Sunday, December 25, 2011

Laundry Day

[click dirty laundry]

   Stevens Point 1969. I lived with 3 friends in an apartment above a chicken hatchery. The building was built sometime around the late 1800's or early 1900's. A tall, 3 story, brick building. What the ground floor had in extra height, ceilings 14' high, the third floor lacked with its 6'6" ceiling height. My hair brushed against the ceiling as I walked though.
   The stairs to the second floor were exterior to the building and the third floor was accessed from within our apartment. The second floor held the kitchen, a formal dining room, the living room, two bedrooms and a huge bathroom with a skylight well that rose up through the third floor to the roof. The main attraction of the bathroom was an absolutely wonderful claw foot bathtub, large and deep enough that I could totally immerse my 6'5" body.
   The third floor had two bedrooms and one large open room which we used for a while for pasting up issues of Counterpoint, our underground newspaper, prior to taking them to the print shop.
   Both floors of the apartment each had two large bay windows hanging out over the sidewalk below. Aside from perches from which to watch the comings and goings of the townsfolk, they also served as sniper hideouts for the mock battles we would engage in when one of us crossed the street to the hardware or drug store. Plungers and mops were enlisted against the Mattel Tommy Gun we had conveniently hung in the window.
   Across the street, besides the hardware and pharmacy, were several other shops and just down the street was a hotel. The street heading south split in front of our apartment with the southbound lane going around the west side of the hotel and the northbound lane on the east side. The streets re-joined beyond the hotel and then went down under a railroad over-crossing.
   The hatchery below had row after row of incubators full of chicken eggs. Once a month they would ship out a batch of chicks. That was the only time we noticed the presence of the chickens, the smell of burnt hair when their beaks were trimmed. So they wouldn't peck each other to death in the shipping boxes, a guillotine type instrument with hot blades was used to cut off the sharp tips of their beaks. The proprietor insisted the beaks were like finger nails with no sensory nerves and the process didn't hurt the chicks.

   We were raided one time by the ATF over the machine gun we had hanging in the bay window. About twenty agents and local police stormed up the stairs shouting they had warrants and they were coming in.      They were nice enough to allow us time to open the door for them rather than breaking it down. They asked for the machine gun and we took them to it. After examining it they asked if we had any other guns but we had none and told them so. They held a little powwow amongst themselves and decided we were cool. As they left they asked that we not hang the gun in the window as it was upsetting the neighbors.

   I worked second shift at the local hospital in the evenings, mopping and waxing floors and doing other janitorial work. Most of the work was easy and since I was by myself I had time to ponder many things beyond mopping, the Vietnam War being one of the major issues on my mind. The one creepy thing about the job was cleaning the morgue after an autopsy, blood clots and little pieces of body parts stuck in the drain strainer had to be manually removed and placed in Bio-hazard bags.
   They had Muzak playing throughout the hospital, the same playlist every night at the same time. I could keep track of my progress by which song was playing in which room. The only time it changed was in December when the Christmas song playlist would run. I tended to go a little insane after about two weeks of that!

   One evening I came home from work just before midnight and upon entering the dining room I found the table set with two place settings, table cloth and all, candles burning in their holders on the table.
   On the plates, in the center, was a very small white pill about the size of a saccharine tablet. A glass of Merlot sat next to the plate. My roommate Dave had prepared us dinner!
We sat down at the table, made a formal scene of putting on our napkins as bibs, scooped up the tablets with our spoons and washed them down with the wine.
   Having finished dinner we put on some Joe Byrd and the Field Hippies and waited for the LSD to kick in.
Soon we were floating along with the music, first Joe then Pink Floyd's "Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave Grooving With a Pict" on 16 RPM.

   After Floyd, Dave wanted to get out of the house so we decided to make the journey useful. We grabbed our laundry baskets and headed off to the laundromat about eight blocks away.
Giggling the whole time we stuffed several machines with our dirty laundry, repeatedly consulting each other as to the correct quantity to put in the machine.
   After starting the washing machines we spent most of the first cycle watching the clothes swirl in the water, calling out "Shirt", "Pants", "Undies" as the various objects came into view from the depths of the machine.

   After becoming bored with the washing machines we decided a good place to be was inside the dryers, so we each climbed into a dryer on opposite sides of the room. It was as though we were in space capsules soaring along together as in the To Jupiter and Beyond scene at the end of 2001 Space Odyssey.
    While we were in the dryers a lady came in and loaded up several washing machines. Dave and I sat in our dryers trying not to make eye contact with each other since when we did we couldn't control our laughter. To this day I'll never know how she never noticed us inside the dryers. Fortunately after she put her wash into a drier she left so we were able to get out. We were laughing so hard at what had happened that tears filled our eyes as we loaded our clothes into dryers.

   When our laundry was done we folded it and headed back to the apartment. When we got to the spot where the road split in front of our apartment we sat down on the triangular traffic island in the middle of the street with our laundry. The sun was about an hour from rising and the sky was just beginning to lighten. The building fronts were illuminated by the street lights and the nighthawks, with their echoing shrieks, flitted just above the lights.
   Otherwise there was absolute silence without a hint of a breeze. The scene was surreal, as if out of a Fellini movie. The final sequence of Toby Dammit, Fellini's contribution to Spirits of the Dead came to mind, the broken bridge as the sun rises. We sat there on the little traffic island discussing movie scenes and plots that would fit our surroundings.

   We had been there about twenty minutes before the first car came along. We could hear it coming from blocks away, the sound of tires on pavement braking the silence. I turned to see the car and from several blocks away I could see it was a cop car heading south towards us. I alerted Dave but he said that we were doing nothing wrong and at most the cop could tell us to leave. The car did not slow down as it approached so I thought it would just drive by. Instead, as it reached us the cop slammed on the brakes. The car went past us, tires squealing, and came to a stop about 20 feet past us. He sat there for about 45 seconds then punched the gas, smoking his tires, and raced of down the road, around the hotel and down under the overpass.
   From there we could hear him racing down to the next cross street then heading east to the next road which crossed the tracks. From there he raced north to the next street bringing him back towards the street we were on.
   Again he came down the street, approaching us from the north, and repeated the scene of locking up his brakes in front of us, this time a couple of feet sooner. Then off he went making another loop to come back around again.
   Now we began to think his actions were rather odd and that if he did it again we would leave and head up to our apartment.
   Sure enough, he did the skid maneuver another time, braking even sooner this time, but still sliding past us.
   This time, when he took off, we ran for our stairs as soon as he went around behind the motel. Instead of making the long loop, this time he short circuited around behind the hotel coming back northbound to the traffic island only to find us gone. We were already in our apartment and got to the bay window in time to see him get out of his car and start inspecting the island with a flashlight. Then he got back in the car and started shining his spotlight all around.
   Soon he was met by two other police cars and then an unmarked police car. They all got out and talked before getting back in their cars and racing off.
   We spent the next several hours in the bay window watching as police cars raced up and down the street in front of our apartment in search of us laundry toting, traffic island sitting, hippies as though it was the crime of the century.
   Or was it a matter of the skidding cop trying to prove to his fellows that in fact it wasn't HE that was hallucinating?.


Thursday, December 22, 2011