Ten saga-long years later, a mere decade passed like water down a mining slews-box. I had had to put my dog Chops down due to his getting brain cancer from lawn treatment chemicals. I moved many times in those years. I eventually slowed to a pause in a western, shoe-box sized suburb of Chicago, hold up in a two bedroom ranch apartment sans a laundry facility. This suburb was adjacent to an older, slightly more affluent one, but there wasn’t any discernible difference from the curb. My apartment was sixty feet from a raised commuter train track and I was going through an on-again, off-again relationship, which at the time was definitely off. At this juncture in my life, I had decided on being a musician for my career. Glamorous and carefree as that may sound, I found I still had to chauffeur my laundry in my old duffle, now accompanied by a plastic basket to a laundromat.
The nearest traffic-abused laundromat was embedded in a small strip mall, sandwiched between a Chinese restaurant and a Korean dry cleaners. I sometimes pondered if there was any irony in this arrangement. I had long since stopped taking my shirts to be dry cleaned due to budgetary sanctions and only commissioned the dry cleaners to do my tuxedo and tux shirts. The dry cleaners was a family run business, sons, daughters, nieces and nephews etc. I was usually greeted and helped by the same comely -past prime marrying age- Korean woman at the customer counter up front. I think she was interested in me by how expediently she would retrieve my dry cleaning and blush a modest smile when I’d talk to her- but neither of us knew how to broach the subject of going on a date. I wasn’t sure she spoke much English and I sure as heck couldn’t handle my own language, let alone Korean.
On the other side of the laundromat was the Chinese restaurant. A little ten table establishment fit snug into a stunted L shape corner of the strip mall. The owner, a hot and spicy single Chinese woman just touching forty, was very out going and industrious. She openly complained about her cooks and would regularly bring out free samples for me and my occasional dates to try out. I designated Tuesdays as official Chinese food day, whether I dined in or took out. I liked the little restaurant and I think the owner liked me, although I doubted I could ever be industrious enough for her. Just smiling seemed to be communication enough.
Old habits never die they say and I continued my habit of tackling crossword puzzles when doing my laundry. In addition, I now took along a thick novel to try and slog through amid the rotary din of rattling old washers and dryers. Focused reading was a challenge in that environment. At this point, I was in my mid thirties. I already noticed a fading of my mental acuity. The flushed decade of singles bars, trysts and one night stands accompanied by generous amounts of alcohol had in theory deteriorate my physical and mental capacities. Doing laundry was no longer a test of my patience, but had evolved into a welcomed period of respite.
On this particular laundromat visit, I had a huge load, my duffle and basket were full of dirty garments. I packed them into the hatchback of my “poor man’s” sports car, and drove around to the front of my apartment complex- an alley drive. The last rows of ranch apartments lay perpendicular to the railroad crossing. This meant that every time a commuter train passed not only would those renters be treated to the sound and fury of the passing train, but also the prelude and finale of the crossing gate bell and lights. I always assumed the feckless landlords rented those apartments to the deaf. I then turned left and headed four blocks south and took advantage of a seldom green light, to pull straight into the strip mall parking lot.
Thursday was a slow day in the laundromat. Only two other people were there, an old woman washing workman’s clothes and a late thirty-something woman with below shoulder length streaked hair. I went to the back of the laundromat and dug up a couple of available washers. After dumping my clothes into the machines and shoving my quarters into the money breach, I settled down to work a crossword using a ballpoint pen. I occasionally looked up to watch the two vastly different women do their laundry.
The older woman seemed to be doing her husbands clothes, rough overalls and coarse blue cotton shirts. She had four machines going as she vigorously, rammed as many overalls as she could into each machine. When the cycles were over, she unceremoniously clumped each washer load into rolling carts and pushed her mans laundry over to the bulk driers where she again gruffly handled the work denim, as if her husband might still be in them. Her time spent here couldn’t be mistaken for anything else but a chore.
By contrast the younger woman was only doing her own laundry. Her machine loads mostly consisted of slim pants, designer jeans and some skimpy knit tops along with some sweat pants and Heavy Metal T-shirts. She also attended a separate load of undies and lingerie. She appeared unhurried and examined each article of clothing before depositing them into the machines. While waiting, she finger combed her long streaked hair from her face and looked out the front windows bored. I got tired of scribbling the wrong letters for answers in my crossword and took up my book instead. I tried to read, picking up where I left off again and again, but the urge to watch these two women had me frequently peeking over the top of my book.
The old woman sat slouched while waiting, her head held wearily in her wrinkled hand, her puffy eyes closed, praying for sleep. The younger woman chose to stand, one leg cocked on toe behind the other, her elbows resting on a high table for folding clothes. The whole placed smelled of singed cotton and fabric softener. When their loads were finished drying, the old woman quickly folded, almost rolled her husbands laundry up into crumpled wads and stacked them in her huge basket, then lugged them out to a rusting Ford Ltd. The younger woman took her time folding each and every piece of her laundry, especially holding up her bras to the window light as she cupped them together. It seemed she might have been doing that for my benefit. At any rate, I had to wait for her to finish her drying because half the driers were not in service.
I loaded my laundry into the last dryer she had just vacated and again sat back down to read my book. But I kept looking up at the young woman, trying to figure out why she was taking so long to fold her laundry. We never made eye contact, but I was almost sure she wanted me to make a move. It was my policy, prudent or not, never to start up small talk with women at the laundromat. She soon finished and left the laundromat, loading her laundry into the trunk of her ‘86 Camaro. I watched her leave, her car burning oil as it left the parking lot. I was alone to finish my own laundry. Presently, the dryer buzzer sounded and I left my seat like a aging boxer leaves his corner.
As I removed my last dryer full of laundry and separated it into my basket and duffle, I found something unexpected. A silk, maroon colored pantie with black lace trim. Here was something I hadn’t expected nor ever experienced. Did the young woman leave it in the dryer on purpose for me to find mixed in with my own clothes? Was it a ‘come-on’ signal? The overhead florescent lighting flickered and blinked. I absently twirled the panties between my two index fingers as I pondered the meaning of my find. These weren’t a generic pair of undies one would casually leave and forget, they were in a word, sexy. I felt a little titillated with the possibilities. I took my time folding some of my laundry, expecting the woman to return and ask about her missing undies. She never returned. Did she leave the trophy behind to tease me or taunt me for not having hit on her with at least one pick-up line? I’d never know.
As I left the premises and loaded my laundry into my hatchback, I gave her panties one last stretch and twirl with my fingers and then hung them on the radio antenna of the car parked next to mine, kind of a capture the flag gesture. For as long as I lived at that address and frequented that laundromat, I never ran into anything like that again. And I chalked-up the maroon and black lace panty escapade to the ‘draw’ column.