This is a 'The Book That...' post from California-based writer and Bukowski fan, Mila Podlewski.
I had the afternoon off and was at the laundromat. Like any responsible college graduate with a full-time job, I was spending my free hours getting shit done. I was about 4 months into this new, “adult” chapter of my life. I was working as a waitress in my college town, having chosen to stay behind for a number of mature, well thought-out reasons, most of which were bullshit save for two: my boyfriend was still in school, and I had no idea what I wanted to do. Normally I would have been back in bed with said boyfriend, making up for that 6am alarm while he slept off his hangover and skipped class, but, as a result of an argument the night before involving a grungy bathrobe, hallucinogens, and the middle of a street, we were on another break.
So there I was in the laundromat. I actually like the laundromat. The warm, wet, detergent-scented air, the checkerboard floors, the way people’s clothes looked like bundles of rainbows whirling around in the machines, it’s comforting. You always see interesting people in Laundromats, too, ones who seem like they’d have great stories to tell if they weren’t too burnt out to tell them. Heartbreaking stories, funny stories, ones about dead dogs and dead-beat dads and landlords who refuse to pay to have leaky ceilings fixed and instead offer a pot to catch the falling drops.
I was reading Women by Charles Bukowski, given to me by my boyfriend, who fancied himself a handsomer, thinner, younger, undiscovered version of the writer. Aside from feeling slightly uncomfortable with likeness I found in Hank and Lydia’s relationship to our own, I enjoyed the book’s blunt honesty. Only real life could be so sad and hilarious and sweet and fucked up all at once.
Soon after starting my wash, I took a seat directly in front of the machine. I stayed mildly alert, just in case anyone tried to steal the clothes soaked through with the aroma of beer and coffee and bleach that seemed to seep from my pores lately, too.
I heard a squeaky voice ask, “Will you be here long?”
I looked up see a woman in a sweatshirt the colour of pepto bismol that had lost its pep. She was staring at me. Her jeans had been cuffed at least three times over and still dragged on the ground. “My mother is ill and I can’t leave her alone for long. Would you mind watching my things while I go get some groceries across the street?”
I told her I didn’t mind. I would be here for a little while longer.
Taking my job as laundry-watcher seriously, I periodically peeked up from the pages to check the pink sweatshirt woman’s bedding tossing up and down in one of the jumbo dryers. During one of these lookouts, two men carrying bulbous cloth bags walked in and dumped them on the floor by my feet before sorting through the pile of dirty clothes that had come tumbling out. One of them, a lanky redhead, sat down next to me.
“You look gorgeous today.”
“Thank you,” I smiled.
“What are you reading?”
I showed him the cover of my book.
Probably thinking that I was reading some kind of self-help book on female empowerment, he asked, “Are you learning things about yourself?”
I didn’t know how to answer his question. I looked at a pair of blue underwear that hadn’t made it from the floor to the machine. Pink sweatshirt’s laundry was finished but she hadn’t come back yet. A homeless girl sat under a table charging her phone while using it to call her mom. She had been sleeping in her car. A man had stripped down to his boxers and was politely sitting at the other end of the room reading a newspaper. I thought about the relationship that I knew had run its course and felt the only sense of direction that I had crumble and felt the eerie calmness of being alone. I may have been in a bit of a melodramatic mood thanks to the gloomy Oregon sky and my being exceptionally hungover and exhausted and hungry but, in all sincerity, the only person I had left to turn to lived in the pages of my book.
Maybe it is strange, that a 22 year-old girl would find kinship with a drunk, womanising (but not misogynistic, I’d say his problem was the opposite, loving women too much), irritable old man. Somehow, though, Bukowski’s - or Chinaski’s - ceaseless trudging through the ruins of our simultaneously monotonous and overly-complex world spoke to me. Even in his bleak pessimism, there was always hope. “Nothing was ever in tune. People just blindly grabbed at whatever there was…and then it all evaporated and fell apart. People had to find things to do while waiting to die. I guess it was nice to have a choice”.
A few weeks later I put some clothes and my cat in the backseat of my car and left. As poor as they may be, there were so many more choices to be made. There still are.
Mila Podlewski lives in Los Angeles and blogs at meohmila.wordpress.com.
Sam van Zweden was Writers Bloc’s Online Editor from 2013 - 2015. A Melbourne-based writer and blogger, her work has appeared in The Big Issue, Voiceworks, Tincture Journal, Page seventeen, and others. She’s passionate about creative nonfiction and cross stitch. She tweets @samvanzweden.