One of my favorite movies is “Dazed and Confused.” In one scene, one of the characters tells his friends why he no longer wants to be an ACLU lawyer. One day at the post office, he tells them, he realized that he would just have to accept the fact that he really didn’t like the people he wanted to help.
I came to the same realization a while back, only I was at the laundromat. Mr. Rizzuto and I are renovating our house. One of the things on his to-do list is to hook up the dryer, which involves cutting a hole in the wall or some such thing. It hasn’t been done yet, which means that after washing my clothes I have to schlep down to the Golden Island Laundromat to use the dryers.
At first glance the Golden Island looks as though it might be a state-of-the-art place. There’s a big screen TV, a jukebox and big hulking arcade games. It even has a soundtrack. …A ella le gusta la gasolina…Dame mas gasolina!…. Great, huh? Then you look at the machines and see that 75% of them have little yellow post-it notes on them. “Not working.”
There are several larger signs posted around the place. One warns customers against leaving their children unattended, and it states that the Golden Island is not responsible if the children are hurt or sold into slavery. There are droves of unattended children there, video games notwithstanding. They like to run around the place and terrorize poor unsuspecting adults. A favorite game is to push laundry carts around the tiny, narrow little aisles. And curse like sailors. They also like to take turns standing in front of the automatic doors, which is a real hoot in the wintertime. There’s another sign that says people may be hanging around for no apparent reason, and if they did, well, that was no concern of Golden Island’s. That particular sign is for the little man.You see, there’s a little man that hangs around the place and tries to pry loose change out of people. You walk in with your eyes on the floor. It’s important to avoid eye contact. As you make your way towards the dryers he says to you, “You need help mami? You need help you just tell papi!” I always just shake my head and say “no thanks.” On the way back he says, “You have tweny fi’ cents?” He points his finger up and thrusts it in your direction. “You have one quarter for Papi?”
Now, by this time I’m usually pretty pissed off. I will already have been on the phone with Mr. Rizzuto, calling him every name in the book, and telling him that I‘m never coming here again. But sometimes I give the little man a quarter anyway. Sometimes I just mumble “no, I’m sorry,” and keep it moving.
But what I really want to say is this: “Look papi, congratulations on your entrepreneurial spirit. But if I could afford to pay people to do my laundry I wouldn’t be hanging out in a place like this WITH THE LIKES OF YOU NOW WOULD I?”
Of course I never say that though. I’m a good liberal after all.
You probably think I’m pretty nuts. Maybe I am. But if that’s the case then my neighbor is certifiable. The Golden Island once had a restraining order against him. This is what happened.
The Golden Island doesn’t have coin operated machines. You have to get a little card and put money on it as you go, kind of like a debit card. One day J. put $20 on his card but the machine registered $0.
“My card says there’s no money on it. I just put in $20,” he said.
The attendant looked him up and down. “I have to ask my supervisor,” she said.
“But I just lost $20!”
“She’ll be here later.”
He started to feel a little flustered. “I have to do my laundry!”
She sized him up again. “You have to wait. And anyway, how do I know you really put that money in there?”
Next thing you know J. was over the counter and busting open the cash register. We got a call from his wife a little while later asking us to talk to the police and tell them that J. isn’t a psycho. And to help carry the laundry home, since J. was in jail.
I tell people this story and they wonder what the hell kind of people live in my neighborhood. Little do they know how close I am to scoring my own restraining order. “Respondent is hereby ordered to stay at least 100 feet away from Papi…”
Still, my liberal guilt gets to me when I have thoughts like that. One of these days I’ll have to straighten out my karma. Maybe I’ll give the little man all of our Mike’s Hard Lemonade bottles to cash in. That’ll keep him in quarters for months.