Archive for the ‘The Mojave’ Category
Saw this on the Laundry At The Center of the Universe’s bulletin board:
It’s a good organization and they’ve certainly been proactive in addressing an issue here in the lower Mojave. They’ve been operating out of a mobile unit (trailer) for quite some time, so a permanent place is great.. But this caught my eye:
Socio-political commentary aside (and excepting pets who are inheritors in the wills from a few rich heiresses like Leona Helmsley,) what animal has an income?
They showed up from time to time on Sundays here at the Laundromat at the Center of the Universe. The femme of the pair was a dark-haired, darker skinned version of a young Woody Allen, if the latter habitually wore sweats and fifty more pounds on his short frame. The other half of the couple, who we’ll call “Buck,” was the opposite, slightly taller and half the mass of his companion, with sandy hair, a skeletal face, and a loud voice. Buck dressed ‘butch’, usually in flannels and worn jeans, sometimes with a buckskin jacket. Today it was a set of coveralls, logging boots and a boonie-hat.
It was kind of cute in a saccharine way to see them come in, chattering back and forth, helping each other with the laundry. Their dog, a young shepherd-collie mix that Woody called “Biscuit” would come in with them and lay under one of the tables or at one or the others’ feet.
This morning was different.
Pablo and I watched as their little SUV backed into the last open parking slot slowly, as if it was carrying a live bomb. Woody got out of the passenger side, said something long, sharp and shrill to the driver, slammed the door and huffed around to the back of the vehicle. Biscuit, who was in the back, cringed as Woody grabbed a couple of bags and stormed off for the entrance. Buck’s expression as he got out was a mixture of confusion, concern, and boy-have-I-screwed-up. He gave Biscuit a quick scratch behind the ears before grabbing a basket full of throw-rugs and closing the hatch on the dog .
They’d had a fight. From the signs, it had been a beauty.
“Ooooh, boy.” was all Pablo said. Pablo’s been married thirty years, me about two-thirds as long.
Woody stomped through the front door of the Laundromat, closing it behind him, and stopped when he the saw two of us sitting there.
“Hi,” he said, deliberately dropping his voice about two octaves.
“Morning,” said Pablo in his usual drawl.
“Good morning!” I said with all the cheer I could muster. I don’t know why I did that. Woody just glared at me and continued down to the unused washers. It took Buck a bit longer to enter, what with the heavy basket and his aiming for the other and open entrance door. He skirted his partner, opting for the far side of the folding tables and the heavy-duty washers in the back. I noticed Woody had picked the farthest open washer from the heavy duty ones.
It wouldn’t have been a stretch to say the air in the Laundromat dropped a few degrees. Everyone either tried to look busy or decided to go get some coffee.
Woody jammed his stuff in the machine, answering Buck’s “helpless husband” questions with one or two-words, without looking at Buck. He measured his detergent and softener, punched the requisite temperature-and-cycle buttons and dropped his quarters in.
The machine didn’t start.
So Woody opened and closed the door again. He punched the requisite temperature-and-cycle buttons again. He pressed the coin-return button and then pressed it a few more times. Each time was a little harder than the last.
The machine still didn’t start.
Woody then began a pattern of beating on the coin box with a pudgy fist alternated with opening and slamming the washer door. The sequence continued and then got more animated, accompanied by the longest, most imaginative string of vituperation I’d heard since that day in the Persian Gulf back in ’88, when my Chief Hull Technician scraped the skin off his knuckles while trying to show a hapless underling “how P-250 pump-starting was supposed to be done.”
People came from the other side of the Laundromat to watch as Woody continued beating faster and faster on the machine. Pablo and I just sat there, mesmerized by the performance. The only thing missing was kicking and an accompanying drum beat.
Just when I thought Woody would lapse into complete, tearful hysteria, he stopped. He quietly pulled his laundry out and placed it in a neighboring machine, and went through the start-up litany again. The machine, thankfully, worked. Woody completed this performance with another string of muttered cursing, this time with “three-fifty wasted” added to the mix.
Buck finally decided it was safe to join in.
“Do you need more quarters?” He held out a partially-used roll of them.
