The performance is meant to be interactive/participatory and live in that I do laundry by hand and invite the audience to “come wash with me” hence the title. The concept specifically addresses gentrification in the city, displacing/kicking out unwanted bodies and the laundromat.
The concept is what happened to me and what happens to a lot of people that are displaced due to neighborhood gentrification. Sometimes, like with me, it was indirect in that they strip you of your community and resources—particularly the laundromat. This is apparent in many cities across the US in that closure of laundromats equates to gentrification.
Most people like me at the time, did not have washer or dryer access in our homes nor could afford one. The laundromat was our only way to clean clothes. To take that away for gourmet restaurants and coffee shops takes away a necessity that indirectly displaces many–forcing us to move out to other places where we can access basic resources.
For almost a year after they shut down my laundromat, I was forced to wash all my laundry by hand in buckets or in my bathtub and line dry. However, strict neighborhood regulations (from the developers gentrifying) fined people for clothing lines because they are “displeasing to the eye.” Developers take away the resource then punish you for reverting to more parochial means to get the resource. This is all very classist and usually intersects with being racist especially in my neighborhood where I was typically the only white person using the laundromat amongst many Black people. It’s a privilege to have a washer and dryer.
So, I ask you, who has the right to clean clothes? Will you come wash with me?
Further information about this is here:
1. “The Politics of the Laundromat” by me. https://lagniappedaily.wordpress.com/… (Paper I wrote)
2. “Does Gentrification Mean the End of the Laundromat?” by Jordan Pearson https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/kb…
3. “Gentrification and the Laundromat in Los Angeles” by Bianca Barragan https://la.curbed.com/2016/4/25/11503…
Essay by Me Below:
Kesha Lagniappe (2017)
The Politics of the Laundromat : Quapaw Quarter in Little Rock, Arkansas
“The homeless people and their 5 gallon buckets are not aesthetically pleasing,” I overheard one of the main developers that spearheaded and funded the gentrification and “restoration” efforts in the Quapaw Quarter express to a police officer outside the laundromat as I was doing my own laundry. She was also one of the “new” business-owners of the district and aided in coining the “refresher” name of the area: “SoMa.” This is a shortened form of South Main, the central street the neighborhood is planned around and the hub of businesses/capital. Also shortened to commodify the quarter as a brand for further capital accumulation (hipsters love abbreviations and will buy anything that looks good on a tee-shirt). Despite the statement made to the officer, these people were not homeless. The laundromat was one of the last standing original-community-social-gathering places and safe spaces left subsequent to 5 years of “improvement’ and “enrichment” efforts that skyrocketed the cost of renting and displaced original occupants and businesses in the area. More significantly, these occupants were predominantly black and/or impoverished. This research will magnify the everyday “informal” installations/assemblages of infrastructures as a resisting and inevitable reaction to the disciplinary protocols of urban transformations throughout a targeted territoriality.
This targeted territoriality is my own neighborhood in Little Rock, Arkansas: The Quapaw Quarter in the downtown region. (I refuse to call it “SoMa”) This essay is aimed to critique how urban transformations in the interest of “enrichment” intervention is a spatial, racial and class act of violence and counterintuitive against occupants of the Quapaw Quarter.
Furthermore, this analysis will explore the means in which the same occupants combatted displacement, relocation, existed through development, and renegotiated space subsequent to capital and developmental intervention and policy regulations with prohibited and/or self-built/self-installed infrastructures with a micro-lens specifically on the neighborhood laundromat: The Miracle Wash on 1424 South Main, and its closure due to property acquisition for gentrification development. This exploration will focus on three of the “informal” infrastructures or visual markers installed at the laundromat to argue the ways they serve as visual odiums against inhumane punitive arrangements, a denial to conform to a homogenous notion of modernity and most significantly, installed/used for a survival-mode of necessity.
With this argument I pose 2 questions: Who has a right to clean clothes? Who has a right to socially gather? I rely on my own memory and experiences as ethnographic fieldwork as well as the memories and insights of original neighborhood-dwellers and how they related and used the laundromat and other visual markers in the community and culture. This piece will also address and argue that the neighborhood restrictions placed on structural visuality in the “revived” neighborhood were constructed as retaliative measures against the visual/physical infrastructures. My literary references are in comparison and engagement to similar issues of visual/structural “informality” and spatial disciplinary protocol in regions of the Global South (the ones from The Politics of ‘Informality’ section) as well as references in relation to reconstruction/gentrification post-Katrina in New Orleans. With Little Rock and New Orleans both being Southern cities in close proximity, there exists shared discourses with cultural, social and structural aesthetics and markers, as well as relational problematics and modes of resistance in response to gentrification and erasure of culture.
