No Dying in the Machines

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“I don’t like washing my personal undergarments here. They’s people have a thing for panties. They steal em. Then they bring em home and do Lord knows what with em. If I’m lying I’m dying. “

“Men’s or women’s?”

“Men don’t wear panties. They wear plain old underwears.”

“Drag queens wear panties.”

“Drag queens? Lord have mercy, this Laundromat’s getting too strange for me. Well–the way I was raised. I was raised that girls wore panties and boys wore underwears. That’s how I was raised. In a decent home. Catholic school, for all eight of us kids. Think that was easy for Mama and Papa? Tuition for eight children, not easy, let me tell you. I sure wish I had me a washer and a dryer. Harold, my husband Harold, we had a lovely home that he built for us–with his bare hands he did. Had a washer and a clothesline for when the weather was nice, you know, and a dryer for when it rained. And we had a car, a Buick, mind you, a real car, not one a these cheap plastic things they drive now. From my own Sears Kenmore washer and dryer and a Buick, to the Lots-a-Suds Laundromat and the RTA bus.”

“They spelled dyeing wrong.”

“What darling?”

“On the sign. It says, ‘No Dying in the Machines.’ They mean dyeing, D-Y-E-I-N-G. For dyeing clothes.”

“Oh they did, didn’t they? They must not of been taught by nuns, because let me tell you, the sisters at St. Cecilia’s made sure you could spell, yes indeed. Got hit with a ruler if you spelled like that. I never could spell, got smacked with the ruler for it all the time. Now my Harold, he could spell. He won a ten dollar savings bond in a spelling bee when he was twelve years old.  He sure did. If I’m lying I’m dying. Yes indeed.”

“What happened to Harold? If you don’t mind me asking?”

“Oh honey, he died. He sure did.”

“Not in the machine?”

“Oh, Lord no. That’s funny. Even Harold would’ve laughed at that one. You should be a comedian. “

“Yeah, people say I’m too sarcastic sometimes. Look, you think he’s one of them? A panty thief?”

“Oh, for sure. He looks like one. Way you can tell is—they hangs out all day in the Laundromat. All day. Ain’t washing nothing. Just looking for panties.”

“That guy should wear a T-shirt that says, ‘I’m a panty thief and proud of it.’”

“Oh Lord, you make me laugh. You are too much. So–you make your husband and kids laugh too?”

“No husband, no kids. I bartend in the Quarter.”

“Oh you live The Exciting Life then. I always said there was two kinds of lives. The Plain Old Life, like me and Harold. Married at eighteen. Four kids. A house. Nothing too fancy. And then there’s The Exciting Life. Movie Stars. Ballerinas. Football and Baseball Players. Boxers. Race Car Drivers. Singers like Frank Sinatra and Elvis. And bartending in the French Quarters. Ain’t been in thirty years, if I’m lying I’m dying. Used to go for coffee and donuts when we was kids, Papa would drive us over for a treat, all us kids in the car in our pajamas. Then me and Harold when we was courting. Don’t go now. Can’t see me getting on the 88 St. Claude bus and high-tailing it to the French Quarters.”

“You think bartending’s exciting?”

“Honey, believe you me–it sure sounds more exciting than being married to Harold for fifty years. He worked the hardware store and I scrubbed floors and raised kids. It sounds exciting to me.”

“Don’t forget about Harold winning the spelling bee.”

“Oh, you’re right. We had our moments. Look—he stuck something in his pocket. I think he got one of your purple gouchies.”

“Gouchies?”

“Maw-Maw called em gouchies. In polite company. “

“Hey you! Excuse me, sir. I do believe those are mine. The undergarments. The purple undergarments in your pocket. “

“That’s just my hanky, Miss.”

“Let me see it.”

“Here, you can have them.”

“I can’t believe he tried to kidnap my panties.”

“It’s a crazy world. Takes all kinds. Some days–without Harold–I just want to die. Give up. I could crawl into that machine and die. You’re young, it hasn’t happened to you yet. But when your family and your friends–they just start dying off. And you find yourself alone and too old to go the French Quarters and have a beer. They don’t even make Dixie no more, do they darling?”

“You can come see me at the bar where I’m working. The Bastille on Toulouse Street. “

“Oh Lord. I’d look like a drunken old floozy. I sure would. What happened to that cute young chick Harold was courting back in the day?”

“Don’t think like that. You’re not old. And you got kids, grandkids, I’ll never have that.”

“You’re right, darling. Thank the Lord. I am lucky, luckier than most. Sometimes that’s easy to forget. Don’t want to move in with my daughters, though. Just wish I hadn’t lost the house, we had so many of them doctor’s bills and hospital bills with Harold. We just couldn’t pay it all. Ain’t it a shame? You’ll see. You’ll see, hon. There’s a lotta loss in this Life.”

“I’ve had loss.”

“At your age? Honey, you look like you just lost your baby teeth. If I’m lying I’m dying. “

“I’ve had loss already, believe me. My boyfriend JT–he shot this guy–in Johnny’s Bar. Went to Angola State Prison. I was gonna have an abortion, didn’t know what to do. “

“Oh Lord. Abortions. I never knew no one who had one of those. I just went and had the babies. Four of em. Plop. Plop. Plop. Plop. Harold Jr. Harriet. Henry. Henrietta. Harold used to tease me, said I was like a baby-making machine. And they’d all follow me around like little ducklings and I didn’t have a moment of peace. But I was happy, busy every second. All those questions. Lord, they never stopped asking questions. Why is the sky blue? Why does the sun shine? But I was happy. Now it’s too quiet.”

“I had the baby. Named her Angela Marie. I was going to keep her. But I was so scared. No one to help me. So I gave her up, I put her up for adoption. I didn’t have no one to watch her when I went to work. I didn’t want to raise her up on welfare and food stamps. So-“

“But honey, what about your Mama? “

“She died. She OD’d on booze and pills when I was fourteen”

“That’s a crying shame.”

“She wouldn’t have helped anyway. I lived with my dad and stepmom for a while, then split when I was fifteen and a half. So you better not crawl in that machine there and die. Your kids and your grandkids, they need you.”

“Oh Lord, you’re right about that. You think they don’t need you once they’re grown, but sometimes, they need you even more. Hey, look. He’s back. The Purple Panty Thief. “

“I should do a stand-up comedy bit about this. You know, an open mike.”

“Honey, I knew you was a comedian. “

“No–I’ve never had the nerve.”

“Go ahead. Try it. You do your comedy act–I’ll come see it and I’ll sit in the front row. Now go get your panties from that man.”

“I think he’s got YOUR panties this time. Your green striped personal undergarments.”

“Oh, Lord, Harold would’ve loved this. He laughed louder than anyone at the Vagaries of Life. He loved Life. He sure did.”

**********************

Photo Credit: “Laundromat,” Pixabay Copyright-free images.

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