Laundromat Prose Ditty
Roskos, laundry poet supreme, asked me for this. I had laundry poems in my notebooks, but lost the notebooks-even a poem bout Joe Salerno, my old friend, and how it was snowing a couple weeks after he died, and I was doing the laundry and I expected him to enter in a heavy black coat with the Portuguese grandmothers. He would have wanted to be there~the smell of detergent, the slow sleepy heat generated by twelve Portuguese grandmas all in heavy black coats, a flock of widows, their ankles as thick as the necks of pit bulls, each washing twenty loads of laundry.
Joe Salerno would agree with me: a laundromat in winter is a beautiful thing-slush prints, good looking young women in their last clean pair of stretchies, derelicts, surgeons, the lost and found, everybody there doing their dirties, folding, change making, etc. But it is the waiting that makes a laundromat special. People in laundromats, unlike in churches, wait for God. They don’t know it. They think they are waiting for the clothes but God is there, in love with the men and the women who can deftly fold, merciful towards those who wash their whites with their darks. I have never seen a fight in a laundromat. I have only kissed one woman while doing my laundry, but it was a great kiss.
She was a domestic romantic like me–someone who loves to do pedestrian chores, especially with someone she has a thing for. She had a thing for me, which made it all the more holy.
She was helping me fold a blanket, shaking it out, grabbing her corners, coming towards me, towards the center where we would meet and the blanket would fold. It was simple, the way certain dance moves by Martha Graham are simple. It had a sense of ceremony to it -like all the acts performed in laundromats. When she kissed me, I was on the verge of tears. I knew we would not be together two years from then. I knew I would probably do something stupid to ruin it, or she would wake up one morning and realize I was short and poor and insecure, but, at that moment, without respect for any of our fatal flaws, we were holy.
The kiss lasted a full minute. It included touching temporal lobes. It included the slope of her nose, my kissing her nose, her eyelids, the bottom of her chin. She was wearing a navy blue ski cap in which snow had melted. So this kiss included the smell of a wet ski cap, the feel of her breasts pressed against me where her P coat was opened. This kiss included all my ancestors, all those who pounded their laundry against stones in the rivers of Mayo. This kiss was a time destroyer. All my dead could have entered that laundromat and I would not have been surprised. I was lost in the deep mass of my being. In my mind I heard the church song from my childhood: “Sprinkle me, oh Lord, with your sign, wash me and I shall be purer than snow.”
So I wait to be washed by God. In the meantime, I wouldn’t mind dying in a laundromat, in one of those tacky, hard, uncomfortable orange chairs, a book in my lap, a little kid poking my corpse with a stick. I see the dead coming for me–my mother and father, all my uncles, Aunt Elizabeth, Rita Hockenberry who was crushed by a car in the third grade. Joe Salerno enters, with a copy of Basho’s travel sketches under his arm and he says: “You don’t have to do stupid things anymore.” It’s the best news I’ve heard all day. I walk out with Joe, leaving the clothes behind.
It’s dusk, winter, stars hanging in the trees. The side walk slabs are almost covered in a fine dusting of snow. The yellow lights of peoples houses, the odd post sunset green hanging between the telephone wires, the feel of the cold-this is all I will ever need to know of heaven. Joe hands me a brown paper bag full of peanuts. For every one I shell and eat, I leave one on the ground for the squirrels. I am happy, or, rather, at peace. I don’t believe in happiness. I never complained to God about my sadness, only the lack of peace that seemed to go with it. I want to be clean…A laundromat is a place to get clean. I want to believe in the power of doing simple things well. So let us, for the sake of nothing in particular, pretend we are now folding a blanket. I am taking my end up. You take yours. We will meet somewhere in the middle, in the conjunction between the living and the dead. There will be snow falling generally all over the streets of our small, grim city. Here, where it is always Bethlehem, we will convert our dollars into change. The old ladies will come with shopping carts full of laundry. The light bulb is hanging from a wire, swinging over the heads of those washing their darks and their lights, casting huge shadows against the wall. If Checkov were here, he would understand.