Fiction

Waiting Area

A man sits behind the wheel of a car at night, rain beating against the windshield. On the seat behind him, a massive, overspilling bag of dirty laundry. He passes by several launderettes who are closing for the night, brow furrowed, until his face is illuminated.

The car comes to a stop in front of a small, green but well-lit launderette. The neon sign in the window says “24/7”

The man enters the launderette, lugging his huge messy bag along with him. Despite the apparent lateness, the waiting area is full. Those waiting appear sullen, worn-out, aged. On reaching the counter, a man appears suddenly to greet him.

LAUNDERETTE: Good Evening Sir.

MAN WITH LAUNDRY: Hi, I’m glad your open. I know it’s late, and it looks as though you’re busy, but what kind of time estimate can you give me on…

The man swing his huge bag onto the counter with a straining sound.

MAN WITH LAUNDRY: THESE? *pant pant*

The man behind the counter takes the slightest glance over the amassed washing, and limply lifts a sock with his fingertip.

L: Oh I’m sure we can have your laundry finished in 40 minutes.

The Man With Laundry looks stunned

MWL: Sorry? Can’t of… I thought I heard you say 40 minutes?

L: That’s right, Sir. Feel free to wait here or pop out; we’ll have your laundry washed, dried and ready for you.

The Man With Laundry smiles widely, and reaches for his wallet.

MWL: That’s fantastic, really great. How much do I owe you for that? Do you need to weigh it, or…?

The Launderette smiles his enigmatic smile.

L: Sir, your first laundry session here is of course complimentary.

The Man With Laundry’s smile falters a bit.

MWL: Complimentary? As in… for free?

L: That’s absolutely right, sir.

MWL: Well… what’s the game, then?

L: As a new business in the area, we want to build a… report with our clients, and as such we are offering complimentary cleaning services to any locals on their first visit.

The Launderette suddenly leans forward jerkingly, eyes intense and piercing those of the Man With Laundry.

L: We understand that many are hesitant to leave their laundry with us, after hearing such wild promises. We encourage you to stay in our waiting area; we promise your laundry will be with you presently.

The Man With Laundry is a bit taken aback by the Launderette’s tonal shift, and decides to go ahead with it. He pushes the laundry gently to the Launderette with a slight smile and the Launderette takes his cue to grab the bag and take it to the back.

The Man With Laundry walks to the chairs of the waiting area and takes a seat. He can’t wait to see this; how the hell are they going to wash and dry all that in 40 minutes?

Looking about him, he takes in the others who are waiting in greater detail. They are a pitiable bunch; signs of poverty and hard living etched into their faces, necks and hands. They scratch at themselves absentmindedly or just stare at the floor, some of them mumbling to themselves and drawing their collars up over their withered necks.

Before he knows it, the Launderette is back at the counter, which is topped by a much-better-folded bag of laundry.

L: Sir, your laundry is ready.

Startled, the man checks the clock: 37 minutes since he sat down. Walking up to the counter, he peers into the bag. Yep, these are his bedsheets, it’s definitely his laundry.

MWL: Wow! I can’t believe how quick you were.

L: Do not worry sir, we are very thorough. I hope you enjoy your complimentary cleaning service, and that we see you and your laundry again soon.

MWL: I’m sure you will!

The Man With Laundry walks out, feeling great. As he sets the bag in the back and sits down, the smell of fresh-washed-sheets wafts over to him, and he groans with pleasure.

That night, he and his family sleep the best night’s sleep of their lives. They are warm, snug, undisturbed and visited by colourful, joyous dreams. They awake the next day feeling better than they ever have before. The Man With Laundry tell his wife all about the weird launderette he found, and ruffles his kid’s hair as they play.

The next night, the man and his wife climb into bed, excited at the prospect of a night like last, but instead are plagued by restless sleep, pinwheeling arms, sweats and disturbing dreams. Their boy wakes up three separate times with nightmares.

The next night is similarly unpleasant, worse in fact. The man and his wife’s sheets are drenched with sweat, and their child wets himself. The next day, the Man With Laundry goes back to the Launderette.

MWL: Hello! I was hoping I could get these washed again today.

