Saturday, December 4, 2010

Jesus at the Laundromat

Scotch tape crosses the corners of handwritten paper signs. Please remove your clothes as soon as machine finishes...REMEMBER customers are waiting for machines to use. ..thank you for your support. Thumb tacks stab several store bought signs on rectangle cuts of cardboard. NO SMOKING NO SMOKING NO SMOKING THIS IS A NON-SMOKING ESTABLISHMENT

A homeless man sits slumped at the front of this local lousy laundromat. Leaning his hairy chin into a crooked wooden cane, he attempts sleep. A large instrument case lays to his left. A suitcase now, I presume. Outside, a raw rain jumps into the storefront windows, floods this man's spot on the sidewalk, and drenches the rotting benches in the park. The downtown church must be out of cots tonight. Above the man's greasy head is a large black and white sketch of Jesus holding forth a chalice of blessed blood red wine. Perhaps this man mistook this place for a church.

Toward the back of the laundromat, high up on the wall, Jesus, Mary and Joseph stand glowing together in a painted print. An EMPLOYEES ONLY BEYOND THIS POINT sign hangs on the center of the door beneath the picture. To the right of the haloed family is a small poster of a lighthouse with these words in blue italics: Dreams. When you find a dream inside your heart don't ever let it go...for dreams are the tiny seeds from which tomorrows grow. A corny quote written, I think, by some decrepit, yellow toed greeting card writer.

A Latina in turquoise velour sweat pants and a black zip up sweatshirt asks me if I have change for two dollars. I check my wallet. "I only have seventy-five cents." I tell her. She scrunches her eyebrows as if to say she doesn't believe me. "I have a lot of pennies." I say, tipping my change purse toward her. "Did you try the machine?" I ask, having used it myself a few minutes before. "It won't take. I dunno." She says. "Want me to to try?" I ask. She nods her head and hands me two curled, damp dollars. A moment later, I return to where she is dumping wet baby clothes into a barrel sized dryer. I hand her her eight quarters.

Please gently close doors to washers and dryers. Do not slam doors!

The back glass door opens and a middle-aged Asian man walks in. Smiling slightly, he begins conversing with the Latina in Spanish. With the help of his hand gestures, I roughly translate what he is saying. He would like her to not slam the dryer doors, but to close them gently. He then points to the sign on the machine's submarine window and then points to the paneled ceiling. He could hear her from his upstairs apartment, he says.

He catches my eyes as they flick frequently around the room before landing again and again on my notebook's page. I love laundromats. I write. The handwritten signs in broken English. The once white, now stained gray tile floors. The metal baskets on bum black wheels. The coin machines with marker instructions besides the manufacturer's explanatory pictures. The mixed clientele of homeless heat hijackers, filthy rich college students and chubby wives on welfare.

Every laundromat has its owner. Someone who takes sincere pride in his/her coin-operated shop. And this Spanish-speaking Asian man is no doubt this mat's owner, its sign sketcher, cleaning crew, fix-it man and its security guard. He is the one with the dreams made of tomorrows.

If Jesus is the one to thank. Thank you Jesus for laundromat owners. Thank you for middle-aged Colombian busboys, septic tank sluggers, snow plow drivers and trash truck operators. Thank you for the mail men who deliver paper letters and cards. Thank you for middle aged maintenance women who sweep the sticky cement floors of cinemas so that corn kernels and cherry flavored sucker candies do not stick to the rubber soles of my shoes. Thank you Jesus for dreams that may never happen. Thank you Jesus for hope. For scratch tickets and miraculous images that appear in tree trunks, sludge puddles and in the white bread of grape jam sandwiches.

I wonder if this laundromat owner still trusts Jesus as he did when he first taped that church brochure to the inside of his office/broom closet door. Jesus, I trust in YOU! It reads in faded gold letters. I wonder
if he regretfully remembers the seeds of his dreams (the ones that were supposed to bloom into tomorrows). I wonder if his dreams grew into tremendously tangled weeds that now strangle his blue collar under the florescent lights of his rented shop where he decorates rusty machines with sloppy OUT ORDER scribble. I hope not. I hope this was his dream: to be a laundromat owner. To run a small business. To make the rules and then tape them to the walls beside his savior, Jesus Christ.