Laundromats are a sort of temple. They provide sanctuary and silence to be with your thoughts. They have noisy congregations, and quiet times of solitude. Their incense is the whiff of bleach and fabric softener brought to life by the steam of the dryers. If you are cold, there is warmth. If you are stained, there is purification. You might find your tribe in the local ‘mat or discover it is not where you belong. But there is no shunning. There may be folks you wouldn’t choose to spend ANY time with, but there is tolerance.
The Wash Whenever was a neutral, non-denominational laundromat. Apollonia thought decorations were just lint collectors and fire hazards, and the last thing she needed was the fire department up her ass more than they already were. Not that the Wash Whenever wasn’t a good neighbor, it was just a “no frills neighbor” who discouraged loitering and the “bad elements” Bibbi’s mother had little tolerance for.
“We got no room for de lazy here,” Apollonia would say under her breath as she swept the lint and dust from between the machines into her dustpan. It was another way for her to make her presence felt among the patrons, the elders nodding in acknowledgement while the younger ones tried to ignore her. If she ever came upon a student, or anybody with a textbook in some sort of study, she would stop and offer an appreciative snort. “Yes, that is a good use of time. To improve the mind, and make a living, no, a good living. Maybe take care of your parents so they don’t have to work so hard.”
Unfortunately, this love of education did not extend as far as her own family. There was no expectation that Bibbianna would be college-bound. It wasn’t that she wasn’t smart, but as the only child of small business owners, she had a future and her own parents to take care of. God-willing there would be a husband to help share the burden, but her life didn’t look so bad. Maybe a bookkeeping class here or there, but no need to spend the money on college for a girl. Better for her to put the money into the business: that was her future.
And Bibbi was an obedient child. Without siblings she grew up in the company of adults. Since all of her early childhood years were spent hanging around a laundry she met few children. And these children were decidedly unhappy to be dragged to the Laundromat with their parents, and unlikely to have too much interest in making lasting friendships with the odd child they met there.
When she started kindergarten Bibbi did make a friend for life, Viv Sullivan. Vivian was the youngest child and the only girl among seven siblings. With six boisterous brothers she looked for any opportunity to hang out with Bibbi, an only child with a quiet home life. Mrs. Sullivan’s constant exhaustion made it easy for little Viv to slip away after school to the Wash Whenever or over to Bibbi’s house. Apollonia and Angelo grew fond of freckled Viv, and she didn’t seem to mind helping Bibbi with her assorted chores.
Bibbi and Viv were a gang of two. Both girls were quiet observers of the world, obedient to both parents and teachers. Bright, but not inquisitive, they were never the teachers’ “favorites.” Most of the time, teachers remembered a composite of Viv’s reprobate brothers who rotated through the vice principal’s office until they squeaked through high school and were able to work the docks. Mr. Sullivan was a longshoreman, but by the time Viv was in high school he was on disability, and he began to see more of her and in her than he had ever noticed in his sons.
For Viv that meant higher career aspirations, and she went on to college and became a teacher. Viv was a commuter student and she brought back stories to Bibbi of tan, soft-spoken suburban girls and student teaching assignments in newish schools out in the scrubby suburbs. Viv ended up marrying another teacher and moving into one of those suburbs herself. Although they didn’t see each other as often as they did as girls, Viv still swung by the old neighborhood to visit Bibbi when she checked in on her parents or to visit the bakery for nostalgic treats. Her visits brought Bibbi a connection to the wider world that she would never have sought on her own. There was enough local drama, misery and injustice for Bibbi within the pale, linty walls of the Wash Whenever, but she always welcomed her old friend happily. Viv truly brought fresh air and the outside world to an insulated Bibbi.
(need to catch up? See the last installment here.)