A Gyro, A Laundromat, an Old Man with Scratchers

I went to a new Laundromat today.  It lacks the charm of a laundress and it has fewer machines than the other one I patronize.  It does have its advantages like the fact that it is closer to my home and is squeezed between a mini market and a sandwich shop.  I didn’t go there until nearly lunch time so I wouldn’t accuse myself of slacking off – since I am my own boss I must monitor my attendance.  Lunch time was also appealing because the sandwich shop proudly advertises gyros, a Greek sandwich I grew to love when I visited Greece long ago.

I got my laundry started washing and then went next to and bought myself a gyro.  It took a while to prepare so I was expecting great things.  But it was made of an inferior sort of compressed, lamb-like meat and a came with a kind of cucumber mayo mix in a little cup.  There were little tiny crumbles of feta cheese inside it with grilled onions and tomatoes.  The saving grace was that the pita bread was fresh and chewy.  I went outside to eat.

An old man was sitting at one of the two sidewalk tables.  He wore a polo shirt over his ample belly and tennis shoes with white socks and khaki shorts.  He had a baseball hat on with pins stuck in it that indicated he was a veteran, or that he supported veterans, or maybe he just liked military pins because they got him out of speeding tickets with ex Marines.  He was scratching lottery tickets with an intensity common only to old Asian women at nickel slot machines.

These were three dollar tickets, the quarter sheet size that you have to take a class to learn how to play.  He had a stack of them that would probably have included about 20 tickets, maybe more.  I asked him if he’d won anything and he didn’t seem to mind the interruption.  No, he told me, but he’d had a good year so far with $8,000 in winnings.  June just ended, so I calculate that if he spent $60 per day since January he must have spent close to $11,000 in lottery tickets.  Not a good year in my estimation but then maybe he figured it was possible to be more than $3,000 behind.

I ate my gyro at the other sidewalk table near the curb.  My back was to the traffic so I didn’t have to look at people in cars watching me eat.  I imagined that I was back in Greece on the beach in Aegion where I camped with a group of recently graduated female university students from England.  There was the best gyro shack in the world close by and we made nightly trips there with the locals.  Perhaps it is my Ouzo-soaked memory coupled with the fact that the women were all stupendously topless at the beach all day, but my gyro today at lunch just didn’t taste the same outside a Laundromat in Sacramento.

The employees of the tattoo shop on the corner began arriving for work while I was having lunch.  I guessed that tattoo customers are not early risers.  The two young men who went and unlocked the door could not be accused of being “posers” in that every square inch of the bare skin showed tattoos of one sort or another.  The old man snorted at me and gave me a conspiratorial “guys our age are wiser” kind of look and went back to scratching his tickets.

I finished my sandwich and went into the shop once again to return my plate.  I went back to the counter and got my free diet soda refill as promised me and then I went back to the Laundromat to check on my washers.  Still ten minutes to go.  I was impressed at my lunch time efficiency and sat down to read some materials I brought along to make the time productive.

This Laundromat is long and narrow and just down from me and loading wet clothing into multiple dryers was a woman and an older man.  The old man was not so old as the man outside with the tickets, but he looked a good deal more weary.  The woman seemed to be directing his laundering and for some time I could not decide if she was helpful or a busy body.  I came to observe that she was his maid or caretaker.  It seems that this man had damaged his brain on drugs in his youth and now he needed help with his daily chores.  The woman was the picture of patience and gently guided his movements and questioned his use of quarters and listened to him telling his stories of his misspent youth.  She must be a wonderful woman I thought, but then I recalled a woman in the news years back who took care of old people until they died, then she’d bury them in her yard.   She’d continue to collect their social security checks: she went to prison I think.  I checked the woman’s pant legs for dirt but their cleanliness satisfied me of his safety.

While I was eating my gyro the old man with the tickets had asked me to watch his things while he made his way back to the mini market.  To my amazement, he came back to the table with another grand stack of lottery tickets.  He was still scratching the second batch an hour later when my laundry was cleaned and folded.   I carried my blue basket past him on my way to the parking lot.  I asked him if he was winning on the new batch and he replied sadly no, he was not.  I wished him luck but I had to revise my estimates about his “good year” since he had doubled his ante since my arrival.

I might have to try another Laundromat next week to see what other adventures are to be had for eight dollars in quarters.