Here’s my latest short story. It’s not really epic or anything, but I was inspired to write it after reading some of Miranda July’s stuff. That odd little narrative voice really charmed me, so I decided to write something that reflects how I’ve been feeling a lot lately in a weird sort of way. Maybe if you really know me well you’ll understand what I mean.
It has little references to things and people and places around me because I need to find some way to fill in the details, haha. My best friend Sarah Villafuerte, Janssen Borromeo and people living in West Side should understand. Also, I was going to use the name Sun Brite for the location but “Food World” in Astoria just cracked me up so much I had to sort of name something after it.
Also, I was having a hard time coming up with the title but now that I have it, I think it’s perfect.
It’s about 17 degrees outside but I’m wearing a skirt anyway because I’d like to look like I’m going somewhere, I’d like for some man to notice that I might be attractive and wonder what the rest of me looks like under my coat.
But I’m not going anywhere and I actually look pretty terrible under my coat. I’m going to Laundry World today so I’m wearing a shirt ugly enough that I don’t need it to be clean but decent enough so that if I get hit by a car or something and they have to rip my clothes off to operate on me I don’t feel too embarrassed. Also, I just wanted to point out that Laundry World is a pretty funny name for a Laundromat, which according to Microsoft Word, is a word that should apparently be capitalized.
There’s one guy, in particular, that I would like to see me in my little skirt. Part of me is wearing it just for him, really. He’s this new guy in the neighborhood and I see him at stores sometimes. Actually, it’s a Monday and I’ve seen him at Laundry World a couple times on Mondays so I figured I’d go today because he might be there. The fact that I called in sick just to do it is kind of pathetic, but you have no idea how incredibly attracted I am to this man.
Actually, I have no real interest in him. He’s cute and I’m bored. I don’t want to go on dates, have a relationship, get married or have kids with him or anything like that. Really. At least, I think so.
You know, we’d probably have some pretty fabulous looking kids now that I think about it. I’m almost tempted to use that website that merges people’s faces together so you can figure out what their kids would look like to see what kind of progeny we’d have. But there’s always the potential that the result would be so overwhelmingly adorable that I’d want to save the image on my computer. But how would I explain that if anyone found it? They’d think I want to have kids with him, but I really don’t.
It’s not his eyes or his face or his body like it is with other guys. It’s his aura.
I just saw “Black Swan” and a lot of it is about how the lead character represses her sexuality or something and her artistic director keeps trying, very aggressively, to seduce her. He’s not the most devastatingly handsome man in the world but he’s so dark and the sense that he could, at any moment, grab you and start doing things to you that awful men would pay to see Mila Kunis do to you – that sense is what is most thrilling about him. The man I am wearing this skirt for is that sort of thrilling.
Suddenly, I’m having second thoughts about my ugly shirt. It’s some dopey shirt that says “Green Eggs and Ham” on it that’s really old and makes me look like I’ve been eating too much green eggs and ham. If he is really as dark and dangerous as I imagine him to be, he could suddenly seize me in a fit of passion and rip open my coat and find the dumbest shirt in the world. I would go home to change now, but it is probably too late.
As I drag my laundry bag in my little grandma cart into Laundry World, I look around for him – I mean, for empty washing machines. I find one at the end of the Laundromat, which is like one big hall with washers on one side and dryers on the other. There is no attendant and the place has no windows. Just the front door. It can get pretty scary when it’s empty.
It’s almost empty now, except for him. I notice him just as I start loading my washer. He notices me too and smiles. I smile back – I wave, even. But I feel kind of silly for waving since I don’t even know his name and therefore don’t really have any license to be any kind of neighborly.
But it’s not really all that silly for me to wave when you consider the fact that I put together this laundry bag just for him. I try not to be just barely notice-worthy as I pull out my best underwear, a few washable party dresses, some clever graphic t-shirts and two pairs of jeans, one blue and one black. I wasn’t sure if he preferred vixen or girl-next-door, so I went with vixen-next-door to be safe.
I watch him load his laundry. Lots of black shirts, a couple plaid-ish ones, lots of jeans. I wonder where those clothes have been, where his feet have walked and what he’s laid his eyes upon. Was he from the West Coast? The Midwest? Even better, Europe? Was he born and raised in Zambia, sent off to a boarding school in London and accidentally deported to Mexico after being mistaken for a famous drug lord? And now that he’s here, maybe he can whisk me away from boring old Jersey City into a brave new world where pregnant seventh-graders don’t run around playing football and people bother to vote!
The Laundromat is old. The washing machines are old. The dryers are not, because they were recently replaced. Before that, they were old too. So the lettering and washing instructions on my machine are all scratched out.
“Hey, where do I turn this knob for the bright colors cycle?” I ask him.
“All the way to the right, I think.” He looks on his machine for reference. “Yeah, it says ‘r ght co rs’ on mine all the way to the right.”
“Thank you ,” I say. I try to say it in a way so he’d feel obligated to finish my sentence with his name, but he probably thought I just said “Thank you.” He puts coins in his machine and sits down in one of the chairs in the corner to read a book. It’s one of those “The Girl with the Mismatched Nail Polish” or “The Girl Who Fell in the Snow” books, whatever they’re called.
