Aqua e Sapone (Water and Soap)

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Author: Jesse Gambini

After spending the day exploring a couple of towns in the Italian Alps, near the Swiss border, the last thing I wanted to do was laundry, but I had no choice. I had run out of underwear the day before and I had one more pair of clean socks.

My train rolled into Milan’s Statizione Centrale shortly after six, which meant I had a few hours to do my wash, a few hours to sample the Milanese cuisine and a few hours to check out the night life.

I walked back to my hotel room, near the train station, tired, but satisfied after an enjoyable day hiking in the mountains. I flirted with the guy behind the front desk as usual when I asked for my key in my best Italian.

When I got to my room, I loaded up my backpack with a weeks’ worth of dirty laundry. I checked through my travel guide to get the address of the laundromat or lavanderia. In my wandering around Milan, I hadn’t seen a single one. I had seen enough laundry hanging on clotheslines, but no laundromat.

My guidebook suggested a place called Aqua e Sapone which meant water and soap. It was also somewhere in the vicinity train station as well.

It took me about fifteen minutes to walk to the laundromat. As I walked, I couldn’t help but smile as I thought about the spectacular scenery I had seen that morning. I was still having a hard time believing that my dream trip had become a reality. With three more weeks left, I had plans to leave for Venice the next morning, and then on to Florence, and Rome.

When I got to the laundromat, it was empty except for a dark haired browned-eyed young man sitting by the window listening to a walkman. He looked up and smiled at me as I walked in. He was probably no more than twenty and cute, but then all the dark haired men I had seen since arriving in Italy were making me crazy.

I found an empty washing machine and threw my clothes inside. Searching for the place to insert the coins, I couldn’t find anything. I scratched my head and fiddled with what I thought were the water and temperature controls. Nothing happened. As I stood there puzzled, the young man by the window sat and stared at my quizzically.

I hesitated before trying to ask the guy for help. In my week in Italy, every attempt at trying to speak the language ended up in total confusion. What little I learned in my Italian class was forgotten––nothing would come out of my mouth or I would blurt out a tangled mess of unintelligible words, half English and half Italian. People would stare at me with blank expressions, not understanding a word I said.

After kicking the washing machine in frustration a few times, I broke down and asked for help.

“Scuza. Non funzione.”
The young man gave me a smile that sent my heart spinning. He set down his walkman and directed me to for lack of better words to what appeared to be the master control panel for the whole place.

There was a video monitor lit up with a series of numbers and instructions in Italian. I pulled my Italian phrase book out of my back pocket. It was useless. It could help me order pasta or ask where the bathroom was but this marvel of modern technology was not translatable.

“Scusa, non capisco,” I said.
“Come?”
“Parlo un po d’Italiano. Mi auito, per favore.” I said.
The young man’s face creased into a smile as he pointed at the control panel.
“Quale numero?” he asked.
I glanced back at the machine. It was number nine. “Nove.”

He pressed the display panel until number nine was highlighted. He then reached into his pocket, pulling out his wallet. “Diècimille lire,” he said, holding up a ten thousand lira note.
I reached into my wallet and pulled out the same, not believing it was almost six dollars to wash one load of clothes.

After directing me to insert my money into the machine, he grabbed my hand and pulled me back toward the washing machine.

“Sapone,” he said, pointing at a bottle of laundry detergent that was sitting on top of the washers.
He then lifted a flap on top of my machine and pointed. I reached into my bag and pulled out a bottle of laundry detergent––at least I thought it was laundry detergent. I knew it was new and improved from what I read on the label. It looked and smelled like detergent, but for all I knew it could have been fabric softener.

I hesitated before I put the soap in the machine. If I was going to spend six bucks to wash my clothes, I was going to get everything clean. I pulled my T-shirt over my head and threw it into the washer. My new friend’s eyes grew openly amused. Deciding to throw caution to the wind and ignore all my mother’s advice about doing laundry and mix whites and darks, I unbuttoned my jeans, kicked off my sneakers, pulled off my socks and jeans, and threw them into the machine. His laughter floated up from his throat. I turned and couldn’t help but laugh as I poured the soap into the machine. He pressed one of the buttons and the machine began to fill with water.

My eyes clung to his, trying to analyze his reaction. In my few days in Italy, I had learned that a smile and an attempt at the language went a long way. Looking over the handsome young man, I thought I wouldn’t mind going all the way, but then, he probably thought I was some crazy American. Even I couldn’t believe I was standing in the laundromat in nothing but my Calvin’s.

“Come si chiama?” I asked. What’ your name?
“Franco,” he said.
“Mi chiamo, Jim,” I said. “Mille grazie, Franco.” I smiled back,wanting to attempt more conversation, but I had already exhausted my limited vocabulary.

We both sat on the bench on the wall opposite the machines–me on one end; Franco on the other. He put his walkman back on and I pulled my walkman and a book out of my backpack and cranked my tape. Sitting there listening to Depeche Mode, I watched my clothes spin around in the washing machine.

Every now and then, I raised my eye to him to find Franco watching me. Each time he looked, my face split into a wide grin. I wasn’t sure if he was being friendly, or if he was interested. I had a hard time reading Italian men. A few days earlier, I made the mistake of staring a little too long at one hot guy on the streets of Milan. After he got all pissed off, I knew I was going to have to try and control my wandering eye.

A buzzer sounded and Franco got up to put his clothes in the dryer. My eyes followed as he walked past me. He had a nice firm, round butt that was packed into a pair of tight Levi’s. What I wouldn’t have given to have a nice piece of that ass, I thought, as he bent over and loaded his clothes into the dryer. When Franco came back, he sat on the bench next to me.

“Che ascolta?” he asked.
“Depeche Mode,” I said.
Franco shook his head.

I pulled off my headphones and pointed to Franco. “Listen,” I said, pointing to the headphones.

He pulled off his headphones and put mine on. He in turn handed me his. I slipped them on and listened to his tape. I didn’t recognize the music. Franco grinned and gave me the thumbs up sign. We sat there listening to each other’s music, grinning at each other, for a few minutes. I was flattered by his interest, but the prolonged anticipation was almost unbearable. He reached over, I thought to give me back my headphones, but I was wrong. His hands landed on my chest and Franco began to fondle my pecs, flicking his fingers across my nipples.

“Un boxer?” he asked.
A boxer? He had to be kidding. I go to the gym fairly regularly when I’m at home, but I’m far from musclebound. I smiled and laughed. “No,” I said. “Vado in palestra.” I raised my arms and motioned like I was lifting weights.

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