By the Pound
by Marcus Bleecker
BY THE POUND IS WHAT MY GUY ON THE CORNER CALLS HIS BUSINESS.
IT’S A BUSINESS THAT DOES YOUR LAUNDRY BY THE POUND SO IT MAKES SENSE THAT THAT’S WHAT HE CALLS IT.
I’ve been going to him for over a year since I decided it probably costs the same amount to have these folks do my laundry as it does for me to do it myself. Maybe a few more dollars, but I don’t have to sit in some stupid Laundromat watching the lights on the washer go from spin cycle to dry cycle to clean cycle, and then keep opening these oversized dryers and paw around in my laundry for what’s wet and what’s moist and what’s dry so I can wean out items that are done from the ones that still need more dryer time. It can take an entire afternoon of my day and people are all in there in what’s left of their wardrobe, like that time I had no clean underwear and was in there freeballing in a pair of ill-fitting cotton sweatpants that were just embarrassing.
There’s nothing fun about doing your laundry. It’s a pain in the ass, especially when folks bring a gangload of kids in there and it turns into a daycare center with kids hollering and pushing laundry carts over your feet and carrying on while their moms watch Jerry Springer or some dumb reality show or the show that really gets on my nerves—People’s Court—or that lady Judge Judy who is always making a fool of some chump who is lying about this or that and his ex-girlfriend who hands some documents to a court clerk who’s trying to act all professional and dry and serious and passes those documents to that lady Judge Judy who is always tearing into somebody about their crummy life and asking them how could they do something so stupid and telling them to shut up when they try and answer her question, and the folks in the Laundromat are watching it like it’s some real thing and go uh-huh, uh-huh, and whatnot, like they have nothing better to do, and going on and on with the uhhuh’s like they have never done anything dumb in their lives, and it just seems stupid that people pay attention to these shows and waste good time staring at the television set, and I wish someone would put on ESPN so I can catch some scores, but that never happens.
Anyway, my guy, the guy on the corner, does a great job with my wash and everything comes back stacked perfectly and folded nice, so nice that most of the time I don’t even bother putting it away. I just live out of the laundry bag. My guy who owns the place is really friendly and knows me and he knows my brother and he always greets me with a big smile and asks about my band and he gets a kick out of the fact that I play drums and whatnot, and I like him even if he might be putting on a show of it all. It doesn’t bother me one bit.
Recently he got a new hairstyle, my guy who told me his name is Joe, even though I bet he’s got some cool Chinese name that he thinks is hard to pronounce by us stupid Americans. His new hairstyle is a bit weird, a bit off-putting. He’s got it curly like an Afro and he’s got blond highlights on the ends and it’s kind of weird, but if he likes it I’m cool with it. I try and pretend to not notice it at first but he’s just beaming behind the counter waiting for me to say something, and I can tell he’s all excited to talk about the hair and so I tell him I like his hair even though it’s weird, the new hairstyle.
I haul my duffel bag down to him a couple times a month or so and I see him almost everyday when I pass by his storefront on the way to the Manhattan-bound D train that is right next to his shop. He waves, and his wife smiles and waves, and they’ve got a teenage son and then a daughter that’s in college and she’s just perfect and cute and she’s extra friendly to me, but I know she’s probably like that to everyone and every so often I see her at the bodega across the street getting this or that when I’m getting this or that. I thought about asking her to one of my shows but this one time I was in that bodega getting these condoms and she came in behind me so I’m trying to hustle Manny, the guy behind the counter, up, but he’s not doing that, he’s going on in Spanish to his boy, Jesus, who is in the back, and the condoms are sitting on the counter with a forty-ounce of Budweiser.
And Shin Lee, the daughter of my guy who owns By the Pound, comes up to the counter so I grab the condoms all quick and accidentally knock them on the floor, and she looks down and I swipe them up real fast and it’s pretty embarrassing because the box says Magnums, and I try to cuff them in my hand before Shin Lee sees, and then I give Manny the money all quick and matter of fact but I’m pretty sure she saw the Magnum condoms. She probably thinks I have somebody and she’s probably too young for me anyway, but I like Shin Lee and I like her folks and her teenage brother.
Well, things got mucked up with my guy on the corner because my laundry bag is there and I haven’t picked it up in over two weeks and I’ve run out of underwear and I need to get in there and get my freshly laundered items that they fold all nice and neat.
I’ve been washing the last pair of underwear I own in my bathroom sink and drying it on the shower rod, but now I need my clothes and I’m thinking of asking my brother to pick my stuff up and that’d just be stupid because he’ll be like, why don’t you get it yourself, and I don’t really feel like telling him why he should haul my big bag of clean laundry down the street, so I don’t. I don’t because if he knew why I wasn’t picking up my laundry there’s no way he’d go get it either, and then he’d be laughing at me and bothering me about picking up my laundry, and he’d be laughing at the ridiculous clothes I’m wearing and going on and on about it, so there’s no way I’m asking my brother, and there’s no way I’m telling him the real reason I’m not picking up my wash.
