Saturday, September 06, 2003

Work Day - Mt. Vernon, IL

In Mt. Vernon, IL, I make an early stop to do some work. I've got transcribing and laundry to do, two jobs that are exactly as sexy as they sound.

The transcribing goes slow. I let it my slim, silver recorder run a few seconds, get a sentence or two, hit pause, start typing. By the time I'm typing I've only remembered the gist of the thing. I rewind, listen again, fix what I fouled, and then the next sentence is waiting. These interviews are ranging from 20-40 minutes, but the transcribing of a single one takes as much as 1:45. Sometimes the voices are crystal clear. Sometimes it's just a hiss and a squawk. What's that word? Constancy? Or inconstancy? Is that a word? That dog is barking. Should I transcribe that? The tape recorder is too near the air conditioner; it sounds like I'm interviewing someone flying a prop plane. That one guy keeps tapping the table as we talk. I get half a sentence, than a white noise CLONK. How does one spell CLONK?

The laundry goes more smoothly. The Daisy Fresh is empty when I go in, but Daisy - I imagine she's Daisy, but don't have the nerve to ask - tells me she's the change machine. She gives me a stack of quarters, points me toward the machines "that were working last night," and goes back to the sports page. "Cardinals killed me again last night," she says. "Lose at home. To the Cubs. No wonder it's a long summer."

Once I get the clothes in the machines (mostly white things in one, any other color in the other), I wander outside the Daisy Fresh and sit on the tailgate of my SUV. I spot a guy with a laundry bag over his shoulder walking toward me, but about three blocks away. Because of the sun, and the flat land, I can see him clearly. It looks like a gigantic bag. He stops every few feet and swings it off one shoulder and onto the other. Suddenly, without any particular warning, a train goes rushing past him, obscuring him from my view. He's so far away still that the sound of the train is only pleasant. But he looks to be right up against the rails, so I imagine it's as loud, as, well, a freight train. I can actually see his feet for a while under the blur of the train. Then his feet and the bag, which he's set down.

When the train's gone, he keeps coming. I swear, he's only blocks away, but it's taking him forever to get here. Daisy comes out, smoking a cigarette in one of those old-timey plastic filters. Very continental, I think. "That's Terry," she says, pointing down the road. "He's a fireman. He's got the Turk duty this week. He gets all the unmentionables. He's got to do them all, and he's got to fold them and put them in everyone's locker."

Terry is within speaking distance now, so Daisy turns her attention away from me and to him. "Did you see my Redbirds," she says? "Fucking stinking summer. I'm waiting for the Rams to start on Sunday."

Terry and Daisy go in. I wait outside a while, giving my clothes a chance to soak.

Once I clear out my dryer, I go to my car and see Terry sitting on a curb. He's got a burr cut, like an army guy. He's got a t-shirt on that says VOLUNTEER across the back. On the front is some kind of insignia. He looks up as I open my truck and start putting stuff in.

"You got a cigarette?" he says. I shake my head. "I'd bum one from Daisy, but sure as hell she'll talk my ear off." He looks down at my license plate and kicks at it with the toe of his boot. "Where you from, Maryland?"

"Yeah, I say, from around Baltimore."

"We got a captain who's from up there. Now he's here training us." He pauses, Daisy's emerged from the inside of the laundry.

"Terry, you got a load done, honey." Then she goes back in.

"You sure you don't have a smoke?" he says again.

"Nope. Nothing. Sorry."

"Hell, I'll have to walk all the way back and get mine." He peers in the laundromat, then over at the road he'd come up before and makes his decision. As I'm backing out, I see him headed back toward the train tracks.