About a year ago, I fled a drug war in Culiacán, Sinaloa. In doing so, left behind armed guards at the grocery store, stray bullets in the streets, patrol choppers roaring over my apartment, and, yes, a washing machine.
Oh, how I miss that washing machine.
Huajuapan doesn’t have a drug war, per se, but doing the wash here is a battle all of its own.
It’s not for lack of lavanderías, however. Lavandería roughly translates to “laundry mat” but isn’t a laundry mat at all, at least not by my standards. Instead, a lavandería is where clothes go to die.
For 14 pesos a kilo (that’s about 50 cents a pound), you can drop your clothes off, and someone will “wash” and “dry” them and tell you when you can come by for “pick up.” Those unaccustomed with Mexican laundry mats are likely cursing my good fortune about now: Having somebody else do your wash for you certainly seems like a good deal.
Unfortunately, laundry service here is definitely an example of getting what you pay for: “Wash,” in a lavandería, means “soak in filthy water, throw in cheap soap, beat against rocks, stretch beyond recognition and then splatter with bleach.” “Dry,” in turn, means “blast 100% cotton garments in a heat that guarantees they shrink at least two sizes.” Finally, “pick up” means that you can come by for a bag of clothing that may or may not be your own, which means that somebody else walked off with your favorite black tank top and the green swimming suit that will be impossible to replace in Mexico because most Oaxaqueñas are 18 inches shorter and three sizes smaller than you are…
But I digress.
It took me a while to find a lavandería I could “trust” here in Huajuapan. I sacrificed several pairs of jeans, a least 30 socks, and the aforementioned tank top and bikini to the proverbial laundry gods before I found Lavandería Rocco, a laundry mat owned by two brothers that’s about a block away from my apartment. Over the months, we’ve struck a deal: I become their customer for life, and in turn, they don’t shrink, lose, stain, steal or otherwise ruin my clothes.
The Rocco brothers’ service is good, but not without drawbacks: As a small, family-run business, they’re often closed for days without warning, meaning that they’ve held my clean clothes “hostage” in their shop for the better part of a week in the past.
Their knack for being closed when I need them most has only worsened in the past weeks now that Lolita has gotten sick. Lolita is their dog, a mix of poodle and rat that they like to torture with pink sweaters and matching hair bows.
(One of the Rocco brothers is very effeminate, often greeting me with crimped eyelashes and a hint of mascara and lip gloss. The other couldn’t be more opposite, walking around shitless to show off the collection of tattoos on his chest. I think I know who Lolita belongs to…)
Just this morning, I dropped off nearly three kilos’ worth of laundry with the tattooed brother, and asked about the dog (I’m concerned about poor Lolita’s health, but my underlying motive was to know if the lavandería would be open on Monday. I’m leaving for a UN conference in Mexico City next week and need clean clothes to take with me).
He said Lolita was doing OK, and apologized for the many trips to the vet that had kept him from opening the shop. I smiled, wished him and Lolita the best, and said I’d call him Monday if the shop wasn’t open. (Yes, I have the lavendería’s number saved in my cell phone. That’s they way it’s done here in Huajuapan: Text us if you’d like, we may or may not respond, and you may or may not get your clothes this week.)
I then walked over to Huajuapan’s one and only tintorería (dry cleaner) to drop off my one and only business suit in preparation for said conference in Mexico City. I haven’t had much use for the dry cleaner here, seeing as how I haven’t had much use for my suit (my jean-and-t-shirt clad students wouldn’t know what to make of me if I came to school dressed so formally). I smiled as I approached the counter, presented my suit, said a silent prayer that it wouldn’t come back to me three sizes smaller and covered with bleach, and asked the girl when it might be ready.
My eyes widened. It takes a week to do drycleaning here? Are you serious? Clearly, I had been spoiled by same-day service in Chicago.
Time for Plan B. I quickly scanned the garment tags, which indicated that the suit could be machine washed in cold water. I hurried back to Rocco’s, hoping that they’d be able to clean it for me before I left for Mexico City on Monday.
When I got to the lavendería, it was closed. Damn it!
I shook my head, silently assessing my remaining options to get my suit clean in time. Did I take a risk with another lavandería in town? Wash it myself in my bathroom sink? Attempt to buy another suit somewhere in Huajuapan?
Suddenly, I heard someone call my name. The Rocco brothers pulled up on a motorcycle, the tough, tattooed one driving, the eyelash-crimped one riding on the back with Lolita and her pink bows in his lap. It was all I could do not to laugh at the scene.
The Rocco brothers are going to wash my suit for Monday, in theory.
Here’s hoping that Lolita’s feeling better next week. If not, here’s hoping that the United Nations doesn’t mind a blue jean-clad gringa serving as a panelist.