restless Latino. “Por que, Ramon? Por QUEEEEEEEEEE?”
I guess I looked out of place and confused about a certain tarjeta that I was supposed to use to get the machines going.
That’s when I met Mario. He came over to me with the card that had a picture of a dollar on it morphing into huge green arrow. Apparently you had to pay two dolares for the card, but Mario had an extra.
He was in charge of the Lavanderia. I told him that my machine had broken down and (stupid naïve me) it should probably be fixed in a week or so.
He led me to the two biggest machines in the place. Both had signs on them that even with my pidgeon Spanish I knew said Out of Order.
He took off the signs and motioned to me to put my dirty clothes inside. I motioned to the signs in his hand. He motioned to my dirty clothes. I motioned to the signs again, and he winked.
Three weeks later I had abandoned all pretense of having my machine fixed, heck of ever having had a machine to call my own.
We had more than an understanding. We had a standing date.
The Lavanderia closed at 10PM which meant the last loads had to go in my 8:30. I sashayed in at 9:45 each and every Wednesday, grabbed two of his fabulous laundry carts that wheeled in every direction, took them out to my car, dumped my stuff therein, and wheeled them, past the Burger King into the Laundromat.
While I used the best machines, Mario emptied lint filters, polished handles and mopped floors. While I folded pink princess and blue monster size 3T sleeper pajamas, Mario would fold the laundry of those lucky enough to be able to afford $1.20 per pound for full drop-off service .
I guess I was one of those lucky enough, but I can’t trust anyone not to put my black clothes in the dryer, and what happened was that while it was a major pain to leave the shul-house in the middle of the night with heavy piles of laundry, sometimes in the freezing rain or snow, brave hellacious Bergenline Avenue, try to find a spot in that farshtunkene lot, and then spend the next 2 plus hours shoving clothes in various stages of cleanliness and humectation with a tarjeta that only worked the EXACT OPPOSITE way the arrow pointed, bedeviling me every freakin’ time—I started to enjoy those moments, between loads and amid the freneticism, yea even away from mommydom and wifedom, when I could be alone.
I always bought Mario a fancy ice tea and a King Size Almond Joy from CVS. The first time I did it, he was very surprised. After that, he would see me go out to get my Caffeine Free Diet Coke and little package of cashews (38 minutes before the spin cycle) and wait happily for his treat. He started to share his life story with me—apparently he worked three jobs so his daughter could go to medical school. He hated either his ex-wife or his mother, frankly he spoke very quickly, and it had been a long time since I was Senor Greenberg’s star Spanish student in High School. Verdad!
When I was first married, I lived in a tiny apartment in Forest Hills. Both Robert and I worked full time and we sprung for the full service, which included pickup and delivery.
Every Thursday at 7:30AM, before the mad dash to the E or F train, one of us would call and they would answer in the thickest, juiciest of Russian accents: HALLO LUNDREE CENTR!
Within three minutes we would hear the buzz from downstairs, then the elevator would groan and we would meet them at the door with our mesh bag.
At night, same thing in reverse.
They were so fast and efficient, that one morning I swear we heard the buzz downstairs before we even made the call. We looked at each other? Did you? No. HALLO LUNDREE CENTER!
Anyway, this went on for about three years.
And then, one Thursday morning, we called. And they picked up. HALLO REAL ISTATE.
Silence. Wait, isn’t this LUNDRY CENTR?
Excuse me, isn’t this LUNDRY CENTR?
NO. Same thick, juicy Russian accent. NO. NO LUNDRY CENTR. REAL ISTATE.
You know, they never acknowledged that they had ever been LUNDRY CENTR. Never. I passed by their place on 108th street a week or so later and there was a big Real Estate sign. No sign of any washers or dryers. There were lots of Russian people moving into the neighborhood and I guess it was a better business.
I also guess that more than any of the other homemakers arts, I take laundry seriously. I’m a pretty good cook, sweep enough to keep the dustbunnies at bay, and shpritz the Lysol around in the bathroom, but I really make sure the kids and Sruli always have full drawers of clean socks. Sruli even makes fun of my zealousness, but then he will turn around and thank me for doing laundry right before a trip so that he has enough black gig clothes to choose from.
This past summer, in our beautiful new house in beautiful Maine, the appliance gods delivered two large gifts.
Brand new Whirlpools. High Efficiency. Washer and Dryer. Shiny and White.
My very own LUNDRY CENTR.
I put in a full load of little socks, underwear, and pink kitty and blue robot size 5T sleepers.
I thought about my long nights with a tired me and an overworked Mario. And all those people with their candy eating kids who were probably there right now watching The Young and the Restless Latinos scream at full volume.
It was very quiet as I pressed the button.
The machine started to whirl.
And I started to cry.