Dirty Laundry

My laundry room usually looks like the bargain bin at Ross Dress-For-Less. There are always huge mounds of dirty clothes all over the floor, but recently it got so bad that there was just a narrow trail through the middle of the room. I decided it was time for a clean start; I was going to wash everything… And I mean everything. I had the kids strip their beds of all sheets and blankets, collect all the towels, gather everything in their closets that wasn’t hanging, dug clothes out of hampers, un-rolled sleeping bags, rescued stray socks from between the sofa cushions, I literally got EVERYTHING in the entire house that could possibly be washed and dumped it all on the floor of the laundry room. I spent over an hour sorting the mass of fabric by color, and then ambitiously filled my washing machine with the first load of whites. After pouring a cap full of Tide into the detergent drawer thingy, I hit the start button.

Rather than the customary single beep, followed by the sound of water filling the machine, I heard six beeps and no water. I pushed the pause/cancel button, double checked to make sure that the door was properly closed, then tried to re-start the machine. Again, I got the six beeps and nothing else. Another four or five failed attempts to start the machine led me to try unplugging it in the hope that the controls would somehow reset themselves. Needless to say, that didn’t work either. I was left with no other option than to consult the troubleshooting guide in the Owner’s Manual to find out what the six beeps meant. I knew what the beeps indicated even before I found the problem in the booklet; the machine was telling me, “you’re fucked and you’re getting ready to spend an assload of money to get me fixed!” As I feared, the Owner’s Manual said that six beeps was an indication of “control panel failure.”

So there I was, looking at a scale replica of the Himalayan mountain range made of dirty laundry and I had a broken washing machine. As much as I hated to admit it, I was left with no other option... I was headed for a place that I hadn’t been to since my college days; and I’m not talking about the Oui Lounge. I was headed to the washateria.

I was already beaten-down by the whole broken washer episode, and needless to say, I was less-than-excited about having to leave the house to do the friggin wash. In anticipation of another beating, I took some preventative measures to keep the trip to the laundromat from completely whipping my ass. I used more than a dozen garbage bags to sack each load separately. I thought individual sacks would make it easier to get the stuff in and out of the wash once I got there. Then, before I left the house, I made sure that I had a full bottle of detergent, dry bleach, fabric softener, even a bottle of Shout to pre-treat dirty baseball pants and whatnot. I even stopped at the bank on the way there and bought two rolls of quarters, just in case there was not a change machine available. I tried to cover all my bases and made sure that I had all the provisions necessary to get the job done correctly and in the most expedient manner possible. After all my preparation and organization, I began to think that the whole washateria trip might not be that bad after all…

The band of Mexicans drinking beer and listening to mariachi music in the parking lot led me to believe that my original assessment of the situation was probably more accurate.

As I carried the first load of plastic bags through the handprint smeared glass of the front door, I was struck by the intense heat and humidity of the place. It was stifling. I broke a sweat within the first ten seconds that I was inside. No wonder the Mexicans were sitting out front drinking beer; they were probably dehydrated from sorting clothes in the sweltering heat. Despite the oppressive conditions, the laundromat was crowded with people. Through the suffocating stillness of the torrid air, I located a row of washing machines whose lids were in the open position and began to stake my claim. It took me several trips to get it all inside, but I set each bag of laundry on top of an un-occupied washing machine. By the time I was done, I damn near monopolized the entire back row. After I pumped each of the 17 machines full of clothes, soap and quarters, I was free to really soak in the ambiance of the place.

The interior of the laundromat was painted a light, depressing and faded out pea green color that reminded me both of Gerber baby food in a jar and Gerber baby food in a diaper. The wall adjacent to the dollar bill changer was plastered with home-made advertisements (some in English, some en Espanol) for in-home day care, small engine repair, income tax preparation and God only knows what else. The concrete floor was unfinished, yet almost shiny thanks to years of dirt build-up from foot traffic and condensation caused by the ever-present moisture in the air. It looked like it would be slick, but it was actually kind of sticky and you could hear rubber-soled shoes squeak as people walked to and from. Several metal laundry hampers on wheels that were similar to grocery carts were positioned randomly throughout the area. There were paper signs sporadically taped on machines throughout the room indicating that they were out of order and trash littered the ground. Empty detergent containers, discarded wire clothes hangers, broken plastic laundry baskets and forgotten articles of clothing were haphazardly strewn all over the place. Newspaper circulars blew across the dull cement floor like tumbleweeds through the Old West prairie each time that the doors were opened. A row of fiberglass benches were bolted to the floor around the perimeter of the room against the dingy storefront glass. As I sat down on the bench nearest to my row of washing machines, I quickly realized that I was the only patron of Anglo-Saxon heritage.

