Mud Season

Chapter 13

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By Friday I was settled back into school with my make-up work complete.  There weren’t many new assignments coming my way, and the weather had been gorgeous for most of the week, with clear blue skies and comfortably dry, warm air.  The ground was still mucky in the shade, but our yard had dried up enough that I filled the wheelbarrow four times with rocks that the frozen ground had thrust up to the surface.  The landscaper had come on Thursday and mowed the lawn, and Mom and Ally chipped in and raked out the flower beds and underneath shrubs.  The grass was still brown in most areas, but another week of warm weather would get it growing again.  The yard looked good the way it was, and when school let out on Friday I was ready to head north.

 

It had been a pretty good week.  I’d made some new friends, and got a lot done between schoolwork and the house.  The only sour note was that Lisa was grounded over a stupid school detention given by Mr. Furgalak, the strictest teacher in school.  The detention was for giggling in class when Furgalak discovered his ear hairs were long, and kept fiddling with them during his lecture.  I thought it was funny just by picturing that, but Lisa’s parents didn’t, and we were limited to our time on the bus and at lunch.  I stayed up late the night before writing her a letter, kind of my first love letter, and I waited till she was getting off the bus after school to give it to her.

 

I had asked Tom, Shea, Jim and Dan to come up for the weekend, but they all had things planned.  It was just me, Mom and Ally on the drive up.  It was a short ride with Ally at the wheel, but she did tell me what she’d learned so far about ataxia.

 

“There’s no cure, Paul, at least not yet.  It sounds like your friend has a congenital version … there are a lot of potential causes, but if he’s had the same problem all his life and it hasn’t changed, then it may not be degenerative.  If that’s the case, it could be far worse than it is.”

 

“No cure at all?  What about treatment?”   I was suddenly worried for Gary.  I talked to him quite a bit during the week and he seemed like a good guy.  He’d told me there was no cure, but I hoped Ally might turn something up.

 

Ally shook her head and pursed her lips.  “There’s nothing right now.  There is hope that a new administration might loosen the reins on stem-cell research.  Even then help could be years away.”

 

I thought for a moment and asked, “There’s no treatment, either?  Nothing?”

 

“Nothing universal, anyhow.  The symptoms can vary widely, and if they manifest in pain or stiffness then medication might bring some relief in certain cases.  There is nothing that will bring back the motor control function to the cerebellum once it’s lost.  The man I spoke with said a single-symptom case like Gary’s might respond to physical therapy, and orthotic footwear may help if he is damaging his feet with the way he walks.”  She glanced at me and said, “I’m sorry, hon, but don’t lose hope.  There is research going on at a few universities in the East, notably Cornell and South Florida.  We don’t know who diagnosed Gary, or when, or how thoroughly, and my guy wouldn’t venture much from afar.  I think the best we can do right now, and it depends on him and his family, is to get him to a real specialist for a thorough workup and go from there.”

 

I sighed.  “His folks don’t have much money, and they don’t take charity.”

 

Ally grumbled, “You told me.  I guess we’ll have to trick them.”

 

I’d turned to stare at the road ahead, but I looked at Ally when she said that.  Her expression wasn’t giving up a thing, but I found a smile and asked, “You’d do that?”

 

“No I wouldn’t,” she replied firmly.  “I don’t have the guile to do something like that.”  She glanced at me, “But you do.”

 

“Are you saying I’m sneaky?” I asked, thinking I didn’t like that very much.

 

“Oh, Paul, that’s not what I’m saying at all, so excuse my choice of words.  I just meant that you’re clever, and I’m sure you can come up with something that both Gary and his parents can agree to.”

 

“Where would he have to go?”

 

“I’ll find out, but I doubt that it’s in Brattleboro.”

 

“So I’ll have to figure out how to get him to an unknown destination?  After I convince him and his family that he needs to see an unknown doctor?”  I ran it through my head a few times before I said, “Okay.”

 

Ally snickered, “Okay?  That’s it?  No more questions?”

 

I said, “Not right now.  I’ll think of something, but first I have to know who, and where, and when.”

 

I went back to looking out the window, and decided to enlist Tommy Timek to help me with Gary.  He had known Gary longer, and his parents knew Gary’s parents if we needed their help.  All I needed was a convincing story, and I’m pretty good at that.

 

When we got off the Interstate I called Dad to see where he was.  He was in Rutland with Dana picking up a list of things Elenora needed, and she was at the Danamat working with the staff.  He suggested that we go to our house to get settled, and meet everyone at a restaurant in town for an early dinner at seven.  It was just after five then, and I told Mom and Ally the plan, but asked Ally to take a swing through town to look at the place before we went to the house.

 

Ally parked across the street, and I leaned over the roof of the car to stare.  Talk about a transformation!  When Dad bought that building it was just a two-story rectangle, brick and glass on the lower level, the rest sided with vinyl.  The building wasn’t old, but it was built to look dowdy, with the low peak of the roof down the long side.  Now there were two high peaks facing the street, and the apartments upstairs had tinted windows that went straight up to those peaks.  The siding was gone, replaced with stained wood. 

 

Down below, the old slate sidewalk had been replaced with some sort of pavers that extended right to the street, which had a new granite curb.  That made room for a small elevated terrace to the left side of the entrance, and it housed eight little wrought iron tables with two chairs each under an awning.  To the right of the entrance there were three wrought iron and stained wood park benches at sidewalk level, and there were wooden-barrel planters between those.  There were more planters attached to the building – one at each end, more between the windows, and one on each side of the entry.

 

The signage was subtle.  There was a dark-red wooden plaque over the entrance, trimmed in gold paint that said only ‘Coin Laundry’ in carved letters, painted gold.  ‘Danamat’ was painted in gold arcs on the large windows on each side of the entrance, done in an old-fashioned looking style.

 

We wandered across the street.  People passing by stopped to peer inside, but didn’t stay long.  I wondered why I didn’t see any activity in the building.  When I got close enough, I realized there was a black shade or curtain on the inside of all the windows.  I led Mom and Ally around back, where the parking area had been so derelict before.  Now it was done in the same granite-like pavers as the walk out front and it was very level, where before someone had just spread gravel over the natural contours of the ground.  Even the dumpster was housed in a shed that matched the rest of the building, which turned out to be completely sided in the same stained-wood vertical planking as the front.

 

I was so stunned at first that I kept shaking my head in wonder, and I couldn’t help but smile.  Only my father!  I thought back to when we first talked about helping Dana, and that was before we ever met Elenora.  Dad told me we could do anything we want, and now I was looking at probably the least likely outcome of that statement that I might have imagined.  Back then, the idea of helping didn’t have any real form.  I thought we’d maybe buy some groceries, see what they needed.  We could help with their rent, fix up their car, things like that.

 

I grinned at the building again, because Dad had done what he does best, which is to picture an end result that nobody else would ever envision, and then make it happen. What we had here was a destination Laundromat, and I was sure that Dad would market it just that way.  I have no idea what he’d spent, but he would make it back a dollar and a quarter at a time.  I had no doubt at all.

 

We turned to go back to the car and I heard, “PaulieAllo.”

 

It was Heinrich.  I turned and by then he was right there, smiling proudly.  We shook hands and I said, “This is really amazing.”

 

He looked around and said, “Ya, it is, no?”

 

“It is, yes,” I said, as Heinrich shook hands with my mother and Ally.

 

Ally had always liked Heinrich, but now she looked pensive.  “Heinrich, do you have pictures of this project, like before, during and after?”

 

“Certainly I do, and videos.  Would you like to see them?”

 

Ally replied, “I do want to see them, but not just now.  We have to go to the house and get cleaned up.  Are you having dinner with us tonight?”

 

Heinrich bowed a little and said, “Yes. The pictures are digital and I haven’t printed many.  Maybe tomorrow we can sit so you can look at them on my laptop.”

 

Ally said that would be fine, and Heinrich asked, “Can you stay five more minutes?  I just now finished the mechanical room, and …” he smiled, “I want to show it off.”

 

He led us to a door that opened on steps to the basement, which had a concrete floor and whitewashed walls.  From there we walked a few feet to a brick enclosure about ten feet wide, but I couldn’t see how long it was from there.  A plain wooden door let us in, and the inside of the room was absolutely psychedelic.  Everything was under black light, and to the right there were three tall cylinders, one fluorescent blue, the next green and the last one was aqua.  To each, the pipes that came up from the floor were wrapped in matching insulation, through some kind of apparatus and into the tall tanks, which had pumps on the front that fed slightly smaller tanks on the other side of the room.  Absolutely all of it was wrapped in the same color coded insulation, and I turned to Heinrich to ask what exactly I was looking at.  There was a little whirring sound now and then, but otherwise the room was silent.

 

Heinrich smiled broadly and said, “German engineering!” and added, “Well, English pre-heaters, American tanks, pumps and water heaters, but the idea …”  he tapped the side of his head with his forefinger, “Came from here.  Do you like it?”

 

I said, “It’s wild.  Tell me what I’m looking at.”

 

Heinrich tugged me closer to the right side and pointed down. “These are all identical on this side.  He pointed at a pipe that came through the floor.  “There is a submersible pump in the well.  He touched the thing I didn’t recognize when I first looked and said, “This is an instant water heater.  The water from the well is fifty-five degrees Fahrenheit, and it gets warmed to seventy-five degrees here.  Then it enters this storage tank,” he said as he turned, “It sits here until there is demand, and gets pumped either upstairs as cold water, or over to one of the water heaters by this little thing.”  He showed me the pump on the outlet side, and then pointed up to the ceiling, which I hadn’t noticed when I came in. He noted that the little feed pumps were strong enough to pressurize the main system to seventy-five psi, up from the forty psi from the well.

