In the laundry room

Washington, DC — The building where I found a 400-square-foot efficiency for only $1175 a month has 130 units, most filled with “young professionals,” the super said. They share the big rambling multi-room apartments that comprise most of the building, I assume, leaving the efficiencies to pied-a-terre types. So every Saturday, laundry day to me, I get a little anxious that if I don’t get there first, the whole laundry room will be claimed for the day by girls talking in high squeaky voices, getting on my nerves, taking my laundry out if I do get a machine, and that getting enough leggings and underwear washed to make it through another work week will turn into an urban turf war.

This has never happened, but it seems inevitable. So when I realized it was only 7:50 when I finished my breakfast I went rushing down to claim two machines. I found one woman there, my own age, which is well past the multi-roomate high squeaky voice phase, and she was loading her laundry into the only two machines I knew for sure worked.

I have had two experiences with machines that didn’t work, which fueled my anxiety about the competition for the unknown number that do work in a 130-unit building  with possibly 300 separate laundry doers in it. I asked the woman if she knew if the ones I went to were all right. She said probably they were — the repairman comes regularly, they’re all new, but they just get too much use. And then she said, people never put a note on them when they don’t work, because it’s too much trouble to go back to your apartment and get a pen, and paper . . .

I admitted the two times I had discovered machines didn’t work, it hadn’t even occurred to me to put a note on them. She indicated some surprise, and went on.

When my husband and I moved in here, she said, it was all widows. We were the youngest people here. The inevitable happened, she shrugged. About 10 years ago, it filled with young people. Like a college dorm.

I said they were very quiet though, because it’s like a mausoleum. Washington, DC young professionals generally seem very goal oriented.

They are now, she agreed. There were a few who got drunk, loud, broke a window. They were asked to leave. Now it’s nice. What do you think of the building?

I like it.

It’s so classic, she said. It was built by a famous developer here, is nearly 90 years old, that’s why they can’t change the windows.

The place has old french windows that are pretty, but offer only the choices of open and shut. I like them, I said, but probably won’t in the winter.

No you won’t, she smiled.

I told her my other home is in Florida, so it’s nice to be in an old place for a change.

Are you from Florida? she asked. I said no, New York, but so many people with New York accents live in Florida that it feels like home.

She let her mouth drop open. Really? she said, I thought New Yorkers were New Yorkers forever! How can they leave all that culture? My sister in law is from Brooklyn, now she lives in Arizona, and she’s miserable! Why would they leave?

Well I guess they retire, and they want nice weather. I started to say, and they’re from the outer boroughs anyway, but since that included her sister in law I recognized that it wasn’t pertinent.

Apparently she and her husband visited the sister in law in Arizona for a funeral. It was horrible there. Stretches of highway instead of streets, with nothing but chain restaurants. Taco Bells! She told her husband if she saw one more Taco Bell she was leaving. How can people live like that?

She, herself was born in Beirut, which she pointed out is a real city. She doesn’t understand how people can live in these manufactured places that didn’t even exist when they were born. Sun City! Going everywhere in their cars — everywhere? No where! Where can you go? Taco Bell! The mall!

Her voice rose, and I realized what had already become a rant was turning into a tantrum. Then it did, in her next words: I think Americans care more about comfort than culture! she said. I really do.

I was thinking, so? That’s a tough choice. Comfort, culture. I like comfort. I don’t know for sure what culture, in the capital C way she was using it, is.

She seemed to suddenly realize I’m American, and stopped.

We left the laundry room together and got into the elevator.

Oh well, she smiled. We mustn’t judge other people.


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