Wednesday, May 07, 2003

How To Win Friends And Influence People

"Hey.... quit working and go do some laundry with me," J. proclaimed as he waltzed into the office. "I got detergent and I got quarters -- all you need is some laundry. You ready?" Never one to forego a chance at clean underwear, especially on someone else's dime, I set aside my work and followed him out the door.

There are two moments in a guy's life that are immersed purely in an inate, will-less sense of Zen. One is shaving. I'm not talking about shaving with an electric razor -- a custom I find myself returning to, usually out of sheer laziness and unwillingness to replace the pack of razors I lost during my previous move across town -- but rather the simplicity, the now-ness that must be accepted when you have a blade to your throat. The second, and most important, because of my known blade-shaving ways, the more importantly, is laundry. It's a wonderfully domestic moment for a guy who isn't particularly domestic.

On this day, as with most such days, the conversation was sparse, and yet filled with a poignancy we dare not reflect upon. Raymond Carver, eat your heart out. Just the usual: "This your sock?" or "What the...??" We pour in our detergent, close our lids, and smile the smile of a content men ready to begin some washing. All that's needed now are the quarters.

"You got the quarters?"

"Um, no, Sherlock," I answered, while putting away the Stain-Stick.

"Why didn't you grab the quarters?"

"Because you said you had them."

"I never said that!"

If life only came with a transcript. As it is, these sorts of arguments tend to go on much longer than ones of any consequence, so the details here aren't all that important. We decided to do the uncharacteristically communal thing, pool our available funds and simply use the change machine. We're smiling again, this time the smile of men who just came up with a good idea.

"Shit, it's not taking the money!"

"I'll be a fucked-duck!"

"You'll be a what? What the hell are you talking about? Fucked-duck??"

"I don' t know. It just came out."

"Well, try to be a little more clever with your cursing. Come on, I expect more of you."

"Alright, sorry. Now what?"

There is another Zen-like moment men like J. and I experience from time to time: laundry-frustration. The horns of dilemma find us, far too often, alone in laundromats, clothes damp with detergent, and no money.

"You hungry?"

"Yeah, a little."

With a shrug and a quick, slight upturn of the hand, we head to the car.

"Where do you think we can get change?" J. asked, as he searched the radio for something he could sing to.

"I think I want Wendys."

"Oooo, I haven't had a Frosty since..... well, since yesterday."

Shaking my head and stepping on the gas. "Much too long."

"I'm trying to gain weight, see. Girls love a little girth."

We were served at Wendys with the same relative indifference that is fast-food service. It's not that I blame them, the workers who return daily behind the counter, beneath the smock and under the hat. The montony of turning and re-heating assembly-line foodstuff; the repetitive dumping of the fries into the grease, the super-sized cartons, and, ultimately, the trash; the same questions with the same answers. Who wouldn't be indifferent to the fact you have pickles on a hamburger that you specifically ordered without pickles.

"You know, the key to a happy eating experience at most fast food chains? Low expectations."

"Couldn't agree more."

"When I go to Taco Bell, I don't expect the fountain soda machine to work properly."

"And when I go to McDonalds, I don't expect to get in and out with hearing a frazzled mother of at least two cursing her their father's name and telling the kids, 'That does it, we're goin' home.'"

In the corner of my eye I notice a nicely groomed blonde guy, about our age, looking at us from across the Wendys. "Odd," I think. "Three people probably wearing deodorant at this place is a rarity." I laughed at my social superiority.

"You think that guy's gay?"

Ever since he had his butt squeezed by a gay guy at a downtown mall, this has become one of J.'s calling-card questions. I don't think he's homophobic or anything, he just likes to know where stands with people, gay and straight. As is my general habit, I never answer the question. I smile, letting him know I heard the question but really don't care to know or answer.

"Uh-oh.... he's coming"

"Who's coming," I asked, looking up from my grilled chicken-stuff. The well-groomed guy locked eyes with me as he made his way across the dining area. The thoughts that go through your head at times like these are perhaps the most telling thoughts a person ever really entertains. "He's gonna ask us to go a gay rave!" was one such thought as he approached.

"Hey, can I ask you guys a question?" the well-groomed man asked with a toothy-grin, and in no apparent need to hear a reply. "Would you be interested in going to a church service with me on Sunday morning."

"But, it's only Tuesday," J. suggested, with a startling sincerity.

"And what pray tell does this have to do with a gay rave?"

"Uhh. Do you guys believe in God?"

"Hey now, hold on, one question at a time. We haven't even answered your first or second question," I pointed out helpfully, firmly holding the seat away to make it clear there was no invitation for him to sit.

"No, I'm sorry, my dad beat me."

"What?? What are you talking about, J.?"

"Yeah," J. winked, or was that a struggle with a tear, "my dad used beat me with the Bible."

"That big one on the coffee table, next to the nativity set that your mom never removed?"

"No, the other one."

"You had another one?"

The well-groomed man suddenly took the appearance of a desperate ex-smoker. "It meets downtown at 10:30."

"What meets downtown at 10:30?"

"The church."

"Do I need to bring a Bible?"

"You want the one my dad hit me with?"

"No, I'll just grab that big one from the coffee table."

The well-groomed man, unsure if victory was in sight, approached cautiously. "So, you're going to come to church on Sunday?"

"I dunno, you got a change machine down there?"

As the well-groomed man walked away shaking his head, rehearsing his script, trying to figure out what went wrong, and as J. was counting his change, I nibbled on one of his fries. "You don't mind, do you?"

"Oh no, go ahead."