Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Stupid Things That Make Me Happy (Part III)

Midnight Madness
This was going to have to be a stealth operation, because as we all know, there are signs in every laundromat across America with the same message: “NOTE: Our dryers are for use by PAYING WASH CUSTOMERS ONLY” (or something to that effect), to dissuade riff-raff such as myself from attempting to perpetrate their crimes. A daylight maneuver was definitely out. There might be a manager on the premises. And besides, who knows whether or not they might have someone peering through a 2-way mirror, poised to send in the dryer police the minute they spotted a non-wash offender trying to pull a fast one?

It had to be done when there was no one around, under cover of darkness. I had a plan.

It was usually on a Sunday night, when I figured the least number of people would be around anyway. I went to the only 24-hour neighborhood laundromat in which I thought I could pull it off. It was in a strip mall adjacent to an open lot surrounded mostly by small businesses, several blocks from the nearest residential tract. It never seemed to be very busy anytime I had driven by previously.

I would set out, usually around midnight, trash bags full of wet, clean clothes stowed in the trunk. As I pulled into the parking lot, I was always happy not to see any other cars parked in front of the laundromat. If I did, I would carefully select a parking vantage point in which I could see the front of the laundromat in my rearview mirror. I’d recline the driver’s seat in my car so it would appear unoccupied, reposition the mirror to be trained on the all-glass storefront, flip on the radio and wait.

Fortunately there weren't too many occasions in which I’d have to wait until the coast was clear — maybe twice. However when I did, it was the most frustrating part of my seedy little exercise. “Hurry up!” I would demand silently. Thankfully they heeded my telepathic suggestions, as I don’t believe I ever waited more than about 20 minutes before being able to embark on the fulfillment phase of my mission.

When the coast was clear, I’d start the car back up and move to the front of the laundromat to unload my cargo, usually securing a stray laundry cart that had been left out front. Once inside I quickly loaded the clothes into 4 dryers at a time, obtained the necessary coinage from the change machine, and began the waiting game.

At the end of the strip mall was a liquor store that closed at Midnight. So on those occasions when I was able to get things going before the bewitching hour, I would go down to score a bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos, a pint of chocolate milk, and sometimes a People or Sports Illustrated magazine (depending on which looked more interesting) to help pass the time. But more often, I would just sit and listen to my walkman, usually tuned to the L.A. FM Rock station KLOS, just thinking and enjoying the solitude. That's the part that was special. Just me and my thoughts with the warmth and din of the dryers or the sound of the music in my ears.

My plate was pretty full back then. I had many periods of self-doubt about the direction of my career. My relationship with Michelle and was stormy at best. The kids were a handful for both of us. I welcomed those times as a respite from all the pressure I was under; to decompress a bit; fold a little laundry, listen to some tunes, and think.

I even performed my midnight stealth-drying exercise on Christmas Eve that year. Now that was surreal — standing there, thinking and praying, folding baby clothes, socks and underwear at the same time children everywhere were entertaining visions of sugarplums.

Since that occasion, it’s always been my habit to stay up well-past midnight, wrapping presents on Christmas Eve (at home of course). I don’t know how to explain it. It just really enjoy the solitude.

Now I’m not saying that folding laundry necessarily makes me feel closer to God. However that one instance last Saturday did remind me of that period of time years ago. And in a moment when I really needed to, it made me smile.

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