The three visual markers/infrastructures in the Quapaw Quarter that not only signify Southern and/or Black culturural norms, but a highly specific domain are: humans, the 5 gallon bucket, and clotheslines. These are also regulated/prohibited to train uniformity and I will explore the daily and mundane acts of resistance performed in response these disciplinary protocols.
Visual Marker A: Humans
The first infrastructure or visual marker is that of humans, the people of the neighborhood. Drawing on AbdouMaliq Simone’s argument that people are infrastructures, (2004) I contend that residents of the Quapaw Quarter are essentially structural fixtures and have been reduced to “bare-life” through racist and classist assumptions about lifestyle and through criminalization of existence. They are also made distinctive, categorized, visually deemed “unwanted” and vilified by “developers” based on consumption and use of the facility.
I started this paper off with a quote overheard by the leading-developer that referred to people in the area as both “homeless” and “not aesthetically pleasing.” Reducing someone to being “homeless” (whether they are or not) carries a malicious and defamatory connotation when spoken in this context. Homelessness in relation to any urban location in the United States also alludes to the deprivation and stripping of human rights, therefore “bare-life” (Agamben). This form of bare-life reduction is also criminalized to justify depriving neighborhood-dwellers of their right to gather, their right to clean clothes and their right to exist in this spatiality. This also correlates to describing a human as “not aesthetically pleasing” as if a someone is simply a painting, furniture or any inanimate object that does not possess human rights thus creating the notion that people are visual “infrastructures” in a spatiality. These “infrastructures” are highly- racialized in cases of gentrification and reconstruction due to age-old stereotypes and image constructs regarding personal appearance, attire and aspects of culture specific to that race.
Throughout the 5-year development process, dress code signage began appearing on the front doors of establishments in the area and throughout Little Rock. One in particular was a “revamped” bar lounge that was bought and upgraded to appropriate the brand identity of the “Soma” district. The dress code rules read as follows: 1.) No flat bill hats 2.) No sleeveless undershirts 3.) No excessively baggy clothing 4.) No large chains worn outside of shirt 5.) No plain white t-shirts 6.) No athletic apparel 7.) No sports jerseys unless collared. This particular signage did not blatantly read “No Black People Allowed,” but it did reenforce and perpetuate racist and harmful stereotypical fashions and constructed racist caricatures that point to the black community and black culture. This was the use of coded language (also known in Southern-vernacular as “whitespeak”) to form a basis as to why original neighborhood-dwellers (mostly Black) are not wanted or allowed in new establishments or in the “refreshed” neighborhood. These dress code enforcements began circulating to other businesses and stores in the “new arts district” and were utilized by urban developers, business managers/owners and property managers/owners as a way to mark individuals as “trouble” or “sketchy,” as a reason to notify police of their presence and to justify their harassment.
To elaborate further, this particular racialized violence was also committed and apparent in New Orleans post-Katrina with porch gathering. A porch is another structure that is created and installed for gathering. It is also a key fixture in both southern culture and black culture. Most southern homes have large porches to hold multiple guests, complete with porch-swings, chairs, 5 gallon buckets (I will elaborate in the next section) and benches for sitting. However, in both post-Katrina New Orleans and in the Quapaw Quarter of Little Rock, visible gathering has been reduced to “loitering” and “soliciting” by developers. Brentin Mock, a journalist and urbanist for the CityLab urban online-journal based in Atlanta wrote:
“A property manager for Abundance Square apartments, which replaced the Desire public housing projects, tells Citylab that she doesn’t allow more than three people at a time ‘hanging out’ on a front porch. More than that would be considered loitering, said the property manager, who would only identify her name as ‘Ms. Davis.’ She says she has personally broken up groups on front porches, and that violating the policy would lead to the tenant earning an ‘infraction’ on their file. More than two infractions would be cause for eviction, says the property manager.” (2017)
The example given by Mock is from a predominantly black neighborhood. Reasons behind the gathering prohibitions, even at the homes of inhabitants in cases of the porch are bromidic racist and classist produced fears and imaginaries spawned by developers and capitalist representatives. Gathering of black bodies, impoverished bodies or a specific category of consumers produce fear in revamping processes; a fear that these people are plotting to commit crimes. Referencing Mock again (2016), he confirmed that his interlocutor “Ms. Davis” articulated this criminalization of social gathering when she said: “When you see a whole bunch of teens on the porch, you worry about if they’re trying to break into the house.”
