Laundry List

Laundry isn’t the big deal now at almost 46 that it was when I was 16. My parents left for Quebec for a week that summer, but I begged off going because I was working – that was the excuse. The real reason, of course, was that I was going to party. And God, did we party. Just one night actually. I was working most of the other nights and one night I went to the movies. (Alone in a darkened home is a frightening place to be after seeing The
Amityville Horror.) The party involved copious amounts of alcohol, a fair bit of weed – although I wasn’t smoking anymore by that point (I’d kind of flipped out at a Queen concert the year before) – and lots of rock’n’roll. The next-door neighbour, when she told my father about the party upon his return, said some of the guys were relieving themselves in the space behind the garage. I don’t doubt it. There was only one bathroom.

As for the laundry, I couldn’t figure out how to work the machine. I’d filled and emptied the dryer plenty of times, but the washer was my mother’s domain. All these powders and detergents and fabric softeners and which water temperature went with which clothes. It was a bit too much for a hangover. I asked the upstairs tenant, who sent her niece to the basement to help.

She said she’d show me if I paid her three bucks.


Three bucks. “My aunt said three dollars.”

Was it worth saying no and not getting the laundry done?

The niece picked the worst time to come collecting: with my parents in the doorway
and their luggage in the kitchen.

Then the neighbour piped up to my father. I’d had better nights.

Weekly after Denise and I moved in together, I trekked to a Laundromat.  I got a great deal of reading done near the heat of the dryers and accompanied by the dizzying whirly sound of the spin cycle. At home, I gladly did it. The washer and dryer were in the basement near my office. Pretty easy to keep track of what needs transferring and what needs folding. Although, paying attention to the change in wash cycles is sometimes difficult when you’re wrapped up writing dialogue. Sometimes you forget to add the bleach.

These days I wash clothes in a tiny front-loading machine, pouring just a half-cup at most of Ariel detergent into the slot (more than that and it foams out the front). The machine takes about three times the length of the full-size Whirlpool at home. And drying takes all day. The window was open to let in the 22C heat today, but it was windy and by the time I left the apartment at 1:30, only two shirts were dry. I’d started the laundry at 8 a.m.

Lunch was at the Club, a beach-side haven in the city’s northeast tip, near the Port and all the industrial buildings you find in a port, and the dhow pier. There’s a long waiting list to join the Club and it didn’t take long to see why. The beach sand is soft and light, the water more green than blue and warm (by Canadian and New England standards); the cost is low and the place caters to families. There’s a health club, three bars, three restaurants, a library, an indoor pool, squash, tennis and a cute climbing wall. Cute because it’s only one story tall, in keeping with that family friendliness I guess.

I hadn’t planned on joining a beach club or fitness club here. I hadn’t belonged to one since I was in my early 20s. I’m not much into racquet sports; I’m not much of a swimmer. What’s the point? In Abu  Dhabi, the point is getting out of the heat. A quick look around the Club, I decided it was worth doing – the price is right, only about $1,500 a year for the family – and took photographs to send home, to persuade Denise, who has expressed a certain reluctance to anything that remotely smacks of colonial life. Of course, in Abu Dhabi, we’re not the colonials. We’re the expat workers. The rich – the Emirati citizen is worth an average $17 mil – don’t join the Club. They build five-, seven- and nine-bedroom villas and palaces with pools and tennis courts. The buildings are surrounded by one-story walls topped with barbed wire. Not good for climbing.

Lunch was outdoors in full sun and beach breeze. We were myself, Dan, who is the head
of the revise desk and my present roommate, his newly arrived deputy Joanna, her husband, Blaine, who will be working on the newspaper’s website, their eight-month-old daughter, Evie, and Luciana, the multimedia director and a Club member. We couldn’t have had lunch there without her. Membership has its privileges. (We’ll be celebrating Luciana’s 30th on the beach on Friday. A hundred and fifty dirhams – about $45 – for all-you-can eat and drink.)