 

The pipes from each of the water tanks led through valves that could feed any of the water heaters, and that was the real reason for the color coding.  The system was generally automatic, but had no central control.  There were gauges everywhere that would pinpoint any problem in the system.  Heinrich was clearly proud.  I was impressed and said so, Ally had questions, and my mother looked up one last time to say, “I had a screen saver once that looked like this.”

 

+ + + + + + + +

 

When we reached the house I was surprised to see Bernie Sutton’s big Lincoln in the driveway, and he was sipping a beer in the kitchen when we went in.  I hadn’t expected him to be there, but I was happy to see him.  “I didn’t know you were coming,” I said.

 

Bernie chuckled and said, “I’m surprised you found me so soon.  I spent more time poking around this floor than I did trying to find Stockton.”  He looked around and asked, “Are you sure you have enough space here?”

 

I nodded, “Well, it’s just me and Dad so it’s okay.  How do you like it?”  I added, “Why are you here?  Is something wrong?”

 

He seemed surprised.  “Wrong?  Oh, no, it’s nothing like that.  When a client embarks on a new venture I like to see what it’s all about.  Anyhow, your father invited me.”

 

I thought Mom and Ally had followed me in, but they were just coming through the door when I turned around.  My mother smiled when she saw Bernie.  “Why, hello Bernard!  What a nice surprise to find you here.”

 

While they were hugging, Ally dropped my duffle bag on my foot and said, “You left your clothes in the car,” and turned to give Bernie her own greeting.

 

I excused myself and brought my bag upstairs to my room, where I washed up in the bathroom.  When I went back downstairs, the three of them were still in the kitchen.  Mom had cut up some cheese and put out a basket of crackers.  The three of them were sipping wine and having a merry old time.  We were supposed to be at the restaurant in half an hour, but I knew it would serve no purpose for me to point that out.  I poured a glass of water and sat with them, and nibbled on some of the cheese, which had caraway seeds in it, so I didn’t nibble much.

 

It was when Bernie asked, “Where should I put my things?  I should wash up before we go out,” that my mother assigned me to bring Bernie to his room, making no mention of which room that would be.  It didn’t matter to me.  The room next to mine is bigger and also has its own bathroom, but no deck, and that’s where I brought him.

 

There are two halls upstairs, and the one to my room is just a hall, with three bedrooms at the front of the house.  The hallway from front to back is huge, wide and long  When Bernie looked down that way he said, “Wow.  How many bedrooms?”

 

I snickered, “You had to ask that?  Nine rooms have beds in them, but there are more rooms that could be bedrooms, and in the basement there’s what the seller called a dorm.  There’s nothing in it, but it has these things like lockers built in.  It’s like another house down there, with a kitchen and everything.  We never use it except to keep our skis inside.”

 

Bernie shook his head, drew a deep breath, and said, “I’ll be down in ten minutes, okay?”

 

I waited downstairs for Mom, Ally, and Bernie to show up.  It was already seven, so I called my father to say we’d be a little late.  He said, “We’re still busy here, too.  No problem … I’ll call the restaurant.  Elenora made the reservation, so it’s under Morasutti.  We won’t be too long.  Do you know where it is?”

 

“It’s that yellow place on the left when we’re coming into town?”

 

“That’s it.  It’s called the Country Garden, and we’ll be there as soon as we can.”

 

“Did you know that Mr. Sutton is here?”

 

“Oh, good.  I asked him up for the weekend.  Listen, we’ll see you all when we finish up here.  It won’t be long.”

 

We hung up, and it was a few minutes before Bernie showed up.  Ally and my mother came down shortly after.  Bernie was dressed more casually in a dark red short-sleeve shirt, beige chinos and brown shoes.  Mom looked like a little pixie with a floppy neck, light-gray jersey over a pale yellow blouse, darker gray designer jeans, and multi-color low-cut sneakers.  She had a gold choker around her neck with a sparkly little pendant in front.

 

Ally … well, Ally is Ally, and I’ll just say that she was in one of her going-out getups with a kind-of Mr. T. look to it:  something between the Papal robes and Cleopatra’s wedding garb, only with added gold jewelry.

 

I grinned, “Bling!  What will you do if there’s an electrical storm?”

 

She growled, “Run like hell,” and smiled at Bernie.  “Will you drive, Mr. Sutton?  I haven’t ridden in a Lincoln car in ages.”

 

Bernie seemed a little awed by Ally’s outfit and didn’t reply immediately, but he finally inhaled and said, “I’ll be happy to drive as long as someone knows the way.”

 

“I do,” I said, and Bernie gallantly took Ally’s arm, which reminded me to take my mother’s hand, and we went out the door looking like we were headed to some bizarre Klondike cotillion.

 

The restaurant looked nice when we got there.  It was an old house with a wide front porch.  The length of the porch railing was hung with flower boxes, which were loaded with spring blooms trying to get themselves in gear.  The inside was attractive, too.  Except for the slate-floored entry, the dining room had the original wide-plank flooring, and it hadn’t been urethaned to death like most places do.  The trim was painted white, and the subdued green wallpaper had an embossed flower print rather than pictures of flowers.  The windows were old multi-paned ones, and I could tell that a lot of the panes were original because I couldn’t see through them very well.

 

The hostess, who wasn’t much older than me, stumbled while bringing us to our table.  She looked at the floor and said, “You again!”  She turned to us and said, “Watch your step. This old nail doesn’t want to stay put.”

 

She seated us at a big table at the end of the room.  It was clearly a couple of tables that had been pulled together.  Before we’d opened our menus, she was back with a hammer in her hand, and she stooped and gave the errant nail a mighty whack.  She muttered, “Stay in there now, or I’ll have to replace you with a TimberLok.”  She stood and smiled brightly at us.  “History is all well and good, but it does wear out eventually.  Your waiter will be right here.”

 

Before she could turn around, my mother asked, “How old is this building?”

 

The hostess said, “1765 originally.  There’s a little history on the back of the menu.”

 

I asked, “Did you just threaten a nail?”

 

She looked at me for a long moment before she giggled.  “I guess I did, didn’t I?  You know, in an old place like this, things like nails start to have names, at least the obstinate ones like this old dickhead here.” She suddenly blushed and put her fingers over her mouth, but we were too busy laughing to pay much attention.

 

Bernie, ever the diplomat, said, “Don’t be embarrassed.  I doubt that there isn’t much we haven’t heard, so relax, okay?”

 

She smiled and left, promising that our waiter would be right there, and he was there before she was out of sight.

 

The waiter was a surprise to me, but probably shouldn’t have been.  He was old; that was the unusual part.  He was tall, slim, and almost white-haired, with the bearing of a butler in a British movie.

 

He put a dish of crackers and another of cheese slices on the table and said, “Good evening.  I know you’re waiting for others, but would you care for a cocktail, perhaps an appetizer, before they arrive?”

 

Ally was looking at the wine list and said, “There’s a Pinotage from South Africa.”  She was addressing Bernie.  “If you haven’t tried it, it’s wonderful.”

 

Bernie smiled at the waiter and said, “A bottle of the Pinotage, please.”

 

“Good choice,” the waiter said.  “How many glasses, sir?”

 

Bernie looked at me and I nodded eagerly.  He looked at my mother, who shrugged, and he said, “Four glasses, and bring us some water, too.”

 

The waiter looked at the table and seemed dismayed to see there was no water, but he smiled, “I will be right back.”

 

With water and wine, all we had to do was wait.  Heinrich and Karen showed up shortly, and I introduced them to Bernie.  They were each offered sips from Ally’s glass, and thought another bottle of the same was a good idea.

 

I like to try wines, but there are only a few I actually enjoy, and now I had another one for that good list.  I’ve seen wine reviews in magazines, usually airplane magazines, and I think wine snobs are the ultimate snobs.  According to them, wines have noses, palates, essences, and aftertastes among other qualities.  I don’t get it.  If a wine has a “nose” of almond and kumquat roots, then how can the essence be that of smoking oak embers with perhaps a touch of pear?  And given all that, can the aftertaste be anything but yuck?

 

Wine is made from fermented fruit, usually grapes.  Lisa’s father makes his own wine using various fruits.  He told me that his best-ever was a tomato wine, which didn’t sound very good, but he assured me that there was nothing in the flavor to ever suggest the source.  He said it came out a clear, deep red with just the right amount of alcohol, and a flavor to die for.  Those were his words, and he was planning a bigger batch for the upcoming summer.

 

We were on our third bottle of wine and second serving of crackers and cheese when Dad showed up with Elenora and Dana.  They all looked tired, but happy to finally be there. 

 

Dana sat across from me and next to Bernie, and immediately started asking questions about investments.   Elenora chided Dana for being so forward, but Bernie smiled.  “Don’t worry, this is what I do.  It’s always a pleasure to bring a new client into the fold.”  He turned back to Dana.

 

The rest of us looked at menus, and we began ordering when the waiter came back bearing cocktails for the adults, lemonade for Dana and more water for me.  Bernie and Dana picked up their menus, and it took Bernie about ten seconds to decide on a de-boned salmon steak with Béarnaise sauce.

