Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Laundromat and Marc

For years, every time I passed a certain laundromat on West 4th and Bank Street, I'd take its picture. Especially at night.

There's something sad and a little bit romantic about a laundromat at night.

But I also took the laundromat's photo because I worried about it vanishing. It has that look--old and shabby, and therefore real, a Velveteen Rabbit of a place.

The woman who works there could often be seen at a makeshift desk by the laundromat's rightmost window, working behind the shop's odd, geometric metal grill. She would regularly hang the grill with orange peels. Over time, the peels dried and created a sort of abstract art. I loved seeing the woman and I loved seeing the orange peels. (At this time of year, she also hung candy canes.)

I worried about the laundromat because it was old, but also because it was being encroached upon. A Marc Jacobs store opened across the street and another came right next door.

The juxtaposition of the two windows at night always captured my attention--the Asian woman silently working, head bowed behind her orange peels, and on the other side of the wall, a room full of young, excited people delirious for retail. I knew it couldn't last.

The laundromat has not vanished. But it has gotten smaller. You might not notice. It's not the sort of thing you notice unless you've been paying close (perhaps obsessively close) attention. And you might not think it's worth bothering about--the laundromat is still in business, so what does it matter if it's a few feet smaller?

But the window with the orange peels is gone. And that made all the difference.

The ever-expanding Marc Jacobs empire has expanded a bit more, broken through the laundromat's wall, and taken over the woman's former spot. "Little Marc Jacobs" got much bigger and the laundromat got much smaller--in size, yes, but mostly in feeling. With her window gone, you won't see the woman anymore, sitting at her counter at night, taking a little space for herself at the end of a long day of hard work. All you'll see now in that space is more expensive stuff to buy your kids for Christmas.


Lost Laundromats:
Lee's Laundry
Harry Chong's
Chin's Laundry


chummy's mum said...

Beautifully told Jeremiah, in words and as pictorial.

This was a particularly sad post. I don't know why it was extra painful to read about this. Maybe because I think the devolution of this neighborhood began with the first MJ store that moved in. Or because I know someone who has had fleeting personal interaction with MJ -- and I know he is not very nice human. Or because I think that the LV brand has gone hill since Jacobs had taken over as design director, with all of those silly pleats and heavy buckles he's so fond of. Or is it just because the business owner is Asian and I am too? I dunno. All of the above, I guess.

Mytyl said...

I used to live in West Village when the area was full of unique independent shops and had great warm neighbourhood atmosphere to it. Paris commune, Raffaela's, travel book store, Japanese antique store, angel fee, the flower shop, moondog icecream, etc. to name just a few. Now West village is just a roofless shopping mall. With 50 Marc Jacobs stores.

Ms. said...

"a Velveteen Rabbit of a place."sheer poetry!

randall said...

I think you may have just distilled the essence of your blog...and it smells like old dry orange peels and dry cleaning.

I don't think I want to live in a world that has no place for little eccentricities such as orange peels on a window grate; that instead prefers the cold calculation of modern retail over everything else.

Laura Goggin Photography said...

I never noticed the orange peels...and now I regret it. :(

BabyDave said...

This is such a touching piece. Thank you. I am peeling an orange this evening.

Jeremiah Moss said...

smelling of old orange peels and dry cleaning might be insulting to some, but not to me. (though i prefer the smell of laundry to dry cleaning.)

let's all peel some oranges tonight, that sounds lovely.

laura said...

i wonder is she uses the dried peels for cooking? or maybe for an herbal mix? they are really medicinal, an old tradition. i have a feeling marc J will take the laundry space & expand. they did that where i live, my little laundry is gone. the big chain liquor store now is larger, next to that is a dominos pizza. no small business could sustain themselves in that location. a little cyber place closed, then a greek resturant. in came the liquor store (dominos was there years before), & the landlord knew it was time to blow away another little guy.

Romy said...

Such a sad and beautiful piece, JM. And I love the picture of the lady standing in the laundromat.

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a beautiful piece of writing. Thank you.

When Marc Jacobs opened up a store in Provincetown, I thought that something just didn't feel right - in a town where retail ran the spectrum from thrift store to cocktail shakers to drag queen and leather paraphernalia.

Sure enough this coincided with an influx of straight folk who come to gawk at the gays like they're at a zoo. OrdinarilyI wouldn't make a distinction between straight and gay, but when straight people have 3598 other miles of space to explore in the US, they can stay the f%*& out of Provincetown. I've noticed that a lot of the bachelorette party/Carrie Bradshaw wanna be's strolling in and out of the Marc Jacobs store.

Can't MJ just stick to malls and leave our cities alone?

onemorefoldedsunset said...

Yes, I know what you mean about sad and romantic. All those small stores that tend to simple, everyday, personal needs. Public & intimate at the same time. Laundromats, barbers, beauty shops, shoe repair shops, liquor stores, coffee shops.
I loved reading this piece.

editrrix said...

This one also struck a chord of sadness in me; sad for that women who probably had no choice in the decision, sad that she lost her view of the street, and sad that retailers have so much power. Tell me, do you think we'll al still want to live here in ten years? In five? Thanks, Jeremiah, for always providing the human side of things, the details. You're an inspiration!

Jeremiah Moss said...

what's happening to Provincetown, thanks to Jacobs, is horrible. he donated a lot of money so he could open that store. and the bachelorettes are anathema.

laura said...

anon 11:39, many decades ago my parents took me to greenwich village. we saw the art show, the beatniks & the gays. i didnt know they were gay, & nonone talked about it. the village was a tourist place on wkends, except they only had tourist trap souvenier stores. because of liberal TV, gay is trendy, gay is family friendly. because of gay marriage, & gay child bearing, "GAY IS THE NEW STRAIGHT". you reap what you sow. get it? oscar wilde said "be careful what you wish for". the bigger the front the bigger the back. the activists wanted total acceptance, tolerence, & you got it. (saw them whine on public TV in the 90s, the transgender parents who were not accepted @ local PTA meetings). dont you just wish for the good old days, when it was INtolerable for boring straights to be around you? im straight, & you guys were much more fun before. see?? we are not all the same. we cant always intergrate. equal but seperate? maybe that should be the new tune. in the meantime get ready for manolo. & please, no more PBS specials. the damage has been done.

Anonymous said...

It must be Dr Laura schlessinger

Anonymous said...

Wanting equal rights had absolutely nothing to do with wanting to be integrated into straight society.

Anonymous said...

" It seems he had been frequently observed at the Club to put into his pocket the Seville oranges, after he had squeezed the juice of them into the drink which he made for himself. Beauclerk and Garrick talked of it to me, and seemed to think that he had a strange unwillingness to be discovered. We could not divine what he did with them; and this was the bold question to be put. I saw on his table the spoils of the preceding night, some fresh peels nicely scraped and cut into pieces. 'O, Sir, (said I,) I now partly see what you do with the squeezed oranges which you put into your pocket at the Club.' JOHNSON. 'I have a great love for them.' BOSWELL. 'And pray, Sir, what do you do with them? You scrape them, it seems, very neatly, and what next?' JOHNSON. 'Let them dry, Sir.' BOSWELL. 'And what next?' JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, you shall know their fate no further.' BOSWELL. 'Then the world must be left in the dark. It must be said (assuming a mock solemnity,) he scraped them, and let them dry, but what he did with them next, he never could be prevailed upon to tell.' JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, you should say it more emphatically:—he could not be prevailed upon, even by his dearest friends, to tell.' "

from Boswell's The Life of Samuel Johnson