rehab part 3

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Oh, OK Paul is dead. We don’t know the details. Cops came in, our friend went in first. He was hunched or slumped in a corner. Dogs needed walking. Our friend walked his dogs. Someone had rung his wife, who we hear had just screamed. A really long scream. Takes big lungs. I know that dead husband scream. My mother had screamed it in Liverpool, at the top of the stairs, before melting into her nightgown and evaporating in 1967, when my father was killed. It is a particular pitch, that scream. I think it must be the one that makes light bulbs explode, and the light dims forever or it feels like they will be forever, before you go, oh hey, I can get another light bulb. Or a torch. Something. Life will not always be this dark. Only you can’t see it at the time. You can’t see anything.

We cried, or I cried, maybe he cried, on the bed some and then I said oh, we have to call his parents. By which I meant, I have to ring his parents. We threw some clothes on, went round to his flat and there were  men taking him away, all covered up. We went next door to our friend who lived next door to him.  A lot of our mutual friends were there, pacing, smoking, red rimmed eyes. I went into a room and rang his family house in Belfast. His mum answered. I said Hi, it’s Michele and I have some very bad, bad news, the worst news.

His mum was very composed. A little confused because I was not sure how to tell the story, what little of it I knew. He had not been answering his calls, he had not walked the dogs. He was doing , or not doing things , and this was unusual. I didn’t know the details and didn’t really want to. I know when I think of this phone call, these terrible feelings come up in me , as if it is happening right now, even though it isn’t, it is four year later now. I said , look, it’s about Paul, and it’s bad, really really bad. We couldn’t get hold of him, they couldn’t get hold of him, and then they found him.

Where did they find him, she wanted to know. I think at this point I had led her to believe he was just missing.

In his flat.

“I’m not sure what you are saying. Are you trying to tell me my son is dead?”

“Yes, I am trying to tell you your son is dead. Yes. I am so very sorry.”

She said something to her husband. We agreed it would be best to stop talking just then, and maybe talk a little later. 

All I really remember about the next fews days is ringing people to tell them, then taking lots of drugs and ringing the same people to tell the same story. And taking the same drugs. And telling the same story. And more drugs. You get the picture. And some would say, “Um , yes, we had this conversation.

A few hours ago. And yesterday as well. Are you OK?”

“No. I’m the opposite of OK. The total opposite.”

I didn’t say that. I said:

 

“Oh, sorry, I’m going through a list. I guess  I didn’t tick you off the list. But really, the reason I’m calling is Paul is dead and we have to do a funeral and of course you will come, I’ll let you know.”

About 16 months after those dark, eternal days, ( in the inbetween time I had left my husband and kids, moved into a damp bedsit , did drugs for a year solid and nothing else solid came into it. I staggered down to a room in Hackney Central where we sat in a circle while a guy stuck pins in our ears, to get off drugs or drink. It didn’t work. So I got into rehab. That did work.) I went to visit a friend who was outside this particular circle of friends, and I told him the bare basics. My best friend died, I went crazy, left my husband and kids and lived in squalor for nearly a year, then went to rehab but I’m OK now, so like are we still friends, you and me?

And he looked confused. He said, “Wait, this guy was your friend. Not your husband, you are talking about him like he was your husband.”

“Oh God, no, we never, no, no it was never like that. No sex, not that kind of love.”

And this friend is quick witted and I thought I had fed him a line which would be along the thoughts of, just what I am saying, no sex is what wives have with husbands, or don’t have. I rest my case, you are talking about this guy like he was your husband.

But he wasn’t my husband and even if he had been , that would have not been an excuse to go and create the massive shit storm I did.

And here’s the thing about bad grieving. It’s a selfish animal if you let it become so. It not only consumes you, if you let it, but no one else is allowed to be sad too, you have to be the saddest, because that shows you loved the hardest and most.

