So today we have a story about a laundry mat. It’s day number 18 here on my adventure. And it was the last day I could survive without doing laundry. Because today was the day that I wore my last clean pair of workout pants. I could live for about a year on the wardrobe that I’ve brought along with me, but the workout pants can only get me through about 2 weeks. And wearing another pair yet again without washing didn’t seem to be an agreeable option.
So today was the day that I’d go to the laundry mat. And for some reason, I went to bed last night excited about it. And for some reason, I woke up looking forward to it. I’d say that this has something to do with my focus on the simpler things in life because of this trip. I’d say that this journey has already allowed me to slow down and to enjoy the daily happenings in my little world. I could say all of that and in many ways I’d be speaking some truths, but those who already know me know this: I, crazily, love running errands. I love waking up in the morning with a full day ahead of me, complete with To Do lists, items to pick up, materials to organize. I love having 35 things to do in 3 hours and figuring out how to get it all done most efficiently and effectively, with time left over to do more. And visiting the laundry mat falls into the category of “running errands.” So… I was excited.
Also, knowing that I’d have some clean workout pants for my next gym visit didn’t hurt.
From what I can tell, there are two laundry mats on the entire island of Whidbey. Keep in mind that Whidbey is the largest island in Washington State and the 40th largest island in the U.S. It’s 55 miles long and 12 miles wide (at its widest point). I could keep going on here, but my point is this: there should be more than two laundry mats on this island. Lucky for me, one of the two is here in Langley. Just over a mile away. So I have nothing to complain about.
Fast forward to the corner of 2nd Street and De Bruyn Ave, to the “All Washed Up” laundry mat in downtown Langley. The “All Washed Up” laundry mat. With a name like that, there were bound to be problems.
Who knew they’d come in the form of some character named Dylan.
I could deal with the $5 per washer load. I could be patient through the 45 minutes of drying. I could handle the many signs cautioning me about everything I might do wrong to break the machines.
But what I wasn’t expecting was Dylan. Dylan was clearly none too happy to be laundering for the afternoon. This was apparent from the minute he busted into the place and threw his many baskets onto the floor. Instantly, I wanted him to know that my clothes would be out soon and that the machines would be available for his use momentarily. I wanted to appease him quickly. I wanted to calm him intuitively. What I didn’t realize was that his irritation was deep, his malcontent intense, and his need for soothing….strong.
Dylan was a good looking enough guy. Probably about 35 years old or so. Dark black hair, slightly freckled face, prominent jaw line. With about 30 pounds less of him, he’d be a very attractive man. A bit of a lumberjackish sort of look. I can like that.
But his irritation was palpable. An air of anger slightly seeping through his pores. I sensed someone to stay away from. And so I held to hoping for no talk. I was wrong to hope.
I guess when the conversation starts off with the topic of weather, it can’t go anywhere good from there.
“Interesting weather today.”
Hard to know how to respond to this, having just come in from outside, where there were grey skies and moderate temperatures. Is this…good? Bad? Well, I know it’s not unusual. We’re just outside Seattle. This is how days are EVERYDAY. So I grasp at comparisons.
“Yeah, nothing beats what we had the other day, with those 70 degree temps.” Smile smile. Giggle. Look back down at my laptop.
And with that, we’ve started. Dylan has found someone to talk to, someone who will listen. Someone who will nod patiently in response to his complaints about his sub-standard condo without a washer and dryer. About the cost of the machines here at the “All Washed Up” laundry mat.
About the impossibility of keeping up with these expenses when you’ve just lost your job a year ago for no reason.
About the stupidity of employers who can’t manage payroll effectively and need to lay employees off at the busiest time of the year.
About the decline of American civilization and the corruption of crony capitalism.
About how this is not how the world is supposed to be, we’re fucked for good and there’s no going back. And can’t anyone see it and why doesn’t anyone see it?
All Washed Up. Rinse, repeat.
About the stupidity of people and the inevitability that we’re all going down the drain and we won’t be able to pull ourselves out of this and doesn’t anybody understand and even if you do, you can’t talk about it because nobody talks about it and if you do talk about it, your life will only be worse.
About the lunacy of Republicans who believe in lies even though they know they’re lies but they just keep on believing.
