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Betsy Kepes

Writing Contest home

Betsy Kepes, Colton NY
The Writing Contest for Young and Adult Writers 2004
First Place in Category: One Act Plays, Age 21+

Friday Afternoon at the Kleen-N-Brite

Listen to audio adaptation (25:05)

a one-act play

CHARACTERS

  • MAVIS: an elderly woman
  • DOUG: a college student
  • PAM: a young mother of three
  • BRITTNEY: Pam’s eight-year-old daughter
  • TRAVIS: Pam’s six-year-old son
  • JAMES: a college professor
  • MALE BICYLIST: bicycling through northern New York State
  • FEMALE BICYLIST: exploring back roads and small towns with her partner
  • ARLENE: the laundromat attendant
  • ARLENE’S SON: a young, nauseous teenager
  • MEREDITH: James’ estranged wife

SCENE: Friday afternoon in a laundromat in a college town in northern New York State. The room looks well used, with two rows of washing machines, a row of dryers in the back, several long dented folding tables and numerous plastic chairs. A small table is piled high with torn magazines and wheeled carts stand near the dryers.

On the back wall, stage right, is a door labeled RESTROOM and on the back wall, stage left, is a door labeled OFFICE. Next to the office door is a pay phone and a change machine. On the other side of the room, near the restroom, is a brightly lit video game machine, a soda machine and a candy machine. Patrons enter stage left by a door that leads out to a parking lot. In the background an AM country music station is playing; the announcer talks in a fast nasal voice between each song.

When the lights go on, MAVIS stands at a table, folding her washing. Mavis is a North Country native and lives with her husband on a small dairy farm in the area. Mavis raised five children, grows a large vegetable garden that she cans for the winter. In her rare free moments she enjoys crochet and crafts. Mavis and her husband barely make ends meet and when their washing machine broke last year they couldn’t afford a new one. This hasn’t been a great hardship for Mavis because she comes into town once a week anyway to do her shopping and she has become friends with Arlene, the laundromat attendant.

Next to Mavis stands DOUG. Doug wears a university sweatshirt and has his cap on backwards. Doug is from southern New York State and has never before had to do his own laundry. He is a senior at a private liberal arts college in the area and is living off campus in a small, dingy apartment with his girlfriend Linda. Doug is learning how to cook, clean and now, do the laundry. He finds all this domesticity almost liberating, after a childhood spent in a wealthy home where everything was done for him. He knows one reason he was attracted to Linda is because she grew up in a poor North Country family and she had to do everything for herself, including getting a scholarship to the university. DOUG pulls his laundry out of a dryer and throws it on a table. He begins to stuff his clean laundry into a white laundry bag but then he notices MAVIS’S careful folding. DOUG pulls a t-shirt out of his pile and copies her folding motions. Then MAVIS folds a dress shirt, carefully and slowly, making sure that Doug can see her. DOUG quickly digs a dress shirt out of the pile and follows Mavis’s folding directions.

The pantomime continues as PAM enters from the door on stage left. Pam is only twenty-five, though she looks ten years older. She wears sweatpants and a purple sweatshirt with sequins sewn on to make glittery flowers. Pam got pregnant in high school and dropped out to get married. She now has three children and her husband is sometimes able to find work, especially in the summer. Pam and her family live in an old trailer on a lot next to her in-law’s house. Pam is an expert at finding bargains at garage sales, especially clothes for the children. The family uses food stamps and WIC and have been on and off welfare. Pam says this is her last child and then she wants to go back to school to be a beautician or a home health aide. Pam and her husband love to be outside and often go four wheeling together and snowmobiling in the winter. Last Fall Pam shot her first buck and as a present her husband had the head mounted and put a shiny plaque on it that read “WATCH OUT! WHEN PAMS PISSED HERES WHAT SHE DOES TO HER MEN!!”

