In Providence

In Providence: Dirty Laundry

“He’d come over and I’d do his laundry for him. That was the big thing. I did his laundry how he liked it. He never let anybody else do it. Just me.”

Late on a Saturday night, a 24-hour laundromat can be a surprisingly hopping spot. Laundry might seem like the last thing you’d want to be doing while other people are out dancing and drinking, but this is his routine, and it has been ever since he lost the love of his life.

“Used to be Sunday mornings. Not anymore. I’d rather do it now and get myself out of the house. Saturday nights were when he would come by, because his wife used to get these migraines and for some reason she was good all during the week, but then Friday or Saturday, she would get low, her moods would change, and she’d go lie down. She used to sleep all weekend and he’d come see me. I started to think she knew what he was doing and that after he left she’d have some guy come over, but I never said that to him.”

A few feet away from us, a girl is talking to someone on her phone about a guy she works with who would be cute if he’d just shut up every once in a while. On the other side of the laundromat, two other girls are sorting clothes into different piles on top of a counter, and nearby a man who looks to be in his late 40s is half-reading a magazine with a ripped front cover.

“He worked for the state. Everybody knew who he was, but they didn’t know what he got up to. Lots of those men had girls on the side, and I think that’s what they thought was going on with him when he’d be sneaking around. They all covered for each other. We met at this party I was working. I used to waiter for these fundraisers and he was there and he gave me his number — it was on a business card, but the number on the card was crossed out and then on the back was the number he had me use. He was very handsome and he was about 10 years older than me, which I liked a lot. I called him the next day and he came by and we stood outside my apartment — I had an apartment near Branch Avenue — and we stood outside — it was late summer, early fall. I noticed he had some clothes in the backseat of his car. He told me that his wife doesn’t do laundry so they take it all in to have someone else do it. I offered to do it for half what he was paying, and he thought that was pretty funny, but I was already in the backseat gathering up the clothes. Once I had them all, I invited him inside. That was when I started doing his laundry with mine. I used to mix them all together and separate them later. I don’t know why, but that’s how I did it. I had a washer and dryer in the basement of my building back then, but now I have to come here. I don’t mind. Gives me something to do.”

He’s sitting near the door so he can smoke with an ashtray he brings from home. Even though it’s freezing outside, the door is propped open, and you get the sense that’s specifically for him, although the guy working at the laundromat says it gets too hot and people like the fresh air. I ask him if it’s illegal to let somebody smoke in here, and he laughs and says he won’t call the cops if I don’t. My friend sitting by the door tells me to go ahead and call the cops, because he already knows all of them.

“Before he died, he came to the house, sat down, and told me a lot. He never talked like that before. Told me things and I kept saying, ‘I don’t need to know all that.’ A lot was weighing on his mind, I can tell you that. All those years working for people who lie. All they do is lie. The politicians — all of them. Doesn’t matter who they say they are — they lie and they f___ people over, and that’s the truth. He told me all that. He had to do a lot he wasn’t proud of, because he worked for a lot of people over the years, and you know, he liked living in that big house away from all that. Oh yeah, he lived in a neighborhood in Narragansett. He didn’t live in Providence. He wanted to be far away from all this, because of what he had to do when he was here. He told me a lot that night, and now I think it’s to protect myself, because if somebody tries to f___ with me, they don’t want to. I promise you that. They do not want to, because I know s___ about everybody now. I know plenty just from what he said that one night, and now everybody better leave me alone, and you know what? They do.”

He still has another batch waiting in the dryer, but when I offer to take it out for him, he tells me to just sit and relax for a second. The night’s turned over from late to too late, and the only person left in the laundromat is the man behind the counter and the girl still talking on the phone about a guy she knows she shouldn’t like but likes anyway. Her clothes have been finished for at least 10 minutes, but I have a feeling they’re going to be waiting for awhile.