About those same Republicans who say liberal Christians aren’t Christians because they have liberal values even though they are damn well Christian. And those fucking Republicans are stupidly waving their flags and tooting their horns outside the ferry terminal near the Diamond Knot Brewery while we’re drinking our beers. I mean, what would Jesus want…he sure as hell wouldn’t want what’s going on here and Jesus washed the feet of the prostitute who was bleeding and how can you be a literalist because the bibles were all about wars and struggles and who wants that so why would anybody want to be literalist and….
We’re building modes of transportation with no tracks. We’re dying of cancer and can’t pay for treatment.
And in France, none of this is happening. Because in France, they’re much smarter. They’ve got it all figured out. And we think we’ve got it made here. We think we’ve got the best way of living. But we’ve got the worst. And we don’t even know it.
But I’m stuck here. With my wife and daughters. And I’m stressed all the time. Because I’m the man. And everyone thinks I’m supposed to provide. But what about the woman? Why is the man always supposed to be the one?
Marriage is hard. You know? Really hard. It sucks. I mean, it really sucks. It’s so fucking hard and it sucks.
All Washed Up. Fold.
Have you ever been married?
I mean, you’ve got it good. You’re on the road. You’re free. You’ve relieved yourself of all of these stressors. I mean, you’ve probably relieved yourself of 75% of your stress load. You’re smart. Man, you’re lucky.
Yeah, marriage sucks. My whole family is down on me, complaining about me, saying I need to get a job. I need to provide. They don’t understand. Why all these stereotypes?
So, you’re here on the road, huh? Just traveling around, huh?
You’re a smart, educated woman. I like that. You’re intelligent.
Smile smile. Giggle. Look back down. Fold, fold, fold.
I mean, there’s some men that are married to women that make tons of money. And they don’t even have to work. I met this woman the other day who makes $700k and her husband has it made. Man, he has it made. I can never get a break like that. I can never get a soft touch, something nice like that. I just need a soft touch sometimes.
Have you been to places around town? Where have you been?
Stop folding. Throw it all in. Done.
Where have you been? Where do you wanna go? I should offer to help carry your basket. But then that’d be sexist. That’d be a stereotype. And that’s not fair. But I’ll carry your basket. Should I carry your basket? Can I carry your basket?
I carry my own basket to the haven of my car. There were more offers to help, invitations to the local pub, and looks that I hadn’t experienced in awhile. But with another smile and giggle, I get away just in time. Just in time to feel sadness for his wife and daughters back at the condo. Just in time to remove myself from the toxicity in which I have no role and over which I have no control.
I get away in time to recall those days of mine from the past when the mere possibility of this type of situation restricted my life. I recall when a journey, alone, into a laundry mat would not have been possible. When threads of conversation, of connection, of words exchanged with someone unknown would send me spinning. When eye contact was not allowed. When exposure and its consequences were too great of a risk.
Because the outside world controlled, and all I was capable of was caving.
I recall a young woman who had no sense of self protection, no skill for staying steady in the face of intrusion, no ability to push back when boundaries were broken.
I remember, in response, barriers erected and caves into which I retreated. And I recall the pain that came from knowing, on some unknown level, all that went unexperienced as a result.
I recall the isolation that comes from pushing away the world when you can’t rely on yourself.
I get away in time to remember, too, another small part of this younger self. One who sensed the fear, the limitations, the denials…and wondered if there was another route. I remember and feel grateful for this part, the one who risked exposure in the hope that there could be something more. Something different. Something greater. Something calm.
I feel grateful for that younger self who, sitting on a park bench in Ojai those many years ago, finally allowed herself to make eye contact and speak with a man in the park. A simple act for some, an act of great courage for others. I feel grateful that despite the fear needling every nerve of her body, she held on to some abstract and unfathomable notion that she was actually in control. And so she jumped off a cliff that day. And days after. Opened up a window and put her arms and eyes through it. Held her body solid and strong to the earth and let herself soar. And with that, she began to slowly learn that opening up did not have to mean falling down.
I get away from the laundry mat in time to watch myself here, in this moment, with boundaries pushed, but not broken. I get away in time to see a woman able to stand her ground, without fear, knowing that the madness is not hers to hold. I get away in time to feel grateful for the promises and protections that I give to myself and for characters like Dylan, who remind me of how I was, who I am, and where I have left to go.