it's time i learned your name chinese laundry man
It’s time I learned your name Chinese laundry man. It’s been four years now since I first handed my dirty undies over to a total stranger. At first I was nervous. Would you laugh and hold up my size double A bras for others to see? Would you take a sniff or notice that I had my period? I couldn't make eye contact for the first 6 months, but that was ok. You greeted me with a big smile and a shout of " Pau-Pau" each and every week. It took me two years to figure out you were saying "purple", the color of my laundry bag. Soon this became both of our names, "Purple" I shout each week and "Pau-Pau" you always reply. And not just once, no this one word becomes an entire conversation by repeating it in high-pitched and low-pitched tones several times a visit.
Our pet name has grown on me. Hell, the color of my bag hasn't even mattered for the last 3 years as I always go behind the counter to retrieve it myself. Yet, it's nice to be known and remembered and appreciated after someone has so intimately 'dealt' with the soiled and stained evidence of my life. Do you know, Chinese laundry man, how hard it was to find another purple laundry bag once the first one wore out? Did you know that they discontinued purple laundry bags in the entire tri-state area just before 2002? I had to fly home half way across the country to secure our term of endearment. But it was worth it just to exchange that precious two-syllable word with you.
You’ve never once jeered or leered or snickered at me, regardless of the profane mysteries I have handed to you in my purple bag. Do you remember that time my tortoise crapped all over my towels? Do you even know that I have a tortoise? I wanted to tell you so badly what it was, and that 'I' don't crap on my towels, but then what if I thought you didn't believe me? What if you didn't understand what I was saying and we ended up miming out the whole god-damn tortoise towel crap scene? I didn't want to become "Pau-Pau with the crap towels". At least not in English. You can call me that in Chinese though- I bet it sounds cool.
We have a great relationship Chinese laundry man. You never yell at me (like your assistants do in your absence) when I forget my dry cleaning ticket. In fact, you act as though you LOVE spinning the 12 miles of hanging clothes around in jerky start/stop fashion as I ponder, "That looks like a pair of pants I might have bought", "Can you take the plastic off so I can see the size of that shirt?" "Yeah, you're right I guess that black dress is mine if it's been here for 3 months", or "Wait, no- my suit is more of a sea green than an emerald-forest green". I always apologize and offer to let a few of the people in the long line behind me skip ahead but you just say "no Pau-Pau, it's ok, Pau-Pau ok".
The thing is though, it's starting to sound a bit racist referring to you all the time as my Chinese laundry man. It’s time I knew your name. Or at least the adjusted version for English speakers. Maybe it's "Hae-men-che" but people just call you "Howie"? You may have to write it down for me if I can't pronounce it. I’m tired of leaving the "To:" section of your Christmas and Chinese New Year’s cards blank when I bring you holiday cookies hot from my kitchen. Not to mention, my baking skills are improving and maybe one day I’d like to write your name in icing?
Two years ago I almost got up the nerve to ask you your name. But as usually, something had to happen. This time, I had a new boyfriend. I was sure that you knew because his hair was always in the sheets and it was quite a contrast in color to my own. We made it through this before, when I was dating the blonde, but it just didn't feel right to ask you your name, not to mention my returned difficulty with the eye contact thing again.
But the day has come and I’m going to do it, damn it. It the year of the rooster, or is it bull? Well, whatever, it's the year to learn your name- that's what I mean. I’m going to buy some really fancy chopsticks, put a purple ribbon on them and ask you your name.