Splish Splash February 11, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in Faubourg St. John, Fortin Street, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Splish Splash, washeteria
There is something about the laundromat, a plastic electric resonance it shares with the two-tap-and-a-tv dive bar and the bus terminal which makes these places as familiar to their likeliest visitors as the parade of names at the mall is to the people they most likely work for. I love the fluorescent shabbiness, the incessant televisions, the chairs designed for some proximate species but we’re not here for the ambiance, exactly. The comfort in these places is the instant camaraderie of people who are there by necessity. It doesn’t matter if you are Charity-born poor or fell into it by way of that degree in art which led to a career in tattoo, once you walk in you’re one of us.
I live on the sketchy edge of the fashionable Faubourg St., John just over the renters-insurance redline and facing the track. Just up the block the owners of the grand homes beneath the oaks have their own front-loading washers and dryers. Smack in the middle of this atmosphere of elegance sits the Splish Splash, next to the now closed neighborhood drugstore and the abandoned, half-renovated Circle K, a reminder that all around the stately homes of Esplanade and Ursulines lies a neighborhood of once working class shotgun doubles. Inside the stucco-faced washeteria there is nothing faubourg about it: a vinyl floor, clean enough early in the morning but past all point of mopping, rows of large and small washers and dryers rolling along except the one half disassembled for months with the parts inside the drum. The only place to sit inside is in front of the television, and there is never enough table space and no sitting on tables allowed. The crowd is about equally divided between those who pick up a coffee at Fairgrinds or a single beer from somewhere or an orange drink from the vending machine. The last are the Latino workers from the back of the track. The women stay inside and chat and laugh while their children run about. Their men or the single men tend to congregate on the bench outside and talk about trabajo and futbol as best I can make out when I step out for a cigarette.
The Splish Splash is not some chic urban cruising laundromat but there is always a certain amount of side-eyed appraisal between the singles of the coffee variety. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anyone striking up a conversation with a stranger for more than a few sentences. Laundry is a chore and double if you have to haul it down to the corner and fight for a dryer. The Latina women always seem to come in pairs, with or without their men, and their endless and gay conversation is a soothing relief from the chattering television and the endless thump-thump-whop of the machines. (We will, we will, dry you, dry you). Many patrons come and go between wash and dry, coming back with a fresh coffee or groceries from Cansecos. It is that kind of corner, with two neighborhood groceries and until deBlancs closed, a drugstore. Easy enough to get all your errands in if you drive over and park in the deBlancs lot
It’s easy to live in this city and never see past your unconscious blinders what sort of city this is. Many people like to compare New Orleans to San Francisco but in reality this city is much closer to the blue-collar bricks and sticks of Baltimore than to tony Frisco. It’s a working man and woman’s city with most of the real money–outside of the faubourgs with their Lloyd’s real estate signs and hired police patrols–long fled to the outskirts. Those who cling to the lakefront often take Orleans Avenue on the other sketchy edge of my neighborhood, one only real estate agents would call Bayou St John. They travel that road to and from work every day and I wonder if they see the old men in straw hats laughing in the shade on the neutral ground, the beers from the corner store their fountain of eternally recalled youth, or that elderly couple sitting on their porch, silent, their bent metal clam chairs angled apart as if what was between them were a repulsive anti-pole, a force they could only overcome together but can’t or won’t.
Back on Esplanade the Splish Splash never rises to discussion on the neighborhood mailing list, although every other local business does. Unless someone pulls a gun or the place burns to the ground in a flash fire of neglected lint it is invisible, a little puddle in the gutter of elegant Esplanade Avenue, lacking the bohemian charm of the bicycle clutter outside of Fairgrinds. Inside we know it is as warm and friendly as Liuzza by the Track, with its own crowd of first name or nodding acquaintance regulars as familiar as the check-out girls at Cansecos, as much a part of why some of us live here as Cafe Degas.