Tami Parks
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Writings

Suds

My final writing assignment for this semester’s GVSU Storymaking class was a workplace story - a short story about a workplace with a minor crises. I drew from my experience of growing up working in the laundromats and dry cleaners that my parents owned, naming the main character after my best friend, who also worked at the laundromats with me.


            Amy hopped off her bike in front of the square blond brick building with large windows. She thought again how lucky she was to have a job that was just an easy 10-minute ride through a safe area of town. Most of her friends had to work outdoors in the blueberry fields. Amy’s mom knew a family who owned a chain of laundromats and Amy had been lucky enough to be offered a job working the day shift at one this summer. The sun was just beginning to shine and glint on the windows and large glass doors as she leaned the bike against the building. Mr. Lenon’s truck was already in the parking lot and she knew he preferred that she arrive a little earlier than six fifty-five am; just five minutes before opening the laundromat. But he did not say a word as she entered. He was already carefully counting cash at the orange formica-covered counter.

The interior of the squat building was dated but clean. Four rows of back-to-back cream-colored washing machines were lined up perpendicular to the front door, with a large folding table anchoring the back and front of each row. The folding tables had once been white, but now were greying and the black legs showed some areas of rust. Mr. Lenon insisted that the table tops were washed every night with soapy water and the legs and back of the table washed the same way once a week. The back wall was lined with dryers. The dryers also showed some signs of use; mostly scratches on the inside of the glass doors and more dings and scratches around the coin slots located on the top panels. Last night’s attendant had done a good job of tidying, sweeping the linoleum floor, and completing the rest of Mr. Lenon’s closing-time checklist, so Amy just had to start the coffee maker and turn on the TV this morning to get the place ready for opening.  Mr. Lenon finished counting the money and tucked yesterday’s receipts and cash into a brown pleather bank bag. With a friendly smile and small wave of his hand, he headed out the front door to continue his morning routine, leaving Amy alone in the building.

            After putting her backpack on the shelf under the counter, she walked to the opposite end of the room, past the rows of washing machines, where there was a waiting area set up with a few molded plastic chairs in a colorful mix of orange, yellow and green. A television was on a stand attached to the wall about eight feet above the ground and the coffee maker on a table next to the snack machine. The duo of seventy-year-old ladies who showed up every Thursday morning at seven fifteen would be expecting the coffee to be ready when they arrived. Amy laughed to herself about the laundromat and the unique routine it offered. Mr. Lenon always checked in twice a day, at eleven am and three pm; she could also set her watch by certain customers, including the two who would be arriving any moment.

            Once the coffee was started, she made sure the stack of Styrofoam cups next to the coffee maker was clean and sturdy, and headed back to the counter area. It appeared that she had some laundry to do. There was a large comforter that a customer had dropped off to be washed today as well as two wash and fold orders. One appeared to be mostly baby clothes. Amy decided she would start with that one since all those little pieces would take a long time to fold and the customer wanted to pick up the order at noon.

            Two hours later, the smells of coffee, laundry detergent and the sickly-sweet dryer sheets mingled in the air. Amy knew that she would remember that smell for the rest of her life. The laundromat was bustling. She had already counted out change in quarters for a dozen customers and had laundry orders going in the first row of machines. Back in the coffee area, four customers were sitting, two of them companionably chatting and two others reading newspapers while waiting for their laundry to dry. A young mom was standing at one of the folding tables with her baby in a car seat in a rolling laundry cart next to her. As she folded diapers, onesies, and her own T-shirts, she made faces and baby noises at her little girl. The baby gurgled and giggled back at her.

            Amy opened up the folded comforter that had been waiting behind the counter and inspected it for stains. Spraying pre-treatment on a few areas, she then rolled it into a loose ball and placed it inside one of the large-capacity washers near the front of the room. She added liquid detergent into the opening at the top and slipped 6 quarters she had taken from the drawer into the coin slot to start the machine. Warm water, long wash, cool rinse, gentle spin, she turned the dials on the front of the shiny silver machine to the appropriate places and pushed the start button.  She watched long enough to be sure the water began entering the wash drum; last week this machine had completed an entire cycle without any water. The attendants were reminded repeatedly to watch and be sure the machines worked correctly. Mr. Lenon did not like it when he was not alerted to any problems immediately.

