My husband, Bruce, likes to bring his dry cleaning to the little Laundromat in our town. As is often the case with Bruce, it’s probably part principle, part nostalgia. Because if logic dictated, he’d have left that dry cleaner long ago. They’re not particularly cheap, they don’t do a very good job, and they take an inexplicably long time to bring his shirts out when he picks them up. First they have to hunt for his ticket — I’m not sure what they’re looking for; He’s probably their only customer — and once the cashier disappears behind the little door tucked in between a row of dryers, it always takes her a long time to re-emerge with his boxes of shirts.
I sometimes accompany him to the laundramat. It’s a sign of age, when errands become outings. We’ll take a stroll after dinner, look at our neighbors’ houses, remark on the size of the moon, and talk about the day’s events. But it’s always the same once we get to the laundromat. Bruce walks up to cashier and gives them his ticket while I walk over to the piles of dog-eared magazines that line the shelf behind the washers. I usually grab a magazine and sit down on one of the benches and get caught up in the made-for-t.v.-drama that’s always on the television there.
Last night, as I sat down on the bench, a man doing his laundry walked over to me and said, “Hi. How you doing?”
Before I could answer, he told me his name and started telling me about himself and why he was there, and how he’d been on the beach that afternoon and had a beef with some guys on the sand. He seemed aggrieved.
“I’m one of the good guys. You know? I’m good people. You gotta have respect for that. I’m good people. You want a brownie?” he said, offering me a plastic bowl filled with brownies cut up into bite size pieces.
“Oh, um, well, no, thanks,” I said.
“I’m old school. You know what I mean? Old school. Like I’d be wearing a Fedora and smoking a cigarette—“
“And carrying a bowl of brownies,” I said.
“Yeah. Brownies,” he said, unamused. “I’d have some pastry.”
He looked over at Bruce, who was talking to the woman at the cash register.
“Is that your husband?” the man asked. “You’re a hottie. You know that?” And then shouting over to Bruce, the man said, “Your wife’s a hottie.”
“Smokin’ hot,” Bruce said.
“You want a brownie?” he said to Bruce.
“No, thanks, man,” Bruce said.
“We just had dinner, and—“ I said.
“I’ll bet you had a lot of guys bothering you on the beach this summer,” he said.
“Uh, sure. Well, not really. Maybe I will have one of those brownies,” I said, trying to divert the conversation to anything else.
“They’re home-made. I don’t buy stuff made by a corporation. I don’t buy from those big companies. This is home-made. The real deal,” he said.
“Did you make them?” I asked, looking over to see how Bruce was progressing.
“My girl made them,” he said. “My girl. She’s young.”
“Well, she makes good brownies,” I said, biting into it.
“She’s young, but at least she does something right,” he said.
“Well, that’s good,” I said. What a galoot, I thought.
“ She doesn’t want to be monogamous,” he said. “I can’t change her. That’s the way she is. You can’t force someone to change. You have to let them grow on their own. I can’t make her be monogamous if she’s not.”
When I turned around, Bruce was standing behind me holding two boxes of starched shirts.
“Your wife here was just telling me how you can’t change a person,” the man said.
I just looked at the guy.
“Okay, well, we have to go now. Nice meeting you,” I said.
As Bruce and I walked home, and I recounted some of the conversation I’d had with the man, I suddenly realized I’d taken food from someone I didn’t know, someone whose stability was in question. And it was brownies. What if there was pot in them? What would that do to the baby? What if it wasn’t pot but something worse? PCP? Amphetamines? Rat Poison? It sounded like the young girl who made the brownies wasn’t too keen on her boyfriend. What if she was trying to poison him? Maybe he suspected that and was testing the brownies out on other people first.
By the time I got home, my heart was racing. I was beginning to feel woozy. If I wasn’t dead by morning, I’d at least learned some valuable lessons, ones that I’d pass on to my new child:
Don’t wear make up to the dry cleaner. And if you do, pretend you don’t speak English.
If a conversation is moving in an uncomfortable direction, don’t try to change it by grabbing food of an unknown origin.
And above all, parents should never take food from a stranger.