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Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Dry Cleaner Thinks I'm Poor

A cute, squat Chinese lady dry cleans my clothes. Say whatever you want about offensive stereotypes, but it's just the truth, and I can't change it. I'm also a neurotic, asthmatic Jew who loves his mother, so what can you do, you know?

Anyway, my dry cleaner thinks I'm poor. She developed this judgement very quickly, as, I suppose, most of us do when judging others (which, of course, is naughty-naughty) and, not only did she come to this conclusion, she had absolutely no problem sharing it with me.

I don't go to the dry cleaner a lot-- you know, because I'm poor. I don't come from a big dry-clean-only family. We're pretty low maintenance. If a member of my immediate family is clothes shopping and s/he sees a very alluring garment, if the tag says "Dry-Clean Only" any member of my family would probably pass it up as "too much work."

When my mom would take little me out on errands (babies were portable back in the early 1980s) we would frequently go to the post office, the supermarket, the bank, Tommy's general store (seriously), and the pharmacy. We never went to the dry cleaners that I can remember. My mother diligently ironed my father's dress shirts back when he wore dress shirts, my sisters wore cotton "Esprit" tops and jeans, and I wore sweatsuits until eighth grade when I discovered masturbation and khakis.

The first person I ever met who went religiously to the dry cleaner was my first boss at the optical shop. He never wore a shirt that hadn't been dry cleaned, steamed, starched, and pressed. The back of his car always had at least five freshly-dry cleaned shirts hanging from the grab handle, all comfy-cozy in their shimmery plastic bag with their stapled paper tags. The dry cleaner was several doors down from our optical shop, and I would frequently be dispatched to pick up his shirts. I didn't mind. I knew my place on the totem pole, and I also knew he loved me-- so getting him coffee or a slice of pizza or his shirts was my way of loving him back. I always thought it was kind of ironic, though, that a man who was so obsessive about his dress shirts frequently came into work desperately hung over, eyes bloodshot, and sometimes asking me to smell his breath to see if it still reeked of gin and vomitus.

The only reason I go to the dry cleaner is when I'm in a big fucking jam. A few weeks ago, "The Sorcerer" was about to open. I played the title role, and the show was being performed in a very small, eighty-seat venue, where the audience can practically taste your sweat-- and so it's important to look good. I was to wear the clothes in which I got married: black and gray striped trousers, red suspenders (braces for you Brits), a white tuxedo shirt with widowmaker collar points, black tie, gray checked vest, black wool morning coat with tails and topped off with a for-real, beaver-fur black top-hat from a Canadian hatmaker, circa 1890.

Talk about a foppish dandy/nabob!

As opening night approached, I took a gander at the outfit as it hung in the closet. The collar of the tuxedo shirt was absolutely caked in tan stage makeup, from the last time I wore the get-up, two years ago in a production of "Ruddigore."

NB: If you ever want to be sure that you'll wear your wedding clothes again, do Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. This goes for males and females alike.

Shit, I thought looking at the disgusting shirt-- this motherfucker needs to go to the dry cleaner.

I went to a little dry cleaner that is very close to the post office where I pick up the P.O. box mail for work, and where I sometimes get coffee when I'm a.) too lazy to make it at home and/or b.) in the mood for coffee that doesn't taste like Lemon Joy. I had never been there before, but, since I'm in that neighborhood every day, I figured it was a good idea to take the shirt there so I could be sure I'd be close by to pick it up in time for the final dress rehearsal.

The squat, short, smiling, waddling Chinese lady walked up to me and she looked at the shirt.

"Oh, no! Wha happan?!"

(Sorry if my dialect writing offends anyone. If you have a problem with it-- tell Mark Twain.)

"Well, nothing really happened-- it's stage makeup. I'm... I'm an actor."

I really didn't feel like addressing the fact that I'm not actually an actor-- I'm a loser who works at a non-profit and does gay G&S operettas because, well, it's a fetish. I didn't think she'd understand. Or care. So I just told her I was an actor. This was a mistake.

"Oh! You an actor! No money, right?"

I stared at her.

"What?"

"Actor, very poor. No money."

"Um," I started to sweat now. What was the proper response to that? "No, I have money. I mean-- not a lot-- I mean, I can pay."

She laughed.

"Sure, sure," she said. "But stain no come out. Is very bad stain."

"Just do the best you can," I said, "I don't really expect it to all come out-- I just need it to look better than it does."

"Better, okay, but no come out!" she warned ominously.

"Right. It won't come out. That's okay."

I came back two days later and picked up the shirt. She was right, the stain didn't come out, but it looked much better.

"I'll be back with more," I said.

"Oh, okay," she said, disbelieving. After all, how could I, a lowly actor, afford to get more clothes dry cleaned?

