Hoisting bullwhip and handcuffs, the bayou dominatrix smirks derision at me as I go to work.
I go back to the windows, noting there’s a sale on edible condoms, including all-new flavors boysenberry and crème de menthe.
Window Washing Across America
By Ben Leroux
In the summer of 2003, I discarded all I owned and loaded a troubled 1975 Plymouth with clothes, books, a guitar, a cat named Reggie, and $17.94 worth of window-cleaning equipment. I drove across the United States, stopping in nowhere towns, pail and squeegee in hand, cleaning windows for another day’s pittance. Free of any attachments, I floated vaguely east, wandering in a private stratum without itinerary or expectation. I became a true outsider, a fugitive from the banal, suffocating cycle of madness that passes for a “normal life” today in America.
The Climastroke 350SL, a hypoallergenic, dishwasher-safe, odorless vibrating dildo with ribbed shaft, oscillating tip, silicone clit stimulator, and flared base “ideal for harness use” has for too long been obstructed from the people of New Iberia, Louisiana, behind a haze of rain deposits, dead bugs, and unidentifiable fuzz coating the windows of Acadian Adult World. With the holidays fast approaching, it’s a shame that New Iberians have been denied a clear view of the boxes of Climastrokes, and the garish dominatrix mannequin standing next to them in camouflage teddy and hunting boots. It is my job to change that, to make the glass unnoticeable. I’m a window-washer and it’s my first job of the day.
Hoisting bullwhip and handcuffs, the bayou dominatrix smirks derision at me as I go to work. Countless parallels and metaphors of decline and dishonor begin to amass themselves in a heap around me but I don’t waste too much time rehashing the past. I am where I am, at the bottom of my country’s compost heap, for good reason, illuminating smut with a few pennies in my pocket. If there’s a silver lining it’s that this early the chances of being seen by fellow members of the human race are relatively low. With the streets practically empty I can probably get through the job with little or no attention.
But in life, it’s just when you start to think this way that you look in the glass and see the reflection of someone or something that tells you it’s not your day for being left alone.
“I HATE WHITE PEOPLE, HONKY MUTHA-FUCKA!”
He keeps moving down the sidewalk. He’s on the opposite side of the street, an old fellow in baggy trousers and faded army field jacket. He rows the air with a hand and drags a leg, in a stride from the ‘70s. His message is clear, audible, well-enunciated, and direct—very cut and dried. I like that he makes his point and moves on. I can live with that. I go back to the windows, noting there’s a sale on edible condoms, including all-new flavors boysenberry and crème de menthe.
“HERE COME THE JUDGE, MUTHA-FUCKA!”
He’s back though, this time from the other direction, rowing and dragging, bopping the head like a cobra. Not a soul comes out to see what the racket is. It’s just he and I. He’s around sixty, sporting a nappy beard and a sooty Afro under a ball cap. His walk and lexicon suggesting he’s suspended in an episode of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In or The Flip Wilson Show. I look around for help, but at the same time I’m relieved no one has witnessed this scene. Foreseeing a long day of street confrontations, I decide to nip things in the bud — to let him know he’s not messing with some chump. First I look to make sure no one is watching.
“Hey!” I yell at the stranger. “Hey, you’re fucking with the wrong guy!! Alright?!”
This must do the trick because as soon as the guy hears this, he ducks into an alleyway without a word. It allows me to go back to my windows. “How did you like that, honey?” I ask my dominatrix through the glass. “Don’t think he will be bothering me any more, do you?”
Unfortunately the owner of Acadian Adult World is standing there, hands on hips, watching me.
“Just clean windows, alright? We have enough troubles in our industry without people making a scene.” Concerned employees from a Dollar General across the street come out to investigate the commotion. The porn-man waves them off and, before I can explain, he’s gone back into his store. I finish up while keeping a lookout for the street-loon, almost hoping he reappears so I can clear my name.
His head pokes out from around the alleyway and now he shows me a little disposable shaving razor, yellow and plastic, which he slices through the air, grinning. With the other hand he holds up a Black Power fist — knuckles outward. He chuckles and hisses words I can’t make out. There’s nothing I can do. Periodically, he ducks away only to reappear a few moments later and show me his razor and fist while hissing his hatred. He keeps it up the entire time I wash windows. Afterwards I go inside to get paid.
“Windows look great,” says the owner.
