This story takes place shortly after we moved into our current apartment, which at the time, had no washer and dryer, thus forcing me to haul the laundry off to the "washeteria." We have since acquired these appliances.

There are many things in this world I find confusing, trade tariffs, jazz fusion, literary agents and my latest enigma, the washeteria. Mind you, it’s not the washeteria’s function so much as it is the term itself. In Latin, washeteria is broken into two parts, the root, wash, meaning, “to clean,” and its suffix, eteria, who’s closest English equivalent would be, “signifying the presence of a short-order grill,” as in caf-eteria. Thus, logic dictates that a washeteria is an establishment where one can do laundry and consume a nourishing meal.

Apparently my postulation was somewhat flawed. True, clothes are cleaned here; however, food in no way factors into the equation. (Later I discovered that following the Civil War, Southern belles, acting in symbolic defiance against the Yankee institution of Laundromats, founded their own version called the washeteria, a moniker intended to preserve the social charms of the old Confederacy.)

Given my faulty conclusion, you can only imagine my facial expression after ordering a cheeseburger from the Vietnamese woman behind the counter at the nearby washeteria. “And hold the onions,” I said reaching for my wallet.

“Vending machine there!” she replied, pointing over her shoulder.

I instantly felt dumb, yet the way she never looked up from the pizza delivery menu she was studying indicated I probably wasn’t the first to order the surf-n-turf special. To mask my embarrassment, I strode toward the machines, inspected the snacks lounging in their designated slots, and chose a candy bar that wasn’t a hamburger, but cost the same nonetheless.

As it turned out, this particular snack suffered from sudden acrophobia, freezing like a novice on the high dive and refusing to plunge into the access tray. Attempts to “talk” this jumper down proved futile and were abandoned after the Vietnamese woman behind the counter reprimanded me for ignoring the posted warning, Do Not Kick Machine! It would’ve been easier to forget this misfortune were it not for my daughter’s teddy bear, the victim of a midnight accident, who was now sloshing merrily in the washing machine’s window. The smug look in its eyes made me feel as if he were enjoying some raucous pool party to which I was intentionally not invited. An unexpected hated bubbled up in me.

Irritated, I walked away to search for an open dryer from among those lining the back wall of the building. It didn’t help matters that most of them were already in use or were being staked out by my fellow washaterians. The way they stood in front of their respective dryers, their eyes glued to the round screens, reminded me of shoppers watching the display TVs an a mega-electronics store. During a commercial break, one “shopper” looked down to notice his son was holding a candy bar. He frowned, and then glanced towards the vending machine where the Vietnamese woman stood holding an crooked coat hanger. The two exchanged friendly smiles that conveyed their understanding of the mysterious appearance of the boy’s “free” treat.

I stopped loading my damp clothes into the only open dryer and watched the old lady bend the coat hanger back into shape as she walked back to her station. My concentration on her was interrupted by a flutter of movement that turned out to be the little boy shoving a half-finished candy bar into the trash. I narrowed my eyes. That was mine you little… The boy could’ve cared less as he toddled away, but midstride he stopped and inspected his hands. The melted chocolate covering his fingures seemed to be a problem until he veered from the path on his way to an wet load of my laundry waiting its turn. Incredulous, I looked at the boy’s father in the anticipation they he might say something, but instead, the oblivious parent was engrossed in the the network premier of Heated Socks.

Feeding my remaining quarters into the dryer, I realized they wouldn’t buy me enough time to finish the job. The washeteria had managed to stymie me once again. Then I saw that cheery little bear, this time in the dryer. He was pounding on the door, begging to escape the tumbling inferno. The smug expression he had in the washer had been wiped clean. Something about this made me feel much better.

Photo credit: Russell Davies

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