 

Dana kept reading, and when he realized he was holding things up he looked at the waiter.  “I don’t see it here, but can I just get a steak, kinda rare?”

 

The waiter walked behind Dana and pointed at the menu.  “We have this New York strip steak.  It’s a good hunk and pretty tender.”

 

“I’ll have that.”

 

Kinda rare?”

 

“Well, yeah … like red.”

 

The waiter picked up the menu and said, “You shall have it, sir.”  He looked around and asked, “Is there anything else?”

 

Bernie looked at the wine bottle and pointed at it.

 

“Of course.”  He picked up the bottle and poured the last drops into the ladies’ glasses and said, “I’ll be back right away with the wine.”

 

After he left, Dad, Elenora, Dana and Heinrich started gushing about how busy they’d been that week.  I never thought that hiring people would be as complicated as Elenora made it sound, but there were a lot of applicants and it doesn’t take a lot of people to run a Laundromat.  Heinrich had finished some of the mechanical systems just the week before, and he had to test them, make adjustments, and test them again.  He had just finished this when we saw him earlier.

 

Dana still had machines to clean when he got back from Florida, and he had to re-clean the others, which had dust and fingerprints on them from the construction workers.  Between them, they had kept Dad running back and forth for mechanical parts, tools, cleaning supplies and things like that.  He also had to pick up things they had ordered, like the plastic covers for the wash-dry-fold service and cash for the ATM they’d installed.

 

They also had to learn everything from draining washers that wouldn’t, to putting bills in the ATM and coins in the coin changer, to operating the big-screen television and fixing jams in the coin-operated pool table.

 

They were held up one last time when Dana said the floor was filthy, so they waited while he cleaned it.  The mop he used was in the car so he could wash it out later, rather than leave it inside to drip the dirt back where it came from.

 

I was tired from listening to it, but the telling seemed to rejuvenate them.  Everyone seemed awake and ready to eat when the appetizers arrived.  I hadn’t ordered one because the last thing I wanted was to start summer with a belly on me.

 

Dana hadn’t ordered an appetizer or soup, either, so I leaned across the table where I could talk quietly.  I grinned, “Your hair … it’s …”

 

He put his hands up to feel his head and said, “Oh, God.  It’s all over the place, isn’t it?”

 

“Welcome to the family.”

 

“Don’t be a dick, Paul.  How bad is it?”

 

“Just like Dad’s, and probably mine.”

 

“Don’t tell me that,” Dana said, sounding horrified.  “I’m going to the bathroom.”  He went to stand.

 

“It’s hair, Dana.  Nobody cares.”

 

I said that loudly enough that half the room was looking at me, and Elenora said, “Dana, I told you to comb your hair.  Go and do it before the meal comes; you look like you went through the spin cycle!”

 

I said meekly, “I’ll go with you.”  My hair is hopeless, but I did have to go.

 

I followed Dana on his quest for the rest rooms, which were right off the lobby and well-marked.  His hair was only messy for him and better than mine on a good day.  He stopped at the sink, which had a mirror above it while I used the pisser.  When I got a flow going, I said, “Man, this water is cold,” and I heard Dana snicker. “Deep, too,” I added, and Dana laughed out loud.

 

When I was zipping up, he came behind me and said, “Hurry up, okay?   I gotta go, too.”

 

When I backed off, I could see that Dana’s hair looked normal.  His haircut wasn’t especially neat, but his hair behaved itself and I was a bit envious of it.  His hair was soft, and could blow in the wind and fall back where it came from.  Mine was stiff, and the best I could say about it in the wind is that anyone could see where I’d been.

 

When we came back to the table, Ally and Dad had their heads together, and I heard the word ataxia.  I leaned toward them and asked, “What’s going on?”

 

“Nothing,” Dad said.  “Ally was just telling me about your new friend, and I was curious about his condition.  How much do you know about him?”

 

I thought first, and said, “Only who he is, who he wants to be, and how he thinks it’s hopeless.”

“Hopeless?  Because of this ataxia?  Is that what you’re saying?”

 

I shook my head.  “Gary knows there’s no cure, and he knows that what they can try probably won’t work.  He deals with it.  I mean, it doesn’t hurt or anything, it’s just … embarrassing I guess is a good word.  He just thinks he has no future because the family doesn’t have any money for education.  He plays basketball, but not good enough for a scholarship.  I think he’s smart, but not the kind of smart that wins scholastic scholarships either.”  I looked at my father and said, “Gary is one of the kids we talked about in Florida, I just didn’t know him them.  His dreams are small, not big, and they won’t need a PhD … just training.”

 

When I sat back, everyone was looking at me.  Dana asked, “Who …” and Bernie shushed him.

 

Dad looked at me for a long moment, and asked, “Paul, have you told anyone about that conversation?”

 

“No,” I said.  “Well, I told Mr. Sutton.”

 

Dad folded his hands and said, “We should put that on the front burner, I suppose.  I mean, here’s a real, living need, and you’re right.  That is exactly what we talked about.”

 

Bernie said quietly, “Don’t turn around, but half the room is listening in.  Let’s take it private, say Sunday morning.”  He looked around, “Now laugh, like I just told a great dirty joke!”  He grinned, and we laughed, and the food came.

 

It was a good feed, and brought cheer back to the table.  Well, good cheer had never really left, but it was back in force, along with yet another bottle of wine.

 

We didn’t linger for coffee and dessert.  The opening was at nine-thirty in the morning, but Dad wanted to get together at six, and he was staying with ‘Dana’ so he wouldn’t have to drive to town in the morning.

 

Those preparations wouldn’t involve us, so Mom said we’d be there by nine, and on the way back to the house she told Bernie that we’d at least get some sleep.

 

+ + + + + + + +

 

I was up pretty early on Saturday morning, just after six thirty.  I went out on the deck off my room wearing only the underpants I’d slept in.  I looked across the valley, over the light mist that was hugging the ground below, and breathed in some fresh air.  Everything that should be green was, and the trees were pretty well leafed out.  The scent in the air was of spring, uninterrupted by automobile smells or wood stove smoke or cooking aromas.  The sky overhead was a deep blue, and I didn’t look at anything in particular.  I leaned there on the railing for a good ten minutes just taking in the whole scene, and I thought that I might well be looking back to the dawn of time.

 

I got a chill after a bit, and went inside to get ready for the day. 

 

I was the first one downstairs and I looked in the refrigerator for breakfast food, where there was nothing other than some leftover cheese and a stick of butter, plus miscellaneous bottles and jars.  I took a jar of pickles out, started a pot of coffee, and went back outside to nibble on one of those pickles.  The air was warming up, so I just stayed and looked around until I thought the coffee should be ready, and it was.

 

I was looking for the dry creamer in the cupboard when Ally came in.  “Oh good, you made coffee.  Did you find the pastries?”

 

“Pastries?”

 

“Oh Lord, I didn’t bring them, did I?”  She looked around kind of frantically, but there were no pastries.

 

I held up the pickle jar.  “These are pretty good,” I offered.

 

Ally made a sound in her throat and said, “Not for breakfast, please, at least not for this girl.  You go wake up Bernie and I’ll get your mother.  We’ll have to stop somewhere to eat.”

 

I knocked on Bernie’s door and he said, “Come on in.”

 

I did, and he said, “I was just coming down.  What’s up?”

 

I said, “We have to go out for breakfast … unless you can get by on coffee and pickles.”

 

He made a face and I said, “It’s really not a bad combination.”

 

Bernie stared at me to see if I was joking, “It sounds pretty bad to me.  I’m ready.”

 

We met Mom and Ally at the top of the stairs, and followed them downstairs.  Ally and Bernie decided to take two cars, thinking they wouldn’t stay at the Danamat all day.  I rode with Bernie, who followed Ally.  They pulled into a breakfast place named Breakfast by James, where Dad and I had eaten many times.  Eggs are eggs, I suppose, but James had about nine kinds of hash, including duck hash, and his griddle cakes were fantastic.  They were small and very thin, and it took a dozen or more to make a short stack.

 

I ate like Dana that morning, with a couple of poached eggs, a short stack of griddle cakes, and two fat sausages.  I was on my third large glass of milk by the time the food was all in me.  Bernie and Ally both had eggs, home fries, toast and bacon.  My mother just had to try the duck hash with a couple of fried eggs, but she didn’t eat it very fast until James handed her a jar of brown sauce and told her to try it with that.

 

The sauce smelled kind of vile, but Mom said it was all the difference with the hash.  Ally sniffed and asked, “Is that Nuoc Mam?”

 

Bernie stared, “Nuoc Mam?”

 

Mom said, “It’s Vietnamese, made from fermented fish heads.”  She held her plate out and said, “Here.  Try a bite.”

 

Bernie took a little, and so did I.  I liked it.  Bernie seemed to have difficulty swallowing.  He said, “That’s um … yes.”

 

James didn’t take credit cards, and Bernie ended up paying when Mom and Ally couldn’t come up with forty bucks between them.  We headed into town, and arrived at the Danamat at about ten minutes past nine.  There was a small crowd out front, maybe thirty people, mostly women, but a few men and several kids.  There were cars parked everywhere on the street, though, and the lot in back was at least half full.  More cars than people didn’t compute, but I guessed that something else was going on in town.

