For nearly a year after S. and I moved to Scholes Street, the laundry around the corner was operated by a broad-faced, solid, and grinning man we called Mr. Danny. He was a source of much discussion between us; in the early morning S. once saw Mr. Danny leaving the home of another neighborhood icon, a woman who stood in her pinwheel-decorated front yard yelling at her dog Sean; one afternoon I thought I heard him arguing with a woman in his supply room, peered in, and saw only Mr. Danny. His face was freckled and wrinkled about the eyes and neck, and he wore polo shirts in bright, aggressively unfaded shades of green and yellow. The short sleeves revealed arms roped with muscle, and his legs were strong too. I imagined he might have been a swimmer or a weightlifter ten or twenty years ago, but in his eyes I could rarely read a subject other than laundry.
What interested us in Mr. Danny in the very first place was the manner in which he ran the shop. It was impossible to wash anything out from under his glare. He stood behind a dingy white countertop, folding a baby’s underpants, and stared at S. and I as we shoveled our wet clothes out of the machines and into one of the many wheeled wire baskets that cluttered the narrow room. If on the way to the dryers I nudged another cart with my own, he’d drop the baby’s panties, shoulder me out of the way, and steer my basket swiftly to an empty dryer, all with a static grin. If I dropped a sock on the floor he’d pick it up, smooth it and hand it back. Once I put liquid detergent in the softener chute and Mr. Danny’s grin persisted though his eyes were panicked; when he finally consented to let me right the problem myself, his hand hovered above mine as I tipped water into the machine.
Unfortunately unable to manage everything alone, Mr. Danny employed several women to handle the heavy volume of ‘drop-off’ laundry, and when they spread the work across the counter and there was no place for him to stand, he sat in a folding chair by the door and watched them fold. His gaze would sometimes drift to the Telemundo gameshow playing on a TV set in the corner, but just as quickly would snap back to the dryers to catch a red display read “1 minutes left.” Then he’d watch the machine spin, and would rise as it shuddered to a stop. His eyes were just full of laundry: even when S. saw him leave our neighbor’s home he was carrying hundreds of wire hangers.
Towards the beginning of our relationship my feelings toward Mr. Danny ranged from fascination (remember when he balanced a bulging 30 pound trash bag of laundry perfectly on that tiny scale?) to irritation (but what about when he sold me that dirty, dented Coke?). Eventually they settled firmly in the resentment corner, and I let my laundry accumulate for weeks to avoid Mr. Danny’s pained smile as I folded a shirt with a wrinkle down the front. I had once found doing laundry relaxing. Now I was consumed with dread.
So when Mr. Danny disappeared from Danny’s Laundromat a few months ago, I was shocked not to feel an ounce of relief. His departure was so sudden and unexplained. I did my wash under Mr. Danny’s nose one week, and returned a few Saturdays later to find a slight, smooth skinned woman with wire rimmed glasses and a pink shirt giving Mr. Danny’s stained and sticky linoleum floor a thorough scrub. The television was gone and the machines were priced higher. I left my sack of wash in her care, something I’d never done with Mr. Danny, and the pink ticket she gave me read “Amy’s Laundromat.” I went home with a hollow feeling.
S. was equally put out. “Maybe she’s his wife,” she offered feebly. Privately we referred to Amy as Mrs. Danny for a few weeks, but in the end it just felt desperate. Mr. Danny really was gone, and we were free to fold in peace.
But I couldn’t fold. Every time I set foot in there, I threw my bag on the scale and fled.
I did trust Amy to handle my wash, and it was convenient, and her style did impress (I asked her when tomorrow my clothes would be ready, and she offered “We open at seven”), but the truth seemed to be that I missed Mr. Danny. I didn’t want to do my laundry my way while Amy power-vacuumed the floor. I wanted to seethe under Mr. Danny’s direction, and I wanted to imagine that my devil-may-care detergent measuring bothered him as much as his crazy grin killed me. It was a reliable tension, probably in the end as soothing as laundry alone had once been.
I thought I saw Mr. Danny the other day on the 6 train. I was standing at the back of the car; his broad shoulders were squeezed into a middle seat and he was snoozing, his chin settled firmly on his chest. I wanted to get closer to verify the I.D. but some shopping bags and school kids blocked my path. Suddenly I noticed his pants: from the knee down they were wrinkled and there was a greasy smudge at the hem. It’s not Mr. Danny, I knew, when the train stopped and the stranger looked in my direction, I felt what Mr. Danny would have wanted me to feel. I wanted to take that man’s pants and clean them myself.