Here is a piece I wrote years ago in about a 20 minute stretch while away at college. It was a spurred on by a combination of not being able to access an empty washing machine in the dorm's laundry room and from wrestling with an assigned paper about the dangers of dehumanization for a Holocaust course. It was later published by a website named Unlikely Stories (http://www.unlikelystories.org/old/).
I have always hated muggy days. The kind of day where the humidity enhances the already hot air and creates an incessant and irritating film of sweat that clings to one's body even during complete inactivity. Today is one of those days.
I wandered around campus trying to find something to do besides schoolwork. This term I managed to schedule all of my classes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, so I could have four days a week without lecture and boredom. Enjoying the bustling energy of students coming and going and rushing around, I feel relieved not to be in any hurry to get anything done. I should get some homework done, but with this humidity and stuffiness there is no way I can possibly get anything done. Maybe my dorm-mate, Jeff and I, can head downtown this afternoon and check out some record shops, and grab some food other than the greasy grilled cheese that we’ll inevitably order at the cafeteria. He’ll still be in class for another couple of hours however. I should get something done. There is always laundry to do. I haven’t done a load of laundry since getting back to school and I think people may be noticing. Fuck it. I’ll take care of it. I truly need to get something halfway productive done today. I can’t let this stifling heat shut me down completely.
No elevator. Every time I walk up these flights of stairs to my room, I think about the thousands and thousands of dollars my parents and I are paying for this school. And here I am climbing stairs. Sometimes the building reminds me of summer camp. It’s like they don’t want us to have any modern luxuries. There are no screens on our windows and Jeff and I are attacked nightly by giant mosquitoes thirsty for blood, yet we keep the windows open, because without a fan or air conditioning the room gets so unbearably hot that a little bloodletting seems worth it for a smidgen of fresh air. It’s somewhat surprising that we have running water in the bathrooms, or bathrooms at all. This must be a life lesson they’re trying to teach us - a survival technique. By the time I reach the room, I am covered with a clammy sweat created by the dense air permeating the inside of the mildew-ridden walls of the ancient dormitory. Soon the weather will be changing, but for now the autumn is bringing heat that rivals summer. I cannot wait 'til winter.
Underwear, socks, jeans, and concert t-shirts make up my daily uniform and they are all well worn. I stuff a huge pile of them into my brand new laundry basket, along with a box of unopened laundry detergent. I manage to dig out some quarters from various corners of the room and head back downstairs for the laundry room in the basement of the building. Considering that most people will be in class at the moment, this should be an opportune time to do the wash. I should have my pick of the machines down there.
I hit the laundry room door with a thud from the momentum of running down the stairs. The lightweight door slams into the wall and stops dead against it. The pungent odor of the laundry room strikes me. A smell that can only be described as “classic basement.” A smell comprised of dirt and hot, wet air. I can feel my face cringe. Not being one who likes to make a scene, I do not expect anyone to be in the room. Unfortunately, I am wrong. A giant woman stands looking at my dramatic entry from the center row of washing machines. I have never seen her before. She has dirty hair dangling loosely about her misshapen head. While keeping my cringing expression, I focus in on the woman’s large bumpy nose and what looks like missing teeth. She reminds me of a giant witch, save for the hideous flower print dress dangling over her hulking form. A form which closely resembles the purple mass that is the curious shake sucking oddity of McDonalds’ Grimace. I believe that she has a wad of chewing tobacco stuffed into her cheek as well. The unbearably loud roar of the washing machines puts me in a momentary trance as I stare at this intruder.
The creature shouts at me over the din as I begin my trek around the room looking for an empty washer amongst the lint balls wafting above the cracked charcoal cement floor. The booming, yet hoarse voice pierces my head, making my ears buzz from the concussion.
BOY! WHAT’CHA DOIN’?
I pretend that I didn’t hear anything and rush for the only empty washer placed, unfortunately, next to this monster. I sit the basket down on the front edge of the empty machine, balancing it with my hip. The gargantuan size of this woman makes the maneuver of getting my stuff loaded difficult. Her huge sandbag breasts are sitting atop a shelf-like stomach that seems to be at my eye level and is partially blocking the empty washer. I reach for a handful of my clothes to begin loading the machine.
WAIT BOY! THAT’S MA MACHINE! I THINK THIS ‘UN IS DONE THO, she blurts and spits as she lifts the lid to a machine on her opposite side, only to reveal brown water swishing around. NOPE! I GUESS NOT!
What is going on? This woman doesn’t belong here. She doesn’t live in this dormitory. Why is she doing laundry here? Somehow her sheer size and volume shut me down. I back away slowly with my basket shielding me. She has taken the last available washer from me and I am at a loss about what to do. I retreat confused, sweaty and shaken from what is happening. I pound my feet up the stairs again and head back to my room on the top floor, unwashed laundry in tow.
In the room, I throw on some music and try to reassess the situation. I can head over to a neighboring dorm and throw in my load. It’s too hot out for that long trip. Besides, I have access to a laundry room in my own building. That monstrosity does not belong down there using those machines! All I need is one fucking washer! I shouldn’t have to wait for clean clothes because of this intruder!
