- Dec 28, 2010
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How much for it? What’s the condition? How did you launder it?
I had a roommate in college who used to launder my Polo shirts. It went like this:
His name was Randy. A friend of a friend — though which friend, not one of us could ever say. He just sort of showed up one day. Someone knew him from high school — maybe Chad — we were all pretty sure about that. Anyway, Randy was an early riser. Mornings, he’d sit out on the porch smoking his clove cigarettes. Then when I left for class, he’d rifle through my dirty clothes until he found a shirt that he liked. He’d wear it to his friend’s house at another school and say, Hey, Bob, that’s a nice Polo shirt. Can I trade you this one I’m wearing?
Sometimes it worked. He’d return to our apartment wearing a new shirt, no one the wiser.
Eventually, the semester ended. School closed down, and we scattered to the wind. Some degreed, some not. We all promised to keep in touch. There were rumors about what happened to Randy, but nothing conclusive. Everything we knew was secondhand. Time passed, and I’d like to think our lives had returned to what they were before. Then one day, we got the call. It was Randy, the detective said. He’d been arrested. Took some old timer’s boat out for a joy ride and then sunk it in the middle of Lake Travis.
Had we seen him lately? Did we have information about this and that? No one did. I mostly wanted to know about the life of a detective. “It’s not what you think, kid,” he said, and slammed the phone.
We never saw old Randy again, but months later, we gathered at his stepdad’s house, the four of us, old roommates made wiser by the passage of time, some of us with beards. A man appeared and motioned us in, and we followed him up the stairs to a cramped room in back. Piled on the shiny hardwood floor was a mountain of old stuff, shirts and sneakers, mostly. Magazines, random electronics. Chad gave the pile a tentative kick, and it smelled of dust and cologne, but also the old apartment. That particular blend of cloves and drying sweat girls often remarked on. We stared at it for it a moment, saying nothing. Then the stepdad slipped a palsied hand into the pile and began patting it down, eyes searching the ceiling, like a blind man reading a scroll. Finally, he pulled out an old pixie stick, the big jumbo kind, and used it to hold out a pair of Men’s Calvin Klein Designer Series boxer briefs. Chad’s nostrils flared. “Yours?” the old man said. It was the first time we’d heard him speak. Chad said nothing, just grabbed the underwear so hard it almost knocked the old man down, and wedged them in his back pocket. Then he dropped to his knees and began sorting. It seemed like hours passed as we watched that one pile split into four. At times, it was like a children’s game, Chad lifting a shaky hand from the pile as we spoke the names of things we’d forgotten: My Gillette razor, my guitar strings, my old Discman. The old man just shook his head. You could tell he wanted to sit down, but he stood there to the end, one hand against the dusty window sill.
When Chad finished, he stripped off his shirt and spit right on the hardwood. “I need a cigarette,” he said, and blew past us, right down the stairs and into the cool of the garden.
The old man looked at me. I could tell he wanted me to say something, but I wasn’t sure what.
“I didn’t know he smoked,” he said after awhile. And he turned to me, and we listened to the sounds of the city easing into nighttime, of crickets rubbing their song from their legs, men returning home to their worries, stepping out from the heat of ticking engines, doors opening and closing.
“I mean, how could you?” I said, and the old man shrugged.