I wrote this in the 90s and never finished it. Maybe I should.
Elephants never forget. You know why they say that? It’s because when elephants are born into domestication, they are immediately put into a cage or a box or bound by rope or chains or whatever other way a human being sees fit to make sure the baby elephant stays where a human being decides it should be. The baby elephant tries, with all its might, to break free from the bonds or the enclosure but to no avail because it is too weak and small. Once the baby elephant tries and fails, it will never try again for the rest of its life. That is why full-grown, adult elephants can be kept in cages or boxes or bound by rope or chains that they could easily break. An adult elephant is powerful enough to knock over a building without much trouble but it doesn’t attempt to break the bonds that it failed to break as a baby elephant. Poor elephants, they never forget.
Some human beings are like that.
Pretend there is a man named Harold Mayonnaise.
Carrier of a current Pennsylvania driver’s license, 2 credit cards, a movie rental card, a frequent visitor card for a local submarine sandwich shop, an ATM card, three photographs; his mom, his sister, who he hasn’t seen in 4 years and his wife, Marla and a folded 2 dollar bill. 37 years old. Middle school Social Studies teacher. Taller than average. Brown, thinning hair. Glasses. Americanly overweight. Slightly uneven beard. Quiet. Shy. Introverted. Modest. Passive. Indecisive. Well-read. An extra in the movie of life.
Before yesterday, he was not much different than an elephant. No one could say exactly when but sometime, somewhere, while growing up, Harold tried to get what he wanted and failed. All these years, he never tried again until yesterday.
Here’s what happened yesterday:
Saturday was the day Harold did laundry. This particular Saturday, the washing machine wasn’t working properly. He filled it just the same as every Saturday, poured in the detergent just the same as every Saturday, set the dials just the same as every Saturday but when he closed the lid, nothing happened. This was different than other Saturdays. It was as if the machine had died in its sleep during the week.
Harold called the appliance repair man but was notified that a week from Wednesday would be the earliest he could have someone come out and take a look at the dead machine. This was a terrible inconvenience, Saturday was laundry day and that would mean that at least two whole laundry days would have to pass before someone even looked at the machine. Harold was frustrated but he didn’t want to make a fuss. “O.K., then,” he said “thank you very much.” This was a very normal mantra for Harold to break into when someone said something he was unhappy about.
“O.K., then, thank you very much.” “O.K., then, thank you very much.” O.K., then, thank you very much.”
As a young man, Harold would have to force the words from his mouth. He’d often want to say something like “Bullshit! I’m not going to stand for that!” but suspected that such an outburst would do no good. He assumed that the person had already decided on whatever it was that was to be decided, there was no reason to cause a scene. So he bit his lip and spit out these words, “O.K., then, thank you very much.”
Now, after years upon years of reciting, the words tumbled out of his mouth as easily as air through his nostrils. He didn’t even hear the words as he spoke them and he certainly didn’t think about their definitions or the message they represented when strung together. There simply were no other options to consider. It had become a reflex.
The last thing Harold wanted to do yesterday was gather the week’s dirty laundry, stuff it into the car, a 1992 Honda Accord with AM/FM radio and tape deck, and drive to the local laundromat. Even less appealing was the idea of sitting there, in a foreign place, for at least an hour and a half to guard his clothing. But he had no choice, Saturday was laundry day, it always had been.
It took Harold a moment to remember where the closest laundromat was. He was fairly certain that there were plenty of them around but he never took notice as to just where. The laundromats were all just lumped together in his mind along with the check cashing establishments, shoe repair shops, veterinarians, beauty supply stores, beer distributors and all the other places of business that Harold had no use for. It was a collective blur of store fronts that took up space in the strip malls and shopping centers between the stores that Harold was interested in. Laundromats were for other people, people who didn’t have washers and dryers in their home, not for Harold, until yesterday.
“I think there is one next to the video rental store”, Harold said to himself without using his voice. He loaded up the car and pointed it slightly left of the video store. It was 10:32 AM, August 8th, 1998, although the clock in the car read 9:35. Harold never thought to alert the car of daylight’s saving time so it was only correct half of the year, there’s no explanation for the three minute discrepancy.
Harold was right, there was a laundromat next to the video store. He thought so.
This is what Harold thought to himself when he entered the laundromat:
“God, what an aesthetically unappealing place. I guess they don’t care much about atmosphere in laundromats. I guess people just go to the one that is closest to them, but the same could be said about convenience stores and they aren’t so boring and ugly on the inside. I’m hungry. Which machine should I use, I guess this one is as goo-, wait those over there look newer, may as well go for one of them. The clothes still have the detergent on them, do I need to add more? I guess it wouldn’t hurt to add a little bit more.”
A few seconds and four quarters later, the washing machine was busy removing the dirt and sweat and food that had accumulated on Harold and Marla’s clothing and towels in the past week. The washing machine didn’t know exactly where the dirt and sweat and food were so it had to wash every last inch of every article, but it didn’t mind.
The machine told Harold “24”, via a digital display screen. Harold sat down on a green plastic chair connected to a whole row of green plastic chairs and looked at the other people in the laundromat. They were as ugly as the laundromat. The machine told Harold “18”. Harold stood up to stretch his legs then sat back down. About the time the machine told Harold “15”, a drunken man walked in to the laundromat. He was tall and drunk and wearing a tuxedo.
The man had a large bundle of laundry wrapped in a bed sheet tucked under his arm and a mustache. He pushed the bundle into a washing machine and the machine told him “24”. The man sat down next to Harold and asked him his political affiliation. Although Harold couldn’t think of a specific reason why giving the mustached man an answer could be dangerous, he suspected there was one and pretended not hear him. Discouraged, the mustached man suggested that Harold should go to hell and then he laid down. The man took up three green plastic chairs. Harold continued to sit properly in his green plastic chair.
By the time Harold was finished imagining the circumstances that resulted in the mustached man ending up in the laundromat, in his condition and dressed as he was, Harold’s machine told him “1”. Harold stood up and walked towards the machine in the same way that an anxious elevator rider takes a step toward the closed doors as it approaches the desired floor. The machine told him “0”, and turned itself off.
There’s no interesting way to say that he opened the lid, gathered the clothes and towels and walked to a dryer, but it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. It did.
The same can be said about Harold waiting for his laundry to dry. Here’s the interesting part, though:
As Harold unloaded the dryer he noticed something, there was a long black stain on a pair of Marla’s slacks. It resembled a stain Harold saw on television once created by someone brushing up against a bicycle chain. Harold assumed that the washing machine had not done its job properly and hoped that it didn’t miss any other stains. To his dismay, Harold noticed a similar stain on one of his gym socks. He wasn’t sure how such a stain might have possibly found its way to Marla’s slacks while she was wearing them but it was surely possible. Harold’s gym sock was another story. He was certain that he did nothing while wearing his gym sock to deserve such a stain.
He continued to examine the load. His white button down shirt had a black stain. Her bra had a black stain. Her vest had a black stain. A bath towel had a black stain. His boxer shorts had a black stain. Even the old T-shirt that Harold used in the garage as a rag appeared to have a new black stain. Every article seemed to have a black streak across it somewhere except a sweatshirt that said “It’s better in the Bahamas” across the chest and this offered little consolation.