Coin-Operated Laundry

I opened the lid of the Maytag Commercial, measured half a capful of Tide with Downy, and dumped into the machine, my shopping cart full of bathroom towels and rugs. Then, I pulled six quarters out of my change purse and slid each into the slot. When I heard the tub fill with water, I felt as proud as if I had just been handed my college degree.

"This is a scene I never expected to witness," said Tommy. I had conjured my deceased spouse for this episode because I knew he'd get a kick out of seeing his Jewish Princess in a coin-operated laundry.

My mother, a neighbor of his in heaven -- who evidently couldn't resist an opportunity to jibe -- weighed in. "Somehow I thought your relocation to Los Angeles would move you up a notch," she said. The tone was familiar, one I recognized from my childhood that usually accompanied, "Stand up straight," or "Comb you hair."

"Why have you two teamed up to rain on my parade?" I said. "Couldn't you let my pride sustain for at least one cycle? I'm pleased I'm not thrown by this humble chore after enjoying in-home laundry for the past three decades."

"You're right," Tommy said, "but I remember how sorry you felt for me when I told you I once spent every Friday night at the Laundromat. I can still see your tender expression after I moved into your townhouse and you escorted me to your washer and dryer."

I hit pause on this dearly departed dialogue to recall the setting he described. It was 1996 and we had enjoyed a whirlwind romance. Tommy, only a few weeks after our first date, transferred clothes and favorite furniture from the apartment he lived in down the block to my place. We were both singles in our 60's -- he a long-time divorcé, me recently separated after a 30-year marriage -- and our compatibility encouraged a leap.

Although we were compatible, and did have similar opinions in music, television, plays, and pets; Tommy and I differed in religion and income.

It was these two mismatches that I intended to remedy. I would groom my second husband to be a Jewish Prince. There would be no more Friday nights sitting in a chair at the Laundromat with his latest paperback mystery as companion. With me, came a willing laundress who was tickled to offer this perk to my sweetie.

Along with the in-home washer and dryer, I pressured my prince to accept a new suit for our wedding, a set of golf clubs to replace his vintage batch, and his own Honda Accord. I mention these, not to extol my generosity, but to emphasize that Tommy didn't request these gifts, didn't care about money, and would've married me with none of my perks. But, I was so delighted to be with such a low-maintenance guy, whose only goal was to make me happy, that it brought me pleasure to shower him.

"Such a sweet story," my mother said, yawning at my exposition. "I like Tommy, don't get me wrong," she said, winking at him. "But I had hoped that for your second marriage, you would've landed someone who would spend money on you. You can't blame me for that."

Then, she wrapped an arm around her son-in-law, and fixed a red-stained kiss on his cheek. Tommy, who appreciated attractive women -- and Mother was a knockout -- smirked.

"And now, we find you in a dreary laundry room off of the garage, feeding quarters into machines. This is not where I expected to find you," she said.

"Just like you didn't count on a life behind the counter of a mom-and-pop grocery store," I said.  Mother's face changed. I had erred in reminding her of those years when she struggled to keep our business afloat while my happy-to-lucky dad steered it into one debt-laden boulder after another.

"Sorry, Mom," I said. "I know you just want the best for me. But, despite this laundry room, I'm really enjoying my Los Angeles apartment and life. I get to see more of your granddaughters and great-grandchildren, and I don't have to deal with Chicago's winter."

This brightened her; Tommy was smiling, too. Now it was my turn to grin as he took his mother-in-law's hand and said, "Okay, Min, time to go back. So, she's down here doing her laundry. If she can live with that, we shouldn't complain." Then he added, "Love you, sweetheart," and faded from my imagination.

"Me, too," Mom said, and before she disappeared, gave my cheek the red twin of Tommy's.