Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Smurfy Laundromat

A couple years ago, my wife Beth and I were sorting our clothes, with the aim of donating some to charity. I noticed a paper-covered coat hanger from Beth's stack, with the dry cleaner's name and logo. I told her, "I think that's from the combination laundromat-dry cleaner place that we patronized in Virginia." We lived in Charlottesville in 1984-1987, and have lived in four other communities since, so it was amazing that we still had a hanger from that place----Carriage Cleaners on Millmont, just west of Barracks Road.

I thought of keeping the hanger to the side, but realized that was foolish---why keep a coat hanger as a souvenir of a community? It got cycled back into Beth's clothes or was discarded. But I thought of the many Saturday mornings when she and I took our stuff to the laundromat, and the weekdays when we dropped off our dry cleaning. I recall a blond woman and a red-haired, brown-eyed woman were the usual staff with whom we interacted. The red-haired woman had a little boy who watched cartoons on the laundromat TV on the Saturday mornings. Beth and I cringed at the Smurfs---fairly new on American TV at the time---and the annoying voices of the characters, the way they used some form of the word "smurf" as an adjective. By the time our laundry had finished, our eyes had glazed over with frustration of the crowded facility and the loud television. We were students and had books along---but at laundromats you can't get too deeply into books, for fear you'll miss a dryer when it opens up.

At the time, at least, Charlottesville clerks could be infuriatingly snooty, reflecting a certain incongruity to a town which was both a college town and also residence of some very upper-class people. But the cleaners staff were not snooty, and so the place lingers in memory as a friendly business, and the annoyance was simply the kind of place it was---loud and hot and crowded as folks got their clothes cleaned. The kid who liked the Smurfs is probably pushing 40 now.

We all know people, though casually, through the businesses we frequent. All of us function within everyday interconnections, and others work in their jobs on our behalf. Moving away, we don't know what became of such folk. But if they come into our minds, for whatever reason, we can lift up a prayer for their well-being.

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