Issue # 37
January 12, 2001
Sparkle City Memories
By Rich Wilhelm

I've recently spent a few hours at our local laundromat, for the first time since we bought our house in September 1999. This is due to a transition from an old dryer to a new dryer that took a bit longer than we anticipated. My visits to Phoenixville's Laundracenter brought back memories of the early days of our marriage and the time I spent at Sparkle City Laundromat.

Soon after we got married, it became clear to both of us that marketing was going to be Donna's big job and laundry was going to be mine. We did visit the laundromat together once, but for some reason I started going solo soon thereafter. We marketed together a few times also, but to be honest, I think I'd get bored and begin to drive Donna crazy, so that became her solo venture.

Our local laundromat in Northeast Philadelphia was called Sparkle City and was located in a little shopping center just around the corner from our apartment. It was next door to Dragon City, a Chinese restaurant. The shopping center also was home to a drug store, an Irish pub, and a dollar store. The store called Emergency Furniture just up the street was a great source of amusement for Donna and me. "Omigod, I need an ottoman!!", one of us would inevitably shriek whenever we drove past Emergency Furniture.

Sparkle City and Dragon City were operated by the same Chinese family. The grandmother, an ancient woman who did not speak a single word of English, was usually at Sparkle City when I was there, minding her young granddaughter and handing out laundry tokens. After she got to know me, Sparkle City Grandma would occasionally motion for me to walk over to where she was standing, trying to communicate with another customer. I think she wanted me to translate whatever problem the customer was having to her, but since I didn't know a single word of Chinese, I wasn't too much help.

Usually once the wash was going through its cycles, I'd settle in with my walkman and my journal and scribble away until it was time to move the dainty underthings and whatnot over to the dryers. I'd like to share some of this laundro-writing with you now. And I'm warning you: I've got so much stuff written at Sparkle City that this is probably the first of an occasional series. All entries were written at Sparkle City, except for the excerpt from a letter written about Sparkle City.

7/6/93/listening to U2's Achtung Baby--I just noticed that my load of towels is flooding the washer. It's not my fault though. At least I'm going to act like it's not. I should have known not to use hot water in a machine on that side of Sparkle City.

7/28/93--Sparkle City is, of course, a laundromat. The walls of Sparkle City are painted a dark sky blue. A sign is painted on the wall opposite me. It says "Welcome to Sparkle City Laundromat," with all the words intertwined in a clothes hanger. A ceiling fan spins around madly. Not just the fan, the whole fixture seems to be spinning, or more like wobbling, around. Looks like it's going to fly off the ceiling at any moment, but it's been like that since my first visit here nine or so months ago. I'm feeling pretty powerful right now because I've commandeered a bank of five washers, all of which are merrily spinning, washing and rinsing...

11/24/93--Sitting here at Sparkle City/Pants, shirts, socks, towels and things/Spin around and around and around/I really don't mind hanging around here/Kids frolic madly around the washers and dryer/While their moms and dads look for ways to keep busy/As their clothes tumble'n'twirl/A Chinese-language newspaper lays by me on this bench/As a little girl looks up at me with curious eyes.

The following is from a letter I wrote to my friends Greg and Kim on 11/3/93, a copy of which is taped in my journal: "At Sparkle City last night I somehow managed to drown three dress shirts in detergent--I think I put detergent in a machine that already had detergent in it. The shirts were just inundated with detergent. The Chinese woman who doesn't speak English scurried away with the shirts to let them drip dry or something and I returned to my Neneh Cherry tape...I had a hard time determining from the manager exactly what she did with my detergent-laden shirts, but finally she brought them out of the backroom and carried them out to my car for me."

12/6/93--Sparkle City/Another nite at the laundromat/Frank Zappa died today/I never listened to much of his music/But I will miss him/The Sparkle City coffee is on/I've never had the Sparkle City Coffee/and I don't think I want to try it tonight.

3/14/94--The laundry tumbles around in the washers. Blondie detonates in my ears. It's another Monday night at Sparkle City. I had a weird sensation walking through Penn Center this afternoon on my way to the El. It was a very distinct feeling that I was, at that very moment, walking into my future. Of course I was, we all are, every moment of our lives. But I don't think you always get that distinct feeling of your life in motion...

That same night I wrote the following, which I always thought would make a cool poem if I worked on it, which of course I never did. I'll leave you this week with "The Poet of Sparkle City," my poem-in-the-rough.

I would go into Sparkle City,
my favorite laundromat,
to wash'n'dry my clothes.
While there I would write pages and pages
in my journal, about all kinds of things.
God only knows what.

But I was not the poet of Sparkle City.

This little girl,
who would twirl and whirl herself around the floor
until she was happily dizzy;
Who would talk softly to herself
in a baby language I didn't understand;
Who would hide behind the legs
of the old woman reading
a Chinese newspaper;
And who would play a very serious game of
Hide and Seek
with me from her position behind her Grandma
as Achtung, Baby! blared in my earphones

This little girl, growing up bit by bit
as I did my laundry each Monday night.
She was the poet of Sparkle City.

(Please feel free to email to others who may be interested or to print a hard copy for them but remember: The Dichotomy of the Dog is copyright 2001 by Rich Wilhelm. If you plan on making a bazillion dollars from this piece of writing, please let me know so I can sue you or something.)