Jun. 09, 2008
I'll be honest -- this is one job that worries me. The skills I'm in danger of obtaining at Dirty Laundry, Heidi Fleiss' coin-operated Pahrump washery, could endanger the ineptitude I use as an excuse never to launder at home. (I still wear an old pair of pink boxers just to remind my wife of the great color-mixing tragedy of 2001.)
"I've been trying to teach my husband how to do laundry, too, but he just sits and watches baseball games all day long," says laundry attendant Jennifer Lopez. (Fleiss' isn't the only famous name around here.)
"Put all the jeans together and make sure there's nothing in the pockets," says Lopez as we sort through the clothing dropped off by Pahrump housewife Amber Balmer.
Lopez reports regularly finding money, keys, credit cards and driver's licenses in washers used by self-servers. Once, a dryer revealed a scorpion. (It was dead, fortunately. And wrinkle-free.)
Pretty much the only item Lopez has never found in a machine is your extra sock.
"I don't know where that goes," she reports.
Fleiss -- convicted in 1997 of felony charges related to running a prostitution ring -- opened her 24-hour laundry last July. The former Hollywood madam hopes it will establish her as a legitimate businesswoman so she can apply to run a prostitution ring in Pahrump. She says Heidi's Stud Farm will cater exclusively to females.
Lopez was hired to fluff and fold five days a week.
"How much did you put in there?" Lopez asks, pointing to the third of 13 Continential Girbau commercial washing machines. A small Brady Bunch situation is transpiring in the load of baby clothes I dumped there earlier.
"You only need to use a half a cap of detergent," Lopez says.
Hmm, so that's a funnel on top, not a cup that needs filling to the top.
"At least it's on the wash cycle, so the suds can still come out," Lopez says before noticing the digital readout that indicates "rinse."
My ineptitude is in little danger.
"I'll run it through again," Lopez says, adding, "It's going to be very clean."
Lopez owned her own custom drapery business in Chino, Calif., before retiring to Pahrump in 2002.
"I met Heidi when she opened," she says. "I was so excited that she was opening this place, that I came down to meet her."
The two hit it off so well, Lopez reports, that Fleiss coaxed her out of retirement.
Lopez says she enjoys her gig, which pays $8 an hour and also requires her to replenish the change machine with quarters emptied from the washers, stock the vending machine with soda, and clean the bathroom and floors.
"I like talking to people," Lopez says, "and it keeps me away from home."
When asked to elaborate, Lopez says, "We're gonna be married 51 years this month."
She repeats, more slowly and intensely, "fifty-one years."
"ABSOLUTELY NO HORSE BLANKETS!!" reads a chalkboard by the entrance. And it's in those big block letters reserved for occasions when business is meant.
"People don't want to use a washer that's got all kinds of hair all over the place," Lopez explains. "I try to run the washer again if it's got hair, but sometimes it's hard to catch."
Nevertheless, a woman has just entered with three blankets covered in thick, inch-long white fur strands.
"I've got two German shepherds," the woman claims.
This does not explain why her blankets are whinnying.
Lopez instructs me to write up a ticket for the standard $10 per blanket -- despite the big block letters.
"They're not the dirtiest I've seen," Lopez tells me. (Those were encrusted with cat urine and feces. At least she hopes it was from a cat.)
"And it's not nice for me to tell about the other things I've seen," Lopez adds. "That's when we wear gloves."
Balmer's jeans are finished drying. And aside from confusion about where the seams should be -- in the middle or on the sides -- I'm OK on the folding.
I have no idea, however, what is entailed by the fluffing half of my job responsibilities.
"That's a good question," Lopez says. "I wonder what the fluff is."
A thin but familiar figure enters the store.
"Any complaints?" Fleiss asks three customers watching TV. "Now's your chance."
But they are self-servers, not fluff-and-fold clients, or else they would have deposited their loads and left (a theme running through both of Fleiss' careers).
Fleiss is empty-handed, although I asked her to bring an article of heavily soiled clothing for me to clean.
"My housekeeper does my wash," she replies. "I'm very picky."
Nervous, I turn state's evidence on Lopez about the horse blankets she forced me to accept. Apparently, the big block letters weren't Fleiss'.
"I don't know what a horse blanket is," she replies. "It sounds like bondage equipment."
OK, enough with the laundry talk. I summon the courage to deal with the real reason Fleiss is in Pahrump -- the same reason I drove 60 dusty miles to meet her face to face.
"What do you think about me as a stud for your farm?" I inquire.
Fleiss eyes me up and down as I model my body in the best possible light (well, the second-best after total darkness). Then she delivers her decision.
"I have no problem with homosexuals," she says, "but I'm not opening a homosexual brothel."
Fear and Loafing appears every Monday in the Living section. Levitan's previous adventures can be found at www.fearandloafing.com.