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
- 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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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…
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
Doug: What are you
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
James: Yes, well it
took a bit longer for Meredith to realize fully what an ass I was.
Doug: So what
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
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!
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
Doug: Have you said you’re sorry?
Doug: You haven’t, have you?
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
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
Mavis: It may have a wee pink color to it, but it won’t show
in a dark restaurant.
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
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…
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
Everyone in the laundromat stares at
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
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
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…
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
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
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
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
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
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.)
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
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…
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
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’
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.
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
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.
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
Meredith: Excuse me.
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
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
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.
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.
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
(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