“No, I’m good… thanks,” Woody said, sounding spent. Buck pointed at his machine and complained about how little water was coming into it. Though it seemed fine to me, it was enough for Woody to walk over, look at the offending washer and commiserate with his partner.
They went off in search of the “manager.” Usually the Professor handles problems like this, and quickly. But the Professor has been sick lately and his deficient-on-all-but-self-esteem son was nowhere to be found. The Laundromat crowd, relieved that the drama was over, helpfully offered suggestions and consolation to the pair. Buck kept saying to everyone that “sh** like this never happened when I ran a business.” Woody just looked exhausted and upset.
Finally a woman who looked like a gunnery-sergeant tracked down a number for them on her phone and the two stepped outside to make the call. The show over, the crowd went back to their business.
When I left a while later, they were sitting close together on one of the benches out front, talking with low voices and sharing a cigarette. Biscuit was lying at their feet, looking up at the two and cautiously wagging his tail. All was right with the pack again – for now.
“I’m going back to Idaho.” Those were the first words from the Mechanic when I walked into the Laundromat at the Center of the Universe.
The Mechanic’s been here longer than me. He moved to California at twenty-one with the firm offer of a job in the oilfields. Now he’s in his forties, divorced, did a couple of years in jail (“for being stupid”) and unemployed when the axe fell on his contract job out at the base a couple of months back. We’ve talked a lot during the waiting times, usually about cars, The Professor’s health issues, doings in the town, getting pulled over by the CHP, the joys of working for the government, the joys of working through the California family-court system, his neighbors’ stealing his cable (and the Mexican lad across the way calling the cops on them), his moving out to a new place after a nearby meth lab blew up. The usual stuff for a little town out in the Mojave.
We seldom talked politics and religion came up only once, when his kids wanted to head off to church with a friend’s family. ‘Going to Idaho’ is something he’s talked about over the past half decade, while we sat on the benches and watched the crazies go by. Then last Christmas he made a trip up there to see his family, the first time in six years, and he took his kids along.
The supplemental information came hard and fast. A friend landed a huge long-term contract working in the forests and called him, saying the Mechanic’s skills were a fit and could he start soon, like the beginning of next month. It would be a Spring-through-Autumn deal, meaning the hunting season would be unimpeded. Mom wasn’t doing too well. She was moving in with one of the siblings and the family home was going to be empty. The Mechanic paused to take a drag off his cigarette.
“And my son wants to go, too.”
The boy was the Mechanic’s pride and joy, twelve and fast growing out of the pudgy-lad stage. There’d been the stories about the problems with his school and the struggles to stay out of trouble. I remembered the Mechanic talking about how the kid had taken to the woods and the mountains, going hunting and hiking with his cousins. There’d been a change in the boy since that two-week visit. There was something in the eyes, awareness and even thoughtfulness.
“I checked the school up there,” the Mechanic continued, “It’s small and it’s got good ratings. He’ll have to do some catching up, but my brother’s boy is in the same grade. And he can stay with family while I’m at work”
There was a break in the conversation as we watched an ambulance came screaming up the highway, followed by a fire truck. Not unusual for a Sunday morning in an area where age, obesity, respiratory problems and heart attacks were common. Moments later a Highway Patrol car roared by. So much for the cardiac arrest theory.
“I gotta get him outta California,” the Mechanic said through a haze of cigarette smoke as the sirens died away, “He deserves something better than this. He deserves to have a future.”
We didn’t say anything for a while, then he excused himself to retrieve his laundry from the dryer while I sat and watched a gaggle of hipsters stroll to the vegetarian restaurants down the street.
“You still got my number, right?” I asked him when he came back out with his bags.
“Yeah,” he replied as he threw the bags in the back of his truck. “I’ll see ya around, there’s still a few weeks.”
“Yeah,” I replied back, “see you around.”
Thirty minutes later I was heading home when Billy Joel came over the satellite radio, singing about a time when he wasn’t old and gray and hadn’t drunk the bittersweet dregs of success.
Now John at the bar is a friend of mine
He gets me my drinks for free
And he’s quick with a joke or to light up your smoke
But there’s someplace that he’d rather be
He says, “Bill, I believe this is killing me.”
As the smile ran away from his face
“Well I’m sure that I could be a movie star
If I could get out of this place”
La la, di da da da dum