Denise called toward the end of lunch – I had an aubergine and roasted tomato salad
with buffalo mozzarella, and a dark chocolate mousse and a couple of open-faced truffles for dessert. The salad was small but good. I’ve made lighter, fluffier mousse, but the truffles were rich in ganache. She’d had a bad day the day before and the call seemed to cheer her up. It’s difficult being alone. I can’t stand it. I’m not sure how she’s doing it, except that she is. I’ve only got to show up for work, stay healthy and do laundry. She’s got to write, work, keep up the house, take care of Georgia, guide Georgia in her homework, and keep the two of them entertained to prevent any slide from “alone” to “lonely.” On top of that there’s the bathroom renovation that still isn’t finished, the bills she has to pay, and tax forms she hates filling out.

Our Montreal friends have done a good job keeping Denise and Georgia on their minds, in
their prayers and at their dinner tables. I am so grateful for that.

I cabbed it over to what by Abu Dhabi standards is a small mall, but which is about the size of Angrignon. There’s a LuLu’s “hypermarket” there, which is a combination Loblaw’s, Centre Hi-Fi, and BabyGap – and that’s just what I’ve seen. There’s another floor to it that I’ve missed. The produce section alone is bigger than some groceries.

There are oranges from Spain, Morocco, Egypt, Australia. Tomatoes from Holland and hothouses all around. I prefer the Jordanian ones. The come with the sand still attached, they look rough but are juicy and the least expensive. I bought a Styrofoam box of about two dozen various-sized tomatoes for $2. The best cucumbers are the small Middle Eastern style ones that are grown in the U.A.E. There’s an aisle that’s just bags of rice. Another aisle that is just milk.

At home in Montreal I did the shopping – because I did the cooking. If you’re not the one doing the cooking it’s hard to do the shopping. Even if you have the cook’s list, it’s hard to get in his head and know how many tomatoes he really needs.

When I got back to the apartment, I packed the fridge with my new goodies and got to preparing a dish from the Middle Eastern cookbook my sister gave me for Christmas, a wild mushroom, tomato and bulgur mix. I cleaned and stemmed the shitakes, diced a
softball-sized onion and a red bell pepper. In a pot, I melted a couple tablespoons of butter and sautéed the pepper and half the onion. When they got to the right softness, I add the bulgur and cooked that a couple of minutes before adding water, salt and pepper. In a frying pan, I sautéed the remaining onion to just about caramelized. I added the mushrooms and cooked these up until the mushrooms were soft and the kitchen had a sweet smell of woodsy decay. By then the cracked wheat had absorbed all the water. I added a chopped scallion and three tomatoes and some dried basil, the mushroom-and-onion sauté, took it off the heat and fluffed it. I had two bowlfuls with a fresh pita.

All the while, Neil Young was playing on the CD player in the laptop computer and I was bordering on something approaching maudlin self-absorption. Music can do that in a way almost nothing else can. Reading, even when it’s emotionally engaging, still involves too much intellect. Movies are too visual to invite entry to any emotion other than the ones on the guest list. Music is history. Music is biology. Music is every girlfriend you’ve ever had – which means the ones who left you and, worse, the ones you left. So Neil Young’s “Comes a Time” recalls my junior year in high school. I used “Cinnamon Girl” when I put together a DVD video for Denise’s 60th birthday party. When “Southern Man” plays, I hear Lynyrd Skynyrd’s comeback line from “Sweet Home Alabama”: “And hope Neil Young will remember; Southern Man don’t need him around anyhow.”
Then there’s the line from “Helpless” about the town in north Ontario: “All my changes were there.” Who I ask you doesn’t long for the teenage boy he once was?

Then, there was “Harvest Moon.” Need I say more? Denise, where the hell are you?

I folded my underwear, the socks, a T-shirt, and a long-sleeved pullover that has lost its
shape and I’m not sure if I’ll be able to wear it anymore.

I washed the dishes, curled up in an overstuffed chair and lost myself in Bill Buford’s Heat,
another world, another kitchen, another adventure.

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