PAM carries a basket of laundry on one hip. In her other hand she carries an infant car seat and a diaper bag. BRITTNEY follows her, dragging a bag of laundry on the floor. She carries a brightly colored jug of laundry detergent. Brittney is in third grade and loves going to school. Her favorites are gym and school lunch. She is learning to read though she still prefers TV. For her birthday her parents bought her three Disney videos and she watches at least one a day. TRAVIS runs in making loud race car sounds. He has his hands in front of him, on a pretend steering wheel. Travis is starting his second year in first grade; the teachers said he was young and needed another year to mature. Travis is not interested in learning to read though he loves recess, gym class and riding the bus.

Pam: (setting baby carrier on laundry folding table) Brittney, gimme that laundry soap. Travis, you stop screamin’ or I’ll smack you.

Travis stops playing and runs over to the video game. He drags a chair over to stand on. He pushs buttons and makes shooting sounds. Brittney sets the detergent on the table and joins Travis at the video game.

Pam walks to the change machine. She puts in a dollar bill. The machine does not make change.

Pam: Jesus! Damn machine is broke! I lost a dollar. (looks around) Where’s Arlene?

Mavis: (still folding laundry) One a her kids is sick, threw up at school. She went t’ git him.

Pam: Ah shit! Mine had that bug last night. They puked all over their beds. I let ‘em sleep late this morning but then when they got up they was fine and full of it. Their Dad ain’t workin’right now and he coulden stand havin’ them bouncin’ around the trailer so I says, Shit, I got enough laundry to do with all them pukey sheets so I’ll take the car and get out of the house with the kids. (she bangs the change machine) But Christ! How’m I s’post ta do my laundry?

Mavis: I got extra quarters. Arlene’ll fix the machine when she gets back. She’s got a special way to bang on it, works every time.

Pam: Brittney, get the money from that nice lady and don’t lose none.

Brittney crosses to Mavis. Mavis opens her purse and gives the girl a roll of quarters. Brittney crosses to the machines her mother is loading and one by one carefully adds quarters to the machine.

The door opens. PROFESSOR JAMES HUDSON enters, carrying a bag of laundry. He wears a dress shirt, tie, and jacket. Professor Hudson, in his mid-thirties, teaches at the private liberal arts college in town. He is from Boston and wishes he could get a job closer to the East Coast but he hasn’t had any luck and next year he will come up for tenure so perhaps northern New York State isn’t that bad. He is very absorbed in campus politics but knows almost no one in the village.
He looks around, uncertain.

James: Could I leave this for the attendant?

Pam: (being helpful) Arlene ain’t here. One a her kids puked up to school.

James: Oh, I see. Umm… will she be back in today?

Pam: Depends. If the kid upchucked all over himself she’ll probly have to go home to get him clean clothes, and she lives all the way over past Smiths Bridge. Now I wouldn’t come back jist for a couple more hours work if I lived way out there.

James: Oh, I see. I do … I would like… I need these clothes washed. I don’t have a washing machine in my apartment and usually I have the attendant do this for me.

I’m running out of clean underw… I mean, I was counting on her doing this today.

Pam: (finishing loading three machines) Ya got’n hour?

James: Excuse me?

Pam: Well, Jesus, sir, I don’t mean to be insulting but it don’t take a rocket scientist to do the laundry.

James: Yes, yes, I’m sure you’re correct but… I’ve never, I mean my wife, my ex-wife, always did that chore.

Pam: High time ya learned then! This lady here’s got extra quarters and I’ll give you a squirt a my laundry soap, got it on sale at Walmart. They was practlly givin’ it away.

Pam steers James to the washing machines. Pantomimes instructions. Brittney chases Travis around the room. As the children race past Mavis and Doug their carefully stacked piles of clothes are knocked onto the floor. Doug starts to yell something but Mavis puts a hand on his arm. Sighing, they both begin to refold their laundry.

The door opens again. A young couple wearing matching bicycling shorts and bicycling shirts walk in(their shirts feature patches of Canadian flags). They are long distance bicyclists from Toronto who are bicycling all the way to Halifax, Nova Scotia. The shortest route goes through the northeastern United States and they feel they will learn more about Americans on their journey. This is their first United States laundromat experience. Each bicyclist carries a small bag. They walk toward a door marked REST ROOM. Male bicyclist tries the door but it is locked.

Male bicyclist: (leaning toward bathroom door) Sorry about that, eh?

