The Laundromat Despot: Five Dollars and Fifty Cents

Part 284 of My Marriage to a Stoner

No signs on these…you’re all set!

I thought it was just going to be another normal trip to the laundromat, you know, one without anyone having to call the police. It was a Friday night, and I had dropped my daughter off at my mother’s house. (Stoner was gone for the weekend, playing soldier at a Civil War reenactment.)

With a plastic bag full of quarters I had scrounged from pockets, the couch, and my car, I entered the washing establishment brimming with the hope of clean clothes and a peaceful evening.

Since it was a Friday night and all the regulars were probably at the bowling alley or some other fun spot with cheap beer, I had the place to myself. Just me, my dirty laundry, and the laundromat attendant.

The attendant was a short, dumpy woman with long, greasy hair but she donned the blue attendant apron like a diamond-studded, twenty-four karat gold crown. I could feel it — she was the Kim fucking Jong-un of Laundromat Land. Our eyes met; her dominance was palpable.

To make it a quick trip. I decided to bet all my money on the giant, industrial-sized washer that would hold my entire laundry haul. But the big one was expensive, five whole dollars and fifty cents.

Now to be fair, there was a sign on this washer scrawled in black magic marker, Please Get Attendent (sic) Before Using Machine.

Should I get her? Nah, she was right beside me wiping down the row of adjacent washers with a dirty rag. I looked at her as I slid in the first quarter to make sure she was watching me put in the money. She was watching alright — I’d swear my life on the fact that she saw me insert a least a half of quarters then she continued the business of wiping down the washers.

I had exactly enough money to wash and dry my stuff. Twenty-seven quarters down the slot…

I had already packed the machine full of clothes and added the detergent. I pressed start and nothing happened. It didn’t even try to turn on. I pressed start a few more times and not even a click.

I called to the attendant, “Excuse me, this machine isn’t working!” She waltzed over, her hands tucked in her apron pockets with a “you-dumbass-you-should’ve-obeyed-the-sign” look in her eyes.

“What seems to be the problem?”

“I put my quarters in, but it won’t start.”

“I didn’t see how much money you put in.”

“You were standing right beside me. And there’s no one else here.”

“Well, I don’t know how much you put in. The sign is right there. You were supposed to have me watch you put in all your quarters.”

“Um, I put it the exact amount — five dollars and fifty cents.”

We debated like this for a while, but it was no use. The apron of power had gone to her head and made her entirely unreasonable, a true despot. And not a very smart one — stupidity and power is the worst combination.

Silently furious, I grabbed all my dirty laundry out of the machine and stuffed it back in my bag. I drove back to my mom’s house, tears of rage and disappointment streaming down my cheeks. My mother took one look at me and knew something was terribly wrong.

Or maybe it was the moment I threw my keys across her living room. She was stunned. I rarely got angry and never angry enough to throw things. I was a good girl, a polite girl who stuffed all my anger down deep inside like all good girls do.

Seeing me so upset, the wrath of hell flew into my mother. She was not going to stand for this injustice. “Get in the car,” she said. “We are going down there and getting your money back.” I’ve never seen her so angry but so calm. It was scary.

My mother is a lady in every sense of the word, not at all the type to get herself involved in a laundromat brawl, but now I wasn’t so sure. In fact, I was positive she was going to kick the laundromat despot’s ass.

My mom practically sprinted into the place. The despot was sitting behind the counter watching TV. When she saw my mother and me, her squinty eyes grew big with apprehension. She knew in that instant she had fucked up, but she was determined to hold her ground.

My mother in her most-ladylike but stern voice demanded my money back, my five dollars and fifty cents. The despot refused and threatened to call the police. That’s right, the fucking PO-PO!

“Call them! Call them right now!” commanded my mother.

So she called. I was so shocked that it had escalated to this point, I can’t remember what the despot told them over the phone, but the po-po were on their way. A squad car slid into the parking lot, sirens blaring, lights flashing. I wanted to hide in a dryer.

My mother politely explained the situation to one of the officers. The officer tried to keep a straight face as he instructed me to go the opposite side of the laundromat while his partner questioned the despot. In opposite corners, like boxers in a ring, we began telling the officers our sides of the story.

Well, just then the owner of the laundromat happened to drive by, and when he say the police cruiser, he stopped to see what kind of crime had occurred.

Was it a double homicide? A stabbing? A kidnapping? Nope. My mother just wanted my $5.50 back.

As luck would have it, the owner immediately recognized my mother from somewhere. Maybe they had gone to school together. When the police officer told the owner what was going on, he waved his hands around as if to shoo away the ridiculousness of what he was hearing, walked over to the register and withdrew $5.50, and handed it to me with an apologetic smile.

I don’t know if the owner made the despot relinquish her apron. Heck, maybe he promoted her instead.

But most importantly, I learned the following lessons:

· If you mess with me, my mother will hunt you down. Seriously. (Thanks, Mom!)

· If there’s a sign on a washing machine that tells you to see an attendant to start the machine, the motherfucking machine is broken. Use a different one.

· It wasn’t the principle of the thing. Sometimes in life $5.50 is a lot of money.