As black bodies were regulated and managed, developers formed other methods to mark/ deem non-black neighborhood-dwellers as undesirable infrastructures: consumption-based identity. Simone stated in his “People as Infrastructure” essay: “Particular spaces are linked to specific identities, functions, lifestyles, and properties so that the spaces of the city become legible for specific people at given places and times.” (2004, p. 409) Furthermore, in accumulation schemes, urban developers decided to strain the laundromat business by preventing its use through harassment similar to the regulations and infractions against porch gathering in New Orleans. Basically, in the position of an urban developer, how do you stop non-black consumers from using the facility that do fit into the anti-black dress code regulations or the banal racist caricature tropes? How does one hinder or invoke fear in all subjectivities frequent at the laundromat? Developers resolved to marking all consumers and users as unwanted visual infrastructure. Any person that could not afford a personal washer/dryer unit, to live in a space without an updated connection and/or owned a motor vehicle for transport was subsumed “undesirable” and did not belong in the revived, branded identity of the district. Police officers were employed to harass and fine any person standing outside the facility with loitering and/or soliciting citations regardless whether they were paying customers at the facility or not. I was sitting outside in conversation on my cellular phone waiting for my last load to dry when I received my loitering citation with several other laundromat customers. We explained to the officer that we were using the facility and he demanded that we remain inside and expressed we are not allowed to gather because “it looks unsightly to other visitors of the neighborhood.” This explanation from the officer was degrading; we were being demanded to hide and coaxed with the fear of fines (disciplinary protocols) to conform and be obedient to appease “visitors,” people that did not live in the neighborhood. Consumers of the laundromat were treated as visual infrastructures, as if we could be moved, replaced or hidden like a damaged street lamp, a shattered window, an overflowing garbage-can, a warped bicycle rack or faulty bench. Moreover, this reiterates my contention that people in this context are visually marked infrastructures; self- presentation, cultural style of dress, race, class and sites of use and consumption are coded in regulations prohibiting their presence and allowance in the neighborhood.
How did laundromat regulars resist these actions against them? As a laundromat regular classified as asymmetrical infrastructure, resistance simply meant visibility in a space that consciously marked me as undesirable. This was the common measure amongst other laundromat regulars as well: resisting visible erasure by consistently making oneself present and seen. Shortly after the laundromat closed, I was having a conversation about the disgruntling measures taken by the main developer and the investment firm behind the closure with an interlocutor and friend. His advice was:
“Don’t let it discourage you. They want us to leave, but don’t. You don’t have to support them, but still show your face. Walk up and down the sidewalks, sit in their garden, sit on their benches, go in their stores and walk around, but don’t buy nothing. Go in their coffeeshops and use their wifi and drink free glasses of water until they ask you to leave. Do the same at the restaurants. Leaving is what they want you to do. Don’t. You can be seen and not pay for none of the shit they selling.”
Furthermore, several times when authoritative figures (whether that be one of the new business owners, police officers, managers, buyers, or contractors) demanded dispersal at gathering outside the laundromat, we simply moved to another spot. This reconfigurement of convening space meant shifting to the back of the laundromat, across the street to the sculpture garden, or simply
moving to the sidewalk. If asked again to disperse, it was
usual for a laundromat-regular to exclaim, “the sidewalk
is public domain, nobody owns it!” or similar phrasing in
this contextual. This was also the response when asked
to leave the sculpture garden, a public space with
benches for gathering. The point is we were asked to
leave an area that was being designed and enhanced to
allow gathering and appear welcoming. For instance, the
“new” neighborhood aesthetic included the installation
of repurposed or recycled applied design pieces: benches
made of used car tires, chairs repurposed from ironing
boards and tables made from upcycled rubber. This type
of “urban furniture” provided the look and feel the “SoMa” brand envisioned: artistic, eco- friendly, innovative, advanced and most importantly, welcoming. However, only welcoming to a specific and exclusive subjectivity meaning it did not include laundromat-regulars or any pre-development neighborhood-dwellers. Thus, I contend that this is a spatial act of violence because the use of recycled materialities, functional “urban” applied designs and installations constituted an environment that is green/eco- friendly, open and embracing, but expulsionary to the laundromat patrons and their given/constructed identities. This was also non-commonsensical because impoverished communities and black communities alike are/were the forerunners in the utilization of recycled materials in making innovative and resourceful functional pieces; not driven by environmental consciousness per se, but from precarious inclination. If a neighborhood-dweller could not afford furniture, then recycled objects were reappropriated and reconfigured in functionality. Blown-out car tires became porch swings, buckets became chairs, seats stripped from cars, trucks, or vans were used as benches, thus a green, inventive and eco-friendly brand was expelling and displacing a category of people that were eco-friendly and recycle-conscious.
