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  • This is What he Did
  • Judith Arcana (bio)

. . . for my father

Starting the winter he turned sixteen, Danny pressed pants on the mangle at the back of the cleaners. Then he put the pants on hangers, lining up the legs so they would match. There was laundry too, towels and sheets embroidered with the names of hotels and restaurants; these he folded, stacked, and wrapped in brown paper. He tied the paper stacks with white cotton cord, threw them onto the truck and drove in the dark to the loading docks.

Going from the thick heat of the shop to the cold truck, he could see his breath move between his face and the steering wheel, watch it cloud the windshield. At the docks he tossed his packages into canvas carts, waiting for the guy to sign his invoice so he could drive back, park the truck beside the garbage cans and take a break.

He'd open the door on the alley side, sit on the running board and reach into his jacket, pull out a pack of cigarettes and flip one out. A radio would be on and sometimes the street noise quieted enough so he could hear it real clear. Sometimes he'd hear a song he liked, and he'd whisper-sing [End Page 136] along with it, something like "Walkin' My Baby Back Home." He really liked that one.

He'd replace the pack in his shirt's chest pocket and light up. The smoke thickened his exhale. He rubbed his hands on his pants to warm his fingers, pulled the collar of his baseball jacket together and snapped it.

This is what he did for money, to make his living. At twenty-one, he got married in a white jacket, wore a straw hat. He and Gloria both had jobs; they took vacations in the summertime, went to the beach when it was hot.

They had children, born in cooler months. He'd always tell them, Your mother really appreciated that. He made good money. She stopped working at the post office.

When the U.S. got into the war, they wouldn't take him, first because he had two crippled fingers from the mangle and then because, when Gloria died, the kids were just his.

At the war plant he tested old tires to see if they could be used by the army, measuring thickness, pushing them down in the water tank until silver bubbles stopped rising off the black tread. They made him a floor supervisor, gave him a quota of tires to ship each day; he wore a uniform.

When the other men came home, he went back to the laundry, where the pants, towels and sheets turned into diapers pretty quick. They boiled the dirty ones clean, dried them in tumblers so hot the handles burned. He told the women who worked the dryers, Wrap a diaper around your hand to open those doors, use it like a potholder.

He breathed ammonia vapor in the truck, cans lined up stinking on metal racks in back. They made him a route supervisor; he wore a company jacket, his name sewed in handwriting over the cigarette pocket. He gave his kids the Egypt pictures off the packs of his Camels.

One day he parked the truck, sat down at a desk and gave the route book to his oldest son. [End Page 137]

The year Kennedy edged out Nixon, Danny wore a suit and smoked Parliaments. No window where he sat, the air in there sat still; smoke slipped down to the floor.

Then the kids all went to college. Danny and his second wife went to Europe—three weeks, four cities. All three kids got married, then two of them got divorced.

By the time Nixon got back up, his daughter's baby wore the only cloth diapers on the block, so Danny moved on, wore sport coats, sold mirrors and glass doors, windows made of thermopane. Keeps the heat in, he explained.

But that didn't last, and when Reagan came in to take it all down, he and the second wife moved to Florida. He took classes wearing short...


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pp. 136-138
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2012
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