Sunday, January 31, 2010

# 3 for Ben- Revision Prompt

[The prompt for this was to revise and post an old piece of mine]


In a Laundromat in Fredericksburg, VA, I accompany my girlfriend Brittney because she is anxious. Having never been to a Laundromat she is unsure how to conduct herself, but she has more dirty laundry than she knows what to do with and I am not busy, I am never busy, so I’m happy to keep her company. I read Sherman Alexie, or am distracted by Dancing with the Stars on one TV, or try to lip-read the telenovelas on the other couple. She does math for her hydrology lab; and in the equations I see an opaque language I have not employed in years and may never use again. We share, sporadically, the kisses of young people in love; and I am almost surprised to not see alarm in the faces of the other patrons in response to an act the Laundromat has probably not seen in years and may never see again. Perhaps I’m wrong; I guess I wouldn’t know.

I like the Laundromat, it has a quiet that the libraries and the sad bars could never approach. I like it because I am a tourist; it has nostalgia for me, and I don’t have to come here all the time, and I am there for a special occasion, I have brought a book to read. No one else there has a book to read; they just stand or sit, and wait. One man plays a soccer game on the old Neo-Geo machine for what seems like only seconds. The children pretend to play the attract modes on the bar-style touch-screen games, their mothers watch them, everyone waits, and I think I’m in the best fucking library there is. The Laundromat is a good place to be a tourist.

The last time I was in a Laundromat was 1994 or 1995, in Ruidoso, New Mexico, with my best friend Jake and his mom, whose name I don’t know, or their last name. Jake’s dad was a pastor in some capacity, I forget. They lived in a house owned by the church my family attended, a big Baptist church where the pastor could never stop making metaphors about baseball, and I knew a kid who slobbered on a baseball-sized jawbreaker every service. Sometimes my dad translated for the Spanish-language service that occurred simultaneously in the basement. That was the best, because I didn’t feel the need to pay attention as I didn’t know what anyone was saying anyway. I just drew sharp-toothed monsters on yellow legal pads, five or six pages a service, easily. Anyway, my best friend Jake lived right by the church, and he had a gravel yard, a Super Nintendo, the hugest brown cavity on his front right tooth, and his family did their laundry at a Laundromat on some road in the country.

Occasionally when I came over to his house, which was a good twenty-five minute drive from mine, if I was there long enough and they had too much dirty laundry Jake’s mom would take Jake and me to the Laundromat. Sometimes I had quarters, or would beg them off Jake’s mom and have my parents pay her back, but I forget what games they had. I remember at Pizza Hut there was a Neo-Geo with King of Monsters and some game where you fought a robotic baboon at the end of the first level. At the Restaurant back in Whiteriver there was an old Ms. Pacman, and at some other Pizza Hut by a highway of my childhood there was Primal Rage, but I no longer remember what games this Ruidoso Laundromat had. Some sort of fantasy side scrolling game, I believe, but the memory is muddled by static from The Legend of Zelda. But I went and Jake and I played, or more often Jake didn’t have the quarters, and watched me play, but it was fun. I don’t remember the arcade machines but I do know that there was a crane game. The very last time I went to the Laundromat with Jake and his mom my dad picked me up there on his way home from work. At my insistence he played the crane game until he won. He won a stuffed spider, green with black legs, and I kept it for years. It was the only time I had ever seen someone actually win it, and I watched every time someone tried. It was a hard one, I guess. He won it, and we waved goodbye to Jake and his mom and we left the Laundromat. Soon after that we left New Mexico for Virginia; and now I don’t remember Jake’s last name or exactly what his parents did for a living or even the arcade games at his Laundromat. I do remember me and Jake getting in the scoop of a bulldozer with the consent of the driver, it lifting us up into the air and driving all around the church parking lot I remember the anger I felt when my little sister took a dump in the corner of their bathroom when she came over with me even though she knew what to do, and the shame of it. I remember every level I ever watched him play in Super Mario World. I guess all that is something.

In Fredericksburg fourteen years later Brittney’s dryers are a few minutes away from spinning down, I request two quarters from her and she says “Since you’ve been such a good boy” and obliges, and we laugh. I go over to the Neo-Geo machine and play Metal Slug 2. The machine’s age is showing, the screen is all green, but I have fun. I play through the first level, I mow down Arab stereotypes and rescue the bearded, starving GIs who reward me with machine gun upgrades and salutes. I hop on a camel mounted with a laser gun, I beat the boss(a giant, hovering plane) at the end of the first level and then I lose my last life ten seconds into the second. I wasn’t trying very hard. That’s fine, Brittney needs help folding now, and the strange tint of the screen makes it hard to see. I pat her ass, slip the second quarter into her pocket and start folding. It’s a little wet, but she wants to get out of there because she feels like she’s keeping the lady working the place from leaving. And anyway it is the Laundromat. We get out of there, we get a little Taco Bell. Taco Bell contains the total of all your dreams when you’re 19, but what 19-year-old has their own car; so you just go when you’re 22, and since it’s too late you can never stop, you can never be satisfied. Clean laundry in the trunk, eating cheap nachos in the car in the parking lot in the dark, you have just been to the Laundromat and its loud hum that is a better quiet than the silence of any library. The Laundromat is the perfect place to be a tourist, and that’s all I’ve ever been there.

We are tourists because we have had every advantage, because the education we have received ensures that we may often be broke, but we will never be poor. Because we have the ultimate luxury of perhaps wishing we could be. Or could be Hispanic, black, redneck, urban, anything you have to be born into; of wishing that we could not be the norm, that our mobility and advantage did not mean that while we can go anywhere we want, we can never be from or of it. We are tourists because we have washing machines in our own apartment buildings, because it is likely that one day we will own washing machines ourselves (together? or separately?), because our parents own washers and dryers and we grew up with them and therefore it is a novelty to be in a giant room full of giant washers, moms with five kids, Hispanic guys in trucker caps with moustaches who can’t be but five or six years older than us. Novelty is tourism. So go ahead: don’t look up at the buildings, neck craning and mouth wide, don’t wear fanny packs or a camera around your neck, don’t walk around with a subway guide in hand, wipe the grin off your face, but as soon as you aren’t visibly miserable to be there, as soon as the vaguest hint of interest widens your eyes, you’re a tourist and everyone will know it. You can no more help being a tourist than anyone can help hating you, than you can help hating them when they’re a tourist in your town, your work, your life, your Laundromat.

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