Methods of Mayhem

6 06 2004

I thumbed my quarters into the dryers and set them up for thirty minutes apiece. As I loaded my clothes in, some young guy was talking loudly to a college student in a white t-shirt. The student ignored the guy, and kept loading his laundry. I walked back to my washer and started folding up some wet clothes that I planned on air drying at home.


I had just tucked the neck of a t-shirt under my chin when the loud guy walked up to me.

“Hey man,” he said at a normal tone, “I um… I think I… um… shorted myself and I don’t have an extra quarter… I…. need it for my clothes.”

Great, I thought, some other alcoholic looking for some change or some hooch. I looked him up and down. He seemed my age. He had a thin line of a red moustache, a beige fisherman’s cap with a scraggle of red hair poking out underneath and a pair of large, somewhat dingy glasses. He seemed nervous but not anythign like a bum.

“Sure,” I replied, “Hold on.” I dug in my cargo pocket and groped for a single quarter among the pile sitting there. “Here you go.” I watched him, half expecting him to walk out, but he went over to another dryer and plugged the last quarter in. I turned back to my laundry.

Footsteps. “Here, have one.” He was holding out a pack of cigarettes with a tan tip poking out. He wanted to repay me. I looked at the cigarette, thinking about accepting and what it would mean for my health, as I’m not a regular smoker, as well as what it might mean regarding more conversation with this jittery kid. The cigarettes were Basics, not quality smokes as cigarettes go.

“No… thanks though,” I replied. He shifted weight and slowly withdrew the pack. He stood there for a second. I looked to my wet laundry pile. The kid wanted to be nice, and I wouldn’t mind a bit of a buzz. “Alright.” I took a smoke and asked if he had a light.

“Sure. Let’s go smoke.”

We went outside. The air was slightly muggy and warm. The four-car parking lot had oil stains, flies and strange hovering beetles all around it. We sat on a parking curb. I lit my cigarette with the lighter he gave me. He lit his. I thought this the perfect time for an introduction.

“My name’s Collin. What’s yours?”

“They call me Crazy Carl.”

I shook his hand, thinking the name odd, but only appropriate for the regular summer inhabitants of Madison.

He went on to relate to me where he lived and what was happening in his life. “Man, I had a crazy night last night.”

“Oh yeah,” I asked, interest piqued.

“Yeah, man. I left the Caribou, it’s this bar, with this girl I met. Her name’s Janet. Well, her and I left, then she had to leave, but I’m supposed to meet her today. I walked down and talked to some people where there was supposed to be a party, but there wasn’t one. Someone gave me $5 and I went to Taco John’s and got food. Then, I went to another house and I knew there was a party going on on the second floor, so I popped out a plastic window and broke in. I got up to the second floor, and since I broke in, they said I deserved a beer. I drank that, then went home. I got there about four o’clock. Man…”

“Wow, sounds like you had a crazy night last night,” I said.

“I only had three beers.”

“Yeah, but it still sounds like you had a crazy night.”

“Yeah, I guess. I have a lunch appointment on the corner of Mills and Regent today after laundry.”

“What’s on the corner of Mills and Regent?” I asked, curious once again.

“McDonald’s. I’m meeting witht eh people I used to live with.”

“Oh,” I decided not to pursue that avenue in our parking lot conversation. Crazy Carl flicked his cigarette into the lot, and I snubbed mine on the curb, then poked it in a hole in the concrete, noticing a small weed growing from the hole.

He initaiated conversation again. “Susan got angry at me because I didn’t take my medications on Friday.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, Susan’s my shrink. Her office is in my house… that one down the street.” He pointed, and I knew the one. “Man, I just bought groceries and this carton of cigarettes. That was $91. I have $110 to last me the rest of the month since I’ve already paid my rent. Do you think that’s enough?”

It was the fourth of June. That left him $110 for at least 26 days. I knew that wouldn’t be enough for me, figuring I had paid my rent and groceries enough for the month. “Are utilities included?”

“Yeah, they are.”

“Then I think it could last you… if you don’t run out of food.”

“Yeah,” he pondered, “I think so, too.” A pause. “I get $560 a month because my dad died. That’s what I’m living off of right now. I need to pick up an application at Taco John’s.”

I was staring at the oil-stained parking lot. An ant reared up and grabbed a fly three times its size. The fly struggled for a minute, then gave in the the ant. The ant began its tread back to its colony, undeterred by the twitching fly.

“That’s good that you’re looking for a job,” I said, “You need that.”

“Yeah, I know.” A longer pause. “You know what time it is?”

I clapped my pockets. My mp3 player was in my right pocket with a wire connecting it to headphones around my neck. The change jingled as I wrestled with my cell phone. As I pulled it out, a $20 bill fell out. Crazy Carl sat, still waiting for the time. I slowly grabbed the bill, then hastily stuffed it in my pocket. I looked at my color screen Nokia phone with no small amount of guilt and announced the time. “It’s 1:38.”

He continued to relate to me about a road trip he had taken out west where he began smoking. He was sixteen and was taking the Greyhound from South Dakotah. He bought a pack of crappy cigarettes and had a small bottle of liquor. He said that after smoking a few cigarettes he was vomiting up spit. He said the bus driver suspected him of being drunk, so he tried to stop throwing up and controlled it until each stop. He said he could finally handle them when he got to the Saint Cloud, Minnesota stop. By the time he got back to Madison, he was addicted.

“Hm,” I muttered, not knowing what to say. I said the only think I could think of. “I was going to take the ‘hound out of Minneapolis to here, but my grandma and grandpa gave me a ride instead.”

“Oh…” he sat with his head down for a minute. Finally, he spoke. “Well, I think my clothes are almost done.”

“Right,” I said, “Mine, too.”

We stepped back inside, he to his dryers and I to mine. He folded his laundry quickly and left before I could say goodbye.

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