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
customers happy, such as free French crullers and coffee while you
I suppose if the joint provided any additional amenities, I’d have
to call it fancy-schmancy.
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
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.
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
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
“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
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
“OK, there’s got to be a way to lighten the load here,” I said.
“How much would it be without the crullers?”
“The doughnuts and coffee. They’re nice, but I don’t really need
“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
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
“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
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
* 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