“Hey, is that ‘The Girl who Smashed Pumpkins’ or something like that?” I ask.
“It’s ‘The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest’ by Stieg Larsson,” he says.
I try to make a face that says, “Yes, I know, I was just joking” but he can tell that I really mean, “I seriously thought that was the name of the book but I was so far off that I want to stick my head in one of the dryers and run it on high for three quarters’ worth of time.”
It would be easier for me to deal with my embarrassment if I knew his name. Why wasn’t he telling me his name? Maybe it was something so drab he was ashamed of it. Like “John” or “Luke.” Maybe it was the kind of name that would get you stopped at the airport or maybe he shared a name with someone infamous like Charles Manson or Lee Harvey Oswald. Was it exotic? Was he a Bernarde with an unnecessary e? A Stanislav? An Edward? Or perhaps it was something so marvelous, so perfect that he couldn’t just tell anybody.
I put coins in my machine, too, and then the only other person in the Laundromat, some strange guy who always walking around wearing earphones and listening to that atrocious 106.7 FM lite-mix station, leaves. Now it’s just me and him.
“Are you new here?” I ask, knowing the answer is yes.
He looks up and says plainly, “No.”
“Oh. I haven’t seen you around before.” He is lying to me. He has to be lying to me.
“Well, I’ve lived here all my life.”
I would have noticed someone dark and mysterious living around my neighborhood.
“I’ve been living here my whole life too,” I say.
“And you still don’t know that outfit isn’t meant for New Jersey weather?”
I laugh awkwardly and then realize he isn’t really kidding. He looks sort of serious, actually. Now that he’s talking to me and all, he doesn’t seem dark and mysterious anymore. He’s just some average American guy. You know, he’s the kind of guy who would probably be named Travis or Brad or something equally bland if we lived in a part of the country where siblings are romantically fair game. The chances that he was named Charles Manson or Stanislav have gone down significantly, at least in my book.
Still, I try to make conversation. After all, he’s reading a critically acclaimed crime thriller, so there’s still some hope that he might be somewhat interesting. “Where do you work?”
“Well, I used to work at McBride’s. Then we went out of business.”
McBride’s was the pawn shop a couple blocks down the street. Or at least I think it was. It was always going out of business, really, and whenever whatever they were doing didn’t work out, they’d just choose another business to go into until that didn’t work out either.
“What is it now?” I ask.
“What do you mean?”
“What is it now? It was a pawn shop, right?”
“No. It’s out of business. Ka-put. Gone. Kablooey.” He made a gesture that said, “Boom.”
“Kablooey? Did someone blow it up?” If so, I was unaware.
“Of course not. It’s just down the street, boarded up and locked.”
“Oh. I haven’t seen it in a while. It’s always closed when I come back home from New York. That’s where I work.” I add the last part for interest, hoping that maybe he’ll ask what I do, who I hang out with, if I’m free tonight, if I’d like to see what he looks like without his shirt.
“Well, now it’s also always closed when you’re not home from New York. It’s closed. Closed all the time.” He says it again, really slowly, like I was a fifth-grader who wasn’t capable of understanding such things. Actually, fifth-graders could probably understand that stuff just fine but I didn’t remember what it was like to be a fifth-grader anymore. Innocence was a long time ago.
“Yeah, I get it. It’s closed.”
“So yeah, now I’m unemployed. You know, maybe I have seen you before, now that I think of it. Do you go to Jenny’s to get your coffee every morning?”
“Okay, that must be it. I see you every day going to get your coffee around the time I get into work. Well, now I don’t work. But yeah. Nice to meet you-meet you.”
Suddenly, he was less attractive. Not because he was unemployed. I used to think he was some hot new guy in the neighborhood. Now he was just another boy from the rotten side of town who put trash into the flowerbeds planted by the Neighborhood Revitalization Committee and who couldn’t wear hoodies in the winter no matter how cold it was because having no peripheral vision meant getting jumped.
He had seen me before but never bothered to say anything. That was unattractive too, although to be fair, I’m not really so devastatingly drop-dead gorgeous that someone would forsake their professional duties to go outside, run across the street and say, “Hey! Lady with the coffee! You’re so beautiful! I love everything about you – your little work pumps, your NJ Transit bus pass necklace, your 100% Colombian coffee, your self-important leather tote! Will you marry me?”
“So what’s your name?” he asks suddenly. “You got one?”
I mumble my name and gather my things. “I think I’ll go order some Chinese food while waiting for the wash to finish,” I said.
“Aren’t you going to ask what my name is?” he asks.
I walk forward and get a really good look at him and realize that I already know his name. I went to grade school with his younger brother and was best friends with his sister before she thought that I was “popping lip” about her and slapped me in the middle of the cafeteria.
Actually, I’ve seen him before I thought I started seeing him. He got drunk with his friends one night and mooned some of the poor church ladies walking down the street after their evening service one Wednesday.
“Does it happen to be Ted?”
“Yeah! How’d you know?”
I just shrug, go outside and start walking.
“Hey! The Chinese restaurant is the other way!” says Ted.
“Yeah, that’s okay. I’m going home to change. I wore this for someone who isn’t here.”