At 9 AM each Saturday I come here, to the laundry. It’s a ritual. After getting any coins I need from the change machine I empty my clothes into a washing machine, pour in some powder, push in five dollars’ worth of coins and hit start. At the vending machine I pick up an energy drink. By the entrance there are some tables you can work at. I take a seat at one, setting down my drink and emptying my pockets beside it. A small pile of dollar coins. My keys. It is the last time I will come here before I leave for a new city on Thursday. My mind begins to wander, and I find myself sifting through all that I have seen at this laundry, looking for something meaningful among the empty episodes that have taken place beneath these bright lights.
There was a woman I saw here while back. She was reading a book, ‘The Pictorial Key to the Tarot’, by someone called Waite. It piqued my interest and I wanted to ask her about it. She saw me looking at her and made eye contact with me briefly, but I said nothing and the potential of the moment faded unrealised. She put her washing in the dryer and left. I haven’t seen her since.
There was a girl about my age who I met here. She had asked to trade some change with me because she didn’t have any dollar coins. We started talking and somehow I ended up with her instagram. Over the next month or so we met up a couple of times. In the end, I don’t think that I was the kind of man she was looking for, although I couldn’t quite say why. Conversation became forced over time and we went our separate ways.
This same girl came in with a guy a few months later. He seemed quiet in a reassured, confident way. He wore a Cavs jersey and it became him. There were boxes he ticked that I did not and that was all there was to it
There was the time I somehow left my keys here. Realising my mistake once I was at my apartment, I rushed back here and started searching furiously. A man in his fifties, seated on a plastic chair, looked up from his book. He waved at me and gestured to a table by the entrance that I had missed in my haste, where my keys sat, glinting, as if to taunt me.
There was one couple, two teens I guessed to be younger than me, that I had seen here twice before. They were so happy, always laughing and smiling. They lived in their own world, from which I expected them to fall unceremoniously one day. Probably nine or so months later I saw them for the second time, looking just as happy, and I smiled to myself thinking that maybe they would last.
There was a young guy, driving a Lancer, who stole the parking spot out the front from a Toyota, just as it was about to back in. The driver of the Toyota sat still, in disbelief, before the cars banking up behind him forced him to move along. The young guy collected his laundry bag and came in calm as you like, smiling slightly.
There was a young couple who came in one morning, arguing furiously in muted tones. I made out the man saying that he was going to beat the shit out of someone, the name I didn’t catch. I saw the ensuing look of sadness in his girlfriend’s eyes, as did he, and he dropped his head, and no more was said. She left shortly after, looking relieved that her boyfriend had calmed down.
There was one gaunt, bearded man who sat with his eyes glazed over, deep in thought. Within the space of a second, two emotions passed over his face. The first was a smile, a devious grin, and the second a grimace of pure anguish and despair. I wondered what complex memory he was reliving. I imagined him replaying an affair he had with one of his friend’s spouses and then the ensuing chaos.
There was the time I flipped a coin, to decide between two films I wanted to go see that night. Somehow I dropped the coin, and as it fell it rolled across the plastic tiling and through a gap between whirring machines. I decided not to buy tickets to either film as a result of this omen. Later that day a friend called me saying that she had a spare ticket to one of the films for a screening that night. That rolling coin had saved me twenty bucks after all.
There was a youth wearing a fitted cap who tried to steal a bike, leant untethered against a pole in front of the laundry, as its owner ducked into the corner store next door. As soon as the youth touched the bike, the bike’s owner, a battleship of a man, cruised into frame. I could not hear what was said but shortly the kid turned tail, white as a sheet, and the imposing man wheeled his bike away, and all was good.
There was a mother, looking tired but content, who I watched rubbing a paste of stain remover into a smear of blood on her son’s football jersey. A mark of a violent Friday night match. My mother had done the same, years before.
There are patrons who I see semi regularly, running on a similar schedule to mine, who I recognise not by their faces but by secondary characteristics: a walking style, a cough, their shoes, their hairline, a particular laundry bag. Should I not see one of these faceless regulars for a couple of months or so, I will notice and feel, absurdly, some disappointment.
There is an androgynous young student who always brings a reusable coffee cup to the laundry. I’ve been thinking about making the switch from energy drinks to coffee. It seems healthier. I saw that a local cafe offers a small discount if you bring a reusable cup. The idea of a discount appeals to my simple, reptilian mind. I might make the switch to coffee shortly.
There was a mother, smelling like cigarettes and possibly alcohol from across the room, who brought her kids along to the laundry. A son and a daughter, both still in primary school I guessed. She yelled at them every couple of minutes, telling them to sit still for fuck’s sake, eyes promising violence if they don’t. I escaped, as the kids will probably do once they get old enough to earn a living.
There was a man who had jumped from the roof of the five-story apartment block next door. To this day there is a dark patch on the pavement. Every time I pass it, I pay quiet respects, the first step of my laundry ritual.
There was a young man, maybe my age, maybe slightly younger, who ran only a single dress shirt through the wash. He left without drying it, not wishing to risk unnecessary creasing. Maybe he had a date, maybe a big interview, his hopes reflected in his shining eyes and the damp shirt they beheld.
Socks go missing in the laundry. I know that this happens, try to prevent it, and yet it still happens. I blame dark, occult forces which steal clothing as opposed to my own carelessness. That idea scares me less.
There was a beautiful winter’s morning when soft yellow light fell through the window at the front here and in it sat an old couple, smiling and talking. After so many years, still in love. On my walk home there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
These people and events have left an impression on me, in one way or another, short passages in the archives of my memory. Yet I have no idea of the impression that I have left on them. I ask myself how, If I were in their shoes, I would judge myself. A quiet young man, looking at his shoelaces, quickly forgotten.
Unbidden I recall the time, drunk out of my mind, I ran through a window at a house party, ruining the night and my reputation with those friends. That memory still visits me as I try to fall asleep. I don’t drink anymore. With great effort I try to dive back into my memories of this laundry instead. I have spent so many hours in this place I will never see again. To pay my respects by reliving these hours seems to me like the right thing to do, although rather sentimental.
In another city I will find a similar laundry, with bright fluorescent lights, humming machines and old tiling. In it will be similar people, types I have seen before. I will settle into a similar routine. The patrons of this place will continue to come and go, the washing machines and tumble driers endlessly spinning our washing around and around. My machine has just finished. Time to go.
Jesse Bant is a philosophy student living and writing in Melbourne, Australia.