Wednesday, August 27, 2008

My Unruly Mind

Last Friday I arrived at the one of our two local laundromats which I'm comfortable frequenting, even though it's the busier of the two. The other is, shall we say, pretty retro, and until our municipal smoking ban went into effect last fall, it was a hazy roughneck den. Two laundromats to serve a town of 13,000 is not enough, but I'm not going to open another one, and that's not the point of my story anyway. I started three loads of laundry -- whites, darks, and denim -- in a central row and settled with my back against the middle washer (darks) and my nose in Mark Reisner's 1986 Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water. (Witty and scary as hell, and acutely applicable today.)

Very shortly a brand new Jeep Cherokee pulled up, and out climbed a small bejeweled Mexican man and two petite women wearing acrylic nails and liquid eyeliner, followed by two tots, a girl and ponytailed boy, ages approximately four and three, respectively. They loaded nine washers with the contents of two 4'x2' wheeled gray plastic storage totes and settled down at the table by the pop machine, across from the divided door to the attached dry cleaners, the top half of which was open and through which one could occasionally see the cashier busy behind the counter. (Didn't this paragraph totally sound like a word problem from a 4th grade text book? But on with my story.)

I managed to ignore the shrieking siblings but at one point glanced at the folding table at the end of the row of washers I was facing, where I saw a semiautomatic pistol. The little chrome and black number had a slide and a magazine in the grip, and it just lay there alone, pointing towards the front of the room. And I thought, I had better get out of here and call the cops. The man saw me looking at it and wandered nonchalantly over, ostensibly to check on the progress of the washing machines, but on his way out of the aisle he picked up the gun. He ambled back to his chair between the two women and proceeded to admire it and caress it lovingly, then casually aimed it at one woman's head with his elbow in the air. Click. She shrugged her head away, never looking up from her magazine, and he continued waving it around, at which point I saw the orange plastic ring inside the barrel. A toy. Probably it belonged to the little boy, but sure as you're born, that man was enjoying letting people think it was real.

Because I wasn't the only one. The instant I realized it wasn't real, the clerk from the dry cleaners came streaking across the room barking, "That had better be a toy." The man nodded fiercely and indicated the orange plastic tip. "You're upsetting my customers. You need to get that thing out of here." She went back through the door to the counter, where another of my fellow laundromat patrons was scowling at the man. He had passed the gun to the boy, who was now pretending to shoot his sister in the head.

My Mexican ex used to casually point real but unloaded guns at me despite my protests. He never understood why it made me uncomfortable. "You know it's empty!" It took me a while to realize that it's not the gun that makes me uncomfortable, it's the person holding it. I have no problem with Kelly's armory because I trust him, and I take the difference between them as proof that empathy is not instinctual. The vato at the laundromat is clearly missing the same "respect chip" Oscar lacked, and I have to choke down and fight back the racism that quietly blooms whenever I witness similar behavior in Latinos, because I know that certain people of all races are missing that chip. It's just difficult for me not to draw those parallels because of my past.

Anyway, the family took off after transferring their clothes into all the available dryers, so I loaded Puck up and got the heck out of there, like I hope to load up and get the heck out of here. I want an apartment with washer and dryer hookups, or better yet, a city with a multitude of laundromats to choose from.


Anonymous said...

I think I hear Snoqualmie calling you!!! (and your boyfriend too!!!) :-)

August 28, 2008 at 10:00 PM  
Blogger A said...

Aha! Is that what that sound is?

August 29, 2008 at 9:50 AM  

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