Quarters stacked on a shelf in neat piles for easy counting, five dollars plus some, just short of two loads. I need to do like four loads. I could make do with two, one work uniforms and one sheets, but how long has the rest of the pile been sitting there? I sniff it . . .
I sort the laundry, putting colors in the hamper and bundling up one minimum load of whites and two more loads of whites that should probably be three. Five loads would be fifteen dollars. I could go to the bank and, checking my wallet, buy a roll of quarters or two. The bank, or actually, credit union, is twenty minutes away. And I’d have to take a shower and wear my good clothes, not my grubby clothes.
I might as well go to the laundry mat ‘cause they got a change machine and it’s always “laundry day”, people wear whatever’s clean, for better or for worse. The nicer laundry mat, with soccer moms in t-shirts and leggings, is like thirty minutes away. The shitty laundry mat, with obese women in inappropriately unbuttoned day gowns, is right around the corner; I don’t think I’d go back though, if anything because their old machines don’t get my clothes very clean.
Fuck it. If I go out and grab a few quarters then I can just go to the apartment complex’s laundry room. The machines are smaller and don’t do as good a job but I can run back home during the wash and dry cycles. At least I can during the week days; on the weekend there’s too much chance that people will fuck with my shit or steal it. My shit hasn’t been fucked with or stolen, but it’s that kind of apartment complex with that kind of people. (We were in the news recently, a baby boy stolen right out of his mother’s arms. The baby boy was recovered but still, who does that?)
At the Wow-mart across the street I can pick up a few things and hopefully get some quarters in the process. I grab my loaded hamper and head out of my ghetto apartment, past the dumpster that’s ripe with spoils like the trash compactor at work. By ‘ghetto’ I don’t mean urban or black, but Eastern European. Old men, who all look like Ed Asner, dressed in dark suits, hats, and shined shoes, stroll around with their hands behind their backs clasping rosary beads. Old women, who all look like Ed Asner, wearing black from head to toe, sit on lawn chairs on the grass, rosary beads in one hand, cigarettes in the other, watching over children running around half-naked.
There’re silhouettes of people hanging out in the stairwells as I drive by. Younger folk wearing a mismatch or ill-fitting clothes, like they got them free (or stole them from the apartment complex’s laundry room). They stare at me, as if longing for a ride somewhere, anywhere. Only about half of the people here have cars but they can all afford cigarettes, booze, and cell phones . . .
I have to loop around the access road to the highway to get to the ghetto Wow-mart. By ‘ghetto’ I mean run down and dirty. There’s a shiny new Wow-mart in a better part of town, but that’s like twenty minutes away and they turn their noses up at me like they know I don’t belong there, even though I once did. Are my clothes mismatched or ill-fitting? They’re the same clothes I’ve had for years, maybe that’s the problem. Or maybe it’s my ten dollar hair cut. I bring in a cart from the parking lot as I go in, a work habit.
By ‘ghetto’ I don’t mean black, because everyone here is a shade of gray, quite drawn and dull. No one greets you at Wow-mart, no one smiles or even makes eye contact. (If we don’t smile and make eye contact where I work, we get disciplined.) Customer Service is busy and I know why, everyone wanting to return shit they found on the street for cash for meth. Turning away from G.M., (a retail term meaning ‘General Merchandise’), I head towards their grocery department. I get out my list. When you’re poor, you make a list and stick to it so that you get only what you need, except for maybe Fritos. I don’t need Fritos, but I want Fritos. They don’t make generic brand Fritos, I checked, and name brand is pricey, but I think I can spare some change for Fritos.
My order comes to $17.94. Fuck! I should put back the Fritos, but I want the Fritos. “Can I get some quarters?”
“Huh?” the cashier asks, now looking at me like “are you gonna be a problem?” She hands me a couple of dollars, a nickel, and a penny. I offer a dollar back to her, which she stares at like it’s loaded.
“May I please buy some quarters?”
She grabs the phone. “Customer needs assistance on aisle five.” With the mash of a few buttons, she signs off her register, resigning herself into a reclining position, arms crossed over her chest. Customers groan and pull out of line.
“What he want?” the manager asks the cashier.
“Quarters,” she says, rolling her eyes.
“He want quarters?” the manager asks; the cashier nods. “You give him change?” The cashier rips off my receipt to show the manager, who grabs her glasses from a chain around her neck to read the receipt. “You done,” she tells me, “thankyoushoppingWow-mart.”
“But I need change,” I say, offering her the dollar.
“You want change?” she asks with a scoff; I nod. “Then buy some gum!”
My cushy Fortune-500 job in the city, where I only occasionally picked up a pen or typed on a computer, my secluded retreat in the mountains, (with a full-size washer and dryer), my friends, living large, my body, my youth, the last fifteen years of my life . . . lost to the recession. I’m back where I started, back home, but with only professional experience and an MBA to show for it. With my experience and education, I’m now only qualified to stock shelves at a supermarket on the graveyard shift. They work me like a dog, treat me like an idiot, and still I don’t make enough to make ends meet. I’m too old for this shit. At the end of the day, I hobble into bed and crash until I have to (struggle to) get up and go back to work. Beyond survival, I don’t have the luxury of anything else. Am I making a living?
I want change. I need change. I buy some gum.