 

I called Dana from my cell to say we were out back, and a door opened before we hung up.  Dana appeared and gestured eagerly for us to come in, so I holstered my phone and we went in.  The door led to a small office area that had a few windows out into the shop.  Dana, with a Danamat hat and tee shirt, and beige jeans that matched the beige part the hat, signaled that we should be quiet, and I could see Elenora out there with her back to the front door, talking to about a dozen people in front of her.  All I got to hear was, “Well, here goes.  Take your positions and …” she looked around, “Dana?  Where are you?”

 

Dana grinned at us and said, “Show’s on!”  He hustled out and Elenora said something to him.

 

He nodded, and Elenora walked away.  Dana opened the big drape on the left, then the right, and finally the one that blocked the doorway.  The lights came on, and Dana opened the front doors wide, and hurried out of sight to our left.  It seemed like there were a lot more people than just a few minutes before, but the first ones through the door stopped and gawked, as did most of the people who followed them.  That made the crowd inside build slowly, but it sure built up to where the place was packed.

 

I still hadn’t seen the place since the winter, so I wandered out to look around.  Elenora was at the end of the building, half surrounded by two walls of washers and dryers.  She was either talking or answering questions; I couldn’t hear her.  I’d walked out of the office and was looking at a little pool table, and a lady was standing there explaining the entertainment area and kid’s play area.

 

To my left, and in front of the window, there was a girl behind a glass display case that contained a lot of things, with a little sign on top that read ‘Local Crafts and Cooking’.  Beside that, and out into the room, there was a little sitting area with just small, round tables and chairs.

 

Behind that, occupying a brick-walled corner, was a curved bar-type counter.  The bar had shiny wood on top and a glass display case underneath, and that was where Dana was stationed, along with another kid around our age.  There was a huge, Tiffany-style lamp hanging from the ceiling, and a sign on the wall, all antique-looking, that said, ‘Coffee – Bagels – Muffins – Ice Cream”, and a little cardboard sign on the counter that read ‘Today only – Coffee: Free, Ice Cream: Free, Muffins and Bagels: See you Monday’.

 

There was a sign to the left that read ‘Mechanical Room Tours every 15 min.  Please wait here’.  Heinrich was standing there with three interested men.  He looked at his watch and said, “Okay, let’s go now.”

 

He slid the door behind him to the side, and I was surprised by both the width and the brightness of the stairs that led to the basement.  I didn’t have a chance to comment, because as soon as the men started down the stairs, Heinrich slid the door closed behind him. I looked around at the overall effect of the place, and it really did look like a re-purposed ski lodge, from the tile floors, the brickwork, the rough-hewn timber, and even the muted lighting.

 

I stepped behind the counter where Dana was working, and the kid with him looked at me and mumbled, “Uh, employees only back here.”

 

I smiled, “I’m a friend of the owner.”

 

Dana heard me and said, “It’s okay, Russ.  That’s my brother.  Say hi to Paul.”

 

Russ blushed and mumbled, “Sorry,” as he shook my outstretched hand.

 

“You’re doing your job; no problem.”

 

Russ studied my face for a minute and turned to Dana.  “When did you get a brother?  You never had a brother.”

 

Dana snickered, “I just didn’t know I had a brother.  Don’t stop working, the line’s getting long.”

 

I said, “I’ll leave you alone,” and poked my way out into the crowd to see what I had missed.  There was an alcove between the pool table and the first washing machines with another discreet sign pointing to the rest rooms.  I would have turned away, but people were coming and going like there was a fire to put out, and the ones coming back were all kind-of shaking their heads and smiling.  I went over to take a look, and there was a long line at the ladies’ room, but just a couple of people going in the men’s room, so I got right in.

 

Well, wow!  There were little pin lights in the ceiling pointing at the walls, which were clearly tiled with Mr. Mongillo’s Sensuels.  These were primarily the green color of oxidized copper, but with lots of much darker areas, and there were bright metallic copper flecks and streaks running through them.  They led around a curved wall, and as soon as I started to go in, there was a waterfall that followed the curve.  It was like a sheet of water, and it didn’t splash into a basin, but went straight into a slot no more than two inches wide.  It still made the sound of a waterfall, and a man ahead of me said to nobody in particular, “Man, I didn’t have to go when I came in, but now I do.”

 

I looked around, and there was a single stall, two urinals, one of them set low for kids, and two sinks with mirrors.  The urinals were just white, but everything else was copper – the sinks were copper bowls set in a tiled shelf, the mirrors were trimmed in copper, and all the valves and faucets were copper.

 

That waterfall had its effect on me, too, and at the urinal there was a little led screen with three buttons beside it: one for headlines, one for sports scores, and the third for weather.  I pushed weather and the function of the buttons changed to local, state, and national. That’s when I started laughing.  I did my business and was amazed one last time when little lights beside the mirror lit up slowly just to illuminate my face so I could see how awful my hair looked.

 

Still, I didn’t have to touch the soap dispenser or the faucets, just like I only had to walk away from the pisser for it to flush.  I left that room shaking my head and smiling just like everyone else.  I’d seen some fancy bathrooms in big hotels and expensive restaurants, and this was the match of any of them.  Just when I came into the main room, the door from the office opened and I saw my father gesturing for me to come in.

 

I grinned when the door was closing behind me.  “This is really something!  Do you know who made those tiles in the bathroom?”

 

Dad shook his head, “No idea, but I like them.  Your mother showed me an article in a magazine, and Heinrich had them made.  The company is right in Brattleboro.”

 

I said, “It’s right in Lisa’s house!  Her father makes them.”

 

Dad raised his eyebrows.  “You’re serious?  It is a small world, isn’t it?”  His look got more serious.  “Listen, there is a television crew coming after lunch, and I want to use the opportunity to do a little marketing.  Are you up to being on TV?”

 

“Me?” I asked, and thought about it.  “Can I wear a hat?”

 

Dad laughed, “Yes, you can wear a hat, but not a Danamat hat.  I want you to be just Paul, who came up from Brattleboro with your mother because you heard of this place.  Whatever you do, don’t point out your mother, because she’s going to be a visitor from Boston, as are Ally and Bernie.  My folks are coming down from MaineRhod is here now looking at the pump room, and he’s agreed to be a surprise celebrity visitor.”

 

I laughed, and didn’t stop laughing for a long time.  My dad would stay in the background, but he’d still draw a crowd.

 

+ + + + + + + +

 

Visitors slowed considerably by noon, and there were sandwiches and bottled drinks in the office area, so all the workers took a deserved break.  I was introduced to everyone randomly, but I sat with Dana and Russ while we ate.

 

Russ was Russell Glover, and he reminded me of Tommy Timek … not in any physical way, but in the way he was generally quiet, and still seemed to delight in embarrassing Dana.  He had Tommy’s sense of humor, I decided, and told tales about Dana dating back to grammar school.  Dana was blushing at first, but he laughed with us after a bit.  Russ seemed to be admiring Dana more than chastising him, and he gave me a glimpse into Dana’s past that I appreciated.

 

Dana suddenly said, “They’re here,” and I turned around to see someone holding the door open for a guy with an enormous camera.  He was followed by a few other people, so I gulped down the the last bites of my sandwich, picked up the papers, and Dana showed me where to toss them.  A lady was already wiping the table off.

 

Dana and Russ went to the bathroom to wash up and I followed them.  They went back to work while I tried to do something with my hair.  Dad said I could wear a hat, but the only one I brought was a Danamat hat, which wouldn’t do.  The stupid electric eye wouldn’t keep the water running when I wanted to soak my hair.  My head wouldn’t fit under the faucet, and the second I got my hands wet to wet my hair, the faucet went off when I moved my hands.

 

I finally succeeded in getting my head wet, but it was a splotchy job.  I did the best I could with my comb, tried to press cowlicks into my skull until they dried there, but everything was still a mess.  I decided to wear my Danamat hat anyhow, and say it was a door prize.  I pushed it way back with the brim pointing up, and left the bathroom.

 

The place was filling up again, probably because of the TV truck out front.  The technicians inside were checking their equipment, with Elenora at the ready, my father behind her.  There was a man in earphones nodding his head, and he held up his hand.  “Okay, four … three … two … one.”

 

Another man with wavy silver hair held a microphone in front of him and looked at the camera.  As soon as the first guy said one, he turned on a smile and said, “We’re in Stockton, Vermont today, at a place called the Danamat.  It’s billed as a laundry mat with a difference, and as you’ll see, it is very different from the laundry mat of your childhood.  I’m standing with the general manager now, Elenora Morasutti. Tell me, Elenora, why is this place so special?”

 

Elenora smiled calmly and offered, “Look around.  You can wash clothes here like any other place.  We have a playground right over there for young children, a recreation area, patio seating outside, a big-screen television, two computer terminals that will help with any cleaning problem.  We have a beautiful snack bar, and a little consignment shop that sells local cheese, jellies, crafts and such.”  She smiled brightly, “I’ll show you around.”

 

She led them through the place, starting with the machines, while various workers shooed customers out of their way.

 

When they were back near me, the man said, “It’s clear that you have thought everything through, and also clear that you have spent a lot of money.  Can you hope to make it back, and earn a profit?”

 

Elenora shrugged and said, “That’s our plan.”

 

Stockton is a small town.”

 

“It’s very small,” Elenora replied.  “Ask around.  These people aren’t all from Stockton, not by a long shot.”

 

The TV guy looked a little confused, but I was right there.  He asked, “Do you work here?”

 

I was startled, “Me?  No.”

 

He pointed at my head and said, “The hat?”

 

“Door prize.”

 

He nodded and asked, “Would you mind appearing on camera?”