As “enrichment” expands, reconstruction is beginning in the residential areas surrounding the business district of South Main. Consequently, the acts of violence against gathering outside and around the laundromat are now happening in home architectural designs. The porch in the residential areas of the Quapaw Quarter are being targeted in comparison to the aforementioned porch restrictions in New Orleans. The front porches are being narrowed or completely removed, hence training people not to gather, be social or have company over. As a result of this, occupants are not only faced with housing displacement and skyrocketing rent prices, but significant cultural and affective ramifications that eradicates a particular lifestyle, reduces our/ their bodies and lifeworlds to unwanted infrastructures.
Visual Marker B: 5-gallon buckets
The second visual marker of culture and community is the 5 gallon bucket. Most people that are from areas outside the South in the US scratch their heads when I speak of the significance of the 5 gallon bucket in Southern culture, impoverished communities and black communities. I can personally speak for the Southern and impoverished aspects. To express the importance of the 5 gallon bucket in black communities, I reference black neighborhood- dwellers/friends as research interlocutors; the ones that shared their memories/narratives and conversed with me in regard to our shared experiences in the quarter.
As for myself and other people from the rural south and poorer neighborhoods, the 5 gallon bucket is a fixture at social gathering events and a part of everyday life. It is recycled as a stool for sitting and also a table for dining or playing board games or cards. They are flipped over and the bottoms are lounged in or used as tables. Most impoverished people cannot afford furniture, and if they acquire any finances is not used to invest in lawn or patio furniture. So, the 5 gallon buckets are taken from industries that use them for storage and transporting (agriculture, construction) and repurposed for outdoor leisure and gathering. The bucket is also mobile and portable, abled to be carried to the next party or gathering space. These are anecdotal examples of my memories with 5-gallon buckets as an infrastructure: The first time I heard the Delta blues was sitting on a 5 gallon bucket as a child in the front yard belonging to a neighbor listening as 4 men from my neighborhood played the blues, all sitting on 5 gallon buckets with their instruments using the porch as a stage. Each in tattered and soiled clothing from working all day in the fields. I learned how to play chess, checkers, poker, spades and roll dice sitting on a 5 gallon bucket on a street corner with a friend, also sitting on one and using another bucket as a table to play these games. My grandfather taught me how to shuck corn and shell peas sitting in the yard on 5 gallon buckets. When he died, all the family gathered at his home; on the carport, my cousins, siblings and I gathered sitting on buckets eating the watermelon he grew in his garden, sharing memories of him. As an adult, my best friend told me she was diagnosed with cervix cancer as we were sitting outside of her building in the Quapaw Quarter on 5 gallon buckets, both fighting off mosquitoes, sticky humidity and tears (She survived and is cancer- free). If you walked through the Quapaw Quarter before development, the 5 gallon bucket was installed and present as a means to sit and assemble even in this urban space. They were present outside the laundromat where people sat and waited for laundry to finish or just gathered because this was the safe space. It was the last safe space. I was sitting on a 5 gallon bucket at 21 years old outside the laundromat, waiting for a load to finish drying when I received a message from my fiancé at the time ending our engagement. As I burst into tears from the devastation, it was the “homeless people and their 5 gallon buckets that are not aesthetically pleasing” that offered me comfort and support in that moment outside the laundromat. This was my community. These buckets are a part of our culture.
To reduce these to an “eyesore” or to vilify them not only eliminates the culture that they represent and the memories attached, but takes away the right to gather and the right to sit in a public space. I argue how it is a racial and class act of violence because eliminating the 5 gallon bucket from public site for the sake of a “cleaner” neighborhood diminishes safe space, leisure space, and social spaces that are all utilized for escape and solace in impoverished communities.
