It was a day for laundry, and I got the task. Not familiar with the place, the Monte Vista Laundry, I met by a kindly older Korean lady, she must have been the owner, a woman of short stature but piercing eyes and a no-nonsense attitude. She asked me what I wanted to wash and I showed her my two large king size down comforters.
“You use Harry,” she said with no trace of a smile.
“Harry,” I asked.
“Yes, there are three big ones here for washing really big things. They are called Tom, Dick and of course Harry." She pointed toward a set of three large stainless steel machines, each with a round window in the front. The machines bore their names in Sharpie wide black letters. I noticed that they seemed to have had the most use of any machine, just based on the nicks on their doors and surfaces.
I walked to Harry, noticed that it took only quarters, and felt a tap on my shoulder.
“Maybe now you need these,” the owner asked with a handful of quarters tightly held in her fist, her other hand opened to accept the dollar bills I needed to give her.
“Sure,” I said sheepishly. “My first time for this. ”
She smiled, that kind of grin that tells me that she had seen it all before, heard it all before, and was just making a living in spite of it.
I handed over my quarters, and pushed the feathery comforters into the stainless drum. Again, she tapped me on the shoulder.
“Quarters here, soap here, bleach here,” she said with a practiced chant.
“Thanks, and I appreciate the…”
“You want coffee? I made earlier, pretty strong, but keep you awake better,” she said with a smile.
“Sure,” I answered, pushing the door closed on the items and hoping it would really lock.
I took a irregularly shaped paper cup from the stack and poured the motor oil consistency coffee into the cup. It was very cold and very strong, at least based on the smell. I was tempted to tell the lady about it but she was occupied watching something on one of the 24 inch flat screen televisions bolted to each of the four walls.
I walked to a round table in the front of the room, and spied a pile of magazines, all older than a year, weeklies like People, and other photo magazines. Must have been discards from the supermarket check outlines, I guessed.
I was about to sit down when I heard a flutter of wings and a green medium sized parrot flew in and landed on my table. He turned his head left and right to eye me and was about to make some comment when his owner walked in, carrying a paper bag of clothing. He was tall, dressed casually, snowy white hair neatly trimmed and handsome. I made him to be about 45 or so.
“Hector, please leave the man alone,” he said scooping the bird up and placing him on his right shoulder. The parrot immediately pecked at the man’s diamond stud earning. The man rubbed the bird’s head and he settled into finding a washer and putting his clothes in.
I stared out the window. This space had been a restaurant in former years, a hangout we went to once a week. Jerry the owner, was a gay former Marine, not easy to be in those days. Together with his partner, Dennis, the chef, they served inexpensive quality food. Jerry had a weakness for Thai food; the hotter the better. I recall eating very spicy food there many times and paying for it later with antacids. Jerry’s weakness was alcohol and by mid-meal he was soused, forgetting to take the check, or pouring alcohol into our water glasses. We always paid.
I was remembering those good times when the parrot again landed on my table, skidding to a stop at the edge of my table. Pushing his feathers together, he again eyed me. I reached out carefully and he jumped on my hand, his head bobbing up and down.
Quarters were being dropped in one of the washers, and then I heard the sound of a money being pushed into a washer. The parrot’s owner approached. “He is a nuisance and gets really feisty sometimes. Just push him away. After a few times he gets the message and goes off to some other place. ”
“He’s not bothering me,” I said stroking the bird’s head. “In fact we have a little love fest going at the moment. Maybe he’ll fall asleep.”
“That’d be a first, at least for Hector. He keeps me company but he never seems to sleep. ”
I motioned for the man to sit down. From his shirt pocket he picked out a couple kernels of corn and laid them on the table. Hector glanced over and ignored them, preferring my deep tissue massage.
“Watch out, Hector is fickle, you might have to take him home.”
“Have to discuss this with my wife,” I said. “She took a couple years to admit that we could have the cat inside the house. Allergies, asthma and all that. ”
“Know what you mean, man. I had a dog but the damn thing was a shedder and I sneezed most of the year. Had to give him up. ”
“The pound,” I asked.
“Nah, a friend took him, I see the mutt from time to time, but there’s a good distance between me and him, the dog I mean, so I don’t need that inhaler all the time."
He finished and folded his laundry, took Hector, and left. The owner of the laundromat told me he was a regular and a homeless guy, one who worked the corner near the freeway. I've looked for him since, but he and Hector hopefully are safe somewhere. I keep looking,