We called the laundromat “The State of Israel.” The middle-aged man who ran it was Golem-like in his silence and rage.
My husband and I saw him often in the liquor store, in his stained windbreaker, buying half-pints of vodka in brown paper bags. We felt bad for him. He probably had a Ph.D. in Spinoza.
At first, the idea of having someone else wash our clothes had bothered me. I liked being the only one who saw my crusty crotches, his stained underarms. Then this shame passed from me, the way so many others have. New York does that to you. Most things I told myself I’d never do, I have ended up doing: body piercing, Internet dating, cocaine.
There was also the issue of the political underwear. During the Bush-Kerry election, I had been involved with an organization called the Axis of Eve that made leftist panties. I still owned a thong that said DRILL BUSH NOT OIL, a DOWN ON BUSH bikini, and three pairs of boy shorts reading LICK BUSH, MY CHERRY FOR KERRY, and WEAPON OF MASS SEDUCTION.
I tried not to think about the angry Israeli washing my propaganda panties. I considered taking them out of circulation, but they hadn’t yet achieved the requisite level of decay. Besides, maybe the panties’ progressive message would slowly sink into our launderer’s consciousness. As the Buddha said, “The scent of flowers or sandalwood cannot travel against the wind; but the fragrance of the good spreads everywhere.”
So we sent away our laundry, week after week, enjoying our dissolute bourgeois lifestyle. The Israeli man stood outside his store, paper bag in hand. There was peace between our nations.
Until that memorable day when we were in such a hurry to go out to dinner that I scooped all the bed linens into a big ball, shoved them in the bag without looking, and dropped it off. Later on, while Ethan was unpacking the laundry, I heard a strange choking sound.
“Um, honey?” he said.
My husband stood amid piles of clean clothes, a plastic bag dangling from his hand. The bag had been neatly knotted at the top. We stared at it, then at each other.
“Do you think he washed it?” I asked.
Of the three sex toys in my possession, the Nubby G was the most obscene: a thick, curved, vibrating dildo in translucent plastic. “Nubby” referred to the hairlike projections that surrounded the base, designed to provide clitoral stimulation. “G” was for the Grafenberg spot that the vibrator was designed tobut didn’t reallystimulate. The G-spot is said to be the key to female ejaculation, my personal white whale. I’ve been trying to female ejaculate ever since I attended a seminar on the topic my sophomore year at Brown.
My husband put the vibrating dildo back in the nightstand, but I fished it out and threw it away. My feelings toward Nubby G were similar to those of a mother bird whose egg has been handled by man.
What I found completely astonishing was that my husband took our laundry right back to the State of Israel the next day, as though nothing had happened.
“But doesn’t it bother you at all?” I asked.
He shrugged. “It’s not like he doesn’t know we have sex.”
This is the difference between men and women. I now felt compelled to walk completely around the block just to avoid passing the State of Israel. Since it lay directly between Key Food and our house, this often meant carrying groceries an additional three blocks. This was completely worth it. Anything to avoid meeting the eyes of the man who may or may not have washed my dildo.
When I needed to do laundry, I now took it to the Dominican Republic, which was an additional two blocks away. It gave me an excuse to practice my Spanish. The Dominican ladies were nice, although, like the Israeli, they always lost my socks.
We outsourced our dry cleaning to South Korea, a few stores down. They did a great job, charged too much, and were cash only. Since my husband is a jazz pianist who performs in suits, our dry cleaning habits were profligate. One year the South Korean government even gave us a Christmas present.
“We spend too much money there,” my husband said, looking at the bottle of screwtop red.
It was undrinkable. I tried to fob it off on Juan, who drives my husband to the airport when he’s traveling with an upright bass.
“I think there is something wrong with this wine,” Juan said, squinting into the glass.
I felt bad. I would never have served free dry cleaning wine to a standard visitor but had assumed that Juanwho had once tried to show my husband a video of a woman having sex with a donkeywouldn’t know the difference.
As the months passed, I stopped having to circumnavigate the block just to avoid the State of Israel but walked past it quickly, head down, cheeks burning. My husband continued to patronize it. Moreover, he now chatted with the angry Israeli when he ran into him around the neighborhood. It was as though my vibrator had broken the ice between them.
Perhaps I was wrong to be ashamed. Maybe the angry Israeli, in fact, admired me and wished I would returnthe girl with the clever underwear, huge sex toy, and disappearing socks.
One day he was gone. The laundromat was shuttered, its windows covered with tan paper. We waited to see what would happen. Would it reopen? Would the man be back?
Signs appeared the next month advertising new management and the addition of several dryers. My heart lifted. At last I could stop schlepping to the Dominican Republic. I could walk the block between my apartment and Key Food without imagining my entire body, Tootsie-Roll-commercial-style, transformed into a giant vibrating dildo.
We never saw the angry Israeli again.
In New York this happens a lot. The places you took great pains to avoid become just another bagel shop or bodega. The same goes for the places you loved. If you last long enough, all of your enemies withdraw, leaving you alone on the battlefield. When it reopened, the State of Israel was run by Syrians.
Sarah Deming writes children's fiction, essays, erotica, and sportswriting. She coaches youth boxers in East Flatbush, Brooklyn.