 

I smiled, “I’d love it.  Can I say hi to my folks?”

 

He said, “You can say what you want.  What’s your name?”

 

“I’m Paul, what’s yours?”

 

“Phil,” he said.  “Okay, let’s get this going.”

 

When the cameraman gave him the okay, Phil held the microphone between us, low so it wasn’t in our faces.  “I’m speaking with Paul, who won a Danamat hat as a door prize.  Where are you from, Paul?  Local?”

 

“No, I live in Brattleboro.  I just came up with my mother for the opening.”

 

“You came up for this?”

 

I said, “Yeah,” laughed, and asked, “Didn’t you?”

 

“Can I ask why you’re interested in a laundry mat almost a hundred miles from home?”

 

I had a thought, and asked, “Did you look in the parking lot?  There are cars from Maine, New York, Massachusetts.  Lots of people like laundromats that are different … the destination ones.”

 

Phil said blankly, “Destination laundry mats.”  He recovered quickly, “Can you explain that?”

 

“I can tell you some others,” I said.  “There’s the Ricefield Laundromat and Internet Station on a mountain in Bali.  It’s the first place that combined clean clothes with high tech.  And there is a place in Moscow that has two hundred machines and a bowling alley.”  I pointed at Ally and said, “See that lady in the white tee shirt with the big … um … over there?  She’s from Boston.  I was talking to her earlier.”

 

I’d gotten Phil off his timing, but he recovered.  “Are you saying you traveled to Bali and Moscow to see coin-operated laundries?”

 

“No.  Bali is for the beaches, Moscow for the art and history.  Destination laundromats are just a plus.  Have you seen the men’s room in this place?”

 

He held out his hand and said, “Thank you, Paul.  This has been enlightening.  I think.”

 

I walked away, and Phil lowered his microphone as he approached Ally.  I smiled inwardly, thinking good luck to Phil and his team.

 

I went outside and called Lisa.  Her younger brother Lou answered the phone and said he was there alone.  I was fairly certain that leaving a message with him was pointless, but I left two anyhow, one for everybody to watch the channel 3 news that night, and to tell Lisa to call me when she came home.

 

When I was putting the phone back, a hand landed on my shoulder. “Hi Paul.”

 

I turned, and it was Rhod Daniels in a cowboy hat and sunglasses.  Instead of having the brim of his hat all curled up, he left it flat, and it actually sagged down a bit.  With the glasses, nobody would recognize him.  I shook his hand and said, “You’re just in time. I have the TV guy almost accepting that there are such things as destination laundromats.”  I grinned, “You can make him a believer.”

 

Rhod took off the hat and glasses and held them out to me.  He smiled, “Let me at him,” and went inside.

 

There were a good number of people in there, mostly women, so when Rhod went in there was a moment of silence, followed by little squeals of delight and lots of voices.  Rhod knew how to handle his audience, and they soon quieted down while waiting for autographs and the like. 

 

I hadn’t had an ice cream yet, and slipped back in to get one.  Russ was alone behind the counter, so I asked, “Dana?”

 

“He went upstairs to take … well, you know.  Are you really his brother?”

 

“Really,” I said.  “Can I get an ice cream?”

 

“Vanilla, chocolate or strawberry?”

 

“That’s it?”

 

“That’s all today.  We have lots of flavors, but Dana’s mother wants to keep it simple today.  The strawberry is pretty good.”

 

“Strawberry,” I said, and Russ gave me two scoops in a cone wrapped in a napkin.

 

I took a lick, and it was good.  I asked, “You and Dana are pretty good friends?”

 

Russ grimaced and then smiled.  “Better friends lately.  I mean, I like Dana, I always did.  Everybody likes him, but he used to be this … out there, always a loner.  Now he tells me it was because he was so poor, but hell.  I’m just as poor; half this town is as poor, even poorer.  I guess maybe he didn’t know.”

 

I said, “I guess,” and took another lick of ice cream.  “He’s better now?”

 

Russ brightened, “Yeah, for sure.  Since about the first of the year.  I mean, he’s still funny and friendly, but now he does things, too.  He hangs around after school even when there’s no skiing, and just … he’s just around more now.”

 

“Do you ski, too?” I asked.

 

“Sure,” Russ said.  “Most everyone skis.  Dana kills in downhill, but I can beat him in slalom and sometimes even giant.  His skis are these ancient red things, I mean made around when my parents were born, but he makes them talk on the mountain.”

 

“Yeah, he does,” I muttered.  I looked around, and Dana wasn’t in sight so I asked, “How good do you think Dana is?  I mean, if he had real racing skis and everything?”

 

Russ looked skeptically at me and asked, “Are you serious, or is this hypothetical?”

 

“Take your pick,” I replied.

 

“Dana is scary good in downhill.  I mean he beats everybody every time.  His skis are really good for that, even ratty as they are.  He needs better ones, though, and different ones for slalom.  God, his skis are two feet taller than he is.  He’s good with his toes, but the back ends of his skis take the gates down and put him off.”

 

“He has the skill?” I asked, knowing the answer.

 

Russ looked at me kind of earnestly.  “If anybody ever had the skill, it’s Dana.  He helps all of us, just being on the same team.  I used to think he was fearless, kind of reckless, but that’s not it.  He just loves going fast that much.  Even when he takes a wreck he comes up laughing.”  Russ leveled his eyes at me, “Dana knows what he’s doing out there.  He’s like a perfectionist.  He can laugh when he messes up, but if he makes a mistake, he’ll go back to the same place and do it right.  He might spend the rest of the day doing it over and over to make sure he won’t mess up again.”

 

I was mulling that over, and Russ suddenly sounded excited.  “Oh my God,” he exclaimed.  He pointed toward the front, and it looked like Phil was getting set to interview Rhod.  Russ said, “That’s … that’s …”

 

Rhod Daniels,” I said.  “We met him in Florida a few weeks ago.”  I looked again at Rhod, and said, “I’m gonna go listen.  I’ll tell you what he says.”

 

I eased my way through the small crowd until I could hear the interview.  Rhod was telling Phil how he’d met Elenora in Florida.  “She told me about this place that they were working on, and I thought it was interesting that she was building it here in Stockton.  I’ve been through here many times on the way to skiing at Mad River or Sugarbush.  I’ve stopped in town for gas and snacks for the ride home.”

 

Phil said, “You told me earlier that you have a thing for laundry mats.  Would you mind expanding on that?”

 

Rhod snickered, “It’s not really a thing, Phil.  I said that I’m interested in laundromats and bowling alleys.  The reason for that interest is that I’m an actor.  I study people’s behavior, and you see folks being themselves in places like this.   Laundromats are very good because people are in them to do work, not to have fun, and they stay for half an hour, an hour, and it’s not like a park or an airport where they’re all over the place.”

 

“And what do you learn from watching people the way you do?”  Phil asked.

 

Rhod looked around before responding.  “Mannerisms, facial expressions, things like that.  Believe it or not, there is a certain drama involved in washing clothes.  There is frustration when a stain doesn’t come out, when a load needs more coins in the dryer, when the soap machine doesn’t give up any soap.  There is boredom for some while it’s a social hour for others. The thing is that nothing is overt.  For the most part, people suffer the little indignities silently, and the same is true with the bits of happiness you see.  It’s expressed in the face, the eyes, and the body language.  It’s people being private in a public place.’

 

“That’s fascinating,” Phil said.  Then he tried to steer the conversation to Rhod’s current and planned activities, but Rhod wasn’t talking, so Phil thanked him profusely and ended the interview.

 

That is when my grandmother, Dad’s mother, sidled up to Phil and said, “He’s such a nice young man, isn’t he?  Now our friends will really be sorry they didn’t come with us.  Will this be broadcast in Maine?”

 

Phil looked at her in surprise, made a little signal to the cameraman, and asked, “You’re from Maine?  You came from Maine for a laundromat opening?”

 

Grandma smiled at him and said, “You’ve never been to Maine, have you?  Oh, they change the price at the filling station pretty often, and the hardware store might come up with another breed of corn.  Otherwise, it’s either potato growin’ season or potato pickin’ season, and between the two there’s Moose season and winter.  A new laundromat, especially one this surprising, is sure worth the drive.”

 

Phil said, almost to himself, “I’m stunned.  How did you hear about this place from Maine?”

 

“Oh, my friend Claudia phoned, and she heard it from Ruth, who has a daughter near here.”

 

I was cracking up.  My grandma is a native Mainer, and has a pretty heavy accent.  Potato came out puddaydah, here and there became heah and theya, and winter was wintah.  Phil was sucking it up.

 

“Are you from the north of Maine?  How long did it take you to drive here?”

 

“My husband does the driving.  What time is it now?  We didn’t leave till seven this morning.”

 

Phil consulted his watch and said, “That’s almost eight hours. You just got here?”

 

Lordy no, we’ve been here for twenty minutes at least.”

 

“Do you think it was worth the trip?” Phil asked.  “That’s a long drive.”

 

Grandma smiled, “Oh, we took the short way, across the White Mountains.  And, oh yes, it’s worth it.”  She looked around and added, “Just look at this place.  It’s so pretty, so sparkly clean, and so … so … unusual.”  She smiled benignly at Phil and said, “Excuse me, young man. I’m going to look at the jellies and cheese over here.”

