The sunny afternoon had turned into a mildly breezy evening, and my three children and I sat in the car outside the laundromat. The youngest, being sick, slept off and on. My youngest son played in the backseat while my teenager and I visited in between reading snippets here and there on our phones. Of course, we did our usual silly goofing off and laughing at each other’s antics.
By the time I transferred the clothes from the washers to the dryers the clientele began to change. The tired looking moms and dirty working men began heading home for dinner, and the drug addicts began showing up. En masse. Without laundry.
Two women appeared suddenly at the passenger side of my car, one on a boys’ BMX style bike. Their entire conversation seemed to be a loop of, “Weirdo!” “No fucking way!” “Yeah, that guy! Remember him?! Where is he?” Insert incessant strange laughter. Begin again…….”Weirdo!” “No fucking way!” “Yeah, that guy! Remember him?! Where is he?” It was as though they were communicating in a different language. They seemed to understand each other and find each other hilarious. But, it was nonsensical.
After the fifth or sixth F bomb my 10-year-old quietly commented, “Nice way to talk in front of kids.” The women were so close to my car that I was afraid the one was going to drop the bicycle onto the side of my car.
A man appeared from a building across the street, stepping outside in his uniform to take a smoke break. The woman on the bike yelled at him, then told her friend she was going to go get him, and rode off. The woman left behind was wild-eyed. She twitched as she looked every direction. It made her look frantic.
My teenager and I continued to read and visit while occasionally casting a casual glance toward the activity occurring six inches in front of our car and between us and our clothing. A young man appeared from around the side of the building, wearing a long trench coat with the hood pulled up over his head in spite of the spring like weather. He seemed depressed. He mumbled inaudibly to the wild-eyed woman. She held up two cigarettes, both had been lit and then obviously immediately extinguished. He shook his head no and groggily mumbled again as he handed her a cigarette. She exclaimed, “Oh, I thought you asked for a cigarette! You said I look like I need one?” He shook his head affirmatively. It seemed to take great effort for him to do that.
My 10-year-old proudly showed me something he’d made during this time. It was red, and I had no clue what the material was, where it came from, and I questioned him, “What in the world is that made of?” “The cover from my baby cheese!” We all burst into laughter. Creative. At least he hadn’t thrown the wax covering on the floorboard when he had finished eating.
The woman immediately began yelling at the young man, “What is she laughing at? Why is she laughing? What is SHE laughing at?”
She was staring at me!
I probably should have been afraid, surrounded by druggies and homeless people with my three children in my car. I’ve watched drug deals happen at the laundromat, exchanges between armed gang members. I’ve seen gang members chase another guy down. I’ve watched a woman take two heavily tattooed men around the corner and come back fixing her clothing and unable to stand still for a second and eventually walk circles around the building while talking to herself.
These are unsavory characters, scary folks with nothing to lose.
And, she was agitated by my laughter.
She thought I was laughing at her. And, I was quite certain Mr. Trenchcoat likely had at least one weapon under that tent he was wearing.
But, I snapped.
In an instant my mind flashed to all of those times R falsely, and strangely, accused us of laughing at him. In vivid detail, I remembered the Saturday my oldest two children were doing dishes together and laughing, being silly as kids will be, when he bent my son over the counter backwards and screamed, spitting even, in his face, demanding to know why they were laughing at him. I will never forget that look of fear in my son’s eyes or the pleading tone to the kids’ voices as they tried to assure him they weren’t laughing at him. It was all to no avail. He was convinced they were mocking him, and he’d caught them.
So, as Wild Eyed Woman looked at me and then back at Mr. Trenchcoat and one more time asked him what I was laughing at, I rolled down my window and yelled, “Pardon me?!” She looked at him incredulously, as if to ask, “What is her problem?” She responded, “Nothing.” I yelled again, “No! What did you say?!” The young man nudged her and shook his head no. I hollered once more, “Pardon meeeeee?!” She said, “Nothing. Never mind.” I continued to stare at her. Well, perhaps, glare. The guy in the trench coat leaned in and said something to her, and she ran away into the laundromat. He sat down and began tripping on the asphalt.
My children stared at me in disbelief.
No one is going to falsely accuse me or my kids. No one is going to threaten or intimidate me. Not anymore.