Out of Pocket

I decided to go in a little late today, partly because my laundry was all piled up, so I threw a few loads in and I’ve spent the morning running up and downstairs, chomping on croissants, etc., all very nice and civilized-like. Then, just a while ago, I was down there pulling my stuff out of the dryers, and folding it and hanging it all up like a good boy, not tedious at all, and the only other person in the laundromat was a homeless-looking graybeard, 70 if a day, who was busy watching his pitiful handful of clothes tumble around and around in the dryer. He happened to notice the big orange tree in Mr. Lee’s backyard and mentioned how nice it was to me, and I said, “Yeah, sunny California,” and he started laughing, baring all of the three or four teeth he has left in his head, perhaps because it’s cold and rainy today. He was quiet for a minute and then he started talking again, this time about a big plum tree that used to grow in the backyard of some apartment house he once lived in. That plum tree was “a real producer,” he said, and he described the baskets of plums it had given up over the years, much to the delight of all the tenants. But no one ever pruned the tree and it had grown into some wild gnarly shapes, so my friend here decided to go out and prune it himself one summer. “I don’t know shit about trees but I was careful,” he said, yet despite all his caution the plum tree suddenly stopped producing–not another plum was ever forthcoming. “Was it cold that year?” I asked. He thought about it a second and said, “I don’t remember anyone bringing that up. Everyone was just so surprised that our great producer had stopped producing. I guess the moral of the story is: NEVER PRUNE A PLUM TREE.” We both laughed and turned back to our respective dryers. But then when I’d gathered my clothes and was hauling them out the door, I yelled back to him: “I’m gonna go upstairs and write that down right now.” “What’s that?” he asked. “‘NEVER PRUNE A PLUM TREE,'” I yelled, and he cackled and shook his head. Anyway, I don’t know if he’s been reading his Gabriel Garcia Marquez or what, but it was just a little bit hallucinatory, having this threadbare old fellow share his story about loss and the failure of good intentions at eight in the damn morning. He was a nice old guy, though.

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