In addition to the truckload of drunken day laborers in the parking lot, there were about a dozen Hispanic women feverishly folding basket-upon-basket of clothing atop a row of plastic tables located in front of the dryers. They worked with the efficiency of an assembly line and the coordination of a domestic drill team; shaking, smoothing, folding and stacking, all in perfect rhythm. They were like the Kilgore Rangerettes of the washateria… Minus the hairspray… And the fancy costumes… And the weight restrictions… And the ability to speak English…

Apparently, the Rangerettes had not seen the ads for day care and baby sitters because they brought their children with them. There were probably a dozen kids running loose inside the laundromat, ranging in age from infants to 12-year olds. Most of them were either seated on the benches minding their own business or were assisting the Rangerettes as apprentice folders. However, there was one group of kids who were there for one reason and one reason only; jackassery. Five of them commandeered a pair of laundry carts and were pretending they were running in the Spray-N-Wash 500 Demolition Derby at the Texas Motor Speedway. It was a battle of the sexes, as the three boys in the rusty cart with the bad wheel were engaged in a race for pink slips against the two girls in the white cart with the missing hanging bar. With absolutely no parental supervision whatsoever, the grudge match between Pinky and Leather Tuscadero vs. The Malachi Brothers roared up and down the isles of the washateria. The boys had the size and straight-away speed advantage, but were equally matched by the maneuverability and rapid acceleration of the girls. After no less than 50 action-packed laps on the twisting and turning road course, the contest was finally settled in dramatic fashion. Coming out of turn number 3 on the final lap, the two carts were bumping and trading paint before the boys executed the infamous “Malachi Crunch” pit maneuver and rammed the girls into a trash can. The girls survived the crash since one was seated in the cart while the other pushed, but the boys weren’t quite as lucky. The high center of gravity created by the dual-cockpit configuration (one seated, the one standing in the basket while the third pushed) caused the boys cart to flip end-over-end. The cascade of ESL students and laundromat refuse brought the race to its conclusion, as both teams of racers left the track and ran out the front door laughing in Spanish.

After transferring all 17 loads of laundry from the row of washing machines to the wall of dryers, I found that my seat in the corner of the room had been hi-jacked by a rather stylishly dressed, white business man in his mid fifties. The man’s impressive beer belly was accentuated by both a shoulder-length mullet and an elegant wife-beater t-shirt that showcased his over-abundance of back hair and faded prison tattoos. His dapper ensemble was rounded out by a timeless pair of cut-off blue jean shorts, white over-the-calf tube socks and a trendy pair of black, generic, Velcro-strapped tennis shoes. The wardrobe really gave it away, but I could tell that he was an important business man and was obviously conducting some important business because he was wearing a Bluetooth ear-piece and was steadily poking away at the keys of a laptop computer. Since I didn’t want to interrupt this Captain of Industry while he worked, I found seat at the other end of the bench. I spent the next 20 minutes or so imagining what kind of top secret, high finance deal that he must have been working on. Maybe he was controlling a hedge fund, orchestrating a corporate merger, going over quarterly profit and loss statements, or maybe he was just a douchebag playing on-line poker and surfing the internet for barely legal teen porn. Either way, I didn’t want to interrupt…

Soon enough, the dryers stopped spinning, my clothes were dry and I was free to get the hell out of there. I loaded everything back into my truck and retreated to the relative peace and quiet of my house full of teenage kids. After spending the entire afternoon and most of the evening folding and putting away all the clothes, bed linens and assorted other textiles, I came to a conclusion. I realized that my broken washer would be in the repair shop for a while and that I’d end up having to do another power-wash in the interim. Rather than make another trip to the God-forsaken laundromat, I’d put my collegiate education and experience to good use. Just as I did in college, next time I’d just take my bags of dirty laundry to my mother and get her to do them for me.

Man vs. Wild...