“Thanks,” I say. “This is the first porn shop I’ve done.”
“Adult novelty store.”
“Yeah, I wasn’t sure about you when you were out there yellin’ but man these windows are clean as a whistle.”
“About the yelling. There was a crazy black man out there yelling first. Maybe you could tell me about him. Older man? Wears a field jacket? I’m not from here.”
“Yelling?” says a heavily tattooed woman coming out from a back room. She could have been the mannequin twenty years ago. “Someone’s yelling? What kind of things?” she asks.
“Racial things,” I say. “I was minding my own business when he comes by and starts yelling. Loud. I can’t believe you didn’t hear him.”
“No, couldn’t have been,” her husband says, clutching her around her thick waist. “We don’t have no racial problems around here, nothing major at least. You must have done something to tick him off.”
“He was holding up a Black Power fist and wielding a disposable razor,” I say.
“Nope, nobody like that around here,” says the woman. “Of course, if you give people trouble, they are going to give you trouble. You gotta leave people alone.”
“Yes,” the man agrees, starting to hand me the twenty dollars we’d agreed on. “Don’t bother anyone and no one will bother you.” Then he pulls back the twenty. “Hey, you sure you don’t wanna do a store trade? I’ll give you a deal on a artificial vagina. Give you one at cost.”
“I better not,” I say. “I need the money more.”
Janet, the day-bartender at Sancho’s is a tall drink of water with strong long legs in frayed cutoffs, a short checkered shirt tied up over a flat belly, and a straight mop of brown hair pulled back into a pony-tail. She has a nice smoky, flawed beauty to her — big glistening eyeballs, a chipped front tooth and a tiny scar on the chin I want to chew. For my afternoon beer I choose her establishment, a nightclub stuck between a wrecking yard and a car dealership. It’s your generic dance club, and this time of day only its little bar is lit up by a stream of sunlight from the doorway. The dance floor, stage, and tables wait around in darkness. Janet is a welcome respite from New Iberia and the man outside who hadn’t let up and had continued to follow me around, taunting me at moments he knew it was impossible for me to respond. He’d grown more emboldened throughout the morning, really having fun at my expense.
“So how you like New Ibeer-ya so far?” Janet says, popping the top of a bottled Bud and placing it in front of me. She leaps up onto an icebox behind her and sits on it and puffs from a cigarette.
“Louisiana as a whole isn’t what I was expecting to tell you the truth, Janet.”
“Whatchu mean, bey-bey?”
“I guess I thought it would be like that movie “The Big Easy,” or the books of James Lee Burke. I got it in my mind there would be roadside shacks where you could stop, and some greasy zydeco band would be in there playing and a chef would go out back and kill an alligator and make stew out of it. So far the whole country has been a disappointment that way. In Texas, for instance, I never once found a bowl of chili, and the one high school football game I saw left much to be desired. Hey, what can you tell me about this guy in the field jacket that keeps going around yelling at me?”
“Texas be a itty-bit backward doin’t it? A bit squay-ah.” The sweetie pops me another and puts it in front of me. “I got diss one bey-bey.” She jumps back on her icebox, lights another cigarette. Smooth tanned calves tucked into little white tennies. I could see her wading through swamps, catching crawdads with her bare hands.
“Yeah, I guess Texas was a little square,” I say. “There was one stretch where I went two weeks without seeing beer. Dry counties they call them. I was glad to see that in Louisiana they even sell beer in the Wal-Marts.
“Yep. Dass right. Dass Lou’siana fo you.” She beams and snaps her fingers. “So whatchu want you ain’t found in Lou’siana?”
“Well I like that music. I thought it would be everywhere. The food too. Right now though I’m more concerned with this man outside. He’s got a Bic disposable razor he keeps waving. Is he harmless?”
“What kinda food you lookin’ fo exactly?”
“I don’t know. Gumbo, jambalaya. Something.”
“Dey’s several places you could go fo authentic Cajun dining but dey all a bit expensive. See now, I cooks all dat stuff —gumbo, jambalaya, etouffee, andouille. But I’m a Cajun woman, see, and I cooks like a Cajun woman. When Cajun women cook, dey throw things around. My fiancé sneaked up on me the other day and I liked to bust him over the head with a skillet. I told him, ‘Don’t you be sneakin’ up on no Cajun woman when she cookin’. He don’t know no betta. He from up east. Anyway, whatchu think of the people so far?”
