••• The International Writers Magazine: Real Lives on Dreamscapes
A Salvager for Our Times
Michael Chacko Daniels
I walk into our unattended neighborhood laundromat, carrying four bags—my first load of clothes on my day to do laundry, and find a youngish man sitting at one of the three yellow, screwed-down plastic chairs, deep in some enterprise that doesn't look all too honest: all around him are what looks like the electronic innards of several latter-day computerized gizmos.
I think I must have a startled expression, because he is giving me a look as if he is well-prepared to take me on, in case I am about to be nasty about what he is doing or the mess he has made.
Within easy reach of him are some simple tools I longed to have as a kid growing up in Bombay, a long, long time ago: a wire cutter, screwdrivers of various types and sizes, and several pliers; some of them red-handled, some black.
I say, "Hi," trying to lower the tensions, which, my friend, can be quite nerve-wracking, if not just plain deadly, within the confines of a small, unattended laundromat.
In any case, my days of promoting Neat and Clean Spaces have long gone.
He says, "Hi."
That done, our microbiomes settle down and I proceed unhurriedly to stuff my laundry into a front-loading washer.
"Do you need to get to the detergent?" he inquires, referring to the old-style, coin-operated detergent machine, access to which he has completely blocked with his tools and the disemboweled electronic parts.
"I got it, don't worry," I say.
When I finish feeding the machine with clothes, detergent, and new shiny quarters, I walk back to my apartment for my second load of clothes. Carrying loads—laundry, groceries, etc., on level ground and up and down San Francisco inclines, is my positive contribution to maintaining the neuroplasticity of my brain as time moves inexorably forward.
I am confident that in my absence the man who’d disemboweled several electronic gizmos won’t appropriate what the WARNING on the grimy laundromat wall once called “unattended clothes,” which are now merrily spinning in the washer.
He is still there busy as before, when I return 15 minutes later.
But he has made some progress: he is putting away the results of his endeavors into United States Postal Service mailing envelopes, which I suppose he had appropriated for himself from his friendly neighborhood post office.
I assume he’s not about to send the contents off by USPS.
Hand carrying seems more his style.
These envelopes, I have noticed, make excellent storage and carrying cases. Several envelopes are already nesting in his satchel and backpack.
I start loading a second washer.
He says, "I'm sorry, if I startled you earlier—"
I look at him and smile. Ah, he’s been thinking about my startle response, the vibes he’s giving out, and how to smooth his transition through our neighborhood, and, perhaps, this world.
"I was only wondering what you were working on," I say.
"I am salvaging the electronics of a large TV set that someone discarded on the street. You'd be surprised what people leave on the street."
I am not surprised by what people do on the street and off it.
I think: Bury brevity and reserve; go on, commend the man.
"That is really worthwhile work," I manage to extract out of my reclusive mind.
"Not really. It's a lot of work for very little money."
"I mean salvaging is socially worthwhile," I explain, trying to indicate that I’m not one to disapprove of what he is doing.
"People throw out all sorts of things,” he says.
I decide not to get going on my pet peeve about how people nowadays clutter up our sidewalks with their used electronics.
“See this metal?”
I look at it. The clunky piece of metal makes no sense to me. Hey, I want to tell him, show me the other tools in your toolbelt and I will applaud. Maybe together we can build the world’s best wheelchair ramp. This piece you are showing me? Maybe Don Quixote would find it useful.
“I'm going to take it to an art studio," he says.
I nod, noncommittally, and continue loading the second washer.
"I'll be done soon," he says.
He is still there 15 minutes later, by which time I am standing and trying to read the latest issue of Poetry—which is hard to do because I’m now fantasizing that what he’s actually doing is repairing his dimension-hopping device.
Then, he produces a small broom.
Not an electronic broom. An old, manual broom. I have no idea where he had secreted it or what he is he going to do with it.
Hop on it? Disappear?
He begins to sweep the floor.
"How do you like how I clean up afterwards," he says.
"Neat," I say.
He looks mighty pleased with that one word.
Another fifteen minutes later, he leaves, a pack on his back, a satchel neatly tucked under one arm.
A self-contained man, taking a bit of 21st century street with him.
~ ~ ~
Three years later, I remember the salvager as I walk past the laundromat and see—
Last week’s fallen leaves
strike a blown plasma TV
between Pine and Bush
Michael Chacko Daniels lives and writes in San Francisco. He grew up in Bombay, where he attended St. Michael’s High School, Wilson College, and University of Bombay’s Department of Economics. He has a master’s from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. His adventures in the United States include five years as a Volunteer In Service To America (VISTA); four as editor/publisher of the New River Free Press of Grand Rapids, Michigan; four as assistant editor in San Francisco at The Asia Foundation; and sixteen at Berkeley’s Center for Independent Living. He helped start the Jobs for Homeless Consortium of Alameda County in 1988, and to run it through mid-2004. Writers Workshop, Calcutta, has published his books: Split in Two (Poetry, 2004), Anything Out of Place Is Dirt (Novel, 2004), That Damn Romantic Fool (Novel, 2005), Morning in Santiniketan (Haiku, 2010), and The Flea-Driven Traveler (Poetry, 2016). He is a naturalized citizen of the United States.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR- His latest collection of fiction is:
The Mendonça Mystery and Other Stories
Grandma and the Old Warrior
Michael Chacko Daniels
Grandma Jacob, dressed in a white cotton sari and blouse, opened the door of her new home on Rural Route 2, South Riverside and looked into the blue eyes of the old Polish warrior.
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