Seven a.m. in Manhattan, and I have a full week of meetings looming ahead of me. Latte in hand, I take my Hillary Clintonesque navy pantsuit into the dry cleaning shop next to my hotel.
“Just a pressing,” I say to the olive-skinned woman behind the counter. She is dressed head to toe in black, a shawl embroidered with threads of gold draped over boney shoulders. Something about her, perhaps the simmering coals of her sunken eyes, makes me think “gypsy.” She casts a withering glance at me; a look of pure disdain.
“There is hair on this garment,” she announces, stern, her voice betraying a hint of Romania, or perhaps, Transylvania. She holds the jacket up and away, as if it offends. “Yes, hair. Much hair. You need dry cleaning, not pressing.”
Well, yes, I have long hair and sometimes a few strands end up on my clothing. But I don’t need dry cleaning. I have a role of tape that will take care of that hair…
“Your hair. And cat hair… two cats.” She turns the jacket inside out, flicking the lining with the tips of her frighteningly long fingers. “Dog hair, too. BIG dog.”
What?! How does this Yvonne DeCarlo look-alike know this?
“You stay at the hotel? I give you discount on dry cleaning…Come back tonight” My furry clothing clutched in her bejeweled hands, she disappears into the rear of the shop, leaving me with a hastily scrawled ticket. I was dismissed.
I return dutifully at six p.m. to pick up my suit. The clerk, a bent old man bearing a frightening resemblance to Bela Lugosi, retrieves it promptly, and indeed, upon my inspection, the suit has not a hair visible to the naked eye. Curious, I ask him, “How did the lady who works here know the different types of hair on my clothes? And how did she know I live at the hotel?”
The clerk, his pointy ears protruding from his shrunken skull, looks at me, confused. “What lady?”
“The lady who helped me this morning … older, with an accent…eastern European, maybe.”
The clerk is now staring at me like I am seriously deranged. “There is no lady.”
“Miss, there is no lady who works here.” His pencil-thin lips part, revealing glistening pearly whites.
“No lady. And we were not open this morning. Never are. We open at six p.m. daily.”
“Six p.m. every day. Evening hours only.”
Shaking my head in disbelief, I pay him and step outside onto the crowded sidewalk, the jingle of the dry cleaning shop’s door chimes ringing in my ears. My suit, presumably hairless and protected by a plastic sleeve, is slung over my arm as I walk towards the entrance to my hotel. I suddenly realize that I am still grasping the dry cleaning ticket in my hand. The clerk had not requested it, even though he somehow knew why I was there and exactly where my clothes were. Feeling the first hint of goose bumps, I hold it up and attempt to read the bold backward loops of handwriting:
SANGUINE HAVEN CLEANERS
666 East 39th Street NYC
“We Thirst For Your Business”
Strangely enough, no phone number is listed, no website. Reading further, the ticket displays the message Preferred Customer Discount. Well, okay, I’ll take that…
Arriving at my hotel, I am suddenly bathed in the gloom of a late afternoon shadow that envelopes me like a narrow box. I feel compelled to look upwards. Above me, affixed to the side of the hotel’s marquee, is a huge stone gargoyle leering down at… me?
“That’s odd,” I think, “I don’t remember that being there this morning…”
The newspaper headline was fairly typical for a New York City tabloid. “Woman Crushed by Wayward Gargoyle,” screamed the headlines. The article went on to describe how a visitor from out of town met an unlikely fate on the streets Manhattan one overcast afternoon. The hotel, it claimed, knew nothing of the 800 pound gargoyle, or how it came to be perched precariously atop their marquee. Unbelievable! None of this matters to me. I am quite content now, no longer having to rush from meeting to meeting in city after city. I enjoy working evenings in Manhattan, behind the counter, selecting those garments whose owners will receive preferential treatment. I like sleeping in the racks during the daytime hours, undisturbed in my snug quarters.
But I just can’t remember how I came to have those two little marks on the back of my neck. I just can’t remember.
editor’s note: You’ll never guess what’s under the bed, in the closet, or right out in front of you. ~ tyler malone
photo credit: “Bite Marks: Love Lines” by Tyler Malone