Below is Part 5 of 16 monthly installments for Visitant.
Gulled: Flights of Fancy
Is the Pursuit of Happiness help or hindrance to orderly life? Tired of speed bumps, I, Dot Motley, have become pro-active against time’s assault. I now wear a feathered periwig, or peruke, to mark my place in line. Think headgear as weathervane and try redeeming the warrantee on a failed home appliance.
Hand on heart, I curse brand loyalty and locate the manufacturer’s code of fourteen numbers on a metal plate floor-level on the back side. I dial and wait. My phone call to the 800 number is monitored for quality assistance. A robot puts me on Hold before nine minutes before a voice asks, How may I help you today? Like I don’t know it’s midnight on his side of the globe.
I load my pushcart and retreat to the local laundromat. Hatted in feathered peruke, I arrive in rubber mules with no-slip tread.
The place is hot and steamy as a rainforest. The attendants, both Asian, are nonchalant. They know why I’m there. The cheerful young woman attendant speaks excellent English. The old man, wizened as a dried apple, stares into the dryer exhaust. Detergents waft patented valley breeze, blossom burst, mountain mist.
Sunday, no wait. Hurrah! I relax, let down my guard. My head tyre lifts in flight, attempts feathery arcs across the glass. From habit, I flap my arms to shoo the flutter out the door. Apple-wizen watches my unexpected actions and mops his forehead as if fearful of germination.
I spot three adjacent empty machines and unload my cart. I bend, stuff, fluff, pour, close lid, turn dial, feed the machine gods quarters. They answer with the sound of water, lively gurgle.
I ask the woman to change a five in quarters for the dryers, glass-fronted side-loaders. Great tumble. Remember Jill?
O to rise above the cloths of life…
I must be babbling out loud.
I’m from Khmer, Cambodia, the female attendant says in crystal-clear English.
Oh, I say.
He’s Chinese, she continues, lives upstairs, says to tell he’s my father because American customers like family values. Back there, we were traditional enemies. Here, we’re chopstick kin, rice-eaters, dinks.
Race, the horrible waiting line for We the People.
I sit down and chide myself with William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 53: And you in Grecian tires are painted new (meaning attire, not Greek tires or retreads). Bard Will was impatient to undress. Or redress spring and foison of the year.
Poor guy, his hands were new to love. Or were his old fingers share-cropping the heart’s harvest, gleaning love’s foison destined for another? Sorting socks.
Half-way through the spin cycle, a customer strides into the laundromat with a basket of dirty clothes for drop-off. The man, tall and athletic in faded military fatigues, puts down the basket and greets the woman. He bows slightly, with his hands folded in sampeah. Seussday. I hear them say.
But today is Sunday, not Tuesday. All smiles, they tally the laundry items in a strange language. The woman counts on her fingers and points to the wall clock. Today, three thirty, she says in loud English, and directs her glance my way.
He nods okay, and says, Baht.
The customer, a black man, ramrod straight with greying temples, is older than I first thought. Sixty-something Nam vet, I figure, fluent in the woman’s language.
Over there, he says to me, I grooved on the people, emerald rice paddies, hanging flowers. I bring my laundry here to remember the beauty days.
My turn to nod. I’ve seen a postcard of Vietnamese rice farmers in wide straw hats dotting flooded paddies. I wonder if he were embedded in elite troops.
Rank there, retired here, he said, I’m nothing more than a zip coon scaring white rabbits.
Embarrassed, I lower my eyes, bunny-hop dryer to dryer, load my delicates and coloreds, and drop coins for correct cycle.
The Nam vet and the Cambodian woman laugh and speak the language. About food, I’m thinking, festive national dishes…
Delights, she jokes with a wink my way. GI misses more than rice bowl. He misses the pretty girls.
Her tone turns familiar, way too familiar. She leans in to me and cups her mouth with her hands. Jewels, she whispers, in my apartment.
I freeze, look for the vet, but he’s gone. The old man parts his wrinkles and yawns.
Birthstones, the woman continues. Rubies, sapphires, smoky topaz—big money gems.
I turn to my laundry, but she won’t quit.
I watch six, she says, sleep with my stones on a bamboo mat. Not a bed. Uncle Sam furniture frightens me, might topple and kill me, kaboom!
Like sky falling day and night, bombing missions against the Khmer Rouge. How old is this pert woman? I can’t tell. During Nam, I didn’t understand Year Zero. The Mekong was just one line among many on the globe of fire and blood.
Nervous, I keep folding. This is the Year of the Rabbit, reticence and self-control. I try to stay underarm dry. From the potholders and flannels, she knows I’m a single senior and, unlike the vet, a stranger to guns.
