COMBING THE CARIBBEAN - THE LAUNDROMAT


Once you’ve become bored with sailing, swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, surfing, wind sailing, water skiing, hiking, sunshine and rum, horseback riding, sunshine, reggae music, dancing , rum, wine and general idling about, there is almost nothing to do in the Caribbean. Though we discovered two venues where you can stave off fits of ennui.

A trip to the laundromat alleviates that void for locals and is usually missed by tourists arriving by yacht or cruise ship. Because the cost of a television, washer or dryer is prohibitive for many, the laundromat has become the social focal point. Gossip is exchanged, rumors spread, debts paid, peace made and arguments begun. But, far and away the most exciting and inventive part of laundromat life are community televisions.

On St. Thomas, the laundromats are NOT differentiated by the quality of their washers or driers but rather on the quality of their television sets. The two most popular laundromat venues are the ones featuring SOAP OPERAS or GAME SHOWS.

Clever business owners place their television sets strategically so they may be viewed by patrons, from every nook and cranny during any part of the washing process. Each television is tuned to the same show. But the real show is not on the screen.

I never was one that relished the wash, dry and fold cycles. Oh, I did it. I just didn't relish it. My first trip to the “Game Show” laundromat changed me forever!

I followed Barb through the door a few minutes after ten on a Tuesday. I was the pack animal. Hunkered down with a box of soap, that non clinging thing you toss in the drier for some reason, a duffle bag stuffed with a combination of male and female; skivvies (boater speak for underwear), towels, shirts, shorts, and what was left of our socks. We never wore socks. We walked barefoot. Occasionally in thongs. On the boat, socks morphed into dish rags, dust cloths and deck wipes. I wouldn't put on socks until months later when my feet got cold on the flight back to the United States. They were in bad shape. Not my feet, my socks… ah, but I digress…

The GAME SHOW LAUNDROMAT was crowded. An elderly white haired, dark-skinned woman pointed out an empty chair where we should wait for the next available washing machine. I started to thank her; she shook her head, placed gnarled finger over her lips and said, “You sit over there, and be quiet now.” We follow directions well. We sat over there and stayed quiet now. A general hush passed over the gathering. It lasted only an instant. Simultaneously, from the seven strategically placed televisions came a scream.

“COME ON DOWN!” Almost everyone in Laundromat echoed “COME ON DOWN.”

Again.

“COME ON DOWN!” A resounding chant echoed through the Laundromat “COME ON DOWN.” It was infectious. Like at a sporting event and everyone’s yelling, ‘DEFENSE, DEFENSE,’ and you get caught up in their passion and suddenly realize you’re rooting for the wrong team.

By the third ‘Come on Down,” I was hooked. When the television audience sang

“COME ON DOWN!” I shouted right along. “COME ON DOWN.”

Again from the television speakers came “COME ON DOWN.”

I’d joined a choir. I was in the middle of rock concert. The assembled had been whipped into a frenzy. I tried a little harmony in my next Come on Down.

“COME ON DOWN.” We screamed. I leapt from my chair clapping my hands, doing some stupid ditty with my feet and tried to time my next shout perfectly. I decided to lead the pack and shouted, “COME ON DOWN.”

But I shouted alone. The television audience was silent. Thirty plus heads in THE “GAME SHOW” laundromat craned in my direction in various grimaces of derision and disdain. Barb grabbed my t-shirt and yanked me back into the chair. “Sit.”

I’d experienced the ‘THOSE DAMN TOURIST” glares before, but not with such intensity. Thankfully it passed quickly with a burst of applause as Drew Carey sauntered on to the stage. He bowed to the accolades and read out a name slowly: “Sylvia Smith, “COME ON DOWN.” I was forgotten. A thing of the past.

“COME ON DOWN!” yelled my fellow laundry people. Two more women were summoned. Two more times “Come on down” peeled from the television sets and two more times it ricocheted around the Laundromat. And by this time I knew the drill. I stopped on cue.

The fourth name dampened the enthusiasm of my fellow launderers. Drew Carey looked up the crowd and shouted, “Thomas Aspell, COME ON DOWN.” While the television audience cheered, “COME ON DOWN.” A soft murmur of disapproval

waifed through the laundromat.

“He picked a man?” A woman stopped folding towels.

“He gonna lose,” came from the dryer section.

“No man gonna win.” A man agreed shoveling a spoonful of detergent through the open lid of a washing machine.

I turned to Bobbie for support. She shrugged. But I don't think it was a shrug of support.

“Dey never win. Men stupid, an don’t know the price of nothing anyway.” A mother and daughter team were folding a large bed sheet into small squares.

“Amen, amen,” chorused through the room. Disappointment was everywhere. The laundromat people were talking a dim view of Tom Aspell. They wanted action. A contest. Blood.

I could imagine Caesar sitting in his box seat in the Coliseum trying to convince a disappointed crowd of fifty or sixty thousand, “Well that’s it for today my fellow Romans, we've ran out of Christians, maybe next week.”

The contestants were instructed to take their positions on ‘Contestants' Row.’ That’s what they call it. Google it.

The women immediately assumed their spots behind the bidding podiums. Aspell meandered around the stage until Carey directed him to the open podium directly in front of him. I wondered if Aspell had ever seen the Price is Right. I know for certain he never expected to appear on the show. He never made it past the first round. He made a feeble $35 bid for a top of the line Cuisinart.

“Thirty-Five dollars? Man’s an imbecile.” A woman eased a large stack of diapers to one side.

“Fool.”

“Told you men not be knownin’ no prices.”

“Bet he thought it was a blender.”

I stopped listening. I bowed my head and ESP’D a silent message of condolence to Mr. Aspell. I thought it was a blender too.

Hell the damn thing sure looked like one. Pregnant maybe, but a blender never-the-less. I bet $27.50 but I didn't share that with Barb. One male fool a day was enough.

Just as a washing machine became vacant, Sylvia Smith got a shot at the final prize. Ironically, a seven day all expenses paid cruise of the Caribbean. Barb glanced up at the television, “$3,025.”

Sylvia won the cruise, but Barb was closer to the right price by $113.


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