I was humming the second theme of the E-flat Piano Quartet when I pulled up at the little Plaza of My Needs. Starbucks, bagel shop, and dry cleaners were all in a row. Business before happiness, I told myself, though the lust for the brown liquid was strong; fight the urge, just a moment; I groaned; it was 10:02 AM and I knew I was close to missing the Dry Cleaner Magic Window: ever-changeable, mercurial, heartless. The Gods could strike me down, if I dawdled. A rather comatose boy of 18 stood behind the counter and referred all questions to a mysterious Polish woman in the back; she emerged finally, moved by my enigma; no, they could not dry clean the same day; no, they couldn't press, either; and look you have spots on your white jacket, you need a cleaning anyway! This was intended to shame. But the concert's Absolute Existence she had to concede; all her sophistry could not move my philosophical stone. Tonight at 7:30 a white jacket would be worn by me, no matter what, whether wrinkled spotted or striped, and my left hand would play E-flat major octaves, and spots anyway meant nothing to me, the artiste wandering through the landscaped lawns of the burbs like a coffee-starved polar bear in Bermuda.
(The coffee was necessary, I realized, as I composed the polar bear simile. A baby's screaming on a distant plush chair was enough to disturb my equanimity.)
Polish Dry Cleaning Goddess was unhelpful, when asked for other same-day service: "Look around," she riddled. Cunning Northern Sphinx! I looked; cars passed; the usual in and out of the delineated spots; the shunting digestive system of the strip mall. But across the road, the promise of the Orient: a Chinese Cleaners, with the alluring "SAME DAY CLEANING" stencilled on the window, like a fulfilled fortune cookie. But the hour was drawing late, 10:12, and I had no leg to stand on; I could only beg, plead, depend on mercurial mercy, on the kindness of strangers. Timidly the traveler entered, but the woman saw my crumpled white and black package and in it read some message that knocked her off her chair. She waggled her body in astonishment (I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP.) "NO, no, no we don't do that!" she said as if I had asked her to participate in some unspeakable act. "We can't clean that today." I had a snarkish attack, pointing at the window; "I guess it was the Same Day Cleaning sign that confused me," I said, and then, sending my sarcasm back at me, she became full-on hostile. "You done missed out on that," she said, "You know you're too late, don't you give me that." And I knew, I was so wrong, so very very wrong. But Mozart is so beautiful! This talisman had no effect.
Happy ending: shortly thereafter I gave thanks to a woman in a blue jumpsuit who took my white crumpled thing with a smile and promised to press it by 4. I pocketed my receipt, my shield against contingency, and congratulated myself on another close brush with Reality. I began to hum Mozart and ordered a heaping Venti, awaiting other Dragons to slay.