Looking For Milton Glaser in All the Wrong Places

Shoulders back, pull and tuck, fold and flip. April 2008. Shoulders back, pull and tuck, fold and flip. October 2007. Shoulders back, pull and tuck, fold and flip. July 2007. The stack grows on his lap, rounded black ligatures and half-hearts on white.

He pays the laundress fifty cents to let him use a capful of her bleach. She pushes the bottle across the counter without looking up.

Shoulders back, pull and tuck, fold and flip. December 2007. Shoulders back, pull and tuck, fold and flip. May 2008.

The shirts are folded. He transfers the stack from his lap to his bed. He reaches for two canvas shoes at the bottom of the basket and draws them out. July 2007. They are white, with caramel colored soles. He puts them under the bookshelf, next to an identical pair, August 2007.

He needs the bleach for his pants. He shows the laundress. They are also white, except for the gold stain down the left side. Coffee, he says, and points at the stain. It was not his fault — some ditzy girl, some crowded train. He pantomimes the action of spilling a hot beverage. The laundress does not care. She nods to the waiting bleach and picks up a newspaper. It is written in Polish.

He shakes out the pants. They came out well, again almost indistinguishable from his other pairs.

He looks closely at the fly. It is not very worn; these are his most recently acquired, December 2007. Although he is too couth to acknowledge the loosening buttonhole or the fray along the denim’s lip, it is there that his pants show their age.

By comparison, you can see the wear much more pronouncedly in a pair of jeans from May 2006. These were white as well, but coincidentally so — before his monochromatics. Back then he was making it more. He spent years letting his hair go rakish, dropping ‘designer’ and flashing a half-smile that turned women to putty. He is handsome, and knows what to say on barstools and at parties. That was a time when a particular variety of sexy young urbanite clawed at his lap, loosened his buttons. He did not think he would grow tired of the attention, but he did. His design was suffering.

His year-long abstinence has been only broken once, last September with the waitress downstairs named Emma. She still gives him the stink eye when he walks by the restaurant’s plate glass windows. This happens every time he turns north out of the building, heading towards 14th. He has meant to apologize to Emma for some time now.

With his new uniform, everything goes into the same double-size machine. It takes ten quarters, but less detergent. He has calculated he saves seventy-five cents every load, plus sixty cents worth of detergent. Seventy dollars and twenty cents a year. He can buy four fonts with that. Soap goes in the first compartment, bleach will be added to the second once the machine has started.

He hears keys at the door; his roommate is home. He is at the end of the long, slim apartment, then comes her room, then the kitchen and bath. Their interaction is limited: they nod to one another, but he does not speak with her often. Some months pass when their only conversations address rent or her cat’s mess in the bathroom. Neither of them cook very much, so the kitchen is not a point of contention or a place of discussion. She is talking. He waits for the response, recognizes the voice of the regular visitor who he knows only by his sleeping position — on his stomach, left leg jutting out from the sheets — and his tattoo, a four inch Celtic knot inked between his shoulder blades. Muffled voices, he anticipates the moans that soon slip under the door. He will not go to the bathroom for thirty-five minutes — that will be enough time for them to finish.

He folds the pants, first in half, then each leg in thirds. They go into the third drawer. He leans, but does not need to stand up.

He closes the door and twists the handle, drops quarters into their slots and pushes them into the machine. He runs the bottle under his nose before tipping it towards the lip of the machine. It starts spinning and he pours the bleach in. A capful should be plenty. Down she goes.

The socks have gathered next to him on the chair. He shakes each out, then rolls them into pairs. They all match; they are white, thinner cotton than athletic. They are by a designer France. He stretches to open the drawer and puts them inside.

Before he puts on the cap, he runs the bottle back under his nose. It is sodium hypochlorite. He remembers the compound from chemistry. Real bad shit. It wipes out your mucous membranes. Can kill you, too. They used it for a choking agent in World War I. Sodium hydroxide plus chlorine. He returns the plastic bottle to the counter. The laundress nods at her newspaper and he walks away.

White briefs, halved, go in the top drawer. The laundry is done.

He pushes the basket under his bed, and sits down at his desk, the back of his chair edging into the foot of the mattress. His computer glows blue with black letters, alphabets repeated thin and thick, with serifs and without. He clicks one, then another, studying their variations. He reaches the end of the list. Zurich Extra Condensed BT. Past his door, the mattress squeaks. He looks out the window into the New York night, and thinks about swimming pools.