Once again, these are not residents that can afford lawn furniture. Most do not have lawns. The lawn and politics around gathering on porches/balconies also comes with restrictions under codes of gentrification as I previously mentioned. These are also residents who cannot afford gym memberships or country clubs for refuge and relaxation. Consequently, I also contest that forbidding a 5-gallon bucket from eyesight is social and affective displacement. As Brian Larkin wrote: “it forcibly reminds us that the deeply affectual relation people have to infrastructures— the senses of awe and fascination they stimulate—is an important part of their political effect.” (2013, p. 334) Housing displacement and relocation are themes heavily discussed under the umbrella of gentrification with a vast library on the topic, however what about the right to gather? The right to mourn? The right to learn how to play chess? The right to cry over a breakup? The right to sit and play your harmonica? The right to listen to the Blues? The right to friendship? The right to survival? The right to comfort? The right to be social? The right to escape? The right to solace? These are inquiries that are missed when painting gentrification with a broad brush (although I am not dismissing or minimizing housing displacement or relocation because those are single-handedly the most traumatizing and damaging effects of the “redeveloping” process).
To continue, I conversed with several interlocutors in regard to the importance of the bucket as well as their personal narratives and relationships to this object. One explained, “Everything happened on that bucket, my first kiss, my first cigarette, my first broken heart, my first concert. Everything. I can’t imagine not having it around, you’d just pick it up and take it with ya to the next hot spot or where ever the music was coming from or follow the smell of barbeque. Shit, you just start vibing with folks ya know? Start tapping on the bottom while you were sitting to make a beat. Even kids would play them as drums to earn some cash downtown.” Another friend shared similar sentiments as well the meaning the bucket has to the black community: “We used them to make music and play drums. You see the street musicians playing them all the time whether you’re in Chicago, Memphis or New Orleans. I grew up fishing on them and with them too. You sat on them while you fished, but used another one to store the fish in and another for the bait.” Therefore, vilifying this object and regulating its presence is damaging to a specific type of informal economy. It takes a way someone’s access to money, lifestyle and food whether it acquired through street performing or urban fishing (The Arkansas River ran directly through downtown Little Rock in close proximity to the Quapaw Quarter which allowed fishing off banks and overpass bridges).
Furthermore, the bucket is highly racialized similarly to the porch so much that racial slurs have been formed to covertly mark black bodies as criminal or nuisances; these slurs are synonymous with the n-word and are commonly heard in the South in relation to the objects and structures black inhabitants frequent or possess. One is “porch monkey” and the other “bucket fisher.” These are spoken typically by white newcomers, inhabitants and even urban developers in gentrification efforts as a coded way to describe unwanted and undesirable black inhabitants like the fishermen that sit on buckets to fish off bridges or the dwellers that like to gather on their porches, sitting on buckets as well. These were commonly heard to describe laundromat patrons as well. The bucket is mobile, hence the same fishermen or porch-dwellers would walk to the laundromat to socialize and convene carrying their bucket to sit. Some even repurposed the bucket again as a hamper to tote dirty laundry.
Moreover, infrastructures denigrated in the Quapaw Quarter and/or at the laundromat during the development process whether the 5-gallon bucket, porch or people generated affective, social and memory displacement. Original neighborhood-dwellers including myself have affective and memory relationships to these infrastructures and spaces in the same manner as inhabitants of the informal settlements in Lisbon that Ascensão (2015) analyzed with a cyborg methodology. These particular inhabitants built homes and infrastructures based on survival and nostalgia. He wrote of one specific narrative that connects to inhabitants of the quarter in Little Rock: “Utelinda’s ‘narration jumps’ allow us to see two sets of relations in the process of dwelling: one belonging to actual, present-day, material but also emotional events or experiences that are ongoing; and another involved in the pre-existences (again, emotional and material) pertaining to the body and the memory of the dweller.” (p. 960) The 5 gallon bucket, porches and clotheslines are not only installed for functionality or precarious inclination, but for nostalgic reasonings that contain shared experiences of happiness and warmth.
Visual Marker C: Clotheslines
The last visual marker is the clothesline and the regulations against the installation of one are possibly the most counterintuitive. The apartment I occupied in the Quapaw Quarter was a small studio built in the 1920s. It did not have a washer/dryer connection. If it did, I still would not be able to invest in or afford a washer/dryer unit. This is the predicament for many occupants in this neighborhood and the most obvious reason the laundromat was a necessity. It was not just a social gathering space as I am illustrating, but the way residents accessed clean clothes. As evident in many places in the world including Cairo, the clothesline is considered a marker of poverty and Little Rock is no exemption. Thus a constructed imaginary about devaluing property and curb appeal was born despite the instances of energy conservation it provided.