Well I have tell you now, with the wisdom of hindsight, that’s a load of horseshit. TBC

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rehab, part two

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We were living on what I now know was a rough estate then. It was an ex council purchase. To me , I rebranded tower blocks as skyscrapers. And our maisonette, I rebranded as a good family house. This was when the kids were still quite small. There had been a murder, which my kids saw but probably don’t remember. I remember them handing out tea and squash and biscuits to all the cops and ambulance guys and I thought, oh, they think its a party. I had given a towel to wrap around the woman whose leg had been shot in four places. Her friend had been shot in the head in a car in front of our flat. He was dead, slumped over the wheel, thick ketchupy blood gluing his head to the steering wheel. I heard more than I saw, but I saw the aftermath. When the cops came to question me later, I couldn’t concentrate as I was fixated on his shoes, which were black, shiny Winkle pickers. Are cops allowed to wear shoes like that? He kept asking, so how many gunshots did you hear? And I guessed five or six, it’s not a sound my ears tune in to quite naturally, as they would say, if someone was (improbably) blaring the Ramones from their car speakers. Me, I just wanted to know where he got his shoes, so I could send my husband there.
That night, under the sodium haze of street lights, a special van came and two guys wearing Ghostbuster gear came to scrub the blood away with special chemicals.
The ordeal distressed me. I lived on what was then called Murder Mile, and turned a blind eye to a lot of dodgy stuff we saw going on, largely cos my husband was against living there in the first place, but I wanted, with two kids, to get into a larger physical space than the two rooms we had occupied. I’m a short-term thinker. Largely I felt immune to urban blight, because I had so much internal anxiety that real problems, murder, rape, robbery,over drug dealing, these things were happening around me, I tended not to notice. I didn’t look up when I walked but down, to navigate pit bull poo. You may think all people living on estates look downcast, but actually, we just don’t wanna get pit bull poo on our trainers. It’s a practical thing. So I didn’t notice much. But there was a bigger, psychological reason I did not notice much.

Like Lear in the storm, my mind was not free so my body was not delicate to these things. I was too wrapped up in my own shit. A spaceship could have landed with aliens and demons and robots to wipe out all of humanity, and I would have put the kettle on and told the kids to get out the Rich Teas for the aliens.Because we had to embrace multiculturalism. With tea and biscuits. We had to stay calm. Or at least look it.

I went to see my local GP. He was a Hassidic Jew, and most of his other patients were of this persuasion. His surgery was always full of pregnant women with five or six kids already. They were all in their early 20s, the husbands, bearded, portly, preoccupied, looked much older. But then anyone with a long beard does.
This doctor, he mainly dealt with these stressed out housewives and their eight billion immaculately dressed kids. He understood how hard it could be, how you never get to clock off. So when I went in there and said I was feeling anxious, I had seen a murder, he said, “Perfectly natural. Would you like some Valium?”
I wanted to get down on bended knee and propose to the guy. Hasidism are quite stylish. They knew from the get go that black was and is the new black. Great hats. They are like Goths, with God. And look great in masses, in the snow.

I’ll join your tribe, I’ll shave my hair and wear a Jayne Torvill sort of wig. I will get cankles and dress modestly. I will be fearful of dogs. I will have two kitchens. Milky and meaty. I will drive badly. I will have many more children. I will shag you through a hole in a sheet. I will make chicken soup for your soul if you give me drugs for my head, for like, ever.He asked, “What do you like, fives or tens? How many do you want?”
This was a far cry from NYC, where it was impossible to get a script unless you bought one off a junkie or went down to a stretch of Delancey where they would sell the tens for two bucks each. or you had a room-mate who was an optometry nurse and could just rip a sheet off the script pad, which I persuaded her to do, and proceeded to write myself a ludicrous amount of drugs on script on what I thought passed for doctor’s handwriting. How nervous can your eyes be? Oh, about a hundred tens worth of optometry anxiety. The drugstore guy wasn’t buying it. I skipped out of the place sharpish and next thing I knew, me, the roomie and the eye doc were all under investigation from the DEA. I moved to England.

And in this green and pleasant land, I could get my lovely floaty Valium fog totally legally. Oh sweet Jesus, no sorry, Moses, he’s yer man in this case, I’ll have as many as you can give me, ta.
And that went really well. For those who don’t know what Valium fixes, it fixes everything. It’s a proper medicine show compound. Whatever hurts, take two fives or a ten. It just won’t matter anymore. And when that stops working, chase it with neat vodka. Then eat a few extra strong mints and make tea for the aliens. No one will notice. You will blend in, you will be like normal people. Swig Pepto Bismol straight from the bottle so you don’t get an ulcer. Keep sedated and carry on. When you can’t eat anymore, shove anti sickness drugs in suppository form up your arse in the back of taxis. People have sex in the back of taxis. They don’t care, as long as they get the fare.
And it all works, until it doesn’t. For me , that point was when a good friend died a slow and painful and extended death. I got religion,(not my birth religion, Judaism, which has some good USPs but they are not big on afterlife. I needed one with a Heaven. Or concept of. And I got more drugs, just as a plan B. Maybe religion was the plan B. I just knew that a combination of spirits and spirituality would keep me functioning. If the Good Lord is willing and the bile doesn’t rise, I’ll be OK. Most people get religion after the druggy bit, but I cut to the chase, I wanted two safety nets, one immediate, and one unseen but I felt certain He was there. No matter how badly I behaved, He would be there.

