My favorite family

January 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

In a rough and tumble neighborhood where police precincts play neighbor to public housing units, resources come in the form of the diabetes inducing dry goods found at bodegas and dollar stores, and ambulance sirens pierce every night, there is a place of respite, of goodness.

On a Saturday morning the rhythmic spinning of twenty washers and twenty dryers adds to the calm of the small laundromat on Dekalb avenue.  In the corner of the shop a young Latino couple steal a kiss behind a dryer, the girl giggles. They grab their finished laundry and say thank you as they walk out into the cold, arm in arm.

A Latino mom is methodically arranging an assembly line of clothes to fold.  There are sweat shirts and jeans in at least five different sizes.  Immigrant families buy for durability.  Saturday might be her day off, which simply means she is working for her family instead of somebody else’s.

A young Jamaican man listens to his reggae music turned all the way up, his makeshift headphones become makeshift speakers.  He’s shaking his head to the beat as he watches his clothes go into a spin.

Above his head is a children’s clock with Snoopy in the guise of a hobo.  Next to the clock are a few signs with the store rules printed in broken english, which works just fine for the mostly immigrant clientele.  “No Sitting and Eating.”  “No sneaker in dryer.”  A flyer sits on a side wall offering moving services to African Americans ready to get out of New York and head to the South.

A couple of Korean students from the local design school stop in to do their laundry.  They have an animated conversation in Korean, perhaps about Friday night adventures.  Indeed everybody seems to have their comfort zone here at the laundromat on Dekalb avenue.  An older African American man walks in with an eye popping pink jean jacket, personally greets everybody as he passes by, and heads straight into the bathroom, closing the door authoritatively, as if it were his office.  He doesn’t come out for twenty minutes.  Another African American man sits, arms folded, eyes fixated on a TV set above the dryers showing an hour long infomercial about a miraculous new vacuum.

At the front of the store a man stares out the window at the avenue.  He’s dressed smartly in grey khakis, a dress shirt, and a matching grey sweater vest.  The characteristics that set him apart are his extremities, on his feet he’s wearing a pair of bright blue Nike Air Jordans, and on his head, a turban.  He’s a Sikh, and this is his family business.  A few personal items in his back office hint at his past life in the Punjab province of India.  A calendar featuring photos from Ananpur Sahib, a Sikh holy site, and a photo of the Golden Temple of Amritsar.

Printed on the window to the right of him are his shop hours, OPEN EVERY DAY, 7-9.  He does not take days off.

Walking to the back of the store he helps a few patrons with their washing machines, slamming one on the top with his fist, and smashing another on its handle.  Both begin to work instantly.  Waiting for him in the back of the store, behind a service door, are his wife and daughter, both dressed in saris with gold nose rings and earrings.  The door used to be open, but after an armed robbery they installed a thick piece of glass to offer some protection.

The wife speaks little english, so the daughter translates peoples’ requests.  Mostly they reach into an old coffee can full of quarters to make change.  Sitting on a chair in the corner is the man’s father, also dressed in a turban, and with a white beard that extends down towards his stomach.  He sits silently observing the store.

A young mother comes in with her just walking toddler son.  He breaks free and begins to roam the store.  The owner and his wife and daughter are captivated by the boy and begin to play with him.  They even greet him with a few words of spanish, “hola”.  The daughter of the owner is beckoned away from the fun, her beautiful intricate sari swaying as she heads off to help a tall Jamaican woman with her dryer.

Normally the overriding poverty of the world means these far flung citizens would never meet.  But here they are, figuring things out on a Saturday morning, together, at a laundromat on Dekalb avenue.


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