Mavis: (still folding laundry) No one’s in there. Arlene had to leave and she has to lock it when she’s not here.

Male bicyclist: (looking confused) Oh.

Mavis: You can walk down to MacDonald’s and use their bathroom. It’s not far, and it’s usually cleaner then this one anyhow.

Male bicyclist: Thanks!

The two bicyclists walk back through the laundromat and out the door.

Brittney takes the quarters left in the roll over to the candy machine and adds quarter after quarter. Travis joins her. They take their large handfuls of candy over to chairs far away from their mother and begin to chow down. Doug hums as he once again finishes folding his clothes. Still humming he turns to another dryer and begins pulling out a load of whites.

Doug: Holy Shit! ( in a loud and incredulous voice)

All the people in the laundrymat turn and look toward Doug. Doug holds up a white blouse crisscrossed with bright red lipstick stains.

Doug: What the fu…? Jesus, how was I supposed to know she had a lipstick in her pocket? (looking at the label in the shirt) And this would have to be the one she needs tonight for her waitressing job. She’s going to kill me. She was going to kill me before but now she’s going to…

Mavis: (mildly) Always check the pockets before you wash.

Doug: Christ, I did. I mean I checked all the pants pockets. And I was trying so goddamn hard to do this laundry right. She took this Gender Studies course last semester And now she won’t do my laundry any more. So I was going to prove to her that I could do it. She’s got a big paper due so I was washing for both of us and now… Shit, she’s gonna kill me.

Doug collapses into a chair, head bowed, blouse clutched in his hands.

Pam: (walking over and inspecting blouse) Waste of good lipstick! I like the color. Where’s the tube? (rummages inside the dryer)

Doug: (standing and pacing) She was mad at me when I left the apartment. She said I was such an incompetent that I couldn’t even do the laundry. And she was right. God, she was right. I mean here she is magna cum laude and the most beautiful chick on campus and I can’t even do the goddamn laundry.

James: But you’re way ahead of me.

Doug: (turning to see who spoke) What?

James: I never tried at all.

Doug: What are you talking about?

James: (sitting in a chair) I thought my work was far more important than doing the laundry. I laughed at Meredith when she suggested we share the household chores.

Doug: (sitting next to James)You laughed at her?

James: (with a chuckle that becomes a sigh) And she’s smart and gorgeous too. I lost her.

Doug: You laughed at her?! I would’ve gotten the boot then and there.

James: Yes, well it took a bit longer for Meredith to realize fully what an ass I was.

Doug: So what happened?

James: I continued to expect Meredith to do all the household work and her job at the Bookstore. I was writing a book and I told her I needed every moment I could seize to work on it. I stayed at my office all day, came home for supper and went back to work in the evening. She tried to be patient but… God what an ass I’ve been.

Pam: (to Mavis) Not much of a social life!

Doug: How about weekends? Didn’t you go out together, go drinking or shopping or something?

James (with a dry laugh): Oh, we went to an occasional concert or movie, but I felt I needed to work on the weekends too. And Sunday was for the New York Times.

Pam: (incredulous) Took him all day to read a newspaper?

Doug: So didn’t your wife (Meredith is it?), didn’t she get mad, yell at you, throw things at you?

James: I wish she had. She was always very understanding. She said she knew that writing a book was stressful. But after awhile I think she got tired of waiting.

Doug: So how long did it take?

James: Pardon me?

Doug: How long did it take you to write the book?

James: So far it’s been five years.

Doug, Pam and Mavis: Five years!

James: (defensively) It’s a long book on a difficult topic.

Pam: Christ, no wonder she left you! Working on a book for five years and ya ain’t even done yet? Steven King probly wrote seven books since you started.

James: (condenscendingly) I’m not writing a popular novel. Mine is an academic book. A result of my research.

Pam: So? Steven King went to college too! And he learned how to write books good and fast. I like it when they turn ‘em into movies, scares me to death!

(walks over to soda machine and buys a Coke. Brittney and Travis see this and run over. She buys them Cokes also.)

Doug: So when did she leave you?

James: Two months ago.

Doug: Have you said you’re sorry?

James: I…

Doug: You haven’t, have you?