But for the short-term, there was Valium, and we had our own bar in our flat. We’d always wanted one of those 60s style semi-circle gold and glass mini bars. We got one by accident in one of our rented flats, but now we wanted our own. We got one on eBay, and my husband went to pick it up and he said the guys were selling the bar (I mean, why would they, who in their right minds would not want to just, like, stand behind your own bar all day, dispensing drinks to your favourite customer,yourself, for free?) because it was just time, they’d had enough fun. And really, you can’t understand the concept of enough fun until you’ve had it yourself. Enough fun. It’s the opposite of fun.

But for a while we had great fun at the bar. We had a lot of parties that went on forever and wound up with women crying in the kitchen. Always a result. We had optics. We had stools. We had salty snacks. It was really a great bar, even now, I can’t see it as playing a part in my downfall or anything. It was just so pretty and cute and everyone wanted to know where’d ya get it, and I didn’t want to tend house anymore, I wanted to tend bar, and keep it stocked. it was like a Wendy House for dysfunctional grown ups. You could just spend all day pouring drinks and then scooting round the other side to be the customer. My little Wendy bar.

Look I couldn’t advise you not to get one, especially if you are a Hipster and like all things retro, including incipient liver failure. It was just the wrong toy for me at that moment in my life. Because I could pass as cute and kitsch and pretty and unique, something that was ultimately destructive ( to me) and not even that original. I mean, if you want to do retro drinking, just watch Mad Men or Bewitched. Buy some LPs and a Dansette. Wear your mother’s clothing. Wear blue eye shadow. Squeeze cheese from a tin on to Ritz crackers. But don’t, fucking don’t, get loaded and think it’s cute. It’s boring.

And I actually thought I was OK, though my trousers kept falling down and I kept falling asleep. But I didn’t notice or care and then one morning my husband came down, I had slept in the spare room for some reason, we hadn’t had a row, I can’t remember why, but he came down and shook my gently or not so gently and told me our very best friend was dead.
And that’s when I went crazy and into total fuck everything mode. Well not fuck as in sex, fuck as in fuck it. Time from now on, as Caitlin Thomas wrote when Dylan died, was just leftover life to kill. I’m getting too depressed to write anymore. TBC

They tried to make me go to rehab, I said, yeah, alright then. Part One.

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This story is not tons different from the other rehab stories I’ve read, fucking up, selfishness, loss, redemption, more loss, but it’s different in parts, so stay with me. It’s kinda long so I may have to tell it in installments

After a series of up close and personal deaths, wham bam thank you mam deaths, fast and close and not a ton of in- between space to figure out what’s it all about , Alfie, moments, I took shit loads of drugs, some legal, some illegal, and chased em with Russian vodka. This was  trick I learned from one of my dead best friends Drew ( not a drug death , an AIDs death, before they had anything smarter than AZT. Take a valium, chase it with two shorts of vodka, and nothing really matters.  Drew got any drug he wanted cos AIDs back then was  a death sentence, you want heroin, sure why the fuck not, your number’s up and you may as well spend the remaining painful days in comatose oblivion. )
 I went to visit his mother in New York after he died.  She  had a totally white and pristine apartment. In his declining months, when he would do laps round the hospital with his drip and grown up nappies,  the nurses opined he was trying to out run his own inevitable mortality. But that day I visited his mother, after he had died and they scattered his ashes in Central Park,she said, “I know it sounds terrible but he would run round the apartment naked, shitting and vomiting on my white carpet.  I said Drew, will you please just shit and puke in one place, so there is only one stain, not a series of major carpet cleaning stains, but he was so out of it.” His body had  a mind of its own. “Cleaning it all, my God, it cost a fucking fortune”