“A little guarded. You’re the first person who’s really talked to me. Also I’m worried about this wacky bastard in the field jacket that keeps cursing and yelling at me. I don’t need any incidents. You must know who I am talking about.”
“You got to get to know Cajun people,” she says, lighting her third cigarette. “Dey a good people once you stay in town fo awhile. Come back here tonight and I gar-ahn-tee you, you meet all kinda good people. And dey’s a band playin’. One of the guys, I think he play that kinda music you talkin’ bout — with the washboards and the ‘cordion? I could ax him.”
“Maybe I will.” I stand and drain the Budweiser. Just as I am about to say goodbye, the broad beam of light that has been streaming from the doorway vanishes, and standing where it once was is the silhouette of one of the biggest sonafabitches I’d ever seen. He ambles down a walking ramp a good 6-7, and silo-width, wearing a heavy New Orleans Saints jacket. There’s something about his movement that isn’t right, perhaps homicidal, and makes me glad I’m leaving. He has shaggy black hair, a mangy goatee and lamb-chop sideburns. His dull, lazy eyes give him an unfeeling look.
Janet already has another popped beer in front of me. “Iss on me,” she says, winking and motioning me to sit, the corners of her mouth twitching nervously. “One more ain’t gone kill you.”
I sit back down and take a slurp, though I didn’t know what I was expected to do if the mammoth started something. I wouldn’t even know where to begin. There were no openings on him. He was a solid block from head to toe. In a struggle, I would be just big enough to amuse him and small enough for him to maul. But hell, there was a free Bud in front of me.
“Can I help you?” Janet asks the giant. There is a delay in his response.
“I…fown deez in de par…kin’ lot.” He shows Janet his open hand, the size of a catcher’s glove, his fingers the size of small hot dogs. Floating in his palm like little lost baby-teeth are four or five cigarette butts. “You … think you could gimme a light … ma’am?”
Janet tosses him a book of matches like she’s tossing meat to a lion and backs away. She sits back on her icebox and looks at me and I shrug. “You want anything to drink?” she asks him. “Or you just wanted a light?” There is again a dead pause.
“I leev … ova dere … in Saint Mar-tins-ville,” is his answer. He lights up another one of his butts.
Janet waits for a follow up. “You live in Saint Martinsville, and…?”
But he just sucks on the butt. Janet tries to resume our conversation, trying to get me to stick around, but every time she tries, he interrupts.
“I works … at de tat-too … parlor,” he says, a pile of spent matchsticks growing on the bar. He’s not done. He butts in again and again: “I leev wiff ma … un-cle … and his waff. Dey only makes me pay … twenny dolla … a monf. I’m a laff-guard too … at a swimmin’ poo.”
Janet keeps slipping me Budweisers, growing more agitated with each of the big idiot’s pointless statements.
“I leev ova dere … in Jeane-rette. I tink my uncle waff … sleepin’ round on ‘im. I’m gone git me … a Mousse-tang. I’monna move … to Bout-tie. I work … at a restaurant … I’s the chef.”
Janet has enough. “You live in Saint Martinsville, you live in Jeanerette, you movin’ to Bouttie where you gonna buy you a Mustang, and you a chef and a lifeguard and a tattoo artist? Boy youz a lotta things. What tattoo parlor you work at?”
“Huh? … Oh, I don’t know de name.”
The phone rings and Janet springs to answer it, and I use the opportunity to slip out. My protectiveness only went so far. Five and a half beers under my belt, I look both ways for the razor man before stepping out into the blinding sun. The coast was clear.
The Orphanmaker RT67 Classic, a lightweight, low recoil .405 caliber hunting rifle with aluminum alloy receiver and Assailant IV riflescope nightvision sighting, suffers quietly behind dirty glass and iron bars at Bayou Outfitters of New Iberia. It is the feature item in a window display that includes camouflage blinds and binoculars, two-way radios with GPS tracking, and T-shirts that say “I Shot Bambi’s Mom,” “Gut Deer?” and “If God Didn’t Want Us To Eat Animals Why Did He Make Them Out of Meat?” Behind the dirt and bars, along with the high-glossed walnut stock of the “trim and deadly” Orphanmaker, these items have gone unappreciated by the citizens of New Iberia for much too long. With deer season just days away, it is tragic really. Then a window-washer comes along to save the day, albeit a window-washer past his midday limit for beers.