Has she or apple-wizen squirreled away a revolver under the ledge of fabric softeners? Sitting behind the far folding table, he watches her back, yes, watching six.
Sleeping with jewels is too intense. What does this woman want from me? Were she and the vet discussing Nam? Or drugs, escorts, money laundering.
The old man sighs and plucks pesky seedlings from his ears. I try to hide inside my tent dress, but my stuff is too spread out. The dryers available were not side by side.
My last load tumble-dries—Jill caught in a time warp. My shoes squeak like rubber bath toys when I walk. I don’t want assistance, but the female attendant packs my cart and smiles. Her gold teeth gleam. I see the upper row inset with gemstones.
Apple-wizen watches and pats his neck for possibilities—valley breeze, blossom burst, mountain mist—American detergent fragrances good for 80 loads That is, if you trust the label.
I panic. My errant periwig answers a belated summons, settles birdy around my head, sinks sharp claws in my scalp. Pushcart packed, headgear secure, I exit as quickly as I can.
Garner your dots, I tell myself. I stand my cart and collapse on a park bench. On the other end sits a man, thirty-something, fussing with his smart phone. Good thing he doesn’t notice laundromat funk drifting his way. Tufts from my hat are looking to re-home on his mod tight black zipper jacket and slacks. Greying him, easy as static cling.
In the sunshine, I inch up my tent dress above my knees and pretend I’m at the beach. The warmth soothes. Head-toy preens, puffed-up traitor to my angst.
Keeping with the beach theme, a seagull perches on the back of the bench. To establish turf in my postcard. Millennial man doesn’t look like he feeds city birds.
Or, has the gull mistook my hat for an albatross circling a fated ship?
Millennial man, I see, is trying to identify the gull online. Larus argentatus, I say to save him time. The herring gull, this one, has lost his buff spots, a sleek adult in breeding plumage, the Siberian form sometimes confused with the darker slate-backed gull, L. schistisagus
Right call, wrong move. Periwig, glutton for attention, flares up, a henhouse of wings, suddenly too boisterous, booming oo-loo-woo. Like I’m blowing wishes across sixty-two empty coke bottles subbing for birthday cake candles.
The debonair gull sidesteps, and the man looks up from his phone. He frowns at my massive head ruckus, but recognizes the booming call.
Attwater’s greater prairie chicken, he says, Tympanuchus cupido.
Reclassified, I blurt, once grouped with the lesser T. pallidicinctus despite different neck sacs, tympany, and eye combs. Much of their habitat now cropland.
Here’s a selfie, says millennial man. Hi, I’m Zach Batscha.
Donna Blotley, I lie, hoping awkward B-names can ally for a new decade.
I cannot resist a peek at his phone. Forget avian fantasies of Swan Lake toe shoes and tutu. Above my flat feet, I implode like a featherbed, sumptuously flammable.
Millennial man starts sexting, QT LEMENO WRT B2 YMMV 1AFM UR 2M2H.
For benefit of my fossil brain, he recites, Cutie, let me know whereof your blah-blah. Mileage may vary. One in a friggin million, you are too much to handle.
William Shakespeare, Sonnet 53, millennial man replies.
Like I don’t know my sonnets, he provides translation. Whereof are you made that millions of strange shadows on you tend?
I hear, Where are you, maid?
Here, here, my eyelids signal, fluttering like sable butterfly wings. My ears flood with beauty.
Millennial man beckons, but, on this fine Sunday afternoon, I stay put, too selfish to leave the bench and vacate Grecian tires to Gen Y and male seagull. Lesson learned from the laundromat crew—Sleep with your jewels. Ensemble is critical to staying power.
I adjust my hat, ready to take on the world. O Life, Mighty you returned me from the love front as dots in zip-lock bag, bitsy multiples, body parts that didn’t “work” for you. Plus filler from another, dots mixed in for kicks or spite or alibi with cupcake sprinkles, your all-season dander. Choosy you plucked souvenirs. My mouth you kept as keychain kiss, my hands, folded with your laundry, my breasts, your plush car dice. Guess what? The beggar dots made do. Meet regrouped pneumy knew-me New Me: ● Earlobes for lips learned speech. ● Both feet, pencil-trained, now write. ● Knock-knees, pushed-up, fill bra. That hatchet nose? A middling snub of dots. ● No pollen probs ● No snot ● No hanky-pander Now you want grateful selfies, Nude you say, meaning lewd. Take your pick: thanks to you, my brief. Today, my own thief, pickpocket, I filch wasted time from you, take longer walks, pot gold at the end of the rainbow, enjoy my tax dollar at work.
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