He came to visit me in London, in my bedsit in Finsbury park, nicknaming my Italian landlady Mrs. Manafuckingcotti. He cruised the disused railway that ran up to Ally Pally, and made a bee line for Soho, his gaydar still being keener than anything else. One night he told me, “Oh, I don’t have HIV anymore, I have full blown AIDs,” before spitting out a mouthful of pesto and pasta I’d made us for dinner. “Don’t take this personally, but I hate pesto and the AZT makes me throw up anyway” and he ran to the toilet and stayed there for some time. He said, “Don’t fucking cry on me, Michele, I’m the one who’s got it, not you.” And I cried my head off and between puking he shouted “Oh shut up already.I’ll share my drugs with you, the good ones, they give me whatever I want because I’m dying.”
After he was finished vomiting and shitting he went to Soho. I wanted to have the conversation with him, was he making other people sick, was he seeking out complimentary treatments? He did that hand wave “stop” sign he always did, told me to book us tickets to see the Crown Jewels, and “forgeddaboutit.”
We did the sights, he was sick a lot, and we lay curled up in my single bed while he shivered and sweated and then he would pop up and demand to see the changing of the guard.
He died a couple of years later, when I was pregnant with my second kid in London. They scattered his ashes in Central Park, I may have been too pregnant to fly, or too agoraphobic, I can’t remember, but I had heard it was a windy day and when they tossed the ashes they went flying back into everyone’s hair and faces.

This story isn’t really part of the big story, only in the sense that he taught me how to achieve oblivion faster without anyone noticing all that much, or even if they did, you would be too out of it to care. I managed what I thought was a sense of normality when my kiddies were young. We went to museums, parks, libraries, swimming pools, we played Monopoly “This is so you can learn about Capitalism and greed” I would think, before buying up all the railroads. My old man was killed on a train, so it felt like some kind of Karmic payback. I can’t remember ever finishing a game. It was too boring.
I made them healthy packed lunches and dinners, I let them make drumkits out of all the saucepans. We went on picnics. Holidays. I let them jump up and down on the beds. I watched The Aristocats about five million times. I watched their puppet shows which were all about some puppet popping up and then disappearing and then I would have to shout “Hey, where did he go?” Sometimes I threw Lego at the puppets to teach them about criticism. “Oi. Do something else besides disappear. The plot is very thin.” They’d do another show, wrapping sheets around their little Batman and princess pyjama’d bodies and singing and interpretive dancing to Kate Bush’s Babushka. No matter how many times they did this, it made me laugh. When we got cable tv I made them watch Siouxie and the Banshees and would say, “This, children, is proper music. Not the Spice Girls” And my daughter would say, “That’s not singing. She’s just shouting. That’s not dancing, she’s just kicking her legs up and down.” And then we’d have to listen to the Spice Girls. And every shitty early 90s volume of Now That’s What I Call Music. And we’d all dance and jump up and down on the beds.
I tell you all this to say I wasn’t always the asshole I became. I was a devoted wife and mother for a sizable chunk of their young lives. Sometimes I went on girls nights out with my friends and at some point they’d all start bitching about their men. I never joined in. I had a great guy. Really, I had nothing to complain about. Until some of my friends started dropping dead. I think then, I sort of made Drew’s little handwave to life and went uh uh uh, I don’t do death. I do drugs.”
To be continued.

The Dead Praying Mantis that probably wasn’t a Praying Mantis. We killed it with McDonalds. And buried it in Washington Square Park

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When I decided to enter the noble profession of teaching, based entirely on one reading of the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, I was in for a bit of  a shock.  NYC in the early 80s was nothing like Edinburgh in the 30s. Nor did I have a sneaking admiration for Mussolini. I was not at all in my prime, nor did I have set. I was not a fascist nor did I implore any of my five year old charges to fight in the Spanish Civil war, which was well over, but even if it hadn’t been, I was a pacifist. 

I became  a teacher as well because my good friend Buzzy told me not be a journalist, which is what I really wanted to be. He wrote on faded yellowing typing paper, with the tops of the e’s coloured in, that to be a journalist was to a wasted form of protoplasm. Or protoplasmic life. I can’t remember. The letter was lost and Buzzy is dead.
To be a teacher was to be noble.  I saved that letter and read it over and over because I didn’t feel I had a gift for teaching , but I believed everything Buzzy said. 