Patiently waiting… Silent and still, concealed by dark shadows and engaged in an epic and timeless battle of wills between man and nature. Armed only with a flashlight, a machete and a loaded 20 ga. shotgun, my vision was blurred from the intense focus and concentration; staring blindly into the dark abyss for the slightest hint of movement. Ever vigilant, I was not only prepared, but looking forward to the opportunity to unleash God’s mighty wrath at the first sign of the intruder. My resolve was unwavering, my senses were keen and my aim would be true. The price of victory might be high, but I would be triumphant. It was my destiny. One shot, one kill…

It all started the one night when I came home from dinner. I walked in the front door and noticed the all-to-familiar and pungent odor of stale garbage emanating from the kitchen. As I suspected, the can was overflowing with Dr. Pepper cans and fast food wrappers; it had not been emptied in some time. I quickly removed foul smelling garbage bag, carried it outside and deposited it in the trash barrel. After adding a few small tree limbs for fuel and a splash of diesel for ignition, I lit the trash on fire and returned to the house. The sour smell of garbage was still present in the air, so I decided to mask the odor with a few shots of Fabreeze air freshener. I store household goods of this nature on the shelves of my utility closet, so I walked across the kitchen and reached for the door handle. As the door swung open, exposing the shelves stocked with light bulbs, batteries, bug spray, cleaning goods and whatnot, something on the floor caught the corner of my eye. It was dark in the closet, so I moved forward to flip the light switch and illuminate the mysterious form on the ground next to the water heater. I turned on the light, and then I saw it… In the split second that it took for the electricity to reach the light bulb and for my brain to process the information that my eyes were relaying, I realized that there was a giant King Cobra coiled up in the drain pan of the hot water heater, ready to strike.

Sheer unmitigated terror overwhelmed every cell in my body and an involuntary muscular reaction launched me backwards through the air. I can’t be sure, but I believe my head struck the ceiling as my trajectory carried me upward and back, away from certain death and in the general direction of the butcher block in the center of the kitchen. As my upper body hurled backwards through the air, my legs trailed at a lower altitude and ricocheted off the top of the butcher block. The mid-air collision of my legs and the heavy wooden pedestal caused my body to flip completely upside-down. I continued the rest of the flight across the kitchen inverted with my feet above my head. My shoulders and back were the first to impact the floor, closely followed by a large glass bowl full of apples and bananas that I had inadvertently kicked when my legs toppled over my waist. The reverse momentum of my trans-kitchen Triple Lindy caused me to slide across the hardwood floor until my head plowed into the refrigerator door and I came to an abrupt stop.

Even though the crash landing knocked the breath out of me and there was broken glass and fresh produce scattered all over the floor, I instantly scrambled to my feet before the giant Anaconda could mount an offensive. I was acting on pure instinct when I grabbed a long-handled metal barbecue spatula out of the drawer and assumed a defensive posture. As I paused for a split second to weigh my options, I realized that I was in a great deal of pain, could not breathe and was quite possibly suffering from a massive heart attack. Rather than launch a retaliatory counter-strike, I opted to slam the utility closet door closed and run like a bitch...

You see, I have an irrational fear of snakes. Ever since I was a little kid snakes have completely freaked me the fuck out. Any snake I see I try to kill, no matter if it’s a little green garden snake or a big-ass water moccasin; I want it dead. I don’t watch snake shows on TV, I avoid looking at pictures of them and I damn sure couldn’t deal with the fact that there was one coiled up somewhere in the dark recesses of my utility closet. As soon as I caught my breath and checked myself for blood, I began to formulate a plan. Since I ran out of the house and was already outside, I went to the barn and got a flashlight and a machete. I figured I’d pull the Boa Constrictor out of the closet and chop the son of a bitch in half.

I held the machete in my left hand and the flashlight in my right as I approached the closet door. You’d have thought Freddie Krueger was hiding in there from the way I prepared myself. I made sure that I had a good grip on the blade, checked to make sure that my escape route was clear, bent my knees and got into an athletic position from which I could strike (much like a linebacker’s stance, except I had a machete), and finally reached for the door handle.

I flung the door completely open and aimed the light in the general direction of the last known location of the snake. As the flashlight lit the closet floor, I caught a glimpse of the serpent’s tail as it fled to relative safety and darkness under the hot water heater platform. After a cursory check of the closet, I backed up a step or two and knelt on the kitchen floor to see if I could get a view of the snake’s secret hideout. He was either very well camouflaged, or had gone into the corner of the small room where he could not be seen. Since the water heater took up most of the space in the closet, I realized that I’d have to draw him out into the open to get a clean hack at him. I decided to lull him into a false sense of security, and then ambush the slimy bastard as he made his escape. So I stood there… Waiting… And waiting. The longer I remained perfectly still and silent; the snake remained perfectly still and silent. I soon realized that this was going to be a war of attrition.

