06 December, 2005

Grainy Photographs of Things I Can't Remember

Today, trying to get organized before plunging headlong and painfully into study mode, I came across yet another forgotten and unfinished chunk of writing on one of the hard drives scattered about chez moi. It appears to be from February of last year. I honestly do not recall writing this, though the fact that drinking is mentioned makes me think I may have been tipsy at the keys again. What boggles is how it appears edited: Though I rarely misspell egregiously, this fairly polished to be a forgotten chunk. I hope maybe I'll remember where I was headed, since I got a chuckle out of a few of the ideas herein...

“I was at a Laundromat somewhere near North and Clybourn doing only doing sheets and towels,” declared the disheveled unknown stranger seated at the bar next to me. “That day, it was gray, of course, as gray is a suitable backdrop to most fantastic stories – like a fog machine in an overblown musical. Rain seemed imminent, but never fell. It was a bit cool, with a bit of moist wind. A perfectly nearly miserable day, perfect for the laundry. Today I had gone with a book and actually sat in one of the orange chairs with faded strands of fiberglass showing. As I usually do, I thought of how many asses it would take to polish a brand new fiberglass chair to the point where the “fiber” shows through the “glass.” I never actually stay by the machine while it swishes or buffets my clothing. My mind tells me I have better things to do, and I come back in the alleged time it takes for the operation to complete and find my threads piled either on the goopy, unctuous detergent residue atop the washer or lolling in lint on the table beside the dryer. But yes, this time I sat with my book, determined to be vigilant.

“At first, I did not read. Staring at the spin cycle, I was too absorbed in the vortex of humanity caught in my peripheral vision. A fat man, replete with bags of many kinds, just like the bags on his body, sorting tent-like garments. A thin old woman with short graying hair and enormous clear-plastic framed glasses that shielded half of her face. An argumentative yuppie couple, he in a rather attractive suit that clearly made him unhappy, she in an odd combination of knits and leather that she thought gave her an aura of power. I couldn’t help but notice that her boots were salt-stained, though it hadn’t snowed all year.

“So what with the book attention and the sitting by the machine shtick, this was a break in Joseph Everyman Schmoe’s normal weekly routine. I eventually slipped between the pages of the book, and was absorbed by comforting wordy scenarios. With each passing syllable, the population of the establishment decreased. When the time came, I shuffled slightly sodden fabrics from one machine to the next, then contributed to the exposure of ass-sanded fibers. With roughly five minutes left on the soothingly cacophonous dry cycle, I noticed a newcomer.

“Now, lemme digress a little. I’m a reserved guy. I don’t talk unless I have to. One of the tendencies that irks me the most in the programming commonly called human nature is the guy who just balls out talks to any stranger he meets. I was taught since I was tiny that you just don’t talk to strangers, unless you got something to gain. What is it about this unknown guy that makes him so… odious? So odious to me? I… even attractive persons to whom I’m attracted by some primal instinct… they scare me to death. Well, not so much to death as speechless.”

Speaking of speechless, I had been spellbound by the speaker’s eloquent soliloquy up until he asked leave of me to digress. He was courteous enough to ask leave, but left without consent. But I digress; he whom I’d taken to be a disheveled grad student had slipped to conversational amoeba, or rather some mass of aerobic bacteria. He was sucking the life out of my evening.

“I really got no reason to talk to strangers,” he continued, heedless of my silent and motionless protests to end. “The nicest gesture a stranger can offer is silence.”

“Now, ruth be told (I think he meant truth, Ruth’s drunken distant cousin), I suppose the gentleman in question was not a total stranger, as I had seen him in this particular establishment often. A little quirk of my mind tempts me to conjecture that he exists only in that establishment. I’d be harpreddess (hard pressed?) to refute such a conjecture not for the story he told, that I’m telling to you.” And the story that I am telling you, dear reader.

“So, I’m lulled by the silence of the laundrmat, punctuated… eh, the near silence that is, by the humclick of the machine…”

“The humclick?” I asked, grasping at desperate straws for lack of any other foothold in this alcoholic conversational wasteland.

“Yeah,” he said, “the dryer makes a hum as it goes, and something clicks now and then. The clack of plastic buttons on tin, I guess…”

“Clack of plastic? Aren’t buttons made of vulcanized rubber?”

“Stop sideclacking me!” he pleaded. “It’s a transcendental experience, being in the zone, with Kerouac’s words rushing over you, syncopated by the beat and zip of buttons on steel buffeted by hot air. The best quarters I ever dropped on amusement.”

I had tried to read Kerouac once. I could certainly see the part about words rushing, but his arrangement of words on paper held no allure for me. Neither did the sound of a dryer at work. Either my interlocutor was psychic, or I made some grunt of disapproval, because he said defensively “You know, Fabercrombie & Aitch had some pretty slick catalogs where his books were featured as fashion accessories.”

I couldn’t deny the weight of this averment, so I half nodded, half drank. I’m sure I looked like a pigeon in Daley plaza darting its neck out as it walks, strutting for crumbs. Moments passed in silence. He finished his drink and wobbled to his feet off his stool, and I rejoiced, as I had seen him pay and tip the bartender with cash. I thought he must be on his way. Instead, he flagged the bartender, demanded a refill, and intimated that he’d be right back. I watched him sway toward the back of the bar, presumably to piss, and fingering my still (unfortunately) nearly full pint glass, thought about leaving.

But alas, dear reader, I am a cheapskate. In social settings, if someone departs with even a teaspoon of drink left in their glass, I lament the sorry state of mankind. Such manna of mankind left to evaporate goes against the tenets of my religion of consumption. The bartender approached, saying “another diet and bourbon for ‘Mr. Chatty’” and placed a glass of murky bubbly liquid [where] atop a fresh receipt.

“Do you know this guy?” I ask.

“What guy?” the bartender says, suppressing a gag, as he sniffed the rag he’d used to wipe the bar and serving areas.

“The guy you called ‘Mr. Chatty,’” I said.

“Oh, he’s here, and talking, telling the same story all the time. Three, four nights a week.”

I considered staying in place and hastening the trips from counter to mouth, though on this Wednesday night there were other stools available. Despite several hearty heart-burning gulps, I still had more than half of my eighth beer to drink. I decided to shuffle off to a stool by the floor to ceiling windows where I could watch the Chicago police get harassed by drunken passerby, and do their best to fight back.

My amusement was quashed when I felt Mr. Chatty’s voice assault my oblivious back. I involuntarily turned around, and saw him wiping apparently dry hands on his corduroys. “You moved!” he said. “Let me just get Mr. BourbyLite and I’ll be back.”

He did as threatened, and as though no time had elapsed, he said. “so I’m swaying to the words and the dryer’s beat, and this muh…”

“Muh?” I asked.

“Yeah, muh. Like mutherfucker.” Pause, sip, gulp. “This muh does his business with the washer, then sits right down next to me on a five seat bank of individual orange fiberglass chairs. He let out a deep, idiotic, mouth-breather sigh...

I'm not quite sure where you're headed with this, but it holds my attention in a very strange way. I think the story that's being retold really has to be something disturbing and shocking in order to justify the long tangential narrative.
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