By Mario Kladis
Doing laundry always knocks me out. Last time I had a dream I was sleeping in the laundromat: I was snoring, and a thin line of drool ran from the corner of my mouth to my chin. I woke up suddenly. Eight inches from my face was a bunch of pens and a lighter shaped like a naked lady. “Hey paisan,” said the guy holding them. “You want some pens and a lighter? Five bucks.”
“Huh?” I said, wiping the spit off my chin.
“Paisan,” said the man, “check out this lighter.”
“Sorry,” I said, “I don’t smoke.”
“What about these pens, paisan? Some nice-ass ballpoints?” One was missing a cap; another was chewed up.
“No, I don’t have any money.”
“Come on, paisan,” he said. He looked at me like I was blowing the deal of the century. “Gimme something.”
“I don’t have any money.”
The guy bit his lip and stared at me, trying to decide if I was lying. There were still five or six quarters in my pocket, but I just sat there making my poker face. He shoved the lighter in his pocket and went up to an Asian woman measuring detergent: “Hey, se–ora, you need some pens? Two bucks.”
I got up to fold my clothes and realized I had a headache. There was all this noise: dryers whirring, washers rattling, Johnny Mathis crackling from the piped-in AM radio. A lady was screaming into one of the pay phones. “I’m at a laundry-mat….A LAUNDRY-mat…on West Division…WEST Division….D-i-v…V…V, as in W, X, Y…V as in ‘vase.’…VASE….What you put flowers in?”
It went on like this for all of my underwear and most of my socks. By the time I got to my pants, I’d figured out she was talking to her daughter, whose boyfriend was supposed to have picked up the lady from a friend’s house an hour ago. Nobody had heard from him all day, but from what I could tell, nobody was worried about it. It was so like him.
Before hanging up, the lady told her daughter, “I love you….I LOVE YOU….OK, bye….BYE.” She put the phone in the cradle, and some change clinked into the coin return. She eyed the slot suspiciously, then poked in a finger and took out the money. She looked around and saw me watching her. She winked as she dropped the change into her purse.
The door banged shut behind her and bounced wide open again as an older guy in a blue flannel shirt barged in. Everybody looked at him. He stomped up to the change machine, but it wouldn’t take his wrinkled dollar. “Goddammit!” he bellowed, and looked around the room. Everyone turned away from him except me. I wasn’t fast enough.
“You,” he said, waving the dollar at me. “You got change for a buck?”
“Some asshole stole my truck. I gotta call the cops. Do you got change?”
The guy with the pens was negotiating a sale at the other end of the laundromat, but he stopped suddenly and narrowed his eyes on me.
“Um, uh, 911’s free,” I mumbled.
The trucker shook his head. “No, it’s not that kind of emergency. Your car gets stole, you don’t call 911–you call the precinct. Do you got change?” He stared at me, waiting for an answer. The guy with the pens was smirking.
I focused on the tip of the trucker’s nose, trying to forget the quarters in my pocket, and said, “No.”
The trucker crushed the bill in his fist. “Shit.”
The guy with the pens huffed and shook his head. He went back to closing his deal. An old lady was holding one of the pens. “I know it’s out of ink,” he explained to her. “It’s one of those renewable ones. You just put a new thing in it and, wham, you’re good to go.”
The old lady held the pen up to her glasses like she was reading a thermometer. “Are those bite marks?” she asked.
The bathroom door opened and out came the manager of the laundromat. When the trucker saw her, he threw his arms up toward the ceiling as if his prayers had been answered. She shook her head and asked, “What’s wrong with you?”
“You wouldn’t believe. I’m at the bar ‘cross the street havin’ a beer, right? Me and this guy are talkin’–this, that, so on. I have a few beers, I start gettin’ a little tired, so I put my head down–just resting, OK? Asshole takes my truck keys.”
“Out of your pocket?” asked the manager.
“Well, no. They were on the bar.” She shook her head again. The trucker scratched his nose. “Anyways,” he said, “I gotta call the cops. Your machine won’t take my dollar.”
“911’s free,” said the manager.
The trucker waved her off: “Naaah, it’s not that kind of emergency.”
I was ready to go by the time he got through to the police. “Yeah, I wanna report a stolen vehicle,” he said. “I’m on Division Street, at a pay phone….Division….D-i-v…Listen, this asshole’s out there right now, he’s fucked-up, and he’s got my truck. He took my keys off the…no! Don’t put me on…hello? Goddammit!” The trucker smacked the phone against the wall. The manager gave him a dirty look. He shrugged apologetically, then put the receiver back to his ear and turned toward the window facing Division.
Something outside caught his attention. For a few seconds he didn’t move. Then he slammed the phone down and growled, “There he is.”
The trucker ran out the door, and everybody in the laundromat crowded around the windows. A blue semi was lurching down Division like a big sick dog. Its engine roared, but the driver couldn’t keep it in gear. It jerked forward a few times, then drifted to a stop in front of the bar across the street.
“Asshole!” shouted the trucker as he dodged through traffic. Speeding cars swerved around him, horns blasting. He alternated between shaking his fist at the guy who stole his truck and giving the finger to every passing car.
The semi idled for a few seconds, then it lunged toward the corner. The trucker crossed Division just as it began turning up a side street. He ran alongside his rig for about 20 feet, but was left in the dust when the driver hit the right gear and pulled away, disappearing around the corner.
The trucker bent over, hands on his knees, and coughed. His breath floated toward the streetlights like smoke signals. He stood up, shouted “Asshole!” and took off after his truck.
Everybody in the laundromat shook their heads and traded smiles. I looked at the guy with the pens, but he ignored me as he ducked out the door.
When I walked back to grab my clothes, the Asian woman was looking at me. Reaching inside the arm of my coat for my hat, I smiled at her and said, “That was pretty crazy, huh?”
“Is that your coat?” she asked.
“What?” I said, reaching into the other arm–my hat wasn’t where I’d left it.
“That man,” she said, pointing at the door.
Out on the street I looked around for the guy with the pens. I could still hear the trucker down the block, yelling “Asshole!”