“JIVE TURKEY MUTHA-FUCKA!”
At least he’s a distance away this time, out near the street. But his voice carries and still he waves his little yellow double-edged razor. “DIG IT WHITEY!” he laments. “SUPERBAD! MALCOM X!”
I ignore him, keep my back to him. I’m almost done with Bayou Outfitters, then I’m out of New Iberia.
“YOU BETTER RINSE THEM WINDOWS, HONKY CAT! WHAT IT IS?” He shows me his Black Power fist again. That’s when I get an idea.
Looking first for witnesses, I quietly set down my squeegee. I take a few steps forward. I then show him a different kind of fist. With it, I demonstrate clobbering motions through the air —overhand rights mostly. It gets his attention. His dancing stops and he sticks his head out and squints for a better look. He really pipes down. I’ve found the language he understands. For good measure I show him a few more simulated blows. All goes well, until I hear a voice behind me.
“Just a minute,” says the owner of Bayou Outfitters into the receiver of a cordless phone. He’s a squat fellow dressed boot to cap in leafy camouflage. “My window-washer is out here threatening people.” He tucks the mouthpiece under his chin. “What’s going on out here? Why all the yelling?”
“Right there.” I point, but the man is gone. “You can’t see him but there’s a man that’s been yelling at me all damn day. Racial things.”
The woman who owns the flower store next door comes out.
“What’s going on out here?” she says, pale with alarm. I repeat my alibi to her and the gun storeowner. They both peer out at the street.
“Well what did you do to make the guy yell at you?” she asks.
“Nothing. I think he’s just got mental problems.”
“Well I don’t see anyone,” says Bayou Outfitters. “You can’t be egging people on. It’s not good for business.”
“Yes, please keep it down,” says the flower-storeowner. “And will you do my windows next?”
Halfway into her windows:
“YOU BETTER RINSE THEM MUTHAFUCKIN’ WINDOWS WHITEY! FO SHO I’M ONNA SLICE YOU UP JIVE TURKEY, CAN YOU DIG? FUCK YO MAMMA!” He’s jumping up and down, spinning and flailing his arms, doing jumping jacks and Kung-Fu moves, very excited. The gunstore owner comes storming out.
“Hey, Jesus already.” Into the phone receiver he says: “Huh? Oh, my window washer is still out here bugging people.”
“Now what?” says the flower lady, coming outside clutching a bunch of red roses. “What this time?”
I point just in time for us to see the man’s tail end hobbling quickly out of view, but without his ‘70s shuffle.
“There he goes,” I say, feeling vindicated. “That’s the one.”
“Well what did you do to set him off?” says the gun man.
“Set him off?”
“Yeah, what’s wrong with him?” says the flower lady.
“That guy you are having your little problem with.”
“Listen, I don’t even know him. I’m not even from here. He’s just nuts I think.”
“Hey, that’s no way to talk about people,” says the gun man. “Have you been drinking? You smell like it and your eyes look a little glossy. Why don’t you go sleep it off somewhere and leave people alone?”
“Alright,” I say, get my money from the flower lady and hurry out to the Plymouth. I couldn’t get out of New Iberia fast enough.
Driving east for the outskirts, I hear not far up the street a commotion over car horn blasts and the “cheep!-cheep!” of screeching tires. I then come upon the scene, at the entrance to a supermarket parking lot. It’s not pretty.
My friend has at bay a burgundy Cadillac with Nebraska plates. From a low-crouched, defensive stance, he blocks them from exiting while tossing his razor from hand to hand. Inside the Cadillac, a silver-haired couple trembles in horror while slapping at door-locking mechanisms. The driver, on the verge of coronary arrest tries backing out and dashing for an opening only to be cut off by the lunatic. The woman waves her hands frantically in the air and shrieks. They both look around for help from the town like I did, shocked that the man was allowed to roam the streets.
Finally, the driver punches it into reverse and guns it across the parking lot for another exit where he gets onto the street and hightails it out of New Iberia, tires squealing.
“BYE-BYE HONKIES!” says my man, waving, then hoisting his Black Power fist. “BYE-BYE!” He tucks his razor into his field jacket pocket and continues up the street, rowing a hand, dragging a foot, rowing and dragging. §
Ben Leroux continues to ply his trade as a window washer and writes from his home in Morro Bay. He can be reached at email@example.com.