I remember the best and the worst of it.
The thing I hated most was the smell.
It had literally the miasma ghost odor of
every local butcher, medical lab, mechanic
and who knows what else, as its clientèle.
They washed the blood and shit, the vomit,
the grease and the chemicals. I remember thinking
the ISO 9000 and whatever on the sign looked
so Very Assuring coming in. This, compounded
by the sad and quiet Asian ladies who pan faced,
with no sympathy for you and you all fear of that deadpan,
worked the clean garments out on the other end,
in a complex splatter of trolley-style racks
that held all the shirts individually, then uniformly
by the dozen, forming clean corn rows of cotton
and polyester urethane. I hadn’t read Conrad yet, so
I didn’t know about it all yet. I had this yellow tape
player, and I remember listening to Radiohead, Kid A
and it was so fitting. “I’m not here, this isn’t happening”
then the guy yanks me on the shoulder and grabs the
thing and then and there I heard the gnawing movement
of the ornate trolleys of clothes above us on endless
shuffle, the massive washers, the cranes that hoisted
the denim dirty bags in the back, back with the little
elfish shop keeper. Reality kicked in fast. The fumes
made you high I swear, but not the good kind I had
enjoyed, more like the shitty time when I smoked
too much hash after eating a pizza sub from the Mr. Sub,
I remember it smelled just like BO and I wondered how
I could’ve ever enjoyed them, and forever associate
this factory and that smell on a submarine or pita.
The shop foreman was an ass and the manager
was better but he always treated the recent immigrant
types like shit, which in turn made me with my limited
understanding of life and heart felt connection to
The Autobiography of Malcolm X, associate labor
with cruelty and baseness for awhile I think. I found out
also that the manager, the little elf man with his ZZ Top
beard and short, stocky but frail due to limb stride,
had a sick kid. Here’s the thing though he said the kid
had leg Perthy? I have looked and I even googled it years later.
Was he a liar and a racist little elf or was he some rarer,
more susceptible to rarer, less-documented disease? My
biographers will have to ponder this and other mysteries.
(Postscript: I obsessed over this detail and gave it
one more university effort and it turns out he likely meant “Legg-Calves-Perthes”
syndrome – the French threw me off.)
The thought of nobody really ever giving a shit
kept me digging just those extra, necessary feet.
If I ever get out of this life alive, let me
have a night or two by a fire to tell you some more
of these wretched & beautiful work hazard stories.