My guy’s wife has seen me pass by in the morning going to get the train and I walk by all quick like I’m in some big rush, and I’ve pretended to be on the phone on some important call and she looks at me from behind the counter and I’m not certain, but I’m pretty sure I saw her make a face at me this one time. I’m almost positive she shook her head and frowned and I’m not sure if she’s pissed off or if it was a frown of disappointment. The thing is, the train stop is right next to By the Pound and there’s really no way to avoid passing by unless I walk ten minutes out of my way down Flatbush Avenue to the Atlantic Avenue train station. A few days ago my brother picked up his laundry and Joe told him my bag was ready and asked that I come pick it up.
My brother told me they told him to tell me to come pick up my bag and I tell my brother that I will. I tell him not to worry about it, I’ll get my wash, and my brother looks at the mismatched socks that I’m wearing and the trousers that are too tight, and he pinches his face. It’s not that I don’t want to pick up my bag or I don’t have the twenty or twenty-five bucks to pay for it, I actually do. I’ve got the money.
Here’s the thing that happened. What happened was my parents came over to stay at our flat for the weekend, and because I have like a queen size bed or whatever my folks stayed in my room so I did what you do when your folks are going to stay over—I hid all my paraphernalia, like my pipes and lighters and bong and all that. I hid all that in the side compartment of my duffel bag that serves as my laundry bag. Well, that stuff wouldn’t have been so bad, the real problem is I hid all that freakiness from my freaky weekend in the side compartment and it’s stuff that will certainly make the nice family from By the Pound question me and my lifestyle or whatever, because the stuff that was in there is like nasty stuff. I don’t even want to get into it, but it’s stuff that’s keeping me from picking up my wash; it’s stuff that makes me practically run past the storefront in the morning, but now I really need to get my wash because my entire wardrobe is down there and I’m walking around dressed in a concert T-shirt for Pearl Jam that barely touches my belly-button and has paint all over it because I used it as a smock when I painted my folks’ house, and I have on a pair of green cotton trousers that are for a suit that I haven’t worn in years because there’s no room in the groin, and I’ve been washing the same damn pair of underwear in the sink for over a week.
This is what’s going on, this is the way things are. So now I’m casing the joint, I’m across the street clocking By the Pound so I can time it when maybe the dad is behind the counter by himself and not the daughter, Shin Lee, who I like, or the mom, Lucy, and now it’s turned into a whole thing and I’m trying to get the nerve up to just go in there but there’s like a double-sided dildo and crap in the side compartment of my laundry bag, and there’s no way they didn’t see all the sex oil and the porn DVDs and the handcuffs and whatnot. They definitely saw all of it and that’s just embarrassing.
I know the wife and daughter do the laundry so it was definitely one of them that found the stuff and I’m sure they probably dug around in there thinking it was dirty clothing because I have stuffed socks in the side compartments when I’m jam packed in the main portion of the bag and they’ve got them out and washed them. I hope it was the mom who found the stuff, I guess, because she probably found it and shoved it back in and most likely didn’t make a big fuss because she pretty much keeps to herself and most likely she didn’t feel the need to make a big production out of it and show it to Joe, and I can’t think of a reason she would show it to Shin Lee unless she was like see, don’t ever trust him, he’s a pervert and no good. I definitely hope Shin Lee didn’t find all the porn and whatnot because there was some porn in there that was nasty and was like mega porn and there was porn that was all Asian girls and I don’t have a fetish or nothing, it was just part of the four-for-ten series.
I’m not one of those guys that just digs Asian girls like my friend Brad who is all into Asian girls but it’s like embarrassing because we could be out somewhere and he’ll start talking Thai or Burmese or something to an Asian woman and picking them up right there on the spot and asking for their number, and he gets the numbers but it’s still weird that all he thinks about and all he dates are Asian women. I remember this one time me and Brad were taking a flight to Los Angeles and they did a bag check on him at the security gate and half of his carry-on bag was stuffed with dirty magazines and all the magazines had naked Asian women on the cover and had names like Orientail and had some naked Asian woman bent over showing her butt. That was embarrassing but the strange thing was Brad wasn’t embarrassed at all; he was more concerned about the lady rifling through his stuff and pawing at his mags, and he even commented like, careful that one’s my favorite, and I was embarrassed for him but he couldn’t care less. I’d be embarrassed to no end to have Shin Lee find that stuff and be like, he’s a pervert, or look at me funny and tell her friends about the guy she liked who has an Asian fetish so she got totally turned off. That’d just kill me.
So, anyway, that’s why I’m pacing around on the other side of the street from By the Pound and going on and up the street like some private eye trying to time this whole thing perfectly so I don’t have to face Lucy or Shin Lee. I could probably deal with Joe or Kim, the teenage son—them I’m not as concerned with because I’m sure they’ll just think it’s normal, because guys, we do watch porn, I mean I go to some porn websites and it’s like millions upon millions of people watching it and downloading it and I’ve heard that the most bandwidth used in the world is for porn. Pornography is what is flying through the air beamed by satellites but it’s still not what you tell people about, you keep that stuff under wraps and it’s not what you want people, especially a cute girl named Shin Lee, to know about.
