Ricky is the child who deserves my time with his early reader, but I just want to zip through a picture book and get him to sleep so I can do the things I need to. I don’t adore this guy any less or think any less of our time cowing than the others…on the contrary. Ours is probably one of the most memorable I’ll experience. He deserves the long book at storytime tonight.While traveling on business, I looked forward to having to do my laundry because the laundromat didn’t have wireless. I had to be there and I couldn’t work. I couldn’t do a damn thing other than watch the clothes spin and wait. And think. Dangerous, but welcome.
About a month ago, my usual landromat after 7 months of travel was packed on a Friday night so I googled the area. I met Ricky when I found one on the other side of town. He characterized the area for me when he said, “the Girl Scouts will be here tomorrow selling cookies, and by God this might be the ghetto, but we’ll pay $4 to the kids for a box of cookies.” We didn’t cow that night, but the more we talked, I knew I had to get this guy in a cow suit.He'd come in skittering like a small dog and bellowed a “How are ya? Is your day goin’ good? I hope it’s goin’ good.” I said, “It is!” I don’t recall if it really was, but I wasn’t going to burst this happy stranger’s bubble. I felt my day immediately become classified as one of the good ones just watching him. He talked to the regulars interchanging seamlessly between Spanish and New England English.
He was in shorts and a winter coat with grungy white sneakers. His legs looked like brown, hairy wiffle bats. (That is a bad simile right there, but he had slight legs and it’s all I could think of. I’ve got to shave tonight for crying out loud. So. Many. Things. I don’t have time to be good here.) His appearance set the stage for his life story that I got while my clothes dried.He dropped out of high school because he was bullied and joined the Navy. He got to see the world from a ship. He began his work in the kitchen but told me it was attention to details and making things look pretty and perfect that led him to be the Captain’s steward. (I think that’s what it’s called.) He interrupted his story to point to my bras hanging on the edge of one of their baskets on wheels.
“That’s nice. I like that you made yourself at home. That’s what I want. People to feel comfortable here.” I’m so glad he kept talking because those nanoseconds after he pointed to my bras and said “that’s nice” had me looking for the exits. He was cool, though.
I folded clothes while he told me about his world travels in the Navy, his Portuguese heritage, growing up on that very block, buying a motorcycle after he left the service and his plans for his birthday the next week. It’s February 27, by the way. He goes to the cemetery on his birthday to spend time with relatives past. I get that. I can see doing that. Here’s this happy-go-lucky, outgoing guy who also recognizes his need for down time and time to reconnect with the parts and people of his past that are important. It’s not morbid or sad but refreshing and refueling. I thought about him at the cemetery on his birthday while I flew home. (That was the day that led to my Parrish Lane blog.)I overheard him talking to one of the regulars about winning the lottery. He said all the things I wish I felt. That he doesn’t need money. That he’s happy managing a laundry mat with a simple life and being enriched by the relationships and the people around him. It’s one of those conversations that stick in your mind when you’ve been away from your usual life, and pets and people for so long.
I have always said that I love my job but it’s certainly not my passion. It puts more than a roof over my head and is better than working at the Chevron until I figure out what to do with my life, but Ricky made me think that working at a Chevron might just be the real deal.In addition to managing the Laundromat, he maintains its entire plaza which houses a little pizza place, a Chinese joint, and a 7-11. He also DJ’s weddings now and then, and when he doesn’t have a DJ gig scheduled, his disco ball and flashing lights hang in the laundromat. He turns them on for the Saturday crowd.
Oh yes. I wanted to dance with him in his ghetto New England laundromat in a cow suit on a Saturday morning. I told him about my blog and asked if I could come back and cow with him. He didn’t hesitate with a "Yes!". I went home from that trip and had all my cow suits shipped to the office so I’d be prepared for a laundromat dance party.But there was a change in my plans and I stood him up. I ended up being home on the weekend I’d told him and I didn’t know how to let him know I wasn’t going to be there. I’d spent a couple hours chatting with this guy, and I felt accountable to him. That may seem silly, but honestly, I wish others felt this kind of accountability to their fellow man.
I showed up a week late with my laundry wondering if he’d remember me. He did. He yelled, “Billie Joe! (I don’t spell it with an “e” but he does) How are ya? You stood me up!” I hung my head and apologized and tried to explain why I missed our date. He said that was fine and that the owners weren’t on board anyway. They were worried about law suits and liability if people got hurt dancing. Ricky’s laundromat has a bit of a stage built up between the washers and driers. (See his surfing pose below.)Of course, I think mafia and they don't want the business publicized because I’m working too much and surrounded by New England accents and inventing things in my spare time.
I let Ricky know I had cow suits in my car but that I understood. (sigh) I had to accept a wonderful interaction with someone without a cow suit and NOT write about it. But then…he said, “Ya know what…let’s get ‘em. Let’s take some pictures.”
So we did!!!We walked next door to the 7-11 to get a lottery ticket. He took a breath to talk to me about money and happiness and I said, “I know. I know. The money would change me and I may not be meant for it. But come on—what a great story if the winning ticket was bought in a cow suit.” He smiled. I escaped his money talk, but had a few of my own in my head while he danced around and posed for pictures.
We stood with a couple of his regulars Augustino and Paully. Paully told me his middle name begins with an “E” so he hears “Paul E” when Ricky says his name, but Ricky says it as one word and with the New England affection embodied in “Paully” so that’s how I know him.We zipped around his little Laundromat taking pictures and whooping it up. Pharrell William’s “Happy” was playing so there may have been a dance move or two. Ricky takes such pride in the place and gets so much joy in return. I understand that too.
After we decowed, he slipped out the door. He went to his little duplex in the same little parking lot and came back with a frame. He gave me an 8x10 framed picture of his town from a 1950’s calendar. He told me it’s where he grew up and how he remembers this town and he wanted me to have it. I feel the same about my little home town.I’ve also spent almost 5 months total in his town and this was a strangely appreciated gift. I also understand framing calendar pictures. I used to have a collection of 12 calendar “prints” in my living room and got a bunch of crap from my friends for it. It was cheap and counterfeit art and I loved it. I love that Ricky gave it to me.
To repay him, I compiled a collage of our pics and brought him back another 8x10 frame. When I knocked on his door on a workday night this week, I was in regular clothes and without laundry to do. He smiled and welcomed me in his little place. He thanked me. He told me Paully had been showing the pictures all over town and then said, “Wait! I wrote you a poem.” He disappeared while I waited in his small but all-he-needs kitchen and returned with these scribbles on an envelope.The cow suit lets me talk to people when I wouldn’t. Ricky talks to anyone he meets in his laundromat and was a great reminder of how I can be in and out of my suit. His life is as simple and joyful as our encounter. I bet I see this guy again someday. I hope I do.
|The photo collage I gave Ricky
(and yes, this had a junior high flare, but it's the simple and good part of junior high)