After the run of "The Sorcerer" had mercifully finished, I figured that it was time to get the entire outfit (sans the top hat and vest) dry cleaned to get it ready for the next operetta, because there's always a next one.

"Oh, the actor!" she said as I placed the morning coat, gray and black striped trousers and the shirt of ill repute on the counter.

"That's me!" I grinned.

She laughed. I wondered what the fuck was so funny. But I didn't ask.

When the clothes were ready, I returned. The bill had Chinese chicken-scratch all over it, numbers and prices scribbled out and re-written and it was crumpled.

"Your coat too long!" she cried, as if I were about to trip on it.

"What?" I asked, totally confused. I had brought a pair of my wife's wool pants and a sweater. She couldn't possibly think I was poor now.

She pointed to my morning coat.

"Coat has tails-- too long! My boss get very angry when I show him-- he say, 'This coat too long, need to be three dollar more! Not regular coat!' But I say 'No, he only an actor! He very poor-- no money.' And so my boss say, 'Ok, charge him regular this time.' So it's okay."

So, I was suitably embarrassed now, but at the same time rather pleased that the dry cleaner's assumption that I was an indigent stage-hack had now saved me three dollars off my dry cleaning bill.

"Thank you, that's very kind of your boss. You know, when you're just a poor actor, every little bit helps," I said. She nodded her head approvingly.

"In my country, actor very poor. No money. Live with parents."

"Yes," I said, "that's the way it is here, too."

"$13.25," she said, the total bill for dry cleaning my wedding/stage clothes.

I pulled out my debit card. She laughed.

"Oh no!" she pointed to a sign that said, "$20.00 minimum charge." I only had two dollars cash in my wallet, which played right into her assumption about me.

"I only have two dollars cash," I said.

"Oh! He no have money! Want to pay with card! No money!" She laughed hysterically at that, and I wanted both to join in and punch her in the throat at the same time. It's such a confusing world sometimes.

"Well," I said, "can I pre-pay for the sweater and the pants that I'm dropping off now, and pay for these clothes at the same time, that way it will be over $20.00 and I can use the card."

"Hahaha! You use card, is okay. Pay for everything now. No money!"

I paid for everything and picked up my freshly-cleaned morning suit. It was pouring outside.

"Lift up very high or long coat drag on ground!" she counseled, "you walk here, right?"

"Um, no, I have a car," I said, pointing outside to the P.T. Cruiser. She laughed at that, too.

Yesterday, I went to pick up my wife's sweater and wool trousers. I was just about to pull up in front of her store when a thought popped into my head that made me drive past the shop and park around the block.

I couldn't let her see the Volvo. That would totally turn her assumptions about the world upsidedown. An actor in a Volvo? Even an eight-year-old one-- that could not be.

She walked up to me, raising her eyebrows up and down in a suggestive manner, like a short, Asian, female Groucho Marx. She put my wife's pants and sweater on the counter and she said with a devilish smile,

"Girlfriend?"

10 comments:

  1. Yo Mr Apron, nice post but check out my blog for a change! http://mynameinserted.blogspot.com

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  2. Fantastic post. I always look forward to your stories. This one also reminded me of my special relationship with my dry cleaner, who is an ex boxer who says I look like his daughter, and lectures me about being fiscally irresponsible when I dryclean things twice in quick succession.

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  3. Josephine--

    Well, okay, but only because you asked so nicely...

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  4. This is hysterical. Especially because you are now altering where you park. ;)

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  5. BAHAHA so funny, and such an accurate portrayal of what seems to be a very common scene. I never have cash either. :( I think I might ask if my dry clean lady thinks I am poor next time.

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  6. Gilbert and Sullivan make me extremely happy and extremely uncomfortable at the same time. I'm a girl and even I feel a little gay watching their shows, which always are done in community theatre....

    But I always go back for more. What can I say, that Fredric is a sexy beast.

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  7. sigh...that was great. very funny. you should have kicked her in the shins and ran away without paying, fuck it.

    i linked to this post from my blog btw.

    http://intotheninth.blogspot.com

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  8. Mark Twain: the king of dialect.

    Is this dry cleaner located on Montgomery Avenue, by any chance? If so, I have a good idea who it might be.

    Anyway, I'm not judging you, but the word judgment has no "e." You know me. It's a compulsion.

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  9. Oy, Colleen-- I know you can't help yourself.

    And, no, it's not that one next to the flower shop... Good guess, though.

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  10. I love her. I'm in love with your chinese dry-cleaner. Fuck it, just tell me where she works and I'll book a flight over there right now - holy hell, what a little star! Endless hours of comedy in my life right there!

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