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I have listened to tonight’s songs twice through already. I was cleaning my bedroom. Actually, I was cleaning my whole apartment and decided to listen a little early and marinate on the songs. I sang along instead, unconsciously, and before I knew it, I had listened to twelve songs and only three registered in my brain.

Orphans, 2012With the exception of “Sad Songs and Waltzes”, these songs have been listened to over and over and over. And I have definitely even sung them over and over and over. “Fur Elise” is obviously just piano but I was obsessed with this song when I was a little girl. Even taught myself how to play it by ear on the piano. I can still play it poorly without looking. And in the early 80s, McDonald’s used it in a commercial and created lyrics. I know it by heart. I shall spare you.

The remainder are definitely sad songs and waltzes. I remember in college driving to Estes Park for the day, something I did often when I felt the need to escape life, and windows and sunroof wide open, singing “Without You” at the top of my lungs. I think I can remember even making myself cry.

My favorite of the lot is surprise, “The Heart of Saturday Night” for no particular reason other than the gut-wrenching depth of the damned thing. But I love it and will always.

Instead tonight, I was thinking of sharing a little personal writing. I have been studying the people in my neighborhood and have slowly created imaginary character sketches for about a dozen or so. Here’s one. I think it fits the sad songs and waltzes theme.

“A Face in the Jar”

Lorraine stationed herself across from the dryer, finishing up her last load of wash. The smell of bleach reached me before her perfume, probably because she chose to shake everything for several seconds at a time, and I faced her at a tight right angle.  She folded each item purposefully, as if something inherent relied on each crease. First the solid white handkerchiefs folded into perfect thirds, and then her nightgowns. There were four—each with a bright floral print; blue and white, lilac and pink, yellow and cream, and peach and white. All were cotton, all had buttoned fronts, and all fell to below the knee but above the calf. JC Penney nightgowns.

She also folded her bedclothes, bath towels, undergarments, and twill pants, each with an intentional line running down their middles. Her late afternoons on Wednesdays relied on her visit to the Laundromat. In her mid sixties, Lorraine needed something to keep her busy, to allow her to forget something before dinner. In her mind, if she spent three concrete late-day hours intentionally washing and drying, and shaking and creasing, perhaps she will forget.

The socks, the white ones from her load of yellowing whites, belonged to John. This is where Lorraine spent the most attention at the Laundromat. At first it seemed to me as if she were matching several types of white tube socks—as if each were different heights or had distinctive threading on each toe and insole. But upon careful observation, she had more than twenty of the exact same white tube sock. I watched her, as I grabbed closely related socks, ignored to turn them outside-out, and roll them up into a decent ball, like the hundreds that filled my dad’s top drawer. My eyes fell upon her work, not mine.

Lorraine’s attention was unbridled, unbroken. It was even adamant perhaps. I watched her spend fifteen solitary minutes not matching these identical socks by different knits or variant ribbings, but instead by the width and length of each foot bed. Perhaps in writing this does not seem remotely significant. Each of the twenty tube socks were exactly the same. Her agonizing attention to detail, or perhaps her unyielding methods of distraction, surrendered a solid minute of matching time per pair. Each single tube sock, lined up like white ducks in three straight rows on the Laundromat’s vinyl blue counters, swam idly—patiently awaiting their mate. A sea of lost ducks, floating silent, refusing motion.

Washing and drying, shaking and creasing, remembering and forgetting. Lorraine carefully placed her bedclothes and undergarments and nightgowns into the fading green metal cart that most City women over 50 pull with them for groceries or laundry or visits to the beauty parlor. She checked the dryer that had been still for over thirty minutes, removing nothing. It was clear that she stalled her departure. Why, I am not entirely sure. She then gathered the carefully matched socks, and laid them gently atop the dome of percale. These she covered with a cloth dinner napkin and clipped its sides down with stained clothespins to the gridded sides of the metal cart. Impenetrable. She made one last sweep of the place with her eyes, tied her scarf around her whitening hair, and walked out into the dark rain.

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Post Script: This was inspired by “Eleanor Rigby”, although I did witness this scene. A sad waltz indeed.

Sad Songs and Waltzes–Willie Nelson

The Heart of Saturday Night–Tom Waits

Who’s Your Baby Now–Mark Knopfler

Fur Elise–Vince Guaraldi Trio

Without You–Dixie Chicks

St. Stephen–The Grateful Dead