Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Laundry Mat

Whenever times are tough, I try to remember when they were tougher. I try to remember everything we've been through and remind myself that I should be grateful for what we have now. I really am trying.

When I first met my husband we were really poor. I was in the midst of my addiction and he was a fresh immigrant. Again. He had two roommates and I didn't have electricity. Money was tight and rent was more important. Food was more important, drugs were much more important, than lights. I always did have priorities.

And so I would get my quarters ready.

We certainly didn't have a washer and dryer and would go down to the laundry mat on the corner to wash our clothes once a week. It was never like that episode of Friends where Rachel feels as though she's dominated life on her own when she takes back her laundry basket from that vindictive troll. It never gave me that sense of independence. No, when we trudged down to the laundry mat on Mesa Drive and Southern each Sunday, I always felt lethargic.

It was even worse when we couldn't afford to go to the laundry mat at all. There were times that we didn't have gas or bus money and would need to use the washers inside of our apartment complex. I would get our quarters together and go downstairs and wash everything. Most weeks it was a luxury to pay for the dryer and so instead I would wash our clothes in the washing machine and then take them upstairs and hang them all out to dry on the balcony. When times were really tough, we didn't have any spare quarters. So I would wash by hand in the bath tub before I hung everything out to dry.

My now-husband was just fresh off the line in those times and had grandeur American dreams. The thought of his significant-other hanging out her intimates for all to see was not a part of his vision. It was practically the ultimate embarrassment for him. Our apartment complex was split into two sections, the front was the shape of a horseshoe. We lived in that front section and there was an unused pool and grassy knoll in the middle of it all.

And so when I hung our unmentionables to dry on the front balcony of our third story apartment, everyone could see. To me it was the logical solution given our financial situation. To my husband, it was the stamp of failure. The complex on Mesa Drive and Broadway in Arizona was comprised almost entirely of immigrants. Everyone was struggling. Yet no one hung their clothes outside to dry.

Except that crazy gringa.

This was the first of our cultural clashes in the US and quite possibly what made Ray fall for me and hate me at the same time. I was everything he had attempted to leave behind in Mexico. And at the same time, I was everything he strived to be. I was a survivor. Although I always say I'll be the first to die in the apocalypse (with which I am semi-obsessed) the truth is that I will most likely last quite a while. I don't know why, but I have an uncanny way of surviving through the most fucked up situations. Sometimes it's as simple as figuring out how to clean our clothes without any money. Sometimes it's so much more than that.

Life has thrown us curve balls, that's for sure. And let me tell you, Mexico has been the least of my worries when I look at the grand scheme of things. And yet I am still here, still standing, still swearing, still loving.

Still keeping his clothes clean.

18 comments:

  1. When I was a kid every mother hung out the clothes to dry. They chatted with their neighbors. It was a social thing as well. Now you never see anyone do it. Kind of a loss I think.

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  2. I love this story. Hope you soon overcome the thing that made you think back on past history. It's very common in European and Asian countries, even in wealthy families, to save energy by line drying. It's becoming more common in CO as people try to be more "green". We had a broken dryer for about a month and it was the smallest electricity bill we've ever had. Since then started hanging clothes on a line, and now on an indoor rack. I have to hang intimates inside.

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    1. Thank you. Things will come together for us soon enough I'm sure. Just some growing pains. I would probably line dry here if it wasn't so cold in the winters and so dusty the rest of the year. It would certainly save some money!

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  3. Hi Emily,
    I first heard of you from "This American Life" and have been following your blogs. I love your writing, honesty, and wit. I have close Mexican friends here in the Northeast that would rather eat their shoes than hang clothes to dry. For some cultures it is a symbol of status quo, carbon footprint woot!

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    1. Thank you! And lol, I can totally believe that.

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  4. I still hang my clothes out to dry...can't afford that dryer:) Growing up we were pretty poor and there were six of us kids, we used to do the laundry like once a month; take it all into town to the laundromat and wash it all but not dry it...we had to fold all those wet clothes and bring em home to hang on the line.

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    1. Luckily we have a huge area downtown that sells all sorts of used things, including appliances. It's hard to remember that far back but I think we paid about $60 US for our dryer right when we got here.

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  5. Dryers eat clothes anyway, they'll last longer if you dry them on a line. That was the biggest change for my wife to move here, she used a tiny washer at her mother's house, and spent so much time (with three kids) on laundry. As a bachelor in the United States, I had my own washer and dryer, and probably used them one day out of every two weeks.

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    1. I'm sure that would be a huge adjustment for her! Technology sure does change the way we live our lives. Such a luxury.

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    2. We've actually got LG units now that play a tune when the wash or drying is complete, probably more computer control than my car. Our stove is "smart" too, with a digital timer to shut off the oven. But my wife is still able to burn as much stuff as on propane!

      I need to learn more Spanish for my household, like "Don't use a fucking metal fork on a Teflon (TM) pan!" and "Stop cooking with so much oil." (related partially to the first statement). Sure, they understand English, but it might be heeded better in Spanish. Hey, who left the mayo out of the fridge, and the tortilla package open?

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    3. Ha! Okay now, our washer doesn't play tunes... Lol. You've got me beat. You wife must being going nuts with all that technology! :)

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  6. You make such a great point here, Emily. Immigrants come to Anerica in hopes of living the dream, making $$$ and making it period. To see an American hand washing clothes and line drying probably did not fit the mould of "making it."

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  7. Hello! Just wanted to say: your blog is totally fascinating! I discovered it in quite a random way. I was procrastinating on some work, looking up different routes on GoogleMaps for driving across the U.S. Some routes went through Texas, which led me to looking up El Paso, and then Juarez, and then the Juarez Tourism Board (because, given Juarez's typical depiction in U.S. media, I wanted to see how their tourism board would handle it)...which in turn led me to your blog. I've got other shit to do today, but I couldn't stop reading! :) Your detailed posts really give a sense of what it's like to live there. Bravo!

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  8. I can completely get being so poor and not being able to pay for electricity!: ( I remember my first paycheck when I was a kid went to pay that bill...

    It really is funny how something in the moment seems so world-ending and then looking back at life you have a different prospective.

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