So I slogged through teacher training college. I hated it. I did my training in a school of very badly behaved children, who all thought I was only a year or  two older than they were.  I felt a resurgence of my old school phobia, which was based on the notion that I would come home and my mother would be dead, and I would be an orphan. My dad had been dead for some time.  But it’s really bad news to have school phobia if you are a teacher.  The TV show Roots had come out a few years back, so all the kids had complicated African names that were very difficult to pronounce. Well you could,as a white girl with a mid Atlantic accent (Liverpool and New York upbrinatging, but that’s another story) but not without sounding like an asshole. Lots of Kuntes. That one was easy.  

Once I got my certificate, I moved to NY and applied for a job at first as an assistant teacher. Having my own class from the get go was just too scary. It was  a little private school on the corner of Bleeker and Avenue of the Americas. 

it had a quaint name, like Little House on the prairie. I believe it was expensive, but as an assistant I was not paid well. Bob Dylan sent his kids there. But not at the time I was there. Lorraine Bracco ( the shrink in the Sopranos) her kid was in my class and very beautiful and intelligent and wilful. By the end if the year, Lorraine was preggers with Harvey Keitel. I have since heard much later that all ended in tears. But Lorraine was incredibly glamorous and wa bi lingual. I wanted to be her after Jean Brodie. At 23 I had not yet developed a sense of self.

At the school, we had mainly rich kids from the Village, a few from uptown. My own commute was hell. First from Queens, then from Brooklyn, it took forever. if you want a glimpse of purgatory, try riding the F or E train between Jackson Heights and Queens Plaza. Takes forever. I had to be there at eight or before to supervise the early kids whose parents worked all the time. But there was one kid, I can’t remember her name, her mum and dad were split up but they did the right on shared parenting thing. I remember the mother, who was always in a dash to get to Gristedes,a shop to my mind that never closed, but the dad was a hippy guy, lived upstate, and one day brought in what HE SAID was Praying Mantis, or Mantid, depending on how into insects you were. I was the opposite of being into insects. All I knew from my apartments was that roaches had their own motels. They checked in, but never checked out.That and all that was in our cleaning closet was Tide, a washing powder, and Mr. Clean, a big gay looking guy who killed germs, and Raid, a spray roach killer that didn’t really work on the masses. They needed Napalm.

But back to the supposed Praying Mantis. The hippy said he found upstate and was donating it to the class. He said it was best to put in into a vivarium, which is like a posh hotel for insects. He said if we killed it, we wouldn’t go to jail but would be given a stern warning. He explained that the it ate other insects, disguised itself as a leaf, and it’s legs looked like they were praying. But most of the parents of the kids were militant atheists so praying as a look, as a concept, was lost on them.

Now you have to know these things are masters of disguise. They blend in, turn themselves into sticks or leaves, whatever surrounds them, hard to know where that stuff ends and the insect begins.Story of my life, even before I read Metamorphosis. So mainly it stood perfectly still, so I assumed it was dead from the get go, or petrified. But as no one had any insects to hand, we fed it some McDonalds and it it hadn’t been dead already, it was after the bits of salady bits from the Big Mac.

We had to have a vote to name it. It was going to be Cyndi Lauper, but one girl asserted that name had already been taken, by a girl on MTV. The boys thought it might be a boy and that would be stupid name, but it went on and on so we just went for Cyndi.

And then it died. A boy in the class had just lost his mother to cancer so he had experienced death close up and personal. He became incontinent, literally. The others had no experience of it so we had to have another meeting to discuss the death of Cyndi and a suitable burial. But to me, it was never there in the first place, so well disguised was it.

We put Cyndi in a shoebox with some leaves, twigs and bits of salad. We walked in a little funeral procession to Washington Square Park, the entrance where the dealers sell oregano as loose joints and stupid Bridge and Tunnel people pretend to get high, man, in like the Village, man.

Words were said in sad, funeral tones. But there was not lots to say about Cyndi, she just never moved or talked or was maybe never alive. She blended in. That was her talent. We dug a hole in a grassy bit near the playground, put the shoe box in and tried to look deep and meaningful.

When we got back to class, the kids had lunch and a nap and when they got up, they drew Cyndi related pictures, mostly brown and green impressionistic scrawls. Except one kid. His name was Darren and he was cute as cute can be and a little chubby. He drew a picture of a whale, a really good picture, swimming in a very blue sea. The whale was green. I kneeled down and said I liked all the colour, and what did he want to call the picture. He said “Darren the whale, swimming at a fast speed”
When the school year was over, all the kids got their work back in big folders, but I stole that drawing. It was so life affirming, so very wonderful. I just know Darren is all grown up now, but probably still swimming at a fast speed.

