NYC Journal #13 – Saturday, 5/9/2020 – Proto-Normalcy
It was in the high thirties last night, with a gray tumbling wind. Unseasonably cold for NYC. A little before noon, his laundry in a lumpy white cotton bag clutched to his chest, wearing long underwear under his khakis, a long-sleeved T-shirt over his regular T-shirt and under a thick orange sweater, itself under a puffy red vest of tent material and otherwise crying “suburban outdoorsman”, he set out under through the cold, windy, bright sunny air.
In the low forties then, and windy. The laundromat is large boxy and blue gray with a TV over the snack machine that faces the round picnic table whose metal-mesh top is coated in a rubbery blue plastic. A woman sat at the table, facing the TV, but with head bowed (long dark brown hair gushing out the back) over her telephone screen. On the TV chorus girls danced with knowing smiles and then they showed the picture of a 60ish year old man grinning quietly to himself, sipping from a big round beer mug, enjoying the show. Then the credits roll and that image is dropped down to the lower half of the screen while, lest the audience consider any activity other than movie-watching at this channel right now and forever, a new film starts. The short woman with the round acorn-brown face, her usual subtle smile covered in a blue medical mask, but her distantly-focused eyes testifying to a continuation of this standard mien, approaches. She looks cozy and with a touch of penguin in her lime green zip-up sweatshirt. “Picking up?”
Now the TV has a bunch of old white guys playing cards in a home or some other non-gaming-house. One guy is rambling about the intricacies of the game. Another guy says, “well if that’s the case” and puts all his chips in the center of the table.
“Dropping off”, says the guy in the red vest, his hair now short and upon close inspection clearly cut by its owner, standing in a poorly lit bathroom, hacking here and there with scissors and so leaving the back unduly ruffled, and with, here he must’ve used a razor, a big square patch missing from behind one ear. This man wears a white coffeefilter-style mask and his paleness is a little undermined by a touch of inveterate peach and the lightest beginnings of suntan.
$17! That’s quite a bit. But he knew it would be a lot. And the scale says 15lbs, which confirms that it is a lot. He takes the waxy yellow ticket, thanking her.
This is one of the few laundromats in this area with a parking lot. He can’t think of another one in his neighborhood with a parking lot. The many machines were mostly idle; a few people stood by their laundry. He crossed the emptyish lot in front of the laundromat and then crossed sidewalk, street, sidewalk, and, pausing at the sign “Dear Customers, Beginning March 11, we will no longer have dining service. We will continue to provide pick-up and delivery services …”, pushed the metal handle to open the glass door.
He’d eaten inside once a year or two ago. He’d actually forgotten to pay the bill and was walking out when a waitress had stopped him with a look of annoyed suspicion. He really had forgotten (or so he still believes), but he could think of no reason why they should be so sure and the incident had embarrassed him; for that reason, and/or simply because he doesn’t eat out much anyway, he’d not been back. Now a single row of the small square wooden tables remained, pushed up against the long window on the left hand side of the door. Directly across, the remaining tables and all the chairs were stacked up together against that far wall. In the center of the room sat a large black motorcycle, leaning proudly on its silver kickstand, it’s chrome handlebars at low T pointing towards the wide hardwood planks.
The sombreros on the wall, the knick-knacks (example: a large doll with an undecorated body but a Mexican wrestler’s mask reclines in a breadloaf-sized play green cradle) in the window sills, and the Day of the Dead designs cut out of bright-colored papers strung along chords near the ceiling — all this remained as before.
Alcohol was displayed on the wooden counter in front of the registrar and the enclosed kitchen. The white wine bottle had $24! on a cut-out cardboard star. The rosé was $17. The bottled beers had no price tags. “Why would you spend $24 for this take-out wine when you can walk five minutes to the liquor store and get the same wine for $12?”, he thought to himself. But he hoped for the establishment’s sake that some customers would choose to go along with such a crazily foolish proposition.
The guys working behind the counter are always tan and have thick dark hair under ballcaps. About his height (so kind of short) and speaking Spanish to one another while he waited beside the motorcycle, dancing around to the Spanish-language music, occasionally stopping to watch, on one of the two giant-screen TVs on either side of the entrance door, the replay of a Barcelona player get heroically close to scoring a goal.
“Ebenezer”, said one of the 30ish year olds. Evenezer approached the counter, but the other was still at a counter behind the register, and had his back half-turned towards Ebenezer. “Ebenezer, do you want hot sauce or utensils.” “Yes, hot sauce! … what was the other thing?” “Any utensils?” “No! No utensils!” “OK, here you go, Ebenezer.” Ebenezer paused as he put his bare hand on the ridge formed by the stapled top of a brown paper bag containing a square aluminum tin holding a burrito and sealed with a plastic lid (and a few packets of hot pepper sauce). “Thank you” he said, his face determinedly directed towards the other, younger man. “Sure, so problem”, said the other, with a slightly disconcerted, or perhaps merely contemplative lilt carrying the ends of the words up a little higher and holding them there a little longer than pleasant business exchanges generally require.
And so he walked home, still in the cold windy sunshine. A woman the shade of a medium-dark chocolate with long black braids trailing walked ahead, bent to one side by the weight of her long wide canvas grocery bag. She wore a long coat but between her skimpy red canvas sneaker flats, low white socks and green sweatpant pedal pushers, a not-insignificant portion of her bare calves were exposed to the chilly air. She stopped a moment, leaned her weight on her planted left leg, and, right foot turned out with toes on the sidewalk, rested the bag on her raised right heel. He thought of stopping to help.
But she had on plastic gloves and a mask and he had no gloves and had already put his mask back in his free hand and he wanted to hurry home before the cold swirling winds stole his (chicken, rice, black beans, lettuce, tomatoes, pico de gallo) burrito’s warmth. And anyway, that kind of random helpfulness isn’t really done, and was therefore liable to disorientate her; plus she was taller than him and not scrawny — would the mere masculinity of his muscles make for a real improvement?
And so, as if to formally and decidedly declare his decision to sail on by, he accelerated past her, out of the shadow of a large apartment building, into the street, heading towards the sunny-side sidewalk, excited for lunch.
Life is back to normal in New York City. Kind of. Well, we’ve been doing what we’re now doing for a while, which makes it a kind of normal.
Author: Johnny Nnd Spoeott, with AB Cee IV
Editorial Negligence: B. Willard, with A. Whistletown
Copyright: AM Watson
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