Last month at the Laundromat, while sorting my clothes for the washer, I gave up, stuffing socks and shirts wherever they freaking fit. Trouble came marching toward me while I slipped coins in slots.
An alchy approached me, slurring and sloppy, stinking there. I'd been in his shoes years ago, so I was empathetic, listening.
Washer lids down. Another young man joined us, informing me he'd been "off the medication for a while." Soon I learned about their lives, and that was before the water filled the washer.
When the machines were rinsing and spinning, another man wanted to borrow change for crack.
I'm a "troublemaker magnet." Give me five minutes at the Laundromat, and the criminals, addicts and drunks swarm around me, wanting me to rejoin their clubs.
Actually, I was interested in their lives, the stories they told, the joys and pains. Or maybe it was my appearance that did it -- I was looking grimy, my hair in a haphazard bun.
Maybe it was my extroverted nature. Perhaps I sent out a message that screamed, "I'm open!" I've been known for blabbing whatever deep thoughts or feelings are on my mind.
Give me a room full of available men, and I'll pick the one who just got out of prison. This happened not long ago.
I talked with the ex-con for quite some time; I could relate to him, minus the bars and guards. I admit I've been mischievous and manipulative when it counted, but I never got caught much. Just lucky. People have told me that I have an "innocent look."
Clothes drying time. Taking forever. Annoyed that the laundro-heat wasn't working, I froze my ass off.
I hugged myself, catching the eye of the girl working behind the desk. She was cold as well, huddling behind a space heater.
Snake-like, eyeing the heater, I slithered over to the desk.
Strangely, there were no verbal complaints about temperature. Looking each other in the eye, people shared in the Laundromat misery silently.
I made my way behind the desk. Did you know they have a flat screen TV back there, around the corner? I do, because after a minute of chatting it up with my new friend I'd succeeded in joining Worker Girl, camped out, hiding from the customers.
There, behind the heater, she and I watched Liar, Liar, bonding in our state of hidden warmth and cracking up. It was hellish fun.
When I peeked around the corner, random people caught my gaze and glared at me, thinking I worked there, that I was merely sitting on my ass. I assured them that I was just visiting.
Confused people stared back at me. I felt sneaky and special.
Afraid Worker Girl might get fired -- I noticed the ceiling camera pointed on us -- I felt like my luck behind the counter might run out, so I headed outside for a better ambience, waving bye to my partner in crime. She was still laughing at Liar, Liar.
Finding more mischief took two seconds. Standing outside was a punk about my age. He was handsome in a tattered, unshaven way, wearing a jacket littered with illegible words written in marker. Loosely laced boots. A chiseled jaw. A skullcap.
His face was pale and thin. His eyes were the size of half dollars. He smoked a hand-rolled cigarette, I thought.
Punk Man said, "Hey, you want a hit?"
I sniffed, realizing it was pot. "No," I said, looking around.
It wasn't even dark out. And there he was, smoking it up in the front of the Laundromat for the world to see.
"I smoke a little, and then I can't stop."
Punk Man smiled wide, nodding.
"Hey, aren't you worried about getting arrested? You're right in front of all these glass windows," I said.
Punk Man laughed. "I've learned it's better if you're open about it. It's when you start hiding that you get in trouble."
I chuckled. I respected this troublemaker, the way he stood calmly smoking his weed. I wasn't going to take a hit, but I'd done it in the past. Parts of 1992 through 1998 were gone to me.
Punk Man knew the secret. When it came to getting out of trouble, it was all in the eyes. I thought about high school, when I hung out with Michelle (name changed).
She and I sneaked out, stole liquor, shoplifted and bragged about our exploits. But Michelle had deep dark eyes and a "badass" look. I had light eyes and my hair was neat, tucked into a headband for added touch.
I usually left school around noon back in those days, but I got Saturday detention just once. After a hard weekend, I'd be free from groundings while Michelle would be locked in her room for a week. Everything always got blamed on her, but the ideas, the plans were always mine. I started it.
Back inside, folding. Some tall, smooth cat came up to me. Here we go again, I thought.
But this one was different. His eyes were the clearest blue, azure buttons. He seemed creative, kind and smart. His clothes were stylin'. He wrote down his number.
As I carried my clean clothes to the car, I knew I'd never call him.
Normal. I wasn't interested.
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