            Amy went back to the folding table nearest the counter, this one was always reserved for the employees’ use unless the rest were all being used and customers were waiting. The large load of baby clothes was now clean and dry and ready for her to fold. She had just grabbed a small yellow sleeper when the phone rang. She stepped quickly to the counter; Mr. Lenon expected phone calls to be answered within two rings if at all possible. “Hello, Laundry Fresh Northside, this is Amy speaking, how can I help you?” she answered. By the time she had answered the normal questions about operating hours and by-the-pound laundry service, she hung up the phone to find two customers waiting at the counter with dollar bills that needed exchanging for quarters. While counting out a total of seven dollars in change, she noticed a white blur out of the corner of her left eye. Smiling a quick “thanks” to the customer at the counter, she turned her head to see suds shooting out of the top of the large machine which held the comforter. The white foam was landing on the top of the machine and cascading down the front and sides like a frothy waterfall, already puddling at the base of the machine. “Crap!” she exclaimed causing a surprised look from a few of her regular customers. She turned and hopped over a laundry basket, grabbing two old towels from under the counter and throwing them at the snowy puddle on the ground. Grabbing the blue bottle of fabric softener kept nearby for this very emergency, she poured a generous amount into the top of the machine where she had poured the detergent just ten minutes ago. The softener quickly cut the suds and immediately stopped the overflow. The sound of a baby’s scream pierced her eardrums. Her loud exclamation and the commotion had startled the baby in the laundry cart; her mom was trying to calm her, but without much success. Amy turned and headed quickly back to grab more clean-up towels when Mr. Lenon walked in the door. Wait – it wasn’t 11 am! What was he doing here? Of all times for him to escape his predicable routine!

            “I left my jacket here this morning,” he said as he retrieved his blue coat from under the counter. He nodded at the mess. “There are more towels in the back.” He waved to a regular customer in the back who had shouted a greeting to him. Then he turned back to Amy and said, “Be sure to measure your detergent next time.” Amy could not understand how her boss always seemed to remain infuriatingly calm no matter what was going on. Was he really that relaxed or did he not care that things seemed to be in an uproar?

            Amy sighed and returned to the mess of sodden towels, slippery floor, and streaked machine. Starting at the top, she wiped the sudsy water from the machine and worked down to the puddle at her feet. When no water marks remained on the machine and the floor was dry, she dropped all the wet towels into a washing machine and returned to the load of clothes she had been folding. By now, the entire load had cooled and was full of set-in wrinkles. She was going to have to start all over if she wanted any chance of receiving a tip for a fresh, bouncy load of laundry returned to the customer.

            Eleven o’clock arrived. The comforter was nearly dry, the load of baby clothes folded, and the morning rush of customers had subsided. Mr. Lenon again walked in the front door, this time on schedule. In his hand was a white bakery bag. As he approached Amy, she could smell sweet yeasty goodness with a touch of cinnamon and maple. He presented the bag to her with a shy smile. “I know you had a rough morning and my wife reminded me how much you like maple-frosted cinnamon rolls from the downtown bakery,” he said.

            Amy hesitantly accepted the bag and returned his smile with one of her own. “Thanks,” she said, “for the roll and for the job. I’m saving for college and I like working here. I’m sorry I messed up.” She looked down, expecting a reprimand.

            The phone rang again. She turned to answer it with the usual greeting. Mr. Lenon just walked to the back, changed the TV station from the gossip-talk show that was on to a news station and once again headed out the door.

            Amy hung up the phone and looked around to see that all was well once again. Two customers were reading magazines in the corner, waiting for their laundry to dry. All the machines were behaving, and her stomach was growling. Contented, she sat on the stool behind the counter and pulled her treat out of the bakery bag. Much better than working in the blueberry fields, she thought.