Vivian watched the swirling gray water slosh around the laundry machine. As the socks, shirts, and slacks slipped and slid over one another, bubbling suds began to cover the clothes from clear view. The laundromat was always a good place to get away from the apartment, depending what time she came. Sometimes, she imagined herself a sociologist or anthropologist deep undercover. She would mentally record the comings and goings of the local patrons, seeking to clean their dirty laundry while listening out for whatever gossip they could monger up.
She’d laugh to herself, as she watched women with pendulous bodies, overburdened with years of childbearing, heavy loads of dirty clothes in tow, waddle in like they were royalty. They only seemed to take notice of the other ladies, who bared similar appearance. Occasionally, Vivian would catch them huddled together on the block, smoking cigarettes, and making disapproving comments at passerby. They were the old hens of the roost and consequentially the unofficial neighborhood watch. They definitely let everyone know, who ruled the pecking order of the neighborhood, and that you were on notice.
There would be single men, either the college-age yuppie wannabe types, or SRO regulars. Both were often looking to score a number. Sometimes the single men were older, perhaps widowers, or had always been a bachelor. They didn’t seem to mind not separating the light and dark clothing, or tossing detergent, softener, and everything but the kitchen sink into the smallest washers available. This would happen often, if the attendant wasn’t looking.
The attendant on staff would grumble under their breath, mumbling curses as they hurriedly rushed to grab a mop. The need to clean up overburdened washer machines, spewing out soap suds everywhere, occurred a little too often. Kids would take the opportunity, to run and attempt to slip and slide in the wet soapy mess. Otherwise, they would be too busy whamming the buttons of arcade machines, that they never had enough quarters to play. Occasionally, candy and sticker machines would get stuck. This tragedy would create a sobbing child, who would be dragged away, with promises of a beating, or a treat to make up for the loss.
The laundromat was always a curious place. Brimming with life, the denizens of the block would shed their need to always out-do and out-polish one another in appearance. Of course, there would be those few exceptions, but they were often on the prowl for a new date, or side-piece. Vivian enjoyed the smells of the laundry softeners mixing together. The hum of swirling washers and dryers, made a unique rhythm, which complemented the flow of customers coming in and out of the laundromat.
At last, her laundry was done. She stopped peering her eyes over her glasses, keeping score of how many people dropped their soap powder, or how many times a quarter got stuck in a machine. She went to her dryer, and quickly pulled out the still burning hot clothes. They landed cleanly into the laundry basket, except for a few socks that got loose. Vivian focused on folding her clothes, making sure to tuck in the corners of sheets, and turn any shirts or pants outside-in.
After the last item was neatly stowed away, Vivian slung her laundry bag over her back and made her way out into the street.