“I’ll be your dad.”

Against all personal comfort levels, having seen the other side (the other side being an alternative to schlepping a 20-pound laundry bag through the streets of Manhattan, with $10 of quarters in my pocket, and waiting around for 2 hours amidst unbearable heat and flying lint), I have gone back to the creepy laundry guy. The one that folds my underwear into origami. That guy.

I’ve been doing good at avoiding him as a person, handling the drop-off and pick-up as a business transaction, ignoring thinking about him touching my underwear, and even going so far as to embrace how much drawer space the origami undies are saving me.

But that was then, and this is now.

I dropped off my laundry at two o’clock. He said he’d have it back to me by end of day. His shop closes at 7pm. He said he’d call me when it’s ready. I stammered too long when he asked for my phone number, to then come up with a good reason why I didn’t have a phone, so I had to give up the digits. 6:50 rolls around and no call, so I go over to the shop, thinking he’s simply forgotten to call me. I get there and he says it’s not dry yet, but it will be ready at 7, he will call me. I walk around the block a few times, then drop in again at 7 sharp. He says I have towels in there, and they’re not dry, so give him 10 more minutes, he’ll call me. So I go home and wait for the call. At 7:15, the phone rings, signifying appropriately fluffy towels. So, I’m standing there paying and he asks, “Shima, where you from?”

And this commenced the next 15 minutes of my life, which consisted of my taking a postcard tour of Uzbekistan, looking at family photos of him and his daughters, who in his eyes, look like me, and his grandson (which was actually cute and made him less creepy). The photo must have been from 1980, as his daughters were pre-teens and he was a good 25-pounds lighter and less aged. His question, “Wasn’t I handsome?” made me flinch and respond via awkward semi-smile, and sadly, undid the grandson bit.

My credit card had long since been approved, but he was holding back the slip, so I was trapped. He then asked where my family lives, and I told him various family members live in such and such place, and he inquired, “No dad?”, to which I responded, “My dad died.” When this didn’t appear to satiate his curiosity, I followed it up with (an awkward pause and), “when I was really young.” Now, one would think that would halt the line of questioning, but apparently, and against all odds, he asked “How?” I was thrown for a loop. How did papa die? I didn’t answer, only because I’m a bad liar and having already told one lie (he’s not “technically” dead), my mind couldn’t come up with a good industrial accident story in time. And he must have taken my befuddled expression as neediness, because he proceeded to put his arm around me, give me a half hug, and say, “I’ll be your dad.”

Dammit! Now who’s going to pick up my laundry?

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