With a renewed courage, I storm back down to the boiling laundry room. I kick open the loosely hinged door with even more force than earlier. I shout out to the woman, again looking over at me from the smash of the door against the wall. She stands hunched over a helpless machine, reminding me of that fucked up Muppet thing that used to hang out with Big Bird on Sesame Street.
“I want to wash my clothes now,” I sternly state from the doorway.
I DON’ KNOW WHAT’S STOPPIN’ YA BOY! THEYS ‘UN RIGHT HERE! She roars back with a sinister grin splayed across her patchy toothless face.
Undaunted, I move over to the now vacant machine, whose white surface is dusted with a brown film. I quickly throw all of the clothes packed in my basket into the washer, along with a cup of detergent. I shove a couple of quarters into the slot and feel fortunate that the machine starts to hum and shake and fill with water. Success.
WHAT’S YER NAME BOY?
I stare at the source of this question blankly.
“Cleet,” I reply flatly, with no intention of her getting to know anything about me. I turn to leave, having accomplished part one of my goal. In my periphery, I see her hawk up some gunk and spit it out onto the unsuspecting floor. A string of goo remains on her chin for a moment before swinging itself into the oblivion of her flowery massive front side. I wince and begin heading towards the dangling door of this rotten basement.
CLEET, EH? MA BRUTHA IS NAMED CLEET! ME-N-CLEET HAD SOME LAUGHS! She shouts. Her head leans back as if she can see those laughs on the dry-rotted ceiling above amongst the cobwebs.
I begin to cough and choke loudly to interrupt the eminent story about incest and “coon huntin’” that I can sense coming my way.
PLEASED TO MEET ‘CHA! MY NAME IS MYRTLE! HA! HA!
I make no reply and bolt out the door and run up the several flights of stairs to the safety of my room.
I had to forget that horrible woman downstairs. The vision of her is imprinted in my mind’s eye, despite doing all I could to avert my eyes when I was down there. What the hell was she doing there?
At least the clothes were being cleaned.
I lay down on my bed, suddenly feeling overcome by the heavy air and the disorienting activities from the basement. I shut my eyes hoping for sleep. I actively slow down my breathing. I begin to feel almost claustrophobic. My skin starts to itch. Relax. Breathing as deeply as possible, I begin choking on what seems to be dry dirt. The dirt has me surrounded completely. Frantically, I begin to turn and toss and spin digging through loose impediments of gravel and earth, never-ending. It fills my eyes and mouth, suffocating me. Panic sets in.
I jump up off of my bed, shaken by the horror of being buried alive. My eyes now open, trying to regain a sense of my surroundings. What just happened? I set my gaze at the clock. Its familiar red digits tell me that nearly an hour has passed since I had returned to my room. My eyelids feel heavy and my face numb as I pace the small room. All I need to do is head back downstairs, transfer the clothes to a dryer and hope that the crazy woman is gone. An evening trip into town later would be a welcome event after encountering the monster in the basement. I’ve got to relax.
I feel calm as I make my way down the stairs to the laundry room. I carefully open the door and poke my head into the room before fully entering.
WHERE YA BEEN BOY?
She’s still here. Great. Ignoring her foul inquiry, I stay silent as I peruse the room for an empty dryer. Every dryer is full, as I suspected.
“Are there any open dryers,” I ask as politely as possible, hoping for some sort of cooperation.
NO WAY BOY! THEYS ALL FULL! HA! HA! She screams as she slaps some wet things into a dryer.
Was I the only one having to deal with this shit? She has every dryer in use and I have but one load to dry. She is no student. I am not asking for much: just one dryer.
BOY! YOU TALK TOO MUCH! HA! HA! She spews interrupting my thoughts. YOU OUGHTA MEET UP WITH MY DAUGHTERS! THEY'S GETTING PRETTY! MY OLDEST SHOULD BE ABOUT YOUR AGE! WHADDYA SAY, BOY?
I begin to shut her out as best I can. I focus on the dryer that she is currently loading. It isn’t being used yet. My body moves towards that dryer. The woman is leaning down to the dryer door putting in another fistful of the eternally filthy garments, continuing to babble. The girth of her backside blocks my intent focus on the precious machine.
I now stand directly behind her. She leans in further. Her head now just about level with the top of the dryer. My hand grabs at a greasy wad of her stringy mane and slams her head into the metal box. Her head cracks and bounces back into my grip. With a stronger hold, I pound her forehead repeatedly into the machine. Each blow feels firmer than the last. Blood appears on the white box. I can hear some shrieking, but it seems somehow muted. The huge body attached to the head in my hand slumps over pulling my arm with it. I put my knee down to the ground next to the body, my fist still entangled in the strings. The foul body lay in a heap against the cool floor. I can still hear noise. I pound more, this time against the cement surface of the ground. The head turns soft in my hand. Blood rushes toward the drain in the floor nearby. I am now pretty sure that the shrieking has stopped. My hand slips free after a while - pieces of its head still stuck inside my fist. I toss the strings away from me and reach over the carcass to throw the shit in the dryer onto the floor.
I walk to the washer that has my clothes. Quietly and efficiently, I transfer the load into the now free dryer, and stick my last two quarters inside and press the start button.
The room seems very calm now. All sound is now gone, save for the quiet hum of one single dryer. I can feel its warmth on my leg. It’s really hot today, so damn uncomfortable.