In New York, I did not want to go online and search for a gifted dry cleaner, and so I took the recommendation of a friend. The shop was in Nolita, and the cleaner was skeptical. The stain was unlikely to come out, he explained, and to attempt it, he would need a week. I told him I was leaving in three days, and he shrugged. He apologized.
In Seattle, I went online and found a place called Phillip’s Cleaners. What attracted me was not so much the raves—there were twenty accounts of removals of stains deemed unremovable—but the complaints. One man said that for a year, he had brought Phillip several shirts and two pairs of pants weekly. Then, for no apparent reason, Phillip had said to the man, “I don’t want your business anymore.”
There were several reviews of that sort. And due to a kink in my psychology—one that I believe is shared by many—this indicated to me that I had found in Phillip something very rare: a master.
My mom drove me to his shop. We had trouble finding it; naturally, it was small and not so much nondescript as invisible. She parked out front.
“You better stay in the car,” I said, “I don’t want you getting him riled.”
My mother nodded.
I’m not lying to you when I say I entered with fear. I showed Phillip the stain and said, “It’s steak.” He nodded, took out a pad, asked me my last name, then my first.
“How do you spell that?” he asked.
He handed me the ticket and said, “Wednesday.”
It was Monday. On Wednesday, I sent my mother to pick up the dress. I did this out of laziness, of course, but also because I knew she would be better than me at praising Phillip’s work—she is unusually kind, and she is not shy like I am—and I knew that the stain would be gone. It was gone, and she did praise him. She told him a man in New York had told me the stain was hopeless, and this, she said, made him laugh.
A month later I brought the dress in again. Salad dressing. I also had a blazer—this one belonged to my boyfriend. I pointed to the dressing and Phillip nodded. Then I pointed to the stain on my boyfriend’s blazer. It was a decade old. He—my boyfriend—had said he didn’t recall its source, except he’d made the stain the first day he bought it.
Phillip winced. “Ink.”
He was able to remove the dressing, not the ink, and when my boyfriend picked up the two, Phillip explained to him at length the problem: the quality of the fabric, and the ineptitude of previous dry cleaners, who had pushed the ink further in. He did suggest sending the jacket back to the maker. He said a jacket of that quality, in most cases, would be rewoven at no charge by its maker.
Yesterday it rained. I went and saw Phillip again. This time, I had an ordinary white dress with makeup stains around the collar. When I put it on the counter, I said, “Makeup,” and he looked directly into my eyes, and he laughed.
I was sure that he knew, though I have no idea how he knew how I had gotten those particular stains on my dress. I don’t wear makeup. I am, however, in love with a man who—years ago, or recently, or whatever, I really do not care—had some interest in strip clubs. While I was visiting him one night, the two of us got bored. We are both alcoholics, and we were both not drinking, and sometimes, in this position, one begins to wonder how—ever—anyone spends their time. I had asked him to take me to a strip club. We were in a town where the so-called strippers do not strip in the nude. They wear bathing suits, or some thing like that.
My friend had chosen an Asian woman. She gave him a lap dance in a hallway off the main bar. I sat beside them. Whenever she came near me, I felt a waft of something deep and feminine and kind and fresh. He knew how to choose.
I did not. I picked a blonde woman who, in flagrant violation of city rules, had her tits out. Or maybe she chose me. She had beckoned to me from the stage. She had pressed my face between her tits, and she had lifted my skirt, slapped my ass, and praised it. Then later, she and a friend gave me a dance. I am a little shy to describe this dance. I will simply say that my friend later told me the sort of dance I got was not ordinary. I hate to make myself sound like more of a … than I already have, in my writing. I wanted only to say that Phillip took one look at the stain, and, I swear to you, he knew.
He wrote me a ticket. “Saturday.”