Yet again I have witnessed an English bulldog trotting down the street, tethered to a human that bore such a striking resemblance to his pet, both in look and in gait, that it makes me fearful there is some sinister genetic experiment going on somewhere close by. Something on the level of The Island of Dr. Moreau. Thickset with identical waddles and underbites, it is a thing to behold. When the Christian Cavalry rode into the new world the savages thought horse and rider were one and the same beast. This is the opposite. Years from now they will say that canine-human dualities used to be considered two separate beings.
When I want life, unadulterated; when I choose to sit in an environment not acted upon by artificial air control; when I wish to see garrulous lunatics preaching conspiracy; when I wish my articles of clothing to commingle with the lint of strangers; when I want to run the heady risk of having my clothes removed prematurely from a rinse cycle; when I crave the vertiginous spinning of a wall of throbbing metal cubes; In short, when I want all of this, I head to the laundromat.
I have my own washer and dryer. That isn’t the point. I also have my own bottles of liquor, yet I occasionally head out to the local bar. It is a social exercise, the only way to really get to the heart of the word on the street. Local, national or global, nobody trusts the internet anymore. Search engines filter and predict a user’s pattern of choice. We are fed what we are likely to eat, and told that all else is poison. But at the laundromat, the trolls are unmasked. They sit there, plain as day, and rant. I like the laundromats next to the parks, because there is always a steady supply of vagabonds drifting back and forth. I pulled in the other day, surprised that there was an empty parking spot right next to the door. I unloaded my clothes, got the machines going, and sat down with a book. It wasn’t long before a man sat down next to me. He glared at me shamelessly.
“Good parking spot,” he said.
“Yeah, lucky I guess,” I said.
“I got you that parking spot. A car was about to pull in and I faked an episode.”
“Thanks,” I said.
“Don’t mention it.” He paused for a moment, looking around. “You know, a guy who goes out of his way to help a fellow out might deserve something. The reason you coasted in so easily is because of me.”
I exhaled and reached into my pocket. It is always a tense and awkward exchange to be panhandled at the laundromat, because the customers always have quarters, and the bums always know we have them. Further, they know that we know that they know. I flipped him a shiny one and he watched it bounce down the sidewalk. He shook his head and laughed.
“I was thinking more like a lollipop and some deodorant from the store across the way.”
“You mean, because of the parking space?”
“I mean because I think a lollipop would be a nice way to enjoy the afternoon, and if you lean close enough, we will both agree that a can of anti-perspirant is a fine idea.”
“I’m not so sure,” I said.
“Or else, we can always discuss the incident,” he said, pulling out his I-Phone.
“You can’t afford deodorant yet you have an I-Phone?” I said.
“Technology is an imperative. Stink is a choice,” he said, and queued up a video that showed a masked vandal smashing the window of the very same laundromat we were sitting in front of. “That guy looks a little like you, doesn’t it?”
“It’s not me,” I said.
“It doesn’t matter.”
“But it does.”
“If I tell the owner that it is you, he will confiscate your clothes and call the police. He trusts me.”
“Why would he trust you? It is clear that you are a dishonest opportunist.”
“You weren’t saying that when you parked right next to the entrance.”
He had me there. The seconds ticked by. He kept rewinding the video and playing it.
“It’s looking more and more like you. Or less and less.”
Taking the path of least resistance, I walked across the street and got him his sundries. I returned and handed them over.
“It’s a fine day,” he said, enjoying his lollipop. He applied a prodigious amount of deodorant, spraying and spraying, but instead of making him smell better he actually made the deodorant smell worse. I looked at him with a fresh perspective. Kind of squat. Sunken face. Short, bowed legs.
“Do you own a bulldog?” I said.
“That’s like me asking you if you own your two feet,” he said.
“I knew it. You are an experiment.”
“So are you.”
“Run by whom?”
“The autocrats. Welcome to the brave new world,” he barked.
More Alembics to come.