James: It’s complicated…

Pam: Complicated? He ignores his wife for five years? What’s so complicated about that? I mean, he could have taken her out on Friday, to go bowling or up to the casino. It wouldn’t have…

Doug: (interrupting and ignoring Pam) I bet it’s complicated. But at least you don’t have this. (he holds up the white blouse with lipstick stains)

Mavis: Oh, that will come out easy. Just soak the blouse in white vinegar for two hours then wash it in cold, twice.

Doug: (jumping up) Really? I can get this white again? By tonight?

Mavis: It may have a wee pink color to it, but it won’t show in a dark restaurant.

Doug runs over and gives Mavis a bear hug. She looks surprised then smiles and continues to fold laundry. Doug then dances around the room with the stained blouse as partner.  
Travis and Brittney join him dancing. Doug stops when he sees James still sitting, his head in his hands.

Doug: Hey, Mr…?

James: It’s Dr. Hudson, but…call me James.

Doug: Oh. Dr.… James. You don’t have to let her go. You can fight to get her back!

James: I don’t think you understand.

Pam: That you were an asshole? Yeah, we understand that.

Doug: (glaring at Pam) Hey, give the guy a chance! I mean, here he is doing his own laundry.

Pam: Whoopee Ding Doodle! (Pam arcs her empty soda can into the garbage can).

Doug: Why don’t you ask her out to dinner, at a nice place, and you could tell her you’re sorry and split a big bottle of champagne and go back to your place together and…

Everyone is listening, leaning toward Doug.

Doug: And…(Doug looks toward Travis and Brittney) And you could show her your clean laundry and make sure you’ve got clean sheets on the bed and…

The bicyclists return. They both wear matching yellow raincoats and rain pants. They each carry a small bag of clothes.
Everyone in the laundromat stares at them.

Female bicyclist: We found the bathroom.

Pam: Was the toilet leakin’ that bad? (she laughs uproariously at her own joke)

Male bicyclist: We don’t have any extra clothes, eh?

Female bicyclist: So when we do a wash, we wear our raingear.

Pam: And nothing else?

Male bicyclist: Nothing.

Pam: I hope that fabric is soft, otherwise it could get painful, where the seams rub against sensitive skin. (laughs again)

Male bicyclist: You’re right on that one, eh!

(He walks bowlegged, slowly and carefully,over to the washing machine and puts in clothes. Female bicyclist adds hers then they sit next to each other, carefully, on the edge of their chairs).

Pam: (looking at Doug) So we’re back to the apartment, after that big bottle of champagne. (an aside to Mavis) This is better then the afternoon soaps.

James: (standing, tired of the story) Is my laundry done yet?

Pam: (looking at machine) Nope, you got eleven minutes left. C’mon, let him finish his story. (gestures toward Doug)

Doug: (looking at James) Not much more to say…James. I guess you’ve got to get yourself out of this mess.

James: I… I…

(starts sobbing into his hands and falls into a chair. Bicyclists look startled They both quickly pick up magazines and bury themselves behind them).

Everyone else reacts. Mavis shakes her head back and forth in sympathy. Travis and Brittney pause in eating their candy. Pam opens her diaper bag and gets out baby wipes. Doug sits down next to James and awkwardly pats him on the back.

James: (through his sobs)I’m such a damn stoic! She thinks I don’t care about her at all. When I moved out of the house she was crying and I said something asinine, some thing like, “No need to lose control Meredith.” Lose control! I didn’t want to lose control when I was losing my wife!

Doug: James, I… I wish I could help… Hey! Why don’t you invite Meredith out tonight, to Travioli’s, where my girlfriend works? She could get you a real private table, in the back, by the fish tank. Then you can talk, without anyone hearing. (glares at Pam and Mavis).

Pam: (not noticing the glaring look) Yeah, and then after you eat you can go out dancing. There’s a band tonight at The Squeaky Wheel. Do youse two know how to line dance? (Pam starts line dancing).

Mavis: And tell her about the laundry, that you did it yourself. (I’ll make sure you know how to fold before you leave.)

