Having a day off means doing a lot of work.

I have grading that has been accumulating – mainly because I scheduled three major exams in quick succession – and there were things around the house that could no longer be ignored.  I thought I’d be able to just sit back and relax a bit, maybe take in the chirping of a recently returned pair of birds in the tree outside my home, but alas, that wasn’t going to happen.  Not today, at least.

I have two cans of salmon sitting on my kitchen counter, placed there nearly a month ago when the world was a bit younger and I a bit more ambitious.  I’ve been wanting salmon croquettes for months now, but only recently have I come across a decent recipe.  Yes, I could consult the Internet, but until I misplaced it, my father’s recipe was the one I loved.  I’ve torn the kitchen apart – literally – trying to find the old cookbook with so many of my – and my family’s – old recipes, but it’s nowhere to be found.  There is one place I’ve yet to look, namely, the basement, but I’m not that interested.

It doesn’t help that the basement looks like the Warehouse of Lost Goods, either.

But I digress . . .

A month ago, I made a list of all of the ingredients, per my new cookbook, and after visiting a pair of stores, I was satisfied that my mission was complete.  My biggest problem is that I lack an overhead vent in my kitchen, and that alone has deterred me from making any aromatic fried foods like bacon (I’m not a big fan anyway) or fish.  Especially fish.  Baked fish is no problem, but fried fish can leave an odor that hangs around for days – or even weeks.  If I’m going to pull the trigger on some water food, it’d best be worth it because everyone within a block of my house will certainly know.

I’ve been fixated on making this rare dish on a Sunday; I don’t know why.  And that’s part of the reason why I still have two cans of fish staring at me from the counter.  Ever since I made my plans, a new issue has cropped up to interfere: I was seriously ill one weekend, and the Little Woman decided to grab fast food on another.  One weekend she was gone to visit her family, and the next we had leftovers from the day before.  It’s like nature is totally against me making this dish – a favorite from my childhood.

I’d even toyed with making it today, but then while shopping for something completely unrelated to food, I felt the need to stop by the sauce aisle, and there I found some Thai Red Curry sauce.  Immediately, the image of sliced boneless chicken breasts smothered in red curry sauce with various stir-fry vegetables, all draped over a serving of rice, popped into my head.  I’d made that dish once before and it turned out well; the mere thought of trying it again – especially since I had a few pounds of frozen boneless chicken breasts in the freezer – derailed the Fish Train yet again.  And there are leftovers, so . . . maybe Wednesday.

If I do make them, I’d like to also make some fried corn as a side.  I love fried corn, and after several failed attempts to replicate my father’s recipe – this one he never shared – I finally found The Real Deal™ in a cookbook I found in the bargain area of the local Barnes & Noble.  I made a panful for the Little Woman some weeks ago and she loves it – but not the mess that it left behind.  This recipe called for the use of salt pork to create a flavorful grease in the pan before introducing the corn, but that didn’t work.  A five-dollar block of fat produced about one teaspoon of grease; thankfully, I had some vegetable oil on hand.  (As someone who rarely fries food anymore, the fact that I had vegetable oil in the cupboard at all is a near miracle.)  It’s worth the effort, though, so I ma need to stock up on a few steel-wool pads before I make this glorious dish.

While out and about, I decided to do laundry, and that meant a trek to the local laundromat.  Yes, I could buy a washer and dryer for my home, but I honestly don’t want them.  I hate doing laundry on a good day, but there are times that it gets me out of the house, and that’s a good thing.  Besides, it’s one more bill, one more piece of equipment I’ll have to mind, one more set of headaches when I need a repair.  Screw that – let that be someone else’s headache.

Ten minutes later, I’ve loaded up the trunk and I’m on my way.  My laundromat is about a mile and a half from my home, so it’s an easy trek.  And, I’ve gotten this down to a science – if I can get five washers and dryers when I need them, I can be in and out in about an hour.  Today proved no different.

After I’d set up my washers to run, I was walking towards the back of the laundromat when a gent caught my attention.  He was loading his own wash into a group of washers – like me, he sorted as he dropped various garments into their respective washers – and I wouldn’t have noticed him if not for what happened next.

You know,” he began, “I should be ashamed of myself.  I have enough laundry here for a whole household – me, wife, and kids – but I’m not married.  This is all my stuff.

I won’t lie.  My first gut reaction was, “Oh no; he wants to be buddies,” but I didn’t say anything.  I mean, I didn’t want to be rude, but I didn’t want much to talk, either.  I often wonder why complete strangers feel the need to talk to me.  They don’t talk to just anyone; just to me.  I don’t say this to sound snotty; it’s just something I’ve experienced since childhood and I’m curious as to what I may have done to encourage their approach.

You understand?” he continued.  “I should be ashamed to have let my laundry get to the point where it looks like I’ve got a family.  This is disgusting, you know?

He seemed nice; he smiled and sadly shook his head.  It never occurred to me that he might be in the middle of something, but I did think it odd that he felt others might judge him by the amount of laundry he had.  I mean, I had three loads – two whites needing bleach, and everything else – but that’s only because I decided to be proactive before my load got out of hand.  Usually, I can produce the equivalent of a small country, and what this guy had . . . he was an amateur.

Man, you don’t need to sweat folks about your laundry,” I said.  “Who cares?  It’s not their business.

He laughed, and then I said, “Never complain, never explain.

His eyes lit up.

I like that.”  He thought on it a bit more.  “I really like that.  I may have to use that!”  He smiled.

Yeah, I like that philosophy,” he added.

Now, in the interests of time, I’ll cut to the chase:  A few minutes later, he came over to the part of the laundromat where I was, trying in vain to make a dent in my grading.  I’d brought about three dozen exams with me so that I’d have something to do during that hour, and I’d slowly come to realize why they’d been so hard for me to address.  Turns out that he was going through something – a lot of somethings, to be exact.  Family issues, home issues.  He told me about having been homeless for months because of a bad relationship.  About how his ex-wife had played him for a fool on so many levels.  On how he was just coming to realize that his recent behavior – like not doing laundry – was a textbook sign of oncoming depression.

He was cheerful and funny, but – and maybe I’m projecting here – there also seemed to be a hint of sadness in his eye.  He’s 58 years old and he’s starting over, and I can only imagine that it’s one of the most difficult things to do.  I’ve never experienced many of the things he described, but there were things I had first-hand experience with, and I remember just  how hard it was to bounce back after those blows.

I don’t want to minimize what you’re going through,” I said after he’d told me his story, “but you’ve been through the Dark Valley and you’ve survived.  Now, it’s all about moving on.

You’re so right,” he said.  “But I’m going to make it.

Turns out he just needed someone to listen.  In my experience, the thing people want most in life isn’t wealth, material possessions, or power.  We just want someone to listen.

I still don’t understand why folks come to me, but I won’t complain.  If me listening to your story helps you have a better day, then so be it.

As for the gent at the laundromat, I learned that we have the same first name.

And a lot of clean clothes.

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