THE COIN LAUNDRY on the corner near my apartment doesn’t have a change machine, so you have to buy a drink from the vending machine to get your change to use the washers and dryers. Normally this would drive me into a completely blinding rage, but this coin laundry is so precious, just three large dryers and four small washers on a tiny dingy shitamachi Tokyo street so small that it’s like a room. On some nights in spring or fall when there is no wind and the temperature is such that inside is no different than outside the street is in fact a room, a very long dark room barely wide enough for a car but of course there are cars, going both ways in fact, and it’s bordered on each side by the small concrete and wooden buildings and the little convenience store across the street from the laundry. More than any real street corner I’ve seen before it is like a Hollywood soundstage of a street, no not even Hollywood, not even that budget, more like a cheap sitcom of a city street, a Who’s The Boss city street or a high school play city street, black and tightly bordered meant to give the feeling of a small city street but too small and cozy and personable to be a real street. But it is a real street. This is what they told me New York looked like when I was living on crazy wide streets in the suburbs, streets big enough to be baseball diamonds and football fields and BMX race tracks, this is what the TV promised me New York looked like but New York doesn’t look like this only Tokyo looks like this. The TV didn’t even know it but it was promising me a strange Asian city all along.
This street is so small that a kid, maybe a fourth grader, 8 or 9 years old, is walking past the convenience store in his pajamas with his mother. Outside in his pajamas. Inside is just like outside here, this indoor street. You wouldn’t walk outside in your pajamas in the suburbs of Minneapolis, you are too exposed, you are outside there, and it is too far to get anyplace on foot anyway, but here in Tokyo it is natural, natural to go outside in your bed clothes, as natural as it was 100 years ago for men to walk around naked after their ablutions at the corner public bath. I would barely feel ashamed to do the same, tonight, right now; in fact, as I type this both of my windows in my 2nd floor corner apartment are wide open so that anyone from even halfway down the street could have a conversation with me as though we were sitting in a park. I am inside, but I am public. My pants are on, though.
But the laundry, or more accurately for me, the dryer, makes you buy a drink to get change. I don’t mind though; mercifully, they have grape juice. And they only charge 100 yen, normally its 120, but here they only charge 100 so that you can get an even 400 or 900 yen back, and it’s a perfect 1 coin for grape juice and 4 coins for dryness.
I also don’t mind having to buy a drink because I only do laundry on good days. Or more accurately, I only dry my laundry on good days. Sometimes, many times, on bad days I still have to do laundry, I still have to have clean socks and underwear for the next day, especially clean socks because we take our shoes off where I work and if I don’t have clean socks I will be a burden to my coworkers and an embarrassment to myself. It’s such a tiny office, it’s bad enough that all five of us often know exactly what the other is doing in the toilet which is only one pace from the office, maybe half a pace, and even though we never mention it, we can hear, we ignore it if a certain noise escapes every once in awhile, because we know that they have tried so hard to suppress it, so there’s no need to comment on that, but we can hear. But if I have to air out dirty socks all day, I will have no excuse. I mean, can we at least pretend like we’re in a professional environment here and not at a slumber party? I promise I will try not to point my sock feet at you while you work if you will do the same for me. And my socks will be clean.
So sometimes I have to do my laundry on bad days, and I try to do it right, but it never works. I have the washer at home, and sometimes it takes all of my effort just to walk the ten paces with a handful of dirty stuff and put it in there, put the soap in, and push start, and then I say, okay when that’s done I’ll get on my bike and take the clothes to the dryer, but then the clothes come out and make it back to my room and there they go in a pile on my floor and I sit and stare at them for five minutes and I am so tired of all the bullshit in life and stupid people and stupid things I know I will never do anything right again for as long as I live but I am safe up here alone in my room so fuck it nothing means anything anyway none of this matters the laundry will dry if I just leave it there on the floor maybe I’ll hang one or two pieces up on a hanger just to make sure I have something in the morning. I don’t have a clothesline, but it never fails, the laundry does dry right there on my floor, if I just toss it a little like a salad every day after work it’s dry within three days and the world keeps spinning whether I care or not.
But because I always drink grape juice when I dry, on good days, it has unbeknownst to me become my communion. I love grape juice, it is the strongest of all the common fruit juices, the strongest delicious thing to come straight from nature, maybe. It zaps your tongue and you have to be awake to drink it, it wakes you up, maybe that’s why they serve it in church. It opens the pores in your skin and the buds in your tongue and your nose, it enlivens your senses, so that you can sense beyond what you can normally sense when you drink grape juice, you must take pause when you drink grape juice and breath deep and take in your surroundings, you become calm and aware like an eagle or a lion stalking its prey or like the great wise philosopher on the mountaintop looking out upon civilization, you can embrace more with grape juice, and thus, you can truly commune.
But like I said I only dry on good days, I only manage that step outside my door and down the street on good days, and thus the world is in my heart when I go to the drying place, I am already embracing the world on drying days when I drink the grape juice, and if I happen to see a kid walking down the precious tiny soundstage street in his pajamas at that moment then I know that it’s a profound and beautiful thing because I am breathing deep all of god and people and earth and love. The grape juice simply wakes my consciousness up to that fact, so that I can contemplate it, contemplate that I am indeed communing right now, communing with All, can’t you see I want it all in my heart and I want to be known by all at this moment there is no shame there are no secrets we are all people even if you are naked on the street we are all people even if you are naked sitting at your computer we are all people there is no shame even if you have to draw the curtains when you are naked so that the people who are walking one floor below in the same room, they would call it the street, but you know it is the same room, you do not want to embarrass them they may not be communing just then, so you draw the curtains even if you aren’t embarrassed by your own nudity because you know there is no shame in the human heart there is nothing new under the sun because everything is always beautiful and there is so much hope for yourself and for humanity on drying day.