Since there was no way I was going to allow this venomous vermin to remain in my house for a second longer than I had to, I decided to lay siege to the closet. I dragged a loveseat from the den into the kitchen, loaded a shotgun, collected other necessary tools and provisions, then began what was to be an all night stake-out. Apparently, this snake took after his biblical ancestor and was a crafty little fucker, because he didn’t make a move. I sat there all night and never saw a damn thing.

By the time the sun came up I was completely exhausted, both mentally and physically. The snake never tried to escape and was still lurking, laying in wait somewhere in my utility closet. I’d invested over 10 hours in the stalemate and was not about to give up just because I was tired. I decided to close the door and blocked the crack at the bottom with a 2X4, thereby imprisoning the intruder in his own private herpiterium. I figured he’d be more likely to show himself after spending the day locked up, so I planned on obliterating his ass later that afternoon.

Attempt number two of my quest to slay the bastard reptile was as fruitless as my previous effort. After several more hours of motionless vigilance, I began to wonder if the son of a bitch was even still in there. I was pretty sure he hadn’t escaped while I was gone, which left me thinking that he was hibernating somewhere behind the water heater. My mind was racing, most likely hallucinating, and I imagined that I was stalking the Osama Bin Laden of snakes. Much like the US military, I had all the firepower in the world at my disposal but just couldn’t manage to pin the slimy mutherfucker down and kill him. I had not slept in over 36 hours and I needed to change my tactics, so I nailed the closet shut for the second time and tried to get some rest.

The score after two rounds; Snake-2 – Dave-0.

Sometime during a night of sleepless tossing and turning, I had an epiphany. Through a fog of paranoia, total exhaustion and lack of sleep, I awoke and heard a mysterious voice whispering to me…

“If you build it, he will come…”

Well, not so much “build it,” more like take it apart. Since I couldn’t see the snake’s hiding place behind the hot water heater I did what any logical snake-hunter would do. I spent the entire next morning removing the water heater.

I brought a water hose in from the yard, screwed it onto the drain fitting and opened the tank. Then after unhooking the electrical wiring and disconnecting the water pipes, I dragged that heavy son of a bitch out of the closet. Once the area was empty I could see everything clearly, including a small gap in the baseboards that exposed a possible means of serpentine ingress and egress. Since the utility closet backs up to the stairs, I surmised that the snake hauled-ass through the gap and was now hiding under the staircase to the second floor.

So after two hours of deconstruction, I had no hot water downstairs, a big-ass mess in my kitchen, two more hours of plumbing work ahead of me to put it all back together, and the snake still remained AWOL. But on the bright side, at least I was sure that the little fucker wasn’t in the closet anymore. I filled the gap in the baseboards full of spray foam, and then went to work re-installing the hot water heater. By the time I was done with my little remodeling project, it was well after lunchtime; I was pissed, tired and hungry so I ate a little lunch and tried to take a power nap.

About the time I hit the sofa and closed my eyes, I heard the whispering “Field of Dreams” voice again…

“Ease his pain… Go the distance.”

I wasn’t sure what the voice was telling me to do until I really examined the instructions. “Ease his pain…Go the distance?” Then it hit me; I got off the sofa, grabbed my crowbar and Sawzall from the barn and went to work in the hall. I decided that giving the snake an easy escape route would ease his pain, and that tearing a hole in the wall to provide an exit would be going the distance. The hallway wall backs up to the other side of the stairs, so I decided to cut a hole in it, rather than tearing off a bunch of oak wainscoting and trim from the face of the staircase in the living room. I managed to pop the baseboard off the bottom of the wall without ruining it, and then cut a hole in the sheetrock to breech the encapsulated space under the stairs. I shined the flashlight under there, but still couldn’t see shit. I knew that all of the noise, banging and sawing from tearing a hole in the wall had probably spooked the reptilian recluse and that things would have to calm down before he made his escape, so I decided to make camp and prepare for the ambush. I dragged the sofa to the end of the hall, collected all my weapons and began the stake-out.

An hour or so went by, and then my son got home from school. Jacob came thru the back door to find me camped out on a sofa at the end of the hall, wielding a shotgun, machete and flashlight, waiting on a snake to appear from a hole that had been cut in the wall. Needless to say, he was impressed.

