Children used to provide cheap labor, and retirement security, all in one. Now they're pretty much all cost and no return, from a financial perspective. That suggests that subsidies might solve the problem. Vladimir Putin thinks so, as he plans to offer generous parental benefits to encourage citizens to have more children, something that's necessary as Russia's population is in absolute decline. (Italy, which is also in demographic free-fall, is doing something similar).
Saturday, August 16, 2008
Posted by Mike Stajduhar at 6:20 PM
When we moved to the beach, here in California we were very lucky. We found a place that was affordable, had nice sea breezes, parking, a balcony, and all the modern conveniences...save one: on site laundry. We could have had it installed, we've talked about it...but it just never happened. In part it was the expense, but also it just didn't seem like an urgent priority. In fact, we probably felt a little thrifty for not running out and buying a new washer and dryer and paying to have them installed. So what if it meant that each week one of us would have to spend a few hours at the local Laundromat.
Now I wonder if you can guess which person in my marriage is stuck with laundry duty. On the one hand we have The Wife, a successful but slightly overworked, high-power attorney...who also happens to be seven months pregnant. Then on the other hand you have me, a largely unsuccessful writer who sits around, writes blog posts now and again and but mostly looks at porn on the Internet all day. Now I've tried to explain to The Wife that I have to do what I do or the terrorists win. Unfortunately, she's largely unimpressed. Needless to say, I'm the one trying to match socks each week.
Los Angeles is a very segregated city-not in the formal, legal sense of course, but neighborhoods tend to be mono-ethnic. Drive a few blocks in one direction and suddenly everyone is black. Go a few blocks the other way and all the signs on the business are in Chinese. There is a bit of this in all American big cities I suppose but it seems more pronounced in LA.
Where I live, on the coast is very white and relatively affluent. Unfortunately that also means it's relatively hard to come by a laundromat. There is however a working class Mexican neighborhood just inland, perhaps 10 minutes by car. Exactly the place for the perfect place to do your laundry.
It took me a few tries to find a place I liked but eventually I settled in. The place I'd go to was relatively clean and fairly large, which meant that I could do all my laundry at once and get in and out in about an hour. Now some Laundromats have lots of amenities. There was a place that I went to a couple of times when I was in college that served beer for example-this place on the other hand-not so much. No sink to hand wash items, no bathroom. They did have a couple of TVs but they had been set to Spanish language channels and the knobs had been removed (yes they were old enough to have knobs, which should tell you something about the picture quality). Now I like watching Judge Judy in Spanish as much as the next guy...but after a while it gets a little old.
They also had gumball machines-only there were no gumballs to be had. Instead they had little junk toys, phony gold chains, temporary tattoos, that sort of thing. The best one by far though dispensed inch high figurines of Catholic saints, the Virgin Mary, and even the big man himself...Jesus Christ. Now lets face it: doing laundry is boring. If it were fun, pregnant high-power lawyers would do it. So anyway, from time to time, when the chore of doing the wash was dragging on, I'd purchase a few figures....and play with them. Sometimes Mother Theresa would go on a blind date with St. Peter. Other times Pope John Paul II would have a Kung Fu fight with Our Lady of Guadalupe. Needless to say the Mexican ladies who were doing laundry while I was there would tell their children to stay away from the weird gringo.
I was reasonably satisfied with my laundry mat until one day I discovered one much closer to home. It was round the back in a strip mall, near a deli I'd go to from time to time. It was shinny and new and all the customers were U.S. citizens. The pull was irresistible. Now I knew how John Edwards felt- I began cheating on my laundromat.
At first it was wonderful. Everything was clean, they had a sink and a bathroom (though I'm not sure I'd want to use it and besides it cost 25 cents). You also didn't feel like you had to check and see if your car had been stolen every 10 minutes. It wasn't all gravy of course. Contrary to what you might expect, there were for example relatively few nymphomaniac college girls there...and the few I did run across tended to be put off by paunchy middle aged men who were folding their wife's laundry. No accounting for taste I guess.
On the whole though I liked the new place very much. Then one day as I was folding shirts, a homeless man came up to me and asked for money so that he could do his laundry. I paused for a moment and thought about how difficult it must be to ask a stranger for something like that. "Of course" I said "How much do you need". A little shamefaced, he told me and I gave him the money. Afterwards, I felt kinda good about it...clean clothes seem like such a small thing-until you can't get them. I felt like I had really helped him.
A few weeks later I was approached again (by a different man) and again I was eager to help...and yet it was also a bit of a nuisance. I found myself wishing he hadn't been there. The old Laundromat had none of this sort of thing. People who sneak into this country looking for work aren't very sympathetic to "there but for the grace of God go I" type guilt trips. The Mexican ladies at the old place would have told this guy to get a job...and perhaps they have the right idea.
Anyway I went in today to do laundry and to my joy I noted that the washers and dryers near the back weren't taken (the dryers in the back run hotter which means you're done faster and cheaper). I looked a my fellow patrons, "the fools" I thought to myself "if only they knew how much better my drying experience was going to be...Ha Ha Ha". OK I know it's a little lame but in life you have to take the small victories when they come. With a smile on my face, I strode confidently to the back row. And then I saw it. Rather than pay the 25 cents to use the bathroom, one of the homeless had "used" the floor right in front of my precious ultra-hot dryers...and not just urine either if you know what I mean.
I wonder if my old laundromat would take me back.
Posted by Mike Stajduhar at 3:44 PM