Guided by our creative mindset, without a detailed map of all the possible laundromats that we can visit in our hometown, Antwerp, me and a fellow life-enthusiast strolled into a brightly lit venue that we randomly came across. We want to record stories from everyday people that do their laundry in laundromats scattered across town. Portraying random life stories to which we can relate is our objective. As we entered our very first laundromat, the thought that plenty of dirty clothes have been hauled in here over the years and a lot of clean linen has left this building, crosses my mind.
Walking in we notice that there is only one person present, sitting comfortably on a chair, waiting for one of the machines to work its magic. The man serenely stares at his clothes, going round and round, briefly offering us a kind glance as we walk through the door. He sits there solemnly and peacefully with his arms crossed across his chest as we approach him. The young gent agrees to have a chat with me while my partner blends in with the geometrically intriguing scenery, ready to document our first story with his camera.
Michael, a bloke in his early thirties, has lived in Antwerp for nearly his entire life. Presently he resides in the heart of Antwerp and visits this laundromat once every two weeks, simply because it is the one located nearest to where he lives. The fashionable Kammenstraat offers the decor where he spends his days on this spherical rock of ours.
For the better part of his life, this man has roamed the streets of Antwerp. He spends his time visiting museums and absorbing the words from classic novels written by Oscar Wilde, Leo Tolstoy, Edgar Allan Poe and many others. He prefers to read in English because he feels that a lot of the Dutch translations are of a lesser quality compared to their English counterparts. When asked whether he has ambitions to publish writings of his own he pronounces that he prefers to read and has no ambitions to publish anything written by himself. Although poetry has intrigued him in the past, he currently feels satisfied devouring the classics that were written by great minds. He used to organize parties with his friends and lightheartedly enjoyed the real vibrant city life. Relaxing with a fresh brew at Kid’s Rhythm and Blues is one of his favorite activities.
Talking about love
He briefly moved out to Zwijndrecht. A neighboring town that is located across the Scheldt, a local river that divides our municipal in a left and right bank. Following his heart, Michael settled down in this small town. This laundry minded soul attempted to start a new life with his girlfriend, who later became his wife and currently occupies his mind and heart as his ex-wife. Shortly after the romance between these two souls had dwindled Michael moved back to his old stomping grounds, which gave me the chance to have this chat with him. The healing powers of the city, its practical and compact size got him up and running after his romantic endeavors. The aftermath of his divorce has been shaken off, and he currently enjoys the city life once again.
The heartaches he has endured during his lifetime haven’t shaken his belief that sharing your life with the right partner can be a beautiful thing. When I am curious about whether he would offer some advice to his younger self, he states: “I wouldn’t give any advice to a younger version of me. Who knows where this young soul would end up if I advise him to go left where I have gone right? I am satisfied with where I am right now and how I got here. I wouldn’t change a thing; hence I wouldn’t give my younger self any life changing advice.” Silence takes a hold of the laundromat that serves as our temporary habitat for several lingering seconds as he thinks about what advice he could give to the younger generations that roam our streets. Suddenly Michael breaks the silence and says: “You live, and you learn. Make sure to go out there and live your life and learn from all the mistakes that you make. Just like we often didn’t listen to our parents when it came to matters of the heart, I feel it is useless to tell youngsters what or what not to do. People have to beat their head against a stone wall. Making personal mistakes is the only way to learn. Heartache is inevitable, but when it occurs don’t fail to crawl back up and move on. Do not start living on an isolated island when your heart has been trampled upon. There are always those exceptions who will never learn from their mistakes, but this is what I would tell to my younger brothers and sisters.”
Thoughts about work
Currently, he is in between jobs. He would still be working for his last employer if they didn’t file for bankruptcy. When I wonder whether this bankruptcy was because of the financial crisis that still has Europe in its grip, he confidently answers in a straightforward manner: “The sole reason for this demise was rash management. Account managers, who didn’t know how the inner clockwork of the company functioned, were put in place. They just had to wheel in customers and live up to a certain quota. Which led to internal competition that eventually did more harm than good.”
During his career, this poses to be his primary concern. Michael claims that “a good manager is someone who knows his company from top to bottom. This could mean that the manager obtained a master degree and solely started the company. An external CEO who has done their homework and collected information from their personnel would be another option. Even an employee who started at the bottom and had no formal degree could be perfect for the job. Just as long as they know how every process in the company works. Even the role of the custodian should be clear to them.”
Poorly informed management appears to be an issue during a time when numerous companies are driven by the philosophy that profits need to rise year after year. A mindset that in recent years only lead to mass layoffs, loss of quality, more pressure on the remaining employees and an increase in burn outs. “Listening to your staff is key if you want to run a successful business. You need to know what lives in your organization.” Can we compare it to listening to our bodies to live a healthier life? All the same, I share Michael’s concern that the workers’ rights and input are systematically underestimated in our society. We are stuck in a vicious circle as profit margins dictate our everyday life.
While taking a trip down memory lane, Michael’s eyes flare as he reminisces about the good old days. He brings up how kids were playing carefree on the streets, wild parties in the Aalmoezenier, the birth of New Wave, small grocery stores bringing color to the streets and a cleaner living environment. People just didn’t toss their trash away like they do now. Following the trail of litter and silence on our streets nowadays guides us to intractable problems of our contemporary political philosophy, economy, and life. According to Michael, the Social Fabric in this city has become very fragmented throughout the years. Even though the city has a village feel to it, socializing and forging actual connections between neighbors nowadays only occurs on organized social events.
During our interesting conversation, the washing machine buzzes. Kindly reminding us that its magic has come to an end and that Michael needs to get his clean linen out. As we leave and submerge ourselves in the vibrant life of the concrete jungle that we inhabit, I can’t help but ponder about how the brief encounter with this interlocutor gave me a lot of food for thought.