Another hour went by, then two. Daylight turned into night… Mentally, I was 100% committed to the siege, but my body began to betray me. The lack of food and sleep began to take its toll and I was fighting to keep my focus. My eyes have never been that heavy and I soon found myself involuntarily drifting in and out of consciousness. I was fighting sleep with every fiber of my being, but I was completely spent. It was a loosing battle. I’m not sure what happened next or how much time had gone by, but an internal alarm must have gone off because suddenly, I sat bolt upright on the sofa. Damnit! I’d been asleep at my post.

As the haze of slumber began to lift, I pushed my glasses back up the bridge of my nose and struggled to focus my vision. It was then that I noticed the shadow on the floor, about 15 feet away at the opposite end of the hall. The lights were off and it was dark, so I carefully reached for my flashlight. Moving ever-so slowly as to not make a sound, I palmed my trusty MagLite and aimed it in the general direction of the shadow. My heart was now racing uncontrollably and every hair on my body was standing on end. I could actually hear the surge of adrenaline coursing through my veins as I moved my thumb over the rubber button on the flashlight that would illuminate the truth. I took a final, shallow breath, exhaled, and then pressed down.


And there it was…

The next second or two were a blur, but pure survival instinct must have taken over. I realized what was happening at the instant before I swung the shotgun to my hip and pulled the trigger.

The deafening explosion, blinding flash of light and sudden recoil of the 20 gauge stunned my senses. Splinters of red oak flooring and the smoky smell of gunpowder filled the air as I racked the pump action on the gun with one hand and fumbled for the light switch on the wall with the other. The lights came on and I could see that my shot in the darkness had missed the mark, hitting the ground about six inches behind the Black Mamba, and blowing a fist-sized hole in the hardwood floor. Even though the shot missed, apparently the concussion from the blast rolled the bastard serpent into a ball against the baseboard at the end of the hallway. As the snake struggled to regain its bearings and make a run for it, I raised the stock of my trusty Browning BPS to my shoulder, leveled the barrel, took aim and fired shot number two.

The snake, baseboard and wood flooring exploded into a pink mist of sawdust and vaporized viper. I sprang from the sofa in victory, ejected the spent shell from the shotgun and started yelling at the top of my lungs in celebration!

B-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-T-C-H!!! ”

About that time I turned around and saw my son standing there with his eyes as big as saucers and his mouth wide open, staring at me with a look of both utter shock and sheer amazement.

“What the hell, Dad? Are you friggin crazy? It’s 1:00 in the morning? What are you doing? Look at what the hell you just did?” he protested.

Still yelling and raising my clenched fists in glory, I proclaimed, “ I GOT THAT MUTHERFUCKER!!!   I NAILED HIS ASS!!!   I began beating my chest and again yelled, “ THIS IS MY HOUSE!!!   THIS IS MY HOUSE!!!   MY HOUSE!!! “

After confirming that the snake was indeed dead and that the gun was unloaded, my son and I surveyed the battlefield carnage. The snake’s body, although truncated, was almost two feet long. It looked to have been a common Rat Snake that probably found its way into the house in search of water. The house looked and smelled like a drive-by shooting crime scene. There were two baseball-sized, jagged gunshot holes in the wood flooring and baseboard, and then there was the missing section of baseboard and hole in the sheetrock wall that I cut so that the snake could get out in the first place. Splinters of oak flooring and tiny drops of blood splattered the walls, furniture was out of place, a gun and a machete were leaning against the sofa and spent shotgun shells littered the ground. The entire house reeked of gunpowder and hallway looked like an old west saloon after a gunfight. I threw the snake’s lifeless carcass into the woods that night, but was too tired to clean-up the rest of the mess before getting some sleep.

I was moving the sofa back into the living room when my son came downstairs to leave for school the next morning. As he was gathering up his things, he offered me this assessment of the state of affairs in our household.

“Dad… I really like the fact that we live in a bachelor pad and don’t have anyone around to bitch and whine about us pissing in the front yard, taking a dump with the door open or drinking milk straight from the carton. It’s even cool that we haven’t cooked a meal here in almost a year and that you throw away dishes when they get dirty and buy new ones instead of just washing them. I really dig the fact that we can do pretty much whatever we want without some woman raising hell with us, but last night changed my mind about a few things...”

He paused for a moment, and then he continued.

“Look, Dude… I think you need to consider the idea of having a woman around here every once in a while. Not necessarily to cook or clean or anything like that; just to keep you from doing shit like shooting guns in the house…”