This imaginary surrounding the clothesline birthed, I argue, one of the most violent acts against lower-class communities: its prohibition of installation. Some states in the US make it illegal to install one. Even in the states that allows clotheslines, more restrictions are enforced by local neighborhood associations and capitalist urban developers/representatives. The latter is the case for the gentrified Quapaw Quarter. This is why in most impoverished communities in the US, one will stumble across a few laundromats. The best way to keep clotheslines out of site is by providing a laundry service nearby. Hence, the discourse surrounding clotheslines and the laundromat in the Quapaw Quarter is non-commonsensical; the installation of clotheslines are forbidden and frowned upon, but the laundromat is now closed. The first act of resistance subsequent to the closing is to install a clothesline or hang clothes over a balcony, off a porch or on an available fence. The decision to close the “eyesore” and “sketchy” laundromat was made by people that have the privilege of owning a washer/dryer unit and a motor vehicle for personal transportation. Most residents of the area including myself did not have either and were bus- riders. In the name of modernity, bicycle lanes, vintage ice-cream shops, an organic-products- only mercantile shop, a sculpture garden, white-owned Mexican restaurants and other forms of hipster-imperialism, residents were curtailed to anachronistic forms of cleaning their clothes.
Currently, the visual infrastructures on Main Street are people toting loads of laundry to and from the bus stop in hampers, bins, baskets and buckets to commute to a laundromat on the other side of town or to a friend/relative’s house that owns one. The bus stop is directly in front of the old laundromat; the visuality of their presence and the apparent inconvenience of carrying heavy loads of laundry around is a mode of resistance. The business owners are currently trying to get the bus stop moved to another location off the most visible and active street. It reiterates what my interlocutor advised me to do: “still show you face.” Making myself present and now with hampers full of dirty laundry on South Main is resisting erasure. Urban developers and business owners alike can visually interpret the detriments and consequences of their actions, how people’s lives are greatly inconvenienced because of the closure of the laundromat.
Furthermore, I personally had to clean clothes in my bathtub and dry them on the fence that was adjacent to my building when the bus did not run or when I could not find or afford any mode of transportation. Other neighbors wereforced to do the same. Within a week, the landlord left a memorandum on each residential door stating that residents were not allowed to dry clothes on a line, on a fence or out of a window and any instances can result with an infraction on file and/or possible eviction. By making access to clean clothes and social gathering spaces impossible leads to “voluntary” housing displacement. Tenants are forced to move out because the neighborhood has become unlivable to those placed in specific geopoliticalized categories of “poor,” “black,” “single mother,” “sketchy,” “trouble” or combination of these constructed and given identities.
I beg the question: who has a right to clean clothes? In this specific case, this inquiry interrelates with: who has the right to socially gather? Both the questions are in relation to the laundromat, the Miracle Wash of the Quapaw Quarter and the ways residents installed “informal” infrastructures to resist/contest disciplinary restrictions, erasure and expulsion. By using object- oriented methods as a point of entry in analyzing these inquiries enabled me to see how human subjects in specific spaces are identified in highly particular ways based on their relationship with and use of visual infrastructures (this study entails “informal” ones), objects and materialities. For the Quapaw Quarter, these visual markers and given identities by urban developers/capitalist representatives were used to justify forms of racialized, classed and consumer-based violence, discrimination, displacement and expulsion to accomplish property/ capital accumulative endeavors. These acts of violence resulted in forms of affective and social displacement and the dissolution of affective, cultural and social lifestyles. Where should these inhabitants do laundry now? How should they access clean clothes? Without financial capital or influence, how can they resist punitive actions other than the ways I described? Where should they gather?
Before I moved to Cairo, I was walking down South Main, making myself “visible,” but not buying anything. That is when I saw Benny. Benny was the manager of the Miracle Wash, soul singer, musician and a recovery addict. I remember him singing as he worked and occasionally playing the harmonica. The closure of the laundromat put him out of a job and home (he was allowed to live on the premises). Now homeless and with no source of income, he was sitting down on a bucket playing his harmonica on the corner of the busiest intersection on South Main. I spoke to him and left him some change for playing music. I asked him if anyone bothered him or asked him to leave. He replied, “Not yet, but when they do, I will just move down the street and play there. If they tell me to leave all together, I will just come back tomorrow.”
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