 

She didn’t leave Phil a chance to even thank her, but the man with the camera followed her over to the counter selling crafts and local treats.  I spotted my grandfather, and he put his arm on my shoulder and led me outside, where we both broke up laughing.  We sat on one of the benches, and when we calmed down a little, Grandpa kissed the hair right over my ear and said, “I’m glad you saw that, Paul, because now you have a sense of where your knack for spewing utter bullshit comes from.”

 

I started with a giggle, but it wouldn’t stop.  I laughed myself to tears over my grandfather’s words, and when I tried to stop, I laughed again.  He had me.  I uttered bull at every opportunity, and I did it with glee, but I never realized that my grandma may have been spoon feeding me a line of crap all my life.  She was just a talker, like most Mainers are: a natural story teller.  She was a good one, because I had never once doubted a word she said.  It didn’t matter to me, and it was funny all over again when I decided I was pleased with my inheritance.

 

I asked, “Are you staying?”

 

“We’re staying with you, as a matter of fact, and we’ll probably stay the week.  Will you be here?”

 

I shook my head.  “Just tomorrow.  I have another month of school.”

 

Grandpa laid his hand on my shoulder and said, “Well, maybe we can swing down to Brattleboro for a few days.  Would that be alright?”

 

I settled back into the bench.  “That will be real nice.”

 

Grandpa said, “Uh-oh, here comes the law.  Are we doing something wrong?”

 

I didn’t know what he was talking about until I saw a state police cruiser nose in between two parked cars.  There was no siren, but suddenly the car looked like a blue, white and red marquee when the lights turned on.  I couldn’t guess at the problem until the officer stepped out.  It was the guy who stopped when he thought we were breaking and entering or something back in the winter.  He was a big man for sure, but he just stood by the hood of his cruiser, hands on hips, and looked in awe at the building.

 

He started walking toward the entrance, and noticed us on the bench.  He walked over and looked at me.  “I’ve seen you before.  Was it here?”

 

I felt a little uneasy, but said, “Yeah.  I remember you from last winter.  You locked my brother in your car.”

 

He eyed my face closely, and suddenly grinned.  “I remember.  You’re Frank’s son.  Paul, right?”

 

I stood up and smiled, my hand out to shake, Grandpa right beside me.  “You’re good.  I’m Paul, and this is my grandfather.”

 

He shook my hand gently enough, and Grandpa peered at his badge.  “Goodson, is it?”  He looked at the officer, “I know lots of Goodsons  Bangor, Island Falls, Madawaska … any relations?”

 

Officer Goodson shook Grandpa’s hand.  “I really don’t know.  I’ve been told that anyone who spells it the same is related, but …” He shrugged his shoulders.

 

Grandpa nodded and asked, “Do the Goodson’s around here give their youngsters proper names, or are you just numbered, or identified in some other way?”

 

The cop stared at Grandpa for a second, and suddenly gave up a belly laugh that got me laughing with him.  “Oh, that’s funny!  Peter!  I’m Peter Goodson.  Number one, I guess; I’m the oldest.  And yes,” he touched the name tag over his pocket, “When I grew up they pinned this nametag on me so I won’t forget.”

 

Grandpa grumbled, “I’m satisfied, then,” and grinned.  “You’re not the first, you know.  I know a Peter Goodson in Rangeley, and he’s at least sixty.  A Maine Guide, he is, most of his life: a good man.”

 

I had to do it.  “Do you mean a good son?”

 

“That too,” Grandpa snapped before he caught the joke. When he started snickering, his whack on my back nearly sent me into the road, and when I found my bearings both men were having a great laugh.

 

Grandpa sat back on the bench, and the trooper sat beside him where I’d been.  I stood to the side and listened to them talk, and then went inside.  The television crew had packed their things and were talking to each other and to some of the people around them.  Phil was off by himself with his cell phone in one ear and his hand over the other one so he could hear.  I wandered over to the ice cream counter to see Dana, and it wasn’t busy any more.

 

He looked tired, but smiled at my approach.  “How do you like it?”

 

“This place?” I asked.  “I love it.  I never thought …” My eyes had wandered, and there was an empty picture frame on the wall behind him that I was sure wasn’t there earlier.  I pointed and asked, “What’s that?”

 

Dana turned to look and said, “Oh, the frame?  That’s where the first dollar goes.  It’s supposed to bring good luck or something.”

 

I asked, “Isn’t that kind of tacky?”

 

Dana shrugged, “I don’t know.  Tell Dad; it was his idea.”

 

I looked again and decided it would be quaint.  “Did you get to see Rhod?”

 

“Yup.   He’s upstairs now, and he’s staying the night with you.  Mom is taking all the new people out as soon as we close – the same place we ate last night, and you’re coming, too.  Have you seen up there yet?”

 

“Upstairs here?  No, not since it was a pile of dust.”

 

Dana said, “Wait till Russ gets back from the toilet and I’ll show you.  Want a coffee?”

 

I did, and Dana poured two.  I put my usual drop of cream in mine while Dana shoveled sugar into his, just like my father always does.  That made me smile, and since there were no people looking for coffee or ice cream, we sat at the nearest table.

 

We talked for a few minutes before Russ came back, and Dana told him he was going to show me the apartment, and that Russ should take care of things.

 

I followed Dana through yet another door, and it led to the stairway that also had a door to the parking lot.  Now the entry alcove floor was covered in the same quarry tile that I had helped to lug upstairs in the winter.  Everything was different.  The glass door to the outside had been replaced by a six-panel wooden door, the metal stairs had been replaced with polished wooden ones, and the walls were covered with wallpaper that looked like parchment-colored corduroy.  There were pictures everywhere, too: my mother’s touch.  Oil paintings, watercolors, chalks, pencil drawings, photos, posters.  Nobody could walk up those stairs without finding something they liked to look at.

 

The top landing had skylights on both sides, and doors to each apartment.  I was a bit surprised when Dana led me to the left, because I’d carried boxes of tiles to the right the last time I was there.  My assumption that I was in their future home was bogus, but it made sense when I thought about it.  They’d want to store the materials in the other space so they could build out their own first.

 

When Dana brought me in, I saw the place turned out really nice.  We came into an alcove much like our side door in Brattleboro, the one we always used.   It was cedar paneled, had a boot rack below with a coat rack above it, with brass hooks along the walls for everything else.  Dana opened a door to the side, and there was a little bathroom there, just a toilet and a sink, but it looked classy with red, white and blue pinstriped wallpaper.

 

The kitchen was beautiful.  It was compact and all brand-new with white appliances, faded yellow wallpaper, and the little white-painted table and two chairs from their old place, set right in front of a window again.  That made me smile.

 

The living room wasn’t big, but it was really sharp with the soaring windows that looked over town and gave a great view out to the mountains.  There was a nice granite-faced fireplace in the wall opposite the main windows.  The furniture was comfy-looking, upholstered in beige fabric.  The floor had the same quarry tile as the kitchen and the entryway, but there was a thick rug over most of it, also beige, but darker than the furniture.  The coffee table and end tables were maple, as was a nice looking rocker, and the lighting fixtures were all brass, with matching candle sconces on either side of the fireplace.  The far wall was mostly a large book case, but when Dana opened the two center doors it revealed a fairly small television, with some sound equipment nestled into a shelf above it.

 

To the right was an ell for the dining room.  The table was fairly small with just four chairs, but there were two more matching chairs on either side of a hutch at the far end, and there was a combination sideboard and dry-sink beside the door to the kitchen.  The door had two knobs, one above the other, with a shelf between them.  I tried the top knob, and just the part of the door over the shelf opened, which I thought was neat.  You could prepare the food and hand it off to someone in the dining room without trying to carry it around corners.

 

I said, “This is really nice, Dana.  Where’s your room?”

 

He said, “Later.  Rhod’s lying down.  He said it took him forever to get out of New York and he’s kinda beat.”

 

I shrugged, “Okay.”

 

“I can show you Mom’s room; it’s about the same size and shape.”

 

I followed him down a short hallway.  There was a door open on the right, revealing a bathroom that was done in more of Mr. Mongillo’s tiles, in a pretty aqua color with silvery streaks and flecks in them.  There was no waterfall.

 

Dana opened the double doors just opposite, which opened to a linen closet on the left, and a storage closet on the right.  The next door on the left was Elenora’s room.  It was clearly a ladies room but it wasn’t frilly or anything.  It had a big bed, a tall chest of drawers, and another chest that also served as a vanity, with a chair in the center with a curved-top mirror, and three wide drawers on each side.  There was a smallish armchair by a window, and a lamp with a built-in table beside it.  There were two doors at that end, one to a walk-in closet and the other to a smallish bathroom, with a shower stall and linen closet on one side, a toilet and vanity on the other.  It was done with the same tiles as the bathroom in the hallway.

 

I looked out the window with its view of the parking lot, but that was below and there was plenty of green beyond.  The architect had made good use of the space.  I could be happy living there.

 

When we were about to walk out, my phone rang.  I took it out and said, “It’s Lisa.  I’ll catch you in a bit.”

 

Dana said, “Say hi for me,” and left just when I’d answered.

 

“Hi,” I said.

 

Lisa didn’t beat around the bush, and she sounded excited, “You’re on TV?”

 

“I should be, but maybe on the cutting room floor or however that goes.  I got interviewed by Channel 3; so did Elenora and my grandma and Rhod.”

 

Rhod Daniels?  Wait till I tell my mom!  What did you say?”

 

When I remembered the things I’d said, I laughed.  “Oh, I just talked about what an important laundromat this was going to be; how presidents and kings and dictators will come here to clean their linens.”