Doug: I’ll come and pick up my girlfriend, her name’s Linda, when she’s done with her shift and we’ll go out together. I bet Linda and Meredith would get along great. Didn’t you say Meredith works at the bookstore? Linda’s over there all the time. She loves books.

James wipes his face with baby wipes and takes a couple of deep breaths.

James: I’m sorry. I’m not sure what came over me. I don’t usually lose control of myself.

Pam: We don’t mind atall. Sure glad I had them baby wipes with me.

Doug: So are you going to ask her out?

James: I still don’t think you understand. I mean I’m not a college student. I…I don’t know how to.. It’s not appropriate for me…

Doug: Scared, huh?

James: No…it’s just that… Yes. I’m scared.

Pam: Look, it’s easy. See this? (she walks over to phone and holds the receiver in her hand) This is called a telephone. Put in a quarter, dial her number and woe-la!

James: But… she changed the phone number when I left. I don’t know the new one…

Pam: Ever heard of Die-rect-ory Ass-ist-ance? What’s her last name? I’ll do it for ya.

James: Rutherford. Meredith Rutherford.

Pam: OK buddy, watch how easy this is. Hello? (loud voice) Yes, I’m looking for Mer-eh-dith Ruth-er-ferd. Huh? What city? We ain’t got a city round here. Town? OK, why diddend ya say so? Lun’n (pause on the telephone) I said Lun’n, Like where the queen lives, L-O-N-D-O-N, got it? OK. Here it is, write it down someone. Here, use the lipstick. (She throws the tube to Doug who writes with the lipstick on a magazine he grabs from a pile) 389-2976. Thank you ma’am. Pam then hangs up the phone and turns to James.) There y’are. Now it’s your turn. (she holds the receiver out to James.)

James: But…I … not now….can’t…

Pam: Now or never buddy. It won’t get any easier.

Doug: She’s right James.

James drags himself over to the phone. Doug holds up the magazine for him to see the phone number. James starts to dial then stops.

James: I can’t…

Pam: Do I havta dial her number for ya too? Pam reaches for the phone but James dials. All are listening, watching, even the bicyclists.

James: H…Hello…Meredith? (pause) It’s me, James. No, no! Don’t hang up!   I… (He looks around. All nod encouragingly). I wanted to take you out to dinner tonight, to…(James looks at Doug who mouths “Travioli’s”) Travioli’s. (pause) No, no, I don’t want you to give me the house. I… I just want…to talk. (pause) You will?! What time? (looks at Doug. Doug holds up seven fingers.) Seven o’clock. Fine. OK… Good. Meredith?… I… I love you. (James gently puts down the receiver. Laundromat erupts in cheers, dances, etc.)

Pam: How romantic! James, I didden know ya had it in ya! (Pam stands holding a pretend phone by her ear then she shouts) Meredith, I love ya!

James is still standing by the phone looking stunned.
Doug pulls James back to a chair.

Doug: Way to go! OK, now, we’ve got the dinner planned- make sure to buy a lot of wine-then after dinner you and Meredith and me and Linda go out dancing and…

James: (as if coming out of a trance) Dancing? What dancing? No. I don’t dance. Absolutely not. I’ll… I’ll take her for a walk or… or…

Pam is clearing the chairs and tables, creating a large open space. The kids help.

Pam: Onct upon a time I didden know how to dance neither. Don’t take much to learn. Just gotta know left from right and be able ta count ta four. Now Brittney and Travis, they know a couple dances already.

James stands up, ready to bolt. He looks around, desperately searching for his washing machine.He opens the lids on several without finding his. Then he runs for the door. Doug intercepts him.

Doug: Hold on there. Easy does it James.

Brittney and Travis go stand by the door and block it with their bodies. Mavis goes to James’ washing machine and puts his laundry in a cart and wheels it over to the dryers, then throws clothes in the dryer.

Pam: Quick, here comes a good song on the radio!(music gets louder, a country western Swing tune.

Pam grabs James and tries to show him dance steps. James is clumsy, trips and stumbles but does try. Mavis finishes loading dryers. Watches for a moment then grabs Doug. Doug looks surprised but smiles when it becomes obvious that Mavis is an excellent dancer, as is Doug. They dance around the cleared circle, obviously enjoying themselves. Brittney and Travis leave the door and begin exuberant kid dancing. James watches Mavis and Doug and tries to copy their steps.