The laundromat accident, a Boston story.

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It was one of the hottest summers in Boston. The smell of heat and dog piss and bad, doggy or human breath rose from the pavements of Allston and Brighton. Particularly before it rained, which it hardly ever did, but I have since learned that the word for the smell before rain is petrichor. A great word. But man, it stinks. The only other notable smell was the sugar cinnamon donuts from Twin Donuts, which was on the way from my apartment to my job as a laundromat attendant. I’d ride my bike really fast, holding my breath the whole way, til I got to Twin Donuts. I’d exhale like a mad panting thing and then breathe deeply, taking in the mixture of coffee, cinnamon, sugar and fat cops. They have a certain smell, or did, of aftershave, sweat, and sugar. I’d gulp it all in, because I knew there was some fresh olfactory hell waiting for me at the laundromat. The sack from Bagnell st, which I think had a small, residential old people’s home. We’re talking major incontinence issues.

The laundromat was a new business venture, thinking back on it I believe it was a front to launder, no pun intended, drugs money, because right next door there was a pizza joint, and both businesses were owned by the same guy. He just seemed very cokey, and the main laundry attendant was cocaine thin. Extremely beautiful. very good at folding laundry. In that speedy, efficient way. She probably could have been new wave model, or an extra in a pop video. But she had a kid and it was complicated. She needed a nine to five.

The business office was a large, cool basement space downstairs from the pizza joint and laundromat, and when I went for my interview, I thought of doing a Gilda Radner impression and just saying “I clean up, OK?” but instead, big fucking opinionated mouth that I am, I went into a mini tirade about how I would just do my job and it was a honest, hard-working job and thank goodness not some big corporate thing where the boss had a copy of “How To Win Friends And Influence People” on his desk and said your name repeatedly, to show that he was really focused on you. This was a huge mistake as it turned out it was his favourite book ever, and he said my name repeatedly.
But I still got the job. I was pretty cute in those days, and my cuteness perhaps made up for my opinionated assholeishness. It didn’t get me the job in McDonalds, where the initial question sheet stumped me. Why do you want to work at McDonalds. I wrote, “Because I want to feed people burgers and fries and shakes and make them sated and happy.” I really wasn’t being sarcastic. I thought this is what they were looking for in an ideal employee.

But I didn’t get that job, or even an interview. Instead, the hottest summer ever, or so it seemed, I worked in a long hot room full of dryers giving off even more heat. We took dry cleaning in as well, but sent it somewhere else. The dry cleaning people were richer, and always vaguely apologetic. They’d point to a red stain and shrug, “Wine,” and mention some fancy pants vintage that was beyond me and I’d nod sagely, like I knew all about it, oh yes, we’ve had rather a lot red wine spillages lately, we can take care of all your wine spillage needs.”

Some of them , women , would whisper, “Semen” and I’d cry “Goodness me, I do not need to know the origin of the stain, I’m sure our people will take care of it. They are very good at nocturnal emissions.” And sometimes they’d take this as a cue to further the conversation and say “Actually, it was a day time job, in a car, and he was a fucking animal. Combat Zone.You know the score.”

As if I, a humble cleaner of other people’s messes, would know of such things. I would nod and say oh gosh yes, animals, the lot, as if I had a clue. Although I was not a virgin, technically, I was virgin esque, verging on the virginal. I much preferred the company of my new best friend Clare, who was over from England that summer, sleeping on my floor, and also employed at the laundromat. We had lots of friends, many of them boys, but no boyfriends. They kind of got in the way.

The job was routine. To make it more exciting, there was a tv in the corner, but all it seemed to play was “General Hospital” a popular soap set in a hospital. How fitting, as I was up to my arms in soap most days. The storyline at the time involved a woman who had fallen in love with her rapist. This seemed so unlikely, I preferred the hum of the washing machines. Some punk band had written a song about it, and it so gelled with the popular psyche at the time I still wonder why they didn’t get famous. The main line went “No one’s feeling well, at General Hospital”

Most days in the laundromat, apart from sweating to death, I felt fine. If things were not too busy, the pizza guys would come over and give me a hundred or so flat cardboard pieces to fold into pizza boxes. It must have confused the customers. “Can you do me a large service wash, and hold the pepperoni?” But that never happened. Most people understood that the poorly waged had to multi task.