 

Lisa sighed, “You’re teasing me, aren’t you?”

 

“Only sorta.  Guess what else?”

 

“I’ll bite.  What else?”

 

Did your father tell you about a big order for his tiles from Stockton?”

 

Lisa sounded suspicious.  “Yes he did: some German guy who was in a big hurry.  Dad didn’t say it was a big order, but he was excited because it was his first one from out of the blue like that.  What are you telling me?”

 

“That German from out of the blue is Heinrich Benz.  After Dad got hurt, he put Heinrich in charge of finishing this place.  Dad says Heinrich saw your tiles in a magazine.  I haven’t talked to him, but it was his choice.”

 

As soon as those words were out of my mouth, I remembered that Dad told me my mother showed the tiles to Heinrich.  She’d seen some tiles in the Mongillo’s kitchen, and really liked them.  She may have even insisted that Heinrich get them.  I didn’t think Mr. Mongillo needed to know that if it was the case.

 

I said, “I don’t know if they did it, but I told the TV guy to check out the men’s room for classy.  They made a waterfall in front of some of them.”

 

Lisa sounded really pleased.  “Ooh, take some pictures in case they didn’t.”  She suddenly said, “Call me right back.  It’s long distance from here.”

 

“Hang up,” I said, and called right back.  “Me again!”  We talked about other things for probably fifteen minutes.  I said I’d call again after dinner if it wasn’t too late.

 

Back in the laundromat, the people were cleaning up.  Mom and Ally had left to do some antique shopping, and Bernie was in the office with my father.  I saw Dana wiping down the washers and dryers, and a happy Elenora talking with a few of the employees. I took some pictures in the men’s room, but they weren’t that great.  I couldn’t get far enough away from anything.  I did try, though.  When I came out, I looked around the corner, and Russ was cleaning up behind the counter.

 

“Hi,” I said.

 

Russ looked up, “Oh, hi.”

 

“Did things go the way you expected?”

 

Russ thought for a moment, and said, “I didn’t know what to expect, but Dana’s mom had it about right.  She said we’d probably be really busy early, then taper off.  I just dumped the last of the coffee and it wasn’t much.”  He pointed across at the counter with the crafts, jellies and cheese.  “Janie sold a lot more than she thought she would, but hey; it’s the best cheese around, and now people can get it in town here instead of going out to Maskell’s farm store.”

 

“It’s far?” I asked.

 

“No, it’s not really far, maybe about five miles.  This is the first place they ever sold it off the farm.  It makes sense to buy it here if you live here.”

 

I smiled at Russ and asked, “Do you play pool?”

 

He gave me a suspicious look and said, “I know how to play.  Why?  Want a game?”

 

I said, “Someone has to break in that new table.”

 

Russ said, “It takes two quarters.”

 

I asked, “Does the change machine work?”

 

I got coins while Russ finished cleaning his area.  I’d chosen a cue stick and put the quarters in and racked the balls while he found a stick he liked.  We’d decided on eight ball, and Russ broke. The thirteen ball headed toward a corner pocket and looked like it wouldn’t quite make it.  The table was brand new, though, and the ball got to the lip, appeared to hesitate, and dropped in.

 

Russ quickly dropped the nine, fifteen and fourteen balls with good shooting.

 

I told him that, “You’re good,” while I was circling the table for my best prospects.  I had a good shot at the one ball, but it wouldn’t leave me with a future, so I decided to try a sharp cut at the seven; that would at least loosen the cluster of balls in the middle of the table.  We hadn’t agreed to call our shots, but I did anyhow, “Seven in the corner,” then I looked at the tip on my cue again and chalked it some more.  I shoot more from instinct than aim, so I didn’t waste a lot of time, and I made the shot.

 

“Nice,” Russ said, and I had indeed managed to spread the balls around to where I had some shots.

 

I put two more down before I cut a bit too much on the one ball.  At least we were close with balls dropped, but Russ had a wide open table.  He dropped two more balls, but the cue ball followed the second one into the pocket.

 

It was my ball, and probably my game.  The eight ball was looking safe against the back cushion, and the rest of mine looked easy enough.  I put the five in the far corner, and had a straight-in duck on the three-ball at the other corner, but the six ball was at the other end, and I really needed to loosen that eight ball.  I chalked, took aim at the six, which looked far away.  It wasn’t a bad cut, though, and I dropped it cleanly enough, but didn’t get the draw on the cue ball that I anticipated.  My shot at the one ball was now a difficult cut, and I thought I might hit the eight ball out to where it would be an easy dunk for Russ.  I went to the other end of the table to assess my chances, then back.  I chalked again and said, “One ball in the corner,” and pointed, “Eight ball over there.”  Hey, if I miss, I miss, but I called it right.  The cue tapped the one ball in and caromed over to the eight ball, which rolled along the cushion and fell into the pocket I called.

 

Russ looked at me and said, seriously, “Do that again.”

 

I laughed and said, “Yeah, sure.  Call me in a million years.”  I put my cue stick back in the rack, and when Russ handed his to me, I put it up.

 

When I turned he was looking at me.  “You’re good.  Have a table at home?”

 

I said, “No, but I get to play often enough.  Do you?”

 

“Our dining room table is a pool table.  Sometimes it’s a ping pong table.  It’s a dining table when we eat in there.”  He smiled and shrugged, “It works out pretty good.  I’d like to see you play my father some day.  You’d give him a good game.”

 

“He’s good?” I asked.

 

Russ nodded and said, “I should see if there’s more for me to do. Thanks for the game.”  He bopped my arm and headed off looking for Elenora or Dana.

 

Dana was on his knees, his butt in the air, rubbing at the very bottom of a machine.  Elenora had put Russ to work, and he was heading into the men’s room with a box full of cleaning supplies, so I walked over to Dana and asked, “What’re you doing?”

 

He sounded cranky, “I’m trying to get grease off this thing.  I can’t believe I missed it.”

 

“Maybe it’s new grease?”

 

Dana grumbled, “New grease would just wipe off.  This is all old and dry. Damn!”  He threw his rag on the floor and stood up.  “I’m gonna try some oven cleaner,” he said before stomping off.

 

I bent down to look at the problem.  It did look like old grease: a streak that went about 3 inches vertically, and tapered from just a point at top to about an inch wide at the bottom.  I rubbed my fingernail over it to see how thick it felt, and to my surprise a small piece broke off.  I scratched at it some more, and other pieces peeled away.  I had a lot of it on the floor by the time Dana came back and asked what I was doing.

 

“It’s coming off pretty easy with my nail, Dana.  You know, a little plastic ice scraper might work.”

 

Dana knelt beside me and tried it with his own finger, and a big chunk peeled off.  “Man, why didn’t I think of that?”  He kept scraping and asked me to get him the whisk broom and dustpan from the closet in the office.

 

I went into the office, where Dad was huddled with Bernie.  They stopped talking and looked at me, so I said, “I’ll just be a sec.  Where’s the closet with the cleaning stuff?”

 

Dad pointed at a door behind me, and there were several dustpan and brush sets hanging on hooks.  I grabbed the nearest, closed the closet, and walked as quietly as I could to the door, where I said, “Sorry,” and hurried out.  The brush handle was snapped into the dustpan handle, so I held the whole thing out to Dana, who was now sitting on the floor with his legs crossed. “Did you get it all off?” I asked.

 

He started sweeping up the bits from the floor, and said, “Almost,” and kept sweeping.  He handed me the dustpan and said, “Dump this out, I need it again.”

 

I would have normally had something to say about that direct order from Dana, but did what he asked instead.  It only took me a few seconds, and I sat beside him to see what he’d do.  He put the dustpan on the floor so the front edge was under the machine, laid the rag he’d been using on it, and picked up the oven cleaner can.  He shook that for a while, and then sprayed it on the remaining grease.  It foamed right up and he stood to get a clean rag.

 

He came back and sat beside me, saying, “I should leave that for about five minutes.  What do you think of this place?”

 

I grinned, “I think it’s great.  I just hope you get lots of customers.”

 

“Dad thinks we will.  He really sounds sure of it.”

 

“Well, Dad’s usually right.”

 

We were silent for a minute, and Dana took the new rag and wiped at the oven cleaner, which had dripped onto the rag in the dustpan.  The stain was gone, except for a few specks, and Dana rubbed a bit more until they disappeared.  “Look at that, huh?  Heinrich got this for any paint drips, but the painters cleaned up after themselves.”  He turned the cloth and rubbed until everything was clean and shiny.  Then he yawned and said, “I am so tired.  I been wound up ever since we got home.”

 

I looked at the clock and said, “Why don’t you get out of here and catch a nap?  If you have to do something else, tell me, and I can do it.”

 

“No, there’s nothing else.  Good idea.  I’ll put this crap away and go zonk for an hour,” he grinned, “or a week.”

 

I stood up with him, and put a hand on his shoulder.  “You take it easy.  I think I’ll walk around outside.”

 

I looked in the office to satisfy myself that Dad and Bernie were still busy before heading to the front door.  As soon as I hit the sidewalk I saw Russ coming out from the parking lot, and called out to him.  He stopped and waited for me.

 

“What’s up?” he asked.

 

“I just came out for a walk around.  Where are you headed?”

 

“Home,” he said.  “I have to wash up and change.  I’m going to the restaurant with the rest, but the family is going to a potluck at the fire station tonight.  I have to be ready when they are if I want a ride.”

