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Laundry day with the green Mafioso

INSIDE/OUT

I stopped by my dry cleaners the other day to pick up my clothes. The

place I go to is a large, fancy establishment near the studios. I

call it fancy because it offers certain “extras” to keep the

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customers happy, such as free French crullers and coffee while you

wait.

I suppose if the joint provided any additional amenities, I’d have

to call it fancy-schmancy.

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A sign in the window says the cleaners is family owned and

operated. A sign next to that boasts of more than two dozen locations

throughout Southern California, so you have to wonder if that family

is the Royal Saudis.

I’ve had to dress more professionally since I started working in

the Inland Valley, so the order I was picking up was fairly large. I

expected it would cost me a lot, but when the clerk told me what the

total was, I gasped. Forget the Saudis. I asked the clerk if the

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family that owned the place was the Corleones.

“Yeah, it adds up,” she said. “We do print coupons in the paper,

you know. You should bring one next time.”

“I never expected my cleaning to be an expense I’d have to

offset,” I replied. “You realize, don’t you, that this is more than I

paid for anything you just cleaned?”

The clerk just looked at me and drummed her fingers impatiently on

the counter. The customer waiting behind me cleared his throat.

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I suppose I really shouldn’t have been complaining, since I had no

one but myself to blame. Fully half the items I’d dropped off were

clothes I could have cleaned at home. But really, who has time these

days to hand-clean fine washables? Washing permanent-press fabric is

a complicated, labor-intensive affair, and one wrought with peril.

One misstep and suddenly your work clothes are tie-dyed or

permanently de-pressed.

Then, you have to iron them, and I hate ironing. I can never get

the creases right and have yet to figure out how to properly fit a

shirt sleeve on an ironing board. Whose idea was it to design the

ironing board in the shape of a surfboard? How, exactly, does one get

a pant leg around a surfboard?

But standing at the counter of the cleaners, wondering if I had

enough in my checking account to cover my order, I found myself

regretting my spendthrift ways. My roommate Elizabeth had

specifically warned me not to take so many clothes to the cleaners at

once, saying it was another example of my champagne tastes on a beer

budget.

“Why are you going to pay those prices when we have a perfectly

good sink?” she had asked.

In response, I rolled my eyes and said imperiously, “I don’t do

Woolite.”

The clerk asked me whether I wanted to pick up my clothes or not.

The man behind me cleared his throat again. I ran my hand through my

beard.

“OK, there’s got to be a way to lighten the load here,” I said.

“How much would it be without the crullers?”

“Excuse me?”

“The doughnuts and coffee. They’re nice, but I don’t really need

them.”

“Sir ...”

“Or the five pounds of plastic and paper you wrapped my order in.

That’s got to be at least 10 extra dollars right there. Why don’t we

do without all that, and just wrap it in, say, butcher paper,

instead? Or forget the butcher paper. I’ll just be really careful

taking the clothes to my car.”

The clerk sighed. I could tell I was really getting on her nerves,

but, well, my financial viability was on the line here.

“Sir, it has nothing to do with the doughnuts or the plastic wrap.

We’re a high-quality cleaners. Plus, we’re environmentally friendly.

We don’t use those nasty chemicals that harm the environment.”

It was a nice try, but I wasn’t buying it.

“Isn’t there some kind of new law requiring cleaners to stop using

those chemicals?” I asked.

“Well, yeah ...”

“So, actually, it isn’t so much your being environmentally

friendly as becoming code-compliant?”

I knew that at this point I was just being obnoxious, but it

really bothered me that the clerk was trying to sell me the “cleaners

with a social conscience” line. If cleaners had a conscience, they

wouldn’t charge Elizabeth twice as much as me for the same number of

items.

But the clerk had had enough, and decided to call my bluff. “Sir,

I have other customers. I’m going to put your order back until you

figure out what you want to do.”

She picked up my clothes and began walking away. As high an

opinion as I have of myself, I realized no one at work would

appreciate me showing up in a T-shirt and boxers. I called the clerk

back.

“Look, I don’t mean to keep giving you such a hard time,” I said

to her, ruefully opening my wallet, “but since I’m going to be

subsidizing this place, I think you folks should serve something else

besides crullers. They’re not really my favorite, you know. At these

prices, you can afford bear claws.”

“Thank you, sir,” the clerk said as she took my money. “Have a

nice day now.”

I walked out to my car, carrying my clothes as gingerly as

possible, because I wanted it to be a long time before I went through

this again.

As I got behind the wheel, I had to wonder at the strangeness of

it all: I had driven myself to the cleaners, and then I got taken to

one.

* DAVID SILVA is the editor of the Claremont-Upland Voice and the

Rancho Cucamonga Voice. Reach him at (909) 484-7019, or by e-mail at

david.silva@latimes.com.


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