Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Chinese Laundry Torture

By Elliott Joseph

Reprinted from Saturday Review
Copyright 2010 Elliott Joseph
May 2010

Some time back I took the usual weekly bundle to my local Chinese laundry, only to make the disquieting discovery that an enigmatic, dark-haired, ageless stranger by the name of Sam Wip had bought out my old friend, Ben Chen.
Since it had taken me, when I first moved into the neighborhood, a number of painful months to acquaint Ben with the manner in which I preferred my shirts, something I have always been most particular about, I did not look with favor on the new proprietor, whose presence foreshadowed another tortuous path of tight-lipped training, disappointment, and frustration toward the seemingly impossible.
Imagine my pleasant surprise when with the most profound understanding he informed me that he was well aware of my problem and would do everything in his power to help.
The following week I found my cuffs and collars that perfect meeting of soft comfort and crisp body that I had learned to love. As I adjusted my tie around the collar of my white, 2x2, Imported Pima, which I had purchased at Saks, I noticed a small black spot just under the pocket.
"Well," I told myself, "accidents can happen to anyone. We'll give this fellow a chance."
I wore my gray striped broadcloth instead, and decided to drop off the Pima on my way to the office.
Sam greeted me with a wide smile, which he maintained throughout our short conversation.
"You wear vest?" he asked.
At this I began to grow a bit disenchanted with my new friend, but I said nothing and left the shirt hopefully.
It came back with the spot a few shades lighter. It would, I told myself this time, be all right under my vest. As I fastened my right cuff, however, I discovered a shapeless, muddy stain there. It was late and I didn't take the time to change. Besides, I thought, I would cuff up my sleeves a couple of times once I got to the office.
"They eat candy at laundry," said Sam the next day, still smiling. "And forget to wash hands." He'd see what he could do.
This time the stain was traded for a neatly sewn, small diagonal rip at the second buttonhole. To Sam's next question I admitted I never wore bow ties.
"Then everything OK," he grinned. "Nobody see."
"I'll see," I said.
He shook his inscrutable head and went on smiling.
When the shirt came back blue I drew the line.
`"Do you know how much this shirt cost?" I asked sardonically. "One hundred dollars! " I added, answering myself.
"You buy on sale?" Sam asked.
"What's that got to do with it?" I replied.
"Blue very nice," he said.
"I want my white shirt!" I shouted.
"Expensive shirt make you unhappy," he said.
"You're the one making me unhappy."
"Shirt you can afford never make you unhappy."
"I can afford the hundred dollars," I lied.
"Then why you get mad?"
"Your job is to do the shirts right!" I said. "Not give me advice."
"Shirt too expensive. Make laundry man nervous. You buy cheap shirt. Get good job."
So I went out and bought four shirts, and paid less than a hundred dollars for the lot. And you know, he hasn't gotten a mark on them!

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