It’s definitely the double-sided dildo that’s keeping me across the street but the mega Asian porn is just about as bad. It’d really be embarrassing if the mega Asian porn was found by Shin Lee. What if I come in and Joe yells at me and goes on about disrespecting Asian women. And what if other people who live on my block, who I know go to By the Pound, are in there when Joe yells at me and what if Lucy, the mom, breaks down or throws something at me? My whole neighborhood could definitely turn on me even though the guys probably watch mega porn but they don’t let the whole world in on it, they don’t leave it in a laundry bag for their guy and his family to find, but that’s what I did.
When I finally get up the nerve to go inside By the Pound, after I’m certain I timed it so just my guy, Joe, will be in there shutting down for the night, Joe is back there doing stuff, and then the mom, Lucy, pokes her head out from back where the washing machines are, and I see a back door that I knew nothing about, but now I do know, now I know there’s a back door and my whole plan is blown. Then this lady Jane comes in with her twin kids in one of those high-end strollers that are ridiculous, and then Kim, the son, comes out of the bathroom and it’s just a damn party in there. And I can tell they’ve found the perverted stuff. I can tell because they all look at me, and they never all look at me at the same time, but that’s what they do, they look at me and they look at my ridiculous trousers and the dumb shirt I’m wearing, and I’m all sheepish and I approach the counter all shy, and I’m sure my face is, like, burning red and I do something stupid like wave, and Joe says something real quick in Chinese to Lucy, his wife, and she says something quick back, and they are both sneering at me because they found all my stuff in there. The freaky stuff. The mega Asian porn and the double-sided dildo, and there was all kinds of stuff in there, and the least of my worries is the pipe and the one-hitter—that, I couldn’t care less about—it’s the handcuffs and all, the stuff that makes me look like some freak. Joe smiles at me like he usually does but there’s something different about that smile, and I’m freaking out and my hands are all sweaty, so I let Jane go first because her kids are making a racket and because I don’t want them to yell at me and have her be a witness to my demise. Jane finally leaves and I pay for my laundry and I can feel my hand shaking and they’re all looking at me like I’m some pervert and maybe I am, and I’m sure there are a lot of folks who have this kind of stuff, but they don’t do stupid things like leave it in the side compartment of their duffel bag.
Then I realize Shin Lee isn’t in there. She’s the only one who isn’t in the room and that’s great. At least I don’t have to face her. Lucy asks me how I’ve been and she says it with a big smile on her face but I can’t get a clear read if it’s a smile like ironic or one of those smiles that you do when you’re pissed, and the dad, Joe, is smiling too and they keep going on like this and are taking forever to get my change, and the son, Kim, pulls my duffel bag off the top of a pile in the back, and I’m hanging my head and trying to get the hell out of there before Lucy throws something at me or Joe starts yelling at me. And then the daughter, Shin Lee, comes inside with a big box of detergent and they are all just looking at me and looking at each other and the daughter is blushing and I know my ears are like burning fire red so when I finally get my bag from the teenage boy, Kim, I haul out of there and leave them all talking Chinese to each other, and I’m sure they are just talking about me and saying stuff about all the stuff in the side compartment of my laundry bag.
I know I’m going to have to find a different laundry place, like the guy over on Vanderbilt. And that’s what I do, and now when I see the family from By the Pound they ask what happened to me and I mumble something about doing my own wash or whatever. I try to avoid them the best I can but it’s hard because their shop is right next to my subway stop and even though I take a roundabout way to get there, even though I walk down up and around to the entrance of the Manhattan bound D train, I do run into them on the block. I stuff all the freaky stuff in a brown paper bag, and the plan is to shove it in some dumpster, like the one next to the bodega where Manny and Jesus work, and that’s what I do. I get rid of all of it. All the stuff that started this whole thing in the first place.
The other guy, the one over on Vanderbilt who’s got a place called “Wash and Fold” doesn’t do such a great job of washing and folding and I’ve found other people’s stuff in my wash, like a stray sock and a pair of panties that were the size of a circus tent, and I swear a pair of my favorite jeans have gone missing, and when I ask him about the jeans, the ones that went missing, he shrugs his shoulder and points to a sign that says something about not being responsible for damaged items. That does it, and now I go back to doing my wash myself, which is a real pain in the ass.
My brother asks me why I don’t get my wash done by Joe anymore and I tell him I do it myself, like it’s something I want to do. I tell him I like to do my own wash. My brother tells me that it takes a whole day doing your wash and you gotta sit in that stupid Laundromat, and when it’s all said and done it costs about the same, and I tell him it’s no big deal, I tell him it doesn’t take me a whole day and I tell him I get work done over there, and my brother shakes his head and tells me that that place, the do-it-yourself Laundromat, is hell with the unruly kids and whatnot, and I agree with him but I don’t tell him so.