Notes from a laundromat
I like clean clothes. Who doesn’t?
And so that’s probably why I spend an inordinate amount of time in laundromats. I’m in one at least twice a week, because I don’t like the laundry basket to get overflowing with funky threads — literally funky — and I kinda dig the experience of hanging out in the laundromat. Usually, there are sketchy people to be observed in laundromats, and something inside me enjoys observing sketchy people: not because I think I’m any better than them, but because I find them interesting.
It’s dead here on this Sunday evening, though. Two young men — whose complexions Anglo observers in earlier times, as in when Jack Webb was making television shows, might describe as “swarthy” — shlepped in a load of laundry and brought the guido in the process. One was normal, but the other one was not only wearing an Affliction T-shirt, an overpriced and uglified signifier that its wearer is a member of Douchebag Nation, but he was sporting a faux mohawk whose point was shiny and glistening, held in place by what I’m presuming was a cornucopia of hair-care products, gels and chemical jisms, most of which my horribly snarky imagination would like to guess are expensive concoctions whose price is doubled, tripled or quintupled by the presence of some celebrity entrepreneur’s name on the label: Sean Combs, perhaps, or maybe Christian Audigier, if that odious Frenchman has leapfrogged his Ed Hardy brand into the personal-care products trade.
Merde. I should knock it off on my making fun of the whole DB Nation aesthetic. It’s just that I’m in a laundromat in Midtown Sacramento on a Sunday night, using the free wi-fi there for the first time, and those clowns are the only entertainment who’ve bothered to show up. The tattoo parlor on the corner is quiet; usually there are a few Ed Hardy acolytes representing, and some of those can be rather marginal in the solid-citizen sense. One of my friends, an addict who shall remain nameless, claims there’s a lot of shall we say clandestine activity in very close proximity to the aforementioned business establishment, but I’ve never had anyone offer to sell me a dime bag around there. Anecdotal evidence only goes so far. But I did watch paramedics recently check out a man seated on a chair outside the tattoo parlor late one night; he appeared to be merely nodding out. Those 911 calls can be prohibitively expensive; a Baby Ruth bar and a chocolate YooHoo might have been a much better outlay of the taxpayer’s dollar. Aw, what do I know; maybe calling 911 was the right thing to do.
This particular laundromat has been around for a while. In 1987 I lived a block north, and I made the mistake of putting my clothes in the dryer here and hitting Casey’s — now The Press Cub — for a quick Saturday morning bracer of scotch, and came back to find all my clothes had been stolen. Boo 2 tha hoo: I vowed never again would I darken the door and wash clothes in that establishment, but two decades and presumed numerous ownership changes and now free wi-fi and an attendant on duty make this place pretty darn attractive, despite my earlier bad experience. Even if the cafe next door to the right smells like funkily unappetizing gyro sandwiches, and thus is of little worth to me, and there’s a Subway sandwich joint across the street, Subway being the chain whose $5 footlong hoagie damn near killed me with the food poisoning last summer. The south Asian bodega next door always has a sporting event on the television, though, along with a decent supply of peanut M&Ms and Gatorade.
I’m trying to remember laundromats around town that have made an impression. Of course, there’s the Fluff’n’Fold on the corner of 21st and H, now a yoga studio called Deep; the laundromat obviously isn’t there anymore, but the building is significant because Poison Ivy Rorschach and the late Lux Interior lived upstairs in like the 1970s when they first met. There’s the iconic Fluff’n’Fold on 25th and K by the City Bicycle Works, where I used to hang and wash clothes when Johnny Guitar Knox worked there in the mid 1980s, and I was a frequently drunk off my ass writer who was just the sort of fuckup to receive kind paternal advice from a blues guitar-playing laundry attendant. Other than that, the only place that registers is on Freeport Boulevard at Vallejo Way across from Marie’s Donuts (as a sidenote, I bow humbly in gratitude to whatever godhead governs delicious junk pastries), simply because it’s the last place I saw my lovely former girlfriend one Saturday morning a few months ago, and she kinda gave me a bit of a cold shoulder, not that I should expect a big hug and a kiss or anything, and anyway I had my mouth full of one of Marie’s apple bear-claw thingees so maybe she woulda passed on kissing me even if she’d wanted to.
But I digress, and that’s all memory now. And right now, having free wi-fi and no distractions is pretty sweet, you gotta admit. There’s no Muzak, only the hum of coin-operated dryers. I keep wanting to wash my clothes early, like when this place opens up at 7 a.m., because there’s an “early bird special” where drying is free before 9 a.m. on weekdays except for “stimulus Wednesdays,” whatever that means. But if they wanted to encourage business on, oh, slow Sunday nights like this one, they could have thrown in free drying and I wouldn’t have minded.
Still, just being able to groove on that unique laundromat vibe is all I need. There’s the enameled white walls, and the checkerboard off-white and sea-green linoleum pattern on the floor, and all those cool machines. There’s the smell of detergent and the clatter of laundry carts. And if you get bored, you can go read the bulletin board, which has pitches from handymen and beauty parlors and self-betterment classes at the local trade schools and even some dubious investment schemes, along with flyers for various DJ nights at the neighborhood clubs — the Press, the Town House. And if that isn’t enough, there’s the library of great reading material, from People and the Pennysaver to those laundromat mainstays, The Watchtower and Awake! I mean, how can you go wrong?
I still have just under 10 minutes to go on the dryer, so here’s a cool link to the Kinks playing Iceland in 1965. I got home last night from Jerry Perry’s birthday party at Old Ironsides and went on a real Kinks bender, posting vintage vids of the band to my Facebook page, because you can never have enough Kinks videos, right? But the Iceland newsreel one had its embedding disabled, so I’ll link to it here. It’s pretty darn great. Björk was born that year, so she’s probably not in the audience. But maybe her mum was?
Who knows? All I know is that I’ve got clothes to fold, and that writing a blog entry in a laundromat is a pretty nice little way to spend a Sunday evening. But Jerry Perry just called, and it’s still his birthday, and they’re having sushi up the street; the solitary bliss of the laundromat is no match for the conviviality of good friends. —Jackson Griffith