I'm tense, my hair is slicked back, Wayfarers on, my skull is aching, I have a cigar - unlit - clenched between my teeth, am wearing a black Armani suit, a white cotton Armani shirt and a silk tie, also by Armani. I look sharp but my stomach is doing flip-flops, my brain is churning. On my way into the Chinese cleaners I brush past a crying bum, an old man, forty or fifty, fat and grizzled, and just as I'm opening the door I notice, to top it off, that he's also blind and I step on his foot, which is actually a stump, causing him to drop his cup, scattering change all over the sidewalk. Did I do this on purpose? What do you think? Or did I do this accidentally?
Then for ten minutes I point out the stains to the tiny old Chinese woman who, I'm supposing, runs the cleaners and she's even brought her husband out from the back of the shop since I can't understand a word she's saying. But the husband remains utterly mute and doesn't bother to translate. The old woman keeps jabbering in what I guess is Chinese and finally I have to interrupt.
"Listen, wait..." I hold up a hand with the cigar in it, the Soprani jacket draped over my other arm. "You're not... shhh, wait... shhh, you arenot giving me valid reasons."
The Chinese woman keeps squealing something, grabbing at the arms of the jacket with a tiny fist. I brush her hand away and, leaning in, speak very slowly. "What are you trying to say to me?"
She keeps yipping, wild-eyed. The husband holds the two sheets he's taken out of the bag in front of him, both splattered with dried blood, and stares at them dumbly.
"Bleach-ee?" I ask her. "Are you trying to say bleach-ee?" I shake my head, disbelieving. "Bleach-ee? Oh my god."
She keeps pointing at the sleeves on the Soprani jacket and when she turns to the two sheets behind her, the yipping voice rises another octave.
"Two things," I say, talking over her. "One. You can't bleach a Soprani. Out of the question. Two" - and then louder, still over her - "two, I can only get these sheets in Santa Fe. These are very expensive sheets and I really need them clean.... " But she's still talking and I'm nodding as if I understand her gibberish, then I break into a smile and lean right into her face. "If-you-don't-shut-your-fucking-mouth-I-will-kill-you-are-you-understanding-me?"
The Chinese woman's panicked jabbering speeds up incoherently, her eyes still wide. Her face overall, maybe because of the wrinkles, seems oddly expressionless. Pathetically I point at the stains again, but then realize this is useless and lower my hand, straining to understand what she's saying. Then, casually, I cut her off, talking over her again.
"Now listen, I have a very important lunch meeting - I check my Rolex - "at Hubert's in thirty minutes" - then looking back at the woman's flat, slanty - eyed face-"and I need those... no, wait, twenty minutes. I have a lunch meeting at Hubert's in twenty minutes with Ronald Harrison and I need those sheets cleaned by this afternoon."
But she's not listening; she keeps blabbering something in the same spastic, foreign tongue. I have never firebombed anything and I start wondering how one goes about it - what materials are involved, gasoline, matches... or would it be lighter fluid?
"Listen." I snap out of it, and sincerely, in singsong, leaning into her face - her mouth moving chaotically, she turns to her husband, who nods during a rare, brief pause - I tell her, "I cannot understand you."
I'm laughing, appalled at how ridiculous this situation is, and slapping a hand on the counter look around the shop for someone else to talk to, but it's empty, and I mutter, "This is crazy." I sigh, rubbing a hand over my face, and then abruptly stop laughing, suddenly furious. I snarl at her, "You're a fool. I can't cope with this."
She jabbers something back at me.
"What?" I ask spitefully. "You didn't hear me? You want some ham? Is that what you just said? You want... some ham?"
She grabs at the arm of the Soprani jacket again. Her husband stands behind the counter, sullen and detached.
"You... are... a... fool! " I bellow.
She jabbers back, undaunted, pointing relentlessly at the stains on the sheets.
"Stupid bitch-ee? Understand?" I shout, red-faced, on the verge of tears. I'm shaking and I yank the jacket away from her, muttering "Oh Christ."
Behind me the door opens and a bell chimes and I compose myself. Close my eyes, breathe in deeply, remind myself about stopping in at the tanning salon after lunch, maybe Hermes or -
Jolted by the sound of a real voice, I turn around and it's someone I recognize from my building, someone I've seen a number of times lingering in the lobby, staring admiringly at me whenever I run into her. She's older than me, late twenties, okay-looking, a little overweight, wearing a jogging suit - from where, Bloomingdale's? I have no idea - and she's...beaming. Taking off her sunglasses she offers a wide smile. "Hi Patrick, I thought it was you."