 

In a different place, a different situation, I might have thought that was funny.  Here in the village of Stockton, though, it sounded appropriate, and I wondered if Dana and Elenora went to those often.  In Brattleboro, there were often signs around about things like ham or chicken dinners, usually at various churches or the grange, and some at schools.  I’d never been to one.

 

I asked Russ, “How far’s your house?  I’ll walk with you.  You can show me around on the way.”

 

He snickered, “There ain’t too many ways.  I thought you had a house here.”  He started walking along the road to the South.

 

“Our place is on the mountain.  I’ve only been in town twice that wasn’t in a car.”

 

Russ kept walking.  “There’s not a lot to see, and it’s not far.  If you see something you like, stop me, and we can find out if I know anything about it.”

 

We walked in companionable silence for a few minutes when Russ stopped abruptly in front of a wooden church.  He pointed out a bronze historical marker in front, green with age.  It said that brothers Randall and Ebenezer Wilcox, both farmers, had participated in the Capture of Fort Ticonderoga in New York under Ethan Allen, and returned to farming after the war.  They were buried in the church graveyard, but their grave markers had long ago given up to the elements, so the exact locations were unknown.

 

I read the whole thing, and when I looked up Russ said from behind me, “That’s what we call a point of interest.  There are a lot of them around.  If history interests you, just keep your eyes open.”

 

We started walking again, and I said, “I grew up in Boston.  It’s hard to ignore history there.  I think smaller things like that plaque are interesting, too.”

 

“I like learning about history.  My mom is way into Vermont history.  I think I’ve seen every war monument in the state, and a bunch of the hiding places from the Underground Railroad days.”

 

“Neat,” I said, and we settled into silence again.  I’d only seen the town of Stockton in the winter, and it seemed pretty bleak.  Now things were green, and every yard seemed to have flowering shrubs, flower boxes in windows and hanging from porch railings, little hand-made decorations on the lawns.  The architecture was still square and severe looking, but the vegetation disguised that to a large measure.

 

We came to a side road, and Russ said, “This is me.  We’re just a couple of houses up if you want to see.”

 

I shrugged and followed him.  He stopped at the fourth house, which was small and old-looking, but with a recent white paint job, and a white picket fence along the road.  There was a man in the driveway washing off a new-looking pickup, and when he noticed us he started over.  He was huge, and had a horrible limp that he seemed used to, like one leg was way different than the other.  He put on a huge grin and said, “Hey, Russell.  How was the first day for the working man?”

 

Russ eyed me, then smiled at the man and said, “Great, Dad.  Um, this is Paul Dunn.  He’s Dana’s … brother.”

 

“Dana’s brother?  Is that so, now?  I didn’t know Dana had a brother.”  He grinned and put his huge hand over the fence to shake.  “Welcome, Paul Dunn.  I’m Arnold Glover.  Have you come to visit us?”

 

I shook his hand and he was gentle, so I smiled back at him.  “No, I can’t now.  I just came for a walk, and I should get back so I don’t make people wait for me.  It’s nice meeting you.”

 

He let my hand go and said, “You too.  Go back to your people, but stop in when you have some time.”

 

Russ said, “Don’t play pool for money with my father.  I’ll see you later.”

 

I started walking away and I heard Brian asking Russ why the warning about pool.  Russ said, “He cleaned my clock, Dad.  You should watch out for him.”

 

I was smiling while I headed back to the Danamat.  I liked Russ and his father both.  Russ had told me he was poor, but it didn’t look like it bothered him.

 

* * * * * * * *

 

The dinner at the restaurant that night was fun.  Elenora was really celebrating the opening, and making sure the employees were having fun.  There were a lot more people than just the employees, because they’d been asked to bring their kids and husbands and wives.  She had a photographer there as well, so things would be recorded.

 

It seemed like everyone was talking at once and having a good old time with their cocktails.  Rhod Daniels walked in then, silencing not only our group but the entire restaurant.  He smiled broadly, looked around nodding here and there, giving little waves to different tables, and he found a vacant seat between Bernie Sutton and this lady Gail, who was one of the ‘Laundry Specialists’ working for Elenora.  Gail wasn’t old, kind of cute if you ask me, and she was there alone.  She looked like she was ready to drop dead, but Rhod started talking her up and then she looked like she’d already died and gone to heaven. 

 

I was sitting at another table, opposite Dana and Russ, with Janie from the crafts and goodies counter beside me.  Dana had come in with Dad and Elenora looking very much alive after his snooze, and we had decided together to forego wine if it was offered to us, which it wasn’t.  The adults were allowed to order cocktails, wine or beer, but by the glass only.  There were quite a few younger kids there, after all.

 

The first thing Dana asked when he sat down was, “Did anyone see the news?  We’re on it.”

 

I never thought to turn the television on, and I was sorely disappointed.  I wondered if we could get a copy of the tape.  “I missed it,” I said.

 

Russ frowned, “Me, too.”

 

Dana smiled brightly, “Never mind.  I got it on DVR and they didn’t show much, but they said they’re doing a long piece on that program, Vermont Places.”

 

I’d seen that show.  “When’s it on?” I asked.

 

“They didn’t say,” Dana said.  “I mean, the show is on Wednesday at five thirty, but they didn’t say what Wednesday.  I think it’s on again later too.”

 

Janie, who I’d neglected, piped up, “It’s on like Dana says; Wednesday at five-thirty, then again late, and they repeat it Sunday, I think at eleven.”

 

Russ mumbled, “If we all miss it, those shows end up on PBS someday.”  He looked up and grinned, and that was when Rhod walked in.

 

I felt Janie squirming beside me and asked, “Want to meet him?”

 

She went, “Yes!  No!  What would I say?  I mean, he’s Rhod Daniels!”

 

“He’s not gonna bite your head off,” Dana said.

 

I added, “He’s a good guy; he likes to meet people.”

 

Janie quieted a little after a few deep breaths.  She was a pretty girl, in a simple kind of way.  She had her hair, which was about the color of Dana’s, pulled back into a ponytail, but had left long strands loose to frame her face.  She didn’t seem to wear any makeup, and her nails were short and unpainted.

 

She had a great complexion and a very great shape though, and like Lisa, radiated with good health, energy, and a certain sexuality that was innate, not overt.  She seemed keen on Russ, too, and he on her, so I stayed out of it.

 

For my meal, I ordered the prime rib special, which I hadn’t had in over a year.  I like it, but usually go for something more interesting, which wasn’t on the menu there.  The beef came as a one-pound boneless hunk, so it was thick rather than wide, and cooked quite rare.  The au jus sauce was like the essence of onion combined with the essence of beef, and that made it divine.

 

My ‘not so much meat’ father had the same thing, as did most of the men there, and a few of the women.  I swapped my broccoli for Janie’s parsnips and carrots, and shut up for a record twenty minutes while my carnivorous mouth went to town on that yummy roast.

 

I sat back and looked across the table, and both Dana and Russ were about where I was – just fatty scraps of meat, the potatoes minus a few nibbles, and most of the vegs still on the plate.  We all held our bellies and grinned at each other.

 

Janie had finished her chicken, but was still nibbling at the broccoli.  I didn’t know her well, and didn’t tease her, but Russ did.

 

“You can order more, you know.”

 

Janie smiled sweetly and said, “I know you’ll understand, Russell: verb, pronoun.”

 

Russ leaned back, put his hands over his heart, and cried, “Ow, I’m wounded.  And you eat with that same mouth!”

 

That made Janie laugh, and Dana and I joined her.  She and Russ were both funny, and that’s all I need to make friends.

 

The wait staff came around to clear the tables and take orders for dessert, coffee, tea, or whatever.  When they left, Elenora stood and said, “I have a little remembrance for each of you.”  She held up a pewter mug, and said, “It’s engraved with the words ‘Danamat Day One’ with today’s date, and personalized for each of you.”  She looked around until she saw Dana, and said, “Dana, help me here.  I want to give these out personally.”

 

Dana stood up, seeming more shy than eager, but he walked around, listened to whatever Elenora said to him, and picked up gift-wrapped boxes in each hand, read the tags on them, and brought them to the happy recipients.  He kissed the ladies on their cheeks, and seemed to get into it.

 

The whole business took about ten minutes, and Dana came back to our table with boxes for Janie and Russ.  Janie got a kiss on the cheek while Russ got a handshake, and I got nothing.  I only say that because I got nothing, but I didn’t mind.  Rhod was going around greeting the ladies who worked for Elenora, their husbands, and their children.  He took his time.  The photographer had been following him, of course, so everyone would get pictures of the event.

 

Things went pretty late, and at the end Janie and Russ both needed rides, so Bernie agreed to take them home

 

They both loved Bernie’s car, and sat in the back seat while I sat up front beside Bernie.  Janie lived right on Route 100 North, so we brought her home first, to a house off the road that was old like all the others.  Russ walked her to the door holding hands, but didn’t get a kiss for his efforts.  I didn’t say anything to embarrass him, even though I should have.

 

We dropped Russ off at his house a few minutes later.  When we were pulling up to the house I felt his hand on my shoulder, and he said, “You’re okay, Paul.  Don’t be a stranger.”

 

I smiled, knowing he couldn’t see it, and said, “I won’t.”

 

When we were on the way back to our house, Bernie asked, “Did you have a good day?”

 

I said, feeling good inside, “I had a great day.  One of the best.”

 

 

 

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