I have come to the conclusion that my Parisian neighborhood laundromat is really a portal for Purgatory and only bizarre demonic people or angelic misunderstood artists come to wash their filthy clothes, much less their lives. I must fit in somewhere between those two categories.

There are two things in Paris that hold a lot of anxiety for me. The first is french taxi drivers and the second is my neighborhood laundromat. In fact the only time I have had a positive experience was when I met the American jazz pianist Joel Forrester, but that too was after the money machine ate my 20 euros.

The laundromat likes to gamble – a sure sign of the devil. My husband and I have begun a running total on what we loose and what we get back. This is no joke. I spent 12 euros on the wash today and the bill slot was broken so I had to go get change, which meant I had to buy something from the Tabac to get the change. So I broke a 20, bought some gum, and came back with 18. I put 12 in for the wash and saved 6 for the dryer.

After finishing my wash and loading up 2 dryers, the owner of the joint came in and asked me if everything was working. I said, “Non, il ne marche pas” and pointed at the bill slot on the money machine. The money machine controls all the dryers and washers so there’s no getting around it.

He opened the machine, fixed it, and then took my 3 euros to test it. Happy with himself he locked it up and began to leave. I stopped him because he had only entered 1 euro’s worth of time. “Monsieur, tu mis un euro, pas trois euros”. Embarrassed he responded: “Désolé, désolé, pardon madam…” He unlocked the machine again and fed what I thought was a 2 euro coin into the machine and left.

Never trust a Frenchman! (that was told to me by a French man) I went to the machine to check the time remaining on my dryer and there was 20 minutes instead of 30. He jipped me for a euro. But the money machine gave me an extra euro earlier for one of my wash loads so we’re even today.

Two months ago the machine ate my 20 euros. Some woman thought I was trying to start my wash machine and kept insisting that I push one of the buttons. I finally turned to her and said, “Look, I use these machines all the time. I’m not trying to start the machine, I’m trying to get my money back because it just ate my 20 euros”. She gave me that blank look that many French people do when I start speaking French.

This didn’t help my temper and I started babbling a furious litany on why Paris is backwards and how I wish I was back home in front of my newly purchased maytag washer and dryer. Joel Forrester introduced himself after my little temper tantrum and we became friends. Nice to know that you can start a friendship at your worst moments and still be liked.

Three weeks ago I dragged two huge duffle bags down to the laundromat and filled all of the washing machines in the place. This made me happy because I knew that I would at least get to the dryers before anyone else. Just as my laundry was finishing some woman came out of nowhere with heaps of wet laundry from her house and filled up all the dryers. I didn’t know whether to deck her or cry. To make matters worse, she barely filled all four industrial sized dryers when she could have easily taken one.

I piled my heaps of wet laundry in a basket and pushed it towards the dryers and stared at her until she put down her stupid magazine. She finally glanced up at me with that a “who me? Did I do something wrong?” expression. You know – that same expression when you get bumped hard in the street and then get the customary “pardon” response. I gestured towards the four dryers and then to my wet laundry, my cheeks burning in rage clearly giving away any pretense of civility.

She shrugged. Yup, she shrugged and continued with her laundry and her lame magazine. I glowered at her from across the laundromat planning her death. Better yet, wondering if maybe I could stuff her toothpick figure into one of the industrial dryers without anybody noticing. I hate cutters and she clearly cut in front of me. People who sit in the laundromat doing their wash should have dibs over the dryers. Finally one of her dryers stopped and she took out her laundry piece by piece, folding each one before returning to grab another. I decided to help her and picked up all her laundry and dumped it next to her and gave her my best courtesy smile.

But every rain cloud has a silver lining and as I was trying to stuff my 10 euro bill into the money slot unsuccessfully it all of a sudden spit back 30 euros at me. Some one must have crammed a bunch of bills in there. I took the money and pocketed it, she looked over and I gave her the same shrug she gave me, sat down, and picked up my stupid magazine. Nice to know that I just got back all her money.

Then there was the time my husband and I did laundry together hung over from a few too many bottles of red wine the night before. Some kid, in need of a lot of attention, entered with his single father who clearly was more interested in his telephone conversation with his new girlfriend than entertaining his child.

The kid had two of those new Mc Donald’s beat box toys played and them simultaneously for at least a half hour until his Dad whacked him really hard. Then he started crying and hitting all the washing machines with his toys over and over and over. We felt sorry for the little kid, but secretly pondered what sin we had committed to be forced to endure such a cacophony.

Finally the Dad brought him outside to calm him down after he noticed how shocked and irritated we were. But the kid had somehow managed to step in dog shit right outside the door and when he came back in he dragged it around the small laundromat. Nothing like the smell of fresh laundry and merde to cure a hangover.

So as we speak, we’re up 10 euros in Purgatory. I’m hoping that if we reach 100 we can just buy our way out.

Et Voila!

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