Minutes (Chicago)

July 6, 2009

posted by Caroline Picard


  • In the laundromat, a middle aged man comes in without any items save a towel and the clothes he wears on his back. After placing a call on the pay phone, he rifles through old women’s magazines, all stacked in neat piles along the windowsill. He looks like he hasn’t shaved and except for a small diamond earring he is generic. In other words he has no explicit style. He pours himself a cup of instant coffee (also courtesy of the laundromat) and takes a donut out of the plastic donut box. He consumes these neatly; I almost forget that he is in the room at all. At a certain point however, he stands, swats his hands against the fronts of his pants and appeals to the proprietor. “Excuse me, miss? I’m very sorry. Is it OK if I wash my pants? I don’t want to scare you, but I need to wash my pants.” He points to a washing machine. The proprietor seems not to mind. She nods and smiles, a little hesitant nonetheless, she doesn’t seem to want to maintain eye contact. She looks at me. I look at the man. He walks towards the washing machine, wraps the towel around his waist, undoes his belt, slips out of his pants, slips out of his boxers. He takes the polo shirt off and puts all of his clothes in the washing machine. He deposits coins in the till. Then he looks at the proprietor again, “Excuse me, miss? Sorry. Isn’t there free detergent on Wednesdays?” He points to the sign on the window. WEDNESDAY FREE DETERGENT, it says.
  • There is a man in Daley Plaza who stands outside every day with a white sign board. He always wears a suit and a tie and sunglasses. He weilds a sign that says “THE CIA KILLED MY WIFE.” He doesn’t say anything to anybody and he never shifts his weight, but remains each business day with knees locked, a briefcase resting at his feet.
  • I went into Kinkos to ship a package. I stood in a very long line. There were five others in front of me with various packages. We waited like we were in a third world country, which is to say we were very calm, drowsy, our eyes flitted about the room like flies. For whatever reason no one was angry. At one point a woman stepped forward in line and lifted her box on the scale. She smiled at the Shipping Saleswoman. The Shipping Saleswoman did not smile back. She looked quite glum and she scowled and sighed and did not make eye contact. The customer was compelled to try and make the  saleswoman feel better. “How are you today?” asked the customer. The saleswoman shrugged and began typing. “What happened to your arm?” the customer asked. There was a deep scratch on the saleswoman’s arm. “Fell off a stage,” the saleswoman said. “Oooh. Ouch. That looks like it hurt. Does it hurt?” asked the customer, a little patronizing–she was trying too hard to be friends. The saleswoman shrugged again. “Not really.” “A stage, huh? Wow. Are you a singer?” pursued the customer and for the first time the saleswoman looked up from her work; with cold unblinking eyes she stared at the customer. There was a long pause. “No,” the saleswoman said. She did not look away yet. She still looked cold. The customer blushed. The rest of us looked at the ground in opposite directions. The saleswoman returned to the computer and resumed her typing.

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