There are many things in this world I find confusing, trade tariffs, jazz fusion, literary agents and my latest enigma, the washeteria. Mind you, it’s not the washeteria’s function so much as it is the term itself. In Latin, washeteria is broken into two parts, the root, wash, meaning, “to clean,” and its suffix, eteria, who’s closest English equivalent would be, “signifying the presence of a short-order grill,” as in caf-eteria. Thus, logic dictates that a washeteria is an establishment where one can do laundry and consume a nourishing meal. Apparently my postulation was somewhat flawed. True, clothes are cleaned here; however, food in no way factors into the equation. (Later I discovered that following the Civil War, Southern belles, acting in symbolic defiance against the Yankee institution of Laundromats, founded their own version called the washeteria, a moniker intended to preserve the social charms of the old Confederacy.)
Given my faulty conclusion, you can only imagine my facial expression after ordering a cheeseburger from the Vietnamese woman behind the counter at the nearby washeteria. “And hold the onions,” I said reaching for my wallet.
“Vending machine there!” she replied pointing over her shoulder. I instantly felt dumb, yet the way she never looked up from the pizza delivery menu she was studying indicated I probably wasn’t the first to ever order the surf-n-turf special. To mask my embarrassment, I strode toward the machines, inspected the snacks lounging in their designated slots, and chose a candy bar that wasn’t a hamburger, but cost the same nonetheless.
As it turned out, this particular snack suffered from sudden acrophobia, freezing like a novice on the high dive and refusing to plunge into the access tray. Attempts to “talk” this jumper down proved futile and were abandoned after the woman behind the counter reprimanded me for ignoring the posted warning, “Do Not Kick Machine!” It would’ve been easier to forget this misfortune were it not for my daughter’s teddy bear, the victim of a midnight accident, who was now sloshing merrily in the washing machine’s window. The smug look in his eyes made me feel as if he were enjoying some raucous pool party to which I was intentionally not invited. I hated him.
Irritated, I searched for a dryer. The way people stood there, glued to the round screens, reminded me of shoppers watching TVs at an electronics store. During a commercial break, one “shopper” looked down noticing his son was holding a candy bar. He frowned, and then glanced towards the vending machine where the Vietnamese woman stood holding a coat hanger. They exchanged friendly smiles before the father returned to the broadcast of Heated Socks.
Feeding my remaining quarters into the dryer, I realized they wouldn’t buy enough time to finish the job. The washeteria had managed to stymie me, once again. Then I saw that cheery little bear pounding on the door, begging to escape the tumbling inferno. He didn’t seem so smug anymore. Suddenly, I felt much better.