We had several large machines set aside for service washes. I was OK with this and even good at it. I learned to hold my breath when the sacks from Bagnell came in. Crikey, the stuff that comes out of old people. One day, it will come out of me.

So one day I put on a service wash, and these usually took about 45 minutes. You knew the end was nigh when it started to spin really fast. And it would rumble and shake, like it was having a little fit. Quite something to watch. And I thought, oh, it will be about five more minutes, and after this time had passed, I went to the machine and saw it had just started its cycle again. I wasn’t even on cocaine. This was just some terrible mistake. They didn’t tell us how to fix mistakes. They just told us to press some buttons and if nothing worked, ask one of the guys from the pizza place.

I just thought, well, it’s not exploding suds, it’s not gone on fire, it just needs to do its thing again. Hopefully it will be OK. Most people had social lives and didn’t collect their laundry for a day or two.

The thing is, I am really bad at disguising confusion. I just stared at the machine and shook my head, trying to figure out why it was doing a second cycle. A man came over to me and asked “Is that your machine?”
I said well, no not personally mine, but I am running it at the moment, though it would seem to have a mind of its own today. It’s gone into its second cycle. Perhaps it reckoned the clothes were not clean enough.” I shrugged and gave a semi smile.

He shook his head and looked, frankly, suicidal. “It’s all my fault. My machine is next to yours and I put the money in your one by accident. Now you have to wait for like, ever. And I’ve lost money.”

Was this a call the pizza guy situation? No, I could handle it. I said, “Look, it’s OK. I’m sorry about your money. I’m not sure if I can reimburse you, I need to ask the pizza guys.”

He looked confused. “You want pizza?”

“No, the pizza guys are sort of my bosses.”

He said that he didn’t need the money, he was a graphic designer, he earned a good wage. He had put the money in the right machine, next to my one, after all, and they were spinning, sudsely, in perfect harmony.

We got to chatting, I can’t remember what about. Nothing in particular. Perhaps brands of fabric conditioner, or these new sheets you could toss in the dryer to make your sheets smell nice and eliminate static electricity, a big problem in such a hot, dry city.

He glanced at the tv. “General Hospital?”

Yes, it’s not very credible, some girl Laura has fallen in love with her rapist.”

He shook his head sadly.

I said, “Look forget about the second cycle. It’s not a problem. I have to be here anyway.”

He apologised lots and finished his laundry and left.

A few days later, I got an envelope addressed to me at the laundromat. I wasn’t even aware that anyone knew my name there, or for that matter, that anyone apart from Clare and my friends and family and employers knew my name at all. It was a fat, manilla envelope. It smelled good, like new stationary and crayons.

I opened it carefully and it was a stapled together booklet, 16 pages. It was full of glued on pictures of all sorts of things ( none of them dirty or untoward) of things I liked. Sugar Pops, a children’s breakfast cereal Clare and I lived on. Pretty dresses. Flowers. Rivers. Trees. Kittens. Some stranger knew what I liked. Who knows, maybe it’s just predictable girl stuff. ot the Sugar pops, but everything else. This was both unsettling and deeply exciting at the same time. On the last page was a letter.

“Hi. I’m the guy that put your laundry on a second spin, by accident. I am so so sorry. Please accept this book by way of apology. I think you are very kind and understanding. And pretty.”

I wasn’t and I’m not, but I sure loved that little book. It was really the highlight of that shit job over that hot, dog piss summer. That and Clare. The guy had left a number and I rang to thank him, when I got home. This was the pre cell phone era. He asked me for a date at Twin Donuts. I said no. It was against company rules. I had made that up on the spot. I liked the card, but sensed he was a depressive, as I was. We’d probably go a on few dates and make a joint suicide pact, after our coffee and cinnamon donuts. And he would get in the way of Clare.

I lost the book many years ago, long before I moved to England the same year Clare move to Germany. We are still great friends. Now I am a customer at laundromats, or laundrettes as we call them in the UK. I read tabloids and listen to the gentle hum of the machines, and a Tubercular attendant coughing over other people’s clothing in the back room. There is no pizza place next door but a fancy cafe/ recording studio where pale, thin, black dyed haired boys with guitars come limping along the road. It beats General Hospital by miles.