A heavy-set man stands in front of me at the Maple Falls mini-mart/laundromat. His flabby body is camouflaged by Carhartt overalls and a red plaid shirt. I fidget in line, twenty dollar bill in hand, and wait for my turn at the register.
My vacation condo’s washer/dryer combination is tiny and inefficient, so I launder my comforters ten miles away at the decrepit Maple Fuels Wash-a-Ton. The old-school machines don’t take credit cards, only quarters. It takes a lot of quarters to wash a pile of gamey comforters. Since my mortgage and HOA fees are high, I have to rent my place to overnighters through Air Bnb. The guests are often careless, spilling wine and body fluids willy-nilly on the bedclothes.
The customer looks like a classic rural guy who owns several guns. I try to keep politics out of personal assessments, but I’m certain he voted for Trump, and will do so again. Seems surly, but that word describes most people in the area. Too much fucking rain. David Lynch country. Everyone looks like Sasquatch.
In a gruff voice, he asks for a double-dip, mint-chip cone. “But in a bowl.”
The middle-aged Asian man who owns the store obligingly scoops two rock-hard balls of ice cream from his freezer and deposits them into a bent paper cup. Beaming, he hands the customer his treat. “Anything else?”
Customer points behind the counter at the wall of liquor bottles. “Gimme that bottle of Seagram’s.”
Owner turns around, grabs the container, and places it on the counter next to the ice cream. “Ha,” he says, smiling. “Ice cream and whiskey. Very good.”
Customer does not return his smile. He sees nothing funny about his choice. Face immobile, he accepts his change. Scoops up his purchase and strides to the door. Blast of air, then silence.
“I wonder which delicacy he’ll enjoy first?” I say.
“Ha,” laughs the owner. “Maybe both at the same time. You need quarters?”
I nod and hand him the twenty. He reaches inside the cash register, extracts two cylinders, each wrapped in red paper. “We fixed the machines ourselves. The repair people have to come all the way from Seattle. Last time they charged me $450.00. Let me know if you have problems.”
Three or four machines are out of order at any given time. They’re clearly labeled with taped notebook paper signs. A battered red phone hangs from the far wall. Beside it, a sign reads: “If machine doesn’t work, pick up the receiver. Your call summons the store!”
Problem solved. Everything should be so easy. I grab my fistful of quarters, thank the owner, stroll around the building to the rear laundromat. Pop my car hood. Pull the comforters from the trunk. Lug my heavy load inside.
Hopefully, I can finish my task in less than three hours. At least the internet always works. Perhaps I should have bought some whiskey.
Beside the door, a magazine rack overflows with cooking magazines. Rumpled photos of pasta puttanesca and no-bake cookies. I snatch a copy and peek inside, feeling like a teenager with a Playboy. My dinner tonight will be tofu salad and gluten-free crackers.
Across the street, the green lights of a recreational cannabis store twinkle on the wet road. Its owner, a 70s throwback, sports a helmet haircut and acid-washed jeans. When customers arrive, he emerges from the back room, grinning like a punching bag clown. The parking lot is usually empty.
I don’t know yet that my husband has stage four colorectal cancer. His big diagnosis is still six weeks away. Russ doesn’t have time to pay attention to his body. He makes a daily bus commute to his software job in downtown Seattle. 70 miles round-trip from our rental house in Tacoma. Arduous, but at least it pays the bills.
Twice a month, I drive three hours north to our condo to wash comforters and replace coffee and toilet paper for the endless stream of guests. The place will be ours in two years. Then we can sell it and escape to Portugal. Once there, we’ll sit on iron benches and press our pale American legs against the warm cobblestones. Russ’ gig and those soiled comforters will finally pay off.
The two of us are wrong, as usual. In only three months, we’ll need to put the condo on the market for a quick fire sale. Russ and I will flee to Arizona for sunshine and cheaper housing. Pack everything in a U-Haul van, head south, get the hell away from the rain and the mould. Sasquatch can have the north woods. We’ll take the grimy bedding to Goodwill. No need for all those goddamned quilts in the Southwestern desert.
Before we have the chance to unload the condo, another family will buy the mini-mart. Next time I show up at the laundromat with my pile of dirty comforters, none of the washing machines will work. The store will be out of quarters. Cashier won’t know how to open the machines to retrieve new ones. Ex-proprietor left a jumble of keys and split town with no explanation. Good for him.
Fortunately, the red phone remains. Your call will always summon the store, but it might take a while to fix everything.
Cover image courtesy of sj carey via Flickr
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