Pam: Now yer getten’ it!

Bicyclists watch then get up and join in, still wearing their yellow raingear. While all are dancing ARLENE returns with her droopy young TEENAGE SON.

Arlene wears green workpants, a blue long-sleeved work shirt, work boots and a big ring of keys on her belt. Arlene has been attendant at the laundromat for three years and loves her job. The pay isn’t great but she’s her own boss. The owner comes in twice a week to clear out the quarters from the machines, other than that Arlene has the place to herself. She doesn’t have to be at the laundromat until eleven so she cleans houses in the morning. The bus drops the kids off at the laundromat after school. Then she only works another hour before its time to go home.   If a janitor position opened up at school she would go for that, the pay’s no better but there are Benefits. Arlene is raising her four kids on her own. She hasn’t heard from her ex in two years now. He’s out West, she thinks. Arlene’s teenage son misses his Dad but knows better than to mention this to his mother. He’s the oldest of four and Arlene relies on him to help with the younger kids. He doesn’t mind but next year he’d like to play sports if he doesn’t have to babysit.

ARLENE opens the door, stands in the doorway for a moment with her arms crossed over her chest. Then, shaking her head, she shrugs and gets out her keys. She unlocks the office and the restroom, leaving the doors partly ajar, then she goes into the office. The son collapses onto the floor and lies down.

MEREDITH enters and stands in the doorway. Meredith met James when they were both at graduate school in the mid-west. James was older and finished his degree when she still had two years to go. They married and James had a series of one-year positions in universities around the country. It was a relief to finally have James get a tenure track job, though she knew nothing about northern New York State. Now Meredith has good friends here and admitted to them her unhappiness with James’ preoccupation with his work. Her friends were very supportive when she made the decision to tell James to move out. It wasn’t easy for her to do; she isn’t naturally a confrontational person. And she still wishes the old James, the one she had married, the debonair free spirit whom she could talk with late into the night, hadn’t disappeared.

MEREDITH carries a fancy dress on a hanger. She looks at the melee, amazed. Then Arlene comes out of the office.
Meredith goes up to her, music fades slightly.

Meredith: Excuse me.

Arlene: Yeah?

Meredith: I…(she has to yell to get above the music and noisy dancing) Do you do dry cleaning here? I need the spots out of this dress. It’s rayon, you see, so I can’t wash it in my machine. (Meredith seems flustered. Arlene looks at her impassively, arms across her chest). And… and I need it cleaned by tonight.

Arlene: (pulling plastic garbage bag out of garbage can) Can’t help ya. They bring the dry cleanin’ to Oggensville. Takes a couple days, sometimes more if they’re busy.

Meredith: Oh… but I need it sooner! (She crumples a bit then, to hide her disappointment, she turns away from Arlene and stares at the dancers. Suddenly she stiffens, looking shocked). James!

James hears his name, looks around. He sees Meredith and stops dancing, also looking shocked. Pam stumbles over James’ still feet then turns to see what James is staring at.

James: Meredith!

All the dancers stop. James walks toward Meredith, his arms outstretched. She backs up against the wall.

Pam: No shit! It’s Meredith! Just like the soaps!

Doug: Meredith?! She is gorgeous!

Mavis: His laundry will be done in a few minutes, dearie.

Meredith looks confused. She looks at the smiling laundromat crowd then she looks at James. He is continuing his slow, theatrical walk toward her. A new tune begins on the radio.

James: May I have this dance?

(in a formal voice, as if they are in a ballroom. James takes one of Meredith’s hands and kisses it. Meredith, still looking stunned, allows herself to be lead onto the “dance floor”. She dances with James. The baby in the baby carrier on the laundry table begins to scream. Pam picks up the carrier and dances with it. Crying stops. At the same time all the others pair off and dance: Doug and Mavis, Brittney and Travis, the bicyclists. Arlene stands watching, arms crossed over her chest. Then she reaches over and grabs her son off the floor and makes him dance with her.

Curtain closes.


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