Tuesday, November 06, 2007

I Have Given My Life to Laundry

I decided to try a launderette nearer to home than the one I've been going to. I was delighted that I was the only customer in the place.

After I had used up both my quarter rolls, I tried to get change of a ten dollar bill in the change machine, but it wouldn't work even though my bill was almost mint-crisp with no dogeared corners.

The place had a dry-cleaning plant in the back, so I went to the window and tried to get someone's attention. It took awhile because the attendant was on a smoke break and didn't want to be bothered.

I explained the problem, and she asked if I was doing laundry there. (They don't make change for mere interlopers.) I said that I was. She grudgingly dragged out a rusty can that looked as if it should hold bait, and started piling quarters on the counter. I wouldn't have believed it possible to count money in a hostile manner.

She clearly hated me with the hate of many generations. Every one of her ancestors was present and hating me through her. She was an ICBM of hatred, beamed directly at my heart.

I thanked her for the change. She scowled at me in response and muttered something I didn't understand. Which was probably just as well.

The front door was open and a Nor'easter was whipping through the place. I was wearing a thin sweater and had wet hair. It was freezing, so I got up and closed the door.

A man who also worked there immediately came out from behind the counter and yanked it open.

It was hard to turn the pages of my book because my fingers were stiff and turning blue. I asked him if it was all right to shut the door.

He screamed at me in mostly unintelligible syllables, the gist of which was that it was stuffy in the back so the front door had to remain open. I doubted that because there was a door open in the back and the temperature was subarctic, so when he returned to the back area, I closed the door again.

He barreled out of his den of iniquity, swearing at me in Chinese, and opened it again. He was waving his arms menacingly, and to make matters worse, I had already spent more money than the overpriced place I usually go to because the dryers were set so low. I was covered in goose bumps.

I do not have a natural affinity for servility, and the idea of actually rewarding such gratuitous nastiness with even more money was untenable.

I loaded up my still-wet laundry, piled it into my three baskets, and drove to the usual place which seemed to be bathed in a golden light.

Why had I never noticed this before? The door was firmly closed, and the warmth of the dryers melted my icy bones like an embrace.

I lugged in a huge stack of magazines to donate, which I hadn't wanted to leave at the other place.

The owner, an elderly Chinese man named Ben, came in to collect his quarters and gave me a sweet-scented flower from his garden.

"I hoped you would be here," he said.

With one act of kindness, he erased my bad experience from the other place.

It seems that love really is stronger than hate. Who knew?


seventh sister said...

Nice to be appreciated isn't it? The folks at the laundry where I used to go before I had my own machines still remember me if I take something in to be altered.

Open Grove Claudia said...

What a lovely story! I'm delighted it turned out so well. Laundry mats.... I'm surprised there's never been a sitcom on what happens there.

I love clean clothes! :)

*~*Cece*~* said...

Great story. I love when I realize that newer isn't always nicer.

furiousBall said...

that was a nice story. i wouldn't think less of you if you left a flaming bag of poo on the bad guy's step

Ian Lidster said...

Oh, love is much stronger than hate, and I am glad your experience had a happy ending.
You put me in mind of when I was in Grenoble last year and had to use the local laundromat. The first time I made the mistake of forgetting to take a book, so it got pretty tiresome waiting.
But, what was cool was the laundromat was right in the middle of the Arab quarter and sitting there was like sitting in Marakesh, with people in burnooses passing by and chatting in the streets.

EsLocura said...

When I first moved to Boston, I went to the laundry mat. every time it was an adventure, thanks for causing some of those crazy memories to flood back into my already full brain pan.

Scarlet said...

This story brings hope to many people. Thanks for sharing it and the message behind it.

Rebecca said...

what a nice thing to have happen (the flower part, I mean)Sounds like you should stick loyally to your old laundromat from now on.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Yes, oh yes.

And of course they remember you. You are remarkable and special.


If I didn't love clean clothes, sheets and towels, there is no way I would regularly submit to the tortures of public launderettes.


It wasn't even newer, just closer. Some people are simply unfit for dealing with the public.


I wish I'd thought of it. Where were you when I needed you?


I think that if I could do my laundry in Grenoble, I wouldn't need a book either.


I think I need a reward now.


Ben is a lovely man. I was relieved that he didn't show up until I had all my things in the dryers.

Cheating must feel like that.


I agree. It was striking how different two places offering the same service could be.

Crankster said...

An amazing difference. I wonder why the first place was so awful. Opium withdrawal?

blooming desertpea said...

I was already freezing before I started reading this post but I now I'm frozen to the bone :)

Yes, kindness is powerful and most of all - it's free! Why don't more people get the meaning of this?

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Does that make people homicidal? Then yes, it could be.


Kindness also takes less energy, especially after it becomes habitual.

Thank you for visiting, and I'm sorry I made you colder.

Anonymous said...

I go to a laundromat and I lose my quarters and leave with wet laundry. You go and get a novel out of it. How does that happen?

I am very glad that you had a happy ending to this story. You always seem to bring these things full circle, even when they are real life events. You always teach so much.

(And I laughed out loud here in my very quiet office at "Every one of her ancestors was present and hating me through her.")

Molly said...

I'm glad you took your damp laundry, freezing bones and collection of quarters to the bathed-in-golden-light establishment. It's mind boggling how clueless some people who are in service industries are about the basics of civility! It's worth whatever he charges to do business with a charmer like Ben.

Rachel said...

This is a great story! I wish I had experiences like this: aren't they part of what makes life worth living?


heartinsanfrancisco said...


The coldness of the people running that place overshadowed even the frostiness of the climate.

Just imagine if every smidgen of love that our collective ancestors ever felt was manifest in each of us...What a warm and cozy world it would be.


Ben is definitely a keeper.

It does seem as if the basic niceties of dealing with others are lost on some people, and they shouldn't be in business.


I'm sure that if you were here, Ben would give you flowers, too. (And sometimes Meyer lemons.)

The CEO said...

You're amazing. I hope I have told you that before, because if I haven't, I should have.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Yeah. I'm a helluva laundress.

CS said...

Yikes! What an unpleasant place! Followed by such a lovely experience at the old place. Nice always wins.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


As well it should. Sometimes it's easy to forget that nice happens.

storyteller said...

Oh yes ... I remember "Daze at the Laundromat" and was grateful to leave that all behind when we purchased a home and had room for a washer and dryer of our own. My sister often calls from the road when doing laundry at such places ... and, like you, has left more than one in similar circumstances. I'm glad your story had a happy ending ... and that you were blessed in this manner ... welcomed graciously by those who care.
Hugs and blessings,

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Doing laundry in public places is my least favorite chore, but it seems some places are worse than others.

I would happily have my own machines if it were possible.

katrice said...

Customer service and common courtesy make all the difference, don't they?

(I'm still catching up, believe it or not.)

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Yes, they truly do.

I admire and appreciate your persistence so much! But don't let me keep you from reading on. :)