…… need to catch up? Read the first installment of this story here: Feckless Fiction, Unfinished.
Owning a laundromat is not unlike owning a bar. You have your regulars and you know what they like. You have the types who don’t know when to quit and are always spoiling for a fight, and you have the lost souls looking for some sort of redemption, or maybe just a way to cleanse themselves. People reveal the weirdest shit about themselves to strangers while washing their clothes. Maybe it’s a sense of intimacy induced by the public exposure of one’s dirty underwear? Maybe it’s captive waiting time as your load is tumbling dry, but it’s the cheapest form of talk therapy. The upside is you end up with a positive result (clean clothes) and no hangover. Like any other place where humans congregate, there is flirtation, spats, sharing, teaching, eavesdropping, boredom, inspiration, creativity, fatigue, unfairness, assistance, shame, pain and discovery. There is also anonymity and familiarity, routine and novelty.
The Wash Whenever Laundromat opened in 1956 and had undergone one less face-lift than Joan Rivers. Bibbi’s parents expanded from the tiny spot on Commercial Ave. to the adjacent building – a move that quadrupled their capacity. Over the years Bibbi watched the growing customer demand for entertainment while doing laundry. First it was just the radio, usually tuned to the news or sports. Then the need for television which now included the need for basic cable. Now Bibbi’s biggest headache was customer demand for WiFi. Rich or poor, everybody had a smart phone or device that needed as much or more attention than their own kids.
Bibbi was practically born in the Wash Whenever. Her mother, Apollonia, huge and pregnant, worked alongside her husband Angelo with equal parts strength and savvy. Truth be told, it was Apollonia who was the brains of the operation. Angelo may have been the muscle, but he was the softy of the pair. Apollonia was suspicious by nature and trusted her husband inasmuch as she could keep an eye on him. On that warm fall day when Bibbi was born her mother wouldn’t leave to go to the hospital until she finished mopping and closing up the place. She took about a week off to recover from the birth, and then brought her baby into the laundromat in a souped up laundry basket. In a small concession to postpartum recovery, she hired a local lady to do the mopping and lifting, but Apollonia stood and folded for most of the day. She was an iron horse when it came to folding.
For a time the couple took in shirt laundry, and entertained the idea of adding dry cleaning to the menu, but the reality was they didn’t really like humankind enough to attract and cultivate customers. Their customer service was a bit, shall we say, raw. Just keeping all the machines working and the place clean was customer service enough.
Little Bibi learned all she could about human nature from the rising vantage points of her parents’ knees, hips and finally, shoulders. Along the way she learned the alternating techniques of when to be hard or soft, to be kind to elderly and tough on the young, and when to confront an issue head-on or to look the other way.
She learned basic wiring from Angelo when he eventually realized there were no sons coming. From Apollonia she learned to cultivate a steely resolve and enough street smarts to recognize the opportunity that Vic presented when he strolled though her sophomore chemistry class. He had the thickest, bushiest black eyebrows she had ever seen. But they were over the softest, shyest brown eyes. He must have noticed her as well, because four years later he passed by the Wash Whenever’s big window and timidly waved to her. Vic was very shy. He would later tell people they first met in school, but for a woman like that he had to work up his courage. Army basic training was the kick in the pants he needed to realize that if you didn’t volunteer for the assignment you wanted, you’d get stuck with the one nobody wanted. And there was no doubt hard-working, independent Bibbi was the assignment he wanted.
Bibbi also took over the bookkeeping from her mother, who was pretty meticulous for a woman with a sixth grade education. Bibbi was an autodidact herself, and for a woman over the age of fifty she was remarkably adaptable to technology. She was hoping to convert the Wash Whenever to a card swipe system and get rid of the change machine, but a lot of the clientele still felt more comfortable with a roll of quarters slung in a sock than using a card. In this neighborhood that hefty sock doubled as an extra measure of personal security. And Bibbi, who kept a baseball bat at hand next to her desk for those late bookkeeping hours, couldn’t argue with that.