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Sunday, June 14, 1998
By Paul Ford
I'll Send Money When I Can 1
I'll Send Money When I Can
I feel a lot different than two weeks ago. When I left the house I was on my way to Oregon. I'll come back if you want. Or maybe I should just head out west and send checks. I'll try to call, soon. It was a dumb argument and I just jetted like I had some place to go.
I've got a job here I have to tell you all about. You'll laugh at me, in my employed state. For the next three months--I had to sign a contract for that long--I am a sticker. I peel computer-printed address labels from waxy backing and paste them to brochures for Launchpad Laundry. Today I dropped 2900 fliers at the post office, promoting the new Joyland Plastic Jungle Gyms installed in our laundromats. "Makes laundry fun-dry." They want to be the McDonalds of laundromats. You'd laugh at it.
There's a process. My labels come from the Public Relations secretary, and my brochures from a corner of the warehouse. The warehouse is a graveyard for washers and dryers: bent, dented, stacked three high. A mechanic scavenges them for hoses and dials and unviolated change slots. Vandalism pervades. He told me about finding a ham sandwich inside a washer, between water hoses. He described gum in the slots, a caramel-covered mannikin head melted in a dryer in Newark, a washer immobilized with an old tennis racket and filled with thirty pounds of flour in Neptune. "Who would do these things?" he asked. He's Greek.
A manager told him, and he told me, about discovering a mutilated, pawless cat slipped into a woman's underwear load in Canarsie. "These things," he said, his lips squeezed below his black moustache. "The people live bad lives." His views come from yanking around in broken washing machines with a pair of vise grips. He explained:
"These people disable good machines, because to see this working machine--offends their own condition. They must make it more destroyed before they can tolerate it."
We smoked together and I listened, wasting time before I moved my boxes. He restated: "They make the environment of the laundromat worse so they can be comfortable within it." I nod to agree.
My coworkers feel for laundromat patrons like wardens feel for prisoners. Everyone at Launchpad wants to do something else. The woman in supply told me, "I take night classes to get the hell out of this company. So I can become something other than a clerk." She's going to be a travel agent, or real estate, I don't remember. She told me about the abundance of rat shit in the supply area, then brought me for a tour, to look it over. There was a lot there. I said, "At least there's something you won't run out of." Because they run out of paperclips, paper, labels, all the time.
Once I have the boxes, I fill out an order request for mailing tabs, and take that to supply. Last week, the supply clerk brought out a roll of circular stickers on wax paper The brochures show gray rocket ships printed on laminated white paper. The roll looked thin.
"Do you have any more? I have to do four thousand brochures."
"That's all I have. Besides, I don't know how many I'm giving you. Let me check the inventory," she said, vanishing into her den. I tapped out a song on the press bell on her counter.
She returned, brow furrowed at my bell finger. "Could you stop that? The inventory tells me there are 5000 labels." But the inventory was no an oracle; it was clearly wrong. "What I need you to do," she said, "is count them."
I said, "I can guess out how many there are."
"No," she insisted, her face stern, "I need an exact count."
"That's ridiculous. I'm not going to count the labels on a roll for you. That's not my job."
"Then you can't have them. We need the inventory count."
I laughed and said, "I'll buy my own." After a short cigarette, I walked to the management wing and found my supervisor playing solitaire on his PC. "They're out of tabs. Where can I buy some?"
He appreciates my willingness to work; the last guy sold the company supplies to our competitor. "Stanson Stationery down the street. We have an account." He wrote the account number on a Post-it.
At Stanson 5000 tabs are $12. I bought a marker set and some drawing supplies, too. I came back, got the mailing labels from the PR secretary, and sat in a side office for six hours, peeling and pressing. That's the job, repeated four days (35 hours, no benefits) a week.
I'm at a laundromat now, my pocket sagged with employee tokens. Two pairs of jeans and three shirts once a month, thrown in with underwear, four tokens wash, five tokens for fifty minutes drying, sixty-five cents cash for a can of Fanta. I'm the only one who reads; everyone else watches the TV mounted from the ceiling.
I'm going to get out of here soon.
The reason I'm writing is that I got pulled over by the cops today. At first I thought it was you. I thought you'd told them I'd stolen the car and that's why they were stopping me. I pulled over near the turnpike exit. A big cop, about 22, put me against the door and groped my ass until he found my wallet. He checked my license. I looked suspicious, somebody had nailed up a hardware store, they were bored, maybe I had drugs in the Datsun, I could be a faggot. This happened during the middle of the day. They checked the car, but I never keep anything incriminating there. I was terrified you'd kept your threat, but I'm glad you didn't report it stolen.
Later in the day I busted up and started to cry. I was home looking at the walls. They're gray and empty. There's one window, no blinds, over a gravel lot like the one by Green Field. I was naked, sitting on the edge of my Salvation Army mattress, with a balled sweater for a pillow and my sleeping bag. For the first time, I realized how badly I'd fucked up. I put two hundred in this envelope, and I'm going to try to sign every other paycheck over to you. I know I have a three month contract here, and maybe that's long enough for you to forgive me; I'll come back tomorrow if you'll let me, contract or not.
There's a woman folding near me, in translucent shorts that fit her big legs like sausage casings. She's not wearing underwear, and you can't miss the dark patch of her crotch. She's the only other one here.
For a couple days I decided that I'd come back if you had a son. But now I'm thinking I'll come back if you'll have me at all, because I was wrong to leave, and stupid. If I can do this job here, I can do the same in Philadelphia. You know what I'm trying to say. No more dirty clothes until tomorrow. I'll send more money when I can.