L: Of course, sir. It’s a pleasure to see you again.

MWL: Do you use a particular softener? Because that first night’s sleep we had…

The Launderette smiles

L: Magical, wasn’t it?

MWL: It really was! The last couple nights, though…

L: Many find ordinary sleep difficult after enjoying a night with a fresh wash from us. We appreciate the compliment.

MWL: No problem! Well, how much is this load going to cost this time?

L: This time it will cost £20

MWL: That’s still quite reasonable, considering the amount.

L: We’re glad you think so, sir.

MWL: Right, I’ll just wait then.

L: Sir, this time your laundry will take 90 minutes.

The Man With Laundry is momentarily annoyed, but then remembers that they probably fast-tracked his last time

MWL: That’s fine! I’ll come back in a bit.

The Man With Laundry goes driving, intending to get a bite to eat, but can think of nothing but his laundry. He checks his watch every few minutes, and when 90 minutes have passed he realises he’s never left sight of the launderette.

Returning, he sees his laundry waiting for him and smiles widely, collecting it.

L: Thank you for your repeat patronage, we hope to see you again soon.

MWL: I’m sure you will!

That night; Heaven. Another incredible night’s sleep, capped with a refreshed and rested morning. The man finds however that he begins to feel fatigued and nauseous at noon, and excuses himself home.

He comes home to find his wife and son there as well, both feeling extreme unwell.

That night no-one sleeps; there is only pain. The man can hear his wife sobbing and his child wailing, and bunches the sheets around his wrists, trying to distract himself with the tension.

The family stays home that day, too sick to go anywhere. The man tries to stay in bed but it’s torture, and has to climb out. Reeking of illness, the man decides the sheets need a wash and heads for the launderette.

Limping in, he carries his bag up to the counter, rough-looking clientele watching him from the waiting area.

L: Good evening sir. Looks like these need cleaning.

The man responds by mumbling weakly.

MWL: Yeah… need these washed. How much?

The man can’t even focus very well, and simply hands his wallet over and takes it back when offered, not having listened. He walks over the the chairs and sits, pulling his coat around himself and scratching at an itch on his neck.

Checking the clock, he notices the time stretching on and on. 40 mintes, an hour. After close to 2 hours he painfully walks up to the counter.

MWL: How much longer do you think it will be?

L: Your laundry will be with you presently, sir.

Dejected, the man goes back to his chair. After two-and-a-half-hours, he notices his laundry waiting for him and goes to collect it, never saying a word.

L: See you again soon, sir.

Sleep that night is better, but not a scratch on what they’ve come to expect from the launderette. The dreams are gone, as is the optimism, but the pain at least goes away while they sleep. By 10am the next day however, it’s back.

Everyone stoops off to bed early that night, hoping to wake well again, but at 2AM the man sits upright and starts tearing the sheets off the bed. His wife tumbles out, screaming.

MWL: LOOK IF I JUST GET THE FUCKING SHEETS CLEANED WE’LL BE ABLE TO SLEEP JUST FUCKING SHUT IT, RIGHT?

Getting to the launderette is hard work, as he keeps skidding and sliding all over the road, arms and legs trembling. He manages to pathetically slouch into the launderette, where the Landerette man still waits, unaging, unsleeping.

It is only with Herculean effort that the man can get the bag on top of the counter, this time.

MWL: Need…. to wash…. these…. family… sick.

L: Of course, sir. Laundry services will cost you £160 tonight.

The Man With Laundry’s eyes go huge.

MWF: £160?! £160?!? That’s insane! That’s ludicrous! You can forget that!

L: Not a worry, sir. I’m sure you’ll find sleep and comfort eventually.

The Man With Laundry sags. Numbly, he pulls out his wallet and hands several notes to the Launderette.

L: Very good sir. Your washing will be ready in 5 hours.

The Man With Laundry doesn’t even complain, just goes to sit. Around him, haggard, gnarled people hug themselves and wretch dryly. Their skin looks like dried paper, their eyes are dull. Catching himself in the reflection of the window, the Man With Laundry is unable to recognize himself for a moment, or tell the difference between him and the tramp beside him.

