Johnny’s stretched city blocks, not your usual storefront filled with washing machines sitting on cement platforms, but a coffee shop, lending library and an art gallery, plus a few outside plastic tables where people drank coffee in warm weather. Once I moved into the neighborhood, I washed my clothes there every Saturday morning.
Here was a different kind of Laundromat. I swept bad breakups and shit jobs behind me with a desire to move on to something new only I didn’t know what.
I had accumulated several large duffel bags of wash between finding a new place and actually moving, with a month to make everything happen thanks to my landlord, Geoff, who had insisted on relocating his new boyfriend into my apartment.
Members of the recently converted to anything are the most difficult to deal with, at least that’s been my experience. I tried to negotiate with him for two extra weeks, but he refused. I pleaded on the basis of my stellar record as a renter who had always paid up on the first of the month, but it was useless. I told him that he could have half of my security deposit, but that was met with an immediate “No.”
I didn’t have a lease. So I sucked it up and spent the next two days driving around in my Suburu across the Bay, far from the renter downstairs who groaned with false orgasms (a pile-up of Oh, Oh, Ohs 10 seconds apart was the real give-away), and the other renter upstairs who practiced skateboarding in his living-room between 6 and 7 every night.
I wanted a quiet place in a safe neighborhood, but it seemed that all of those places were taken. Instead, I settled for a one-bedroom at a price I could afford and moved in with a month’s worth of dirty clothes.
Johnny’s was located two blocks from my new apartment. With a bank of 64 machines, 12 on each wall spinning around in cloud of white soap, my laundry problems were no more.
“You just watch. The shit’s gonna hit the fan but it’s not gonna get evenly distributed,” a man said looking at his watch. This was a guy with a grey ponytail wearing an earring and a pair of lime-green flip flops who was stacking new cartons of soap inside the metal slats of an empty dispenser
Another guy sat in front of him on a wooden bench that was painted blue biting into a pastry and holding a coffee in his other hand. He nodded. I sat on the same bench. “That sucks, man.”
“You’d think they’d show up. But no, just a shitter,” said Johnny.
“What’s happening?” I was trying to befriend my neighbors. They looked at me like I was a piece of lint. At this exact moment, an SUV pulled in front of the store pulling the largest port-a-potty I’ve ever seen.
“Big shits,” said the ponytail guy who by this time I’d learned was the actual Johnny of Johnny’s after several customers had passed by to exchange good mornings. “I don’t see why I need a giant port-a-potty. D’you? It’s not like they’re building the Taj Mahal.”
The guy eating his pastry took the last bite and brushed his mustache for low-hanging crumbs. “Doesn’t figure.”
The driver banged the front doors open and stuck in his head. “Where do I put ‘em?”
Johnny waved wearily, “In the back. When are those jerk-offs going to show up?”
The driver shrugged. “In the back?” He quickly disappeared to open up his vehicle.
“I don’t know why I listened to my nephew and hired these losers.”
“Really sucks, man.”
“What a way to start. Ha, ha. Not with a bowl of Cheerios but with a big bowl. If you don’t have a lock on those things the homeless guys from around the street are going start listening to the call of nature, if you know what I mean.”
Johnny stared at me like I was from another planet. Or maybe for the first time he realized that I was there. “Who the fuck are you anyway?”
“Leticia,” I said offering my hand. “I’m new to the neighborhood.”
He put down a box of suds and shook my hand. “Johnny, owner and manager of this place. And this is my buddy, George,” who acknowledged me with a tap of his fingers to his head. “You’re an itty-bitty thing, but you sure do have a big mouth.”
“She sure does,” George smiled.
From there I learned that Johnny’s was expanding. The coffee shop was being outfitted with a new kitchen so they could offer sandwiches with an area behind it so little kids could play with blocks and color pictures and he was also thinking of putting in a video machine, maybe a few, but that was the future. Or maybe he wouldn’t do that because the machines would attract a whole different clientele, wild kids from the neighborhood who did graffiti, but videos were profitable. Didn’t really matter because Johnny was expanding the coffee shop. I told him his place was like the Winchester Mystery House with new parts stuck on everywhere with bubblegum. He said he’d thought about opening other Johnny’s Wash Emporiums, start a chain, an empire of washeries, but he really didn’t want the responsibility. He needed to rely on people, and look these contractors fucking case in point who had said they’d be at the storefront hours ago, and just then a group of construction workers walked through the door, waved at Johnny, said a few things, and then exited to start dragging several large pieces of equipment around the back.
“At fucking last,” said Johnny. He began to water some large philodendrons from a galvanized can.
“They made it,” said George, who tipped his imaginary hat again, and walked out the door. “See you later, man.”
(to be continued)