All I wanted was to have my clothes washed once a week. Doesn’t sound too difficult, right?
But there are almost no self-service laundromats in Mexico like there are where I’m from in the United States, ones where you take your clothes, put some money into washers and dryers and then walk out later with clean, dry clothes.
What you do find in Mexico are lavanderías, small places (actually, almost always just the front room of someone’s home) where you bring your clothes to be washed, dried and folded for a couple of bucks.
A bargain. But a challenging one at times.
Because lavanderías aren’t exactly a business. They’re really just places where someone has cleared out a room and put in a couple of washing machines and maybe a dryer or two. I guess you could call them a family business, with the emphasis on “family.”
If the family needs a day off or is attending a local fiesta, the lavandería will be closed. Sometimes for days. Without any warning. And even when they are open, getting my clothes washed — and, equally important, returned — often requires perseverance and keeping my temper in check.
The lavandería I usually go to, which is only a couple of blocks from my apartment, has now been closed for several days. This isn’t all that unusual. They seem to need a lot of days off.
Despite this inconvenience, Angélica, the woman who runs it, is nice, and I continue to go there when she’s open. When she’s not, I go to another lavandería called Las Siete Gotas (The Seven Drops), which is about a 15-minute walk from my apartment. Having my clothes washed there’s always an adventure.
I once dropped my clothes off there and was told they’d be ready the next day in the afternoon. I know how Mexicans often estimate time and figured they’d be ready late afternoon at best.
So I stopped by the lavanderia the next day at 4 p.m. I was told they’d be ready by 6 p.m.
I wasn’t thrilled because I was almost out of clean clothes at that point, but there wasn’t a lot I could do. So I headed back to my apartment, worked a bit and, a little after 6 p.m., headed back to the lavandería.
Still not ready. And when will they be ready, I asked?
“Una hora.” (One hour.)
Another 15-minute walk back to my apartment; at least I was getting some exercise.
A little before 7 p.m, I headed back there, and as I approached, the woman gave me a little finger wag — the clothes still weren’t ready.
“They are not dry, señor.”
They were not dry because she had yet to put them in the dryer.
I decided not to point that out to her and instead asked her to give me one pair of pants. I took them and told her I’d be back the next day.
I headed back to my apartment with a damp pair of pants that I carefully draped above the space heater, hoping they wouldn’t catch fire and would be dry by morning.
Raging optimist that I am, I returned to Las Siete Gotas the next day, fully expecting to leave with clean clothes. I waited until late afternoon, figuring the more time the owner had, the greater the chance I had of getting my clothes back.
“Hola,” I said as cheerily as possible when I arrived.
“The clothes are not ready,” she said, “I have not folded them.”
I don’t know why I didn’t just ask her to hand them over. “When will they be ready?” I tried hard to keep a smile on my face.
I waited until that evening, three hours after I’d been told they’d be ready in 30 minutes. When I arrived, she was in the back, eating. As soon as she saw me, she pointed to her food and then to her mouth.
“I am eating,” she said.
“I need my clothes.”
“They are not ready,” she replied. “They are not folded.”
“But I need them. Please just put them in a bag.”
She did this, although not without showing displeasure at having her meal interrupted. She charged me 61 pesos (about US $3). I handed her 70 pesos, a 50-peso bill and a 20.
“I do not have change,” she said.
Given that response, I actually expected her to keep the 50-peso note and hand me back the 20 pesos, but she started walking away; it was clear she was going to keep all the money.
Although we’re talking about me paying about 50 cents extra, I was annoyed enough by now. I wasn’t going to give her one peso more. “Excuse me,” I said with just a hint of annoyance creeping into my voice. “It’s 61 pesos, not 70.”
She slowly walked back, reluctantly handed over the 20-peso note and returned to her meal.
A week later, the lavandería that’s a couple of blocks from my apartment was open again. I dropped my clothes off and was told they’d be ready the next day. I told Angélica that I really needed them because I was leaving town for a couple of days. She assured me they’d be ready that afternoon.
Of course, when I went to pick them up, she was closed.
Frustrated, I decided not to go back to either place. Happily, I’d found another lavandería just a couple of blocks away. Amazingly, they were open when they said they would be, and my clothes were ready when they said they would be too. My laundry problems had finally been solved.
Then, I woke up one morning with a couple of what I assumed were mosquito bites on the back of my neck.
That night, I slathered on bug repellent but found more bites the next day. In bed that night, I felt something nibbling on my neck. I grabbed it, turned on the light and found a well-fed chinche. A bed bug.
I leapt out of bed and squashed several of them on my pillow. They had to have come from the new lavandería.
I threw out the mattress, pillows and bed frame and spent the next month boiling — yes, boiling — every sheet, bedspread and article of clothing I had. After boiling, I sealed everything made of cloth into bags and placed them in sealed containers. I sprayed the apartment several times a day for three months.
Everything I read tells me it’s damn near impossible to get rid of chinches, but after three months, I appear to be victorious.
And I’ve decided it’s time to buy a washing machine.
Joseph Sorrentino, a writer, photographer and author of the book San Gregorio Atlapulco: Cosmvisiones and of Stinky Island Tales: Some Stories from an Italian-American Childhood, is a regular contributor to Mexico News Daily. More examples of his photographs and links to other articles may be found at www.sorrentinophotography.com He currently lives in Chipilo, Puebla.