He comes out of a daze and immediately checks the clock: 3 hours 17 minutes to go. A clean cut man has just come in with a bag of laundry, and seems pleasantly surprised by the complimentary session he’s just been offered.

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The Junky and the Lush – A Buddy Comedy

Burroughs and Waits make for a perfect and leveled sober-media-intake. If those two tortured, haunted, ethically-questionable souls can’t make you take a long, hard stare at your less-than-visible problems then I don’t know who will. James Frey? Maybe.

Junky is still one of the most depressing books I’ve ever read, and nothing that terrible even happens in it. There’s nothing quite like Burroughs’ own-brand of nihilism. Junky is an incredibly simplistic, pulpy novel about Burroughs’ self-insert ‘William Lee’ (kind of like Hunter S. Thompson’s Raoul Duke) and his decent into opiate addiction.

No… no that’s not quite right. Burroughs doesn’t descend; he’s already at rock-bottom before he learns what junk is. That’s what makes it so striking. Other novels and artistic works of this variety, such as de Quincy’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater and Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream fixate on the pathos of substance abuse; the surrendering of the soul to a bodily bondage of need, relief, and subsequent need. Most often, the primary theme running through all these works is that of ‘lost potential’ or even ‘innocence lost’, if the author is halfway empathetic towards those who have lost some degree of themselves to a substance which imprisons them.

In Junky, Burroughs never once indulges in self-pity. He talks about his rich upbringing casually, never pining after the life he could have lived, and matter-of-factly declares himself a junk addict and career criminal. What is even more fascinating is that Burroughs doesn’t revel in his iniquity, either. He takes no pride from being a junky, nor does he experience shame. He simply; Is.

What makes Burroughs so very unsettling is the unavoidable feeling that he simply doesn’t care about anything at all. Not in an ‘everything is worthless/smash everything’ way though. Burroughs, maybe more than most other writers in his era and perhaps more so then even today’s artists, sees and outlines what he considers the arbitrariness of Western society, the petty gauges by which we measure morality, vitality and importance. What appeals to Burroughs about the junk-life, I think, is the lack of pretense. Living as a junky allows Burroughs to move through life without adopting any of the meaningless rules, judgements and social-contracts that sober society mandates. There is no good or evil in Burroughs world, only different shades of junk-sickness and the necessary actions that must be taken to curb said sickness, regardless of what they might entail.

Waits is a bit less miserable, but not much. I’m not sure how he managed to do it, but Waits succeeded in putting on vinyl what being drunk sounds like, to me at least. The bawdry, masculine, surreal hopelessness of it all. Waits somehow manages to record all of those strange little tales that go in and out of your head when you’ve drunk yourself clopsy. Most forget them, so well done him.

I’ve always found Waits useful for depression. The Rain Dogs, Swordfishtrombone and Bone Machine albums have gotten me through more than one long, aching evening, and have succeeded in transforming my sullen mood into a fanciful and imaginative one. It was Waits I think who taught me that my misery could actually be one of my greatest advantages.

I don’t have as much to write about Waits, as I’m less of a nerd about music than I am about books.

Luckily it’s pretty easy to talk about them in the same breath, if only due to The Black Rider, which I would consider to be Waits’ weirdest album, and he’s released some oddballs in his time. A collaboration with William Burroughs, The Black Rider is… well I’m actually not sure, having listened to it several times. Is it a play? Is it a soundtrack to a film that doesn’t exist? Is it about junk, or is it going deeper?

Whatever lessons there are to be gleaned from The Black Rider, on a purely aesthetic level it already achieves greatness. It’s a very unsettling album, which is cloaked in a kind of darkly-violent fairytale. Waits has always had a bit of a ‘carnival/circus’ vibe to him, often inhabiting the role of a kind of ringmaster or compare and bellowing camp, vicious declarations from a megaphone. This synchs with Burroughs perfectly.

I think… I think perhaps one of the things which most unites Burroughs and Waits is their perception of archetypes. Characters in Waits’ songs and Burroughs’ books rarely have any touched-upon complexity, and so come to represent their most up-front characteristics, be they booze, wild living or junk addiction. I think the terrible secret Waits and Burroughs share is that past all the introspection and growth and personal developments, we really all are what we eat.

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