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© 2007 revised 2017
By Richard Tornello
The Village idiot Press
The sky had darkened suddenly and the wind was picking up. There was no rain, just wind, strong wind that seemed to come out of nowhere. Spud The Cat, my mouser, ran off and hid somewhere. That was not like him. He would calmly wash is face during the most violent thunderstorms. He’s a cat, oh well.
It was just my luck. One of my regular college student customers broke the glass on the door of The Laundromat. That was the name I gave my place. It was the only one in town. It wasn’t really his fault. He was carrying a load of clean laundry back to his car when that unusually strong gust of wind blew the door out of his tenuous grip. He had one hand on the basket of laundry and the other wrapped around the basket pushing the door open.
The wind was so strong that it pulled the pneumatic stops and slammed the door into the outside wall. I had never seen that happen. The two adjoining shops where their walls jutted out acted as a shield sheltering The Laundromat. This never should have happened, but it did. I had assumed the glass was tempered. It may have been but that was one big gust of wind. I walked outside to check the damages.
“Frankie, you okay? I asked the kid. He was visible shaken. He was a nice kid always polite.
“I didn’t mean to break the door,” he said. “I can pay you for the damages, not right away though,” he added.
“Frankie it wasn’t your fault. I saw the wind pull it from your hand. It’s okay really.” I looked down the street and a few other establishments had broken glass all about the sidewalk and street. I guessed it might have been a derechoes. The sky was getting lighter. I turned back to Frankie.
I tried to make him feel a bit better. He was the type to take the blame for anything that occurred in his proximity. I had seen that personality in many people.
“Let me make sure you’re not cut. Tell you what. Let’s re-wash all those clothes to make sure there is no glass in them. Don’t worry, I have insurance for such things and the wash, well, it’s on the house.”
I gave him a once over. Luckily he wasn’t even scratched. I took his load of laundry. “You’re okay. And Frankie, don’t you worry. I’ll just purchase the replacement glass from that old glass store just around the corner. Come back in a few hours or so. I’ll take care of your clothes. Go get something to eat.” I gave him ten dollars.
“Thank a lot Mr. Stevens. I really appreciate it.” Frankie left in a hurry. It was free food.
I got some plywood from the back. After cleaning up the mess, and getting Frankie’s clothes into the washer, I nailed the plywood into the open maw where the glass had been.
Pointing to the wood window, “What an eye sore,” I said to a patron who had said nothing as this whole episode transpired. She nodded and kept folding her laundry.
CUSTOM/ANTIQUE GLASS & MIRRORS
Est.: A While Ago
That’s how the gold lettering painted on their display window read.
I like to keep my business local as much as I can. It’s good for the community. Beside, I was hoping to avoid traveling to a big box for what I assumed would be a simple piece of tempered glass.
I went in. The store was old and smelled of wood, dust and the accumulation of age and stuff. The store was not as well lit as I would have liked. I wandered about. Glass mirrors, antiques and all sorts of unrelated nick-knacks were organized in a not so organized fashion. “How can anyone locate anything,” I whispered to myself.
I was rummaging about in the back. It was darker than most parts of the store. I saw a collection of glass panels thickly covered with dust. One I saw looked like a close fit. I turned to the young man who was busy dusting and rearranging the stock in the front and questioned, “Son, how much for this piece of glass? I own The Laundromat around the block. The windstorm that just blew through town pulled the door out of a customers’ hand. It was so strong that it slammed the door into the wall breaking the glass.”
"I'm not sure," he said. "I'm really just filling in today while my uncle is away..." He looked outside and said, " That was a big wind. I never saw anything like that just come and go so quickly. From the size of it and the type of glass, I think it would be a hundred fifty bucks. But you can come back tomorrow to make sure I haven't overcharged you. My uncle will be back then. Just tell him that Kit Soone sold you the piece -- I'll leave him a note along with a copy of the invoice."
Kit pointed out stating, “This piece had been in the back storage area under a cover. I just moved it out front to see if would sell and was going to put it back in storage if it didn’t. You can have it. I don't know why they don't make better use of their display space," he said. He pointed to the obvious hodge-podge method of displaying goods. "In my marketing class, they said a small business has to 'stack’em high, stack’em deep, and sell’em cheap'" to survive. They also need more light. And if they would just computerize the stock, the help wouldn’t have to guess the prices.” He shrugged his shoulders and smiled a wan smile. “I’m the help.”
I nodded. He seemed like bright kid who had ideas. I gave him cash and got a receipt. The cost was below my deductible. There was no sense in claiming it.
Kit covered the glass in cardboard and bubble wrap. “ No need to break this piece,” he said. “Be careful,” he added as I left.
“Thanks and I will.” I headed out the door back to The Laundromat with my prize.
I have a good eye for fit and the newly purchased glass slid into place with no need for any trimming or shimming. The clarity between the old and the new pane in the two-paneled door was a tad different, just enough to look a bit odd, but I liked something about this new piece. It seemed to just grow into the opening and thought I would purchase a matching piece if they had one when I went back there to thank them and even things up if necessary.
The next day as I was walking past my "new" glass on the way to the coffee shop, the glass seemed to shimmer like a half-silvered mirror. It must have been the relatively dark interior of The Laundromat that allowed for the reflection. Maybe it was the extreme bright noonday sun reflecting off the concrete sidewalk verses the relatively darker interior that made that appearance.
That’s not what got my attention as I stared into my store. What I saw was not quite an exact reflection of my here and now. There was a strange somewhat blurred image behind me of the outdoor restaurant across the street. I go past this place every day on my way to the coffee shop next door for my morning dose and friendly chat with neighbors. But that was not the strange part. I saw myself entering the restaurant in the company of a well-dressed, professional-looking woman. It was if I was watching a video of me. But I was standing in front of my own door, not across the street entering the restaurant. I was alone and not with any attractive anybody. I turned to see if my long-lost twin brother (so long lost that I'd never heard of him) was across the street on a date. Either I'd imagined the whole thing, or a Then guy looking too much like me, and that woman, vanished.
I was wondering about my sanity. I chalked it up to caffeine-deficiency syndrome, or maybe a very old affect of LSD from my Hippie days. I continued on my way.
When I returned with my coffee -- two shots of espresso with a splash of fresh brewed coffee and strong-- I again passed my new glassed door. The light was different now and there was less reflection due to the sun's position. I stepped back to the curb. There was nothing unusual; no matter how I looked and from what angle I viewed the door.
Then as I reached for the door to let myself in I didn't see my twin on the other side of the street, but I did see the same attractive woman as before. I turned around to get a better view. She was gone -- if she had ever been there to start with I have no clue. Apparently, coffee alone hadn't done the trick of clearing my head.
The day following the image incidents I returned to the glass store to finalize the sale. I would have done it sooner but a few machines needed new motors. I keep the place up, clean and address any problem immediately.
I entered the ALICE WHITE ANTIQUE GLASS & MIRRORS establishment and was greeted by a friendly large hobbit like person. He appeared quite affable and welcoming with a smile/twinkle in his eyes. You’ve met this type before, I’m sure.
"Welcome to Alice White Glass. I'm Fred Spiegel. How can I help you?"
"My name's Rick, Rick Stevens" I said. "I run The Laundromat around the corner. I bought a piece of glass yesterday from -- your nephew? Kit?"
He nodded. "Yes, yes, I found the note Kit left. That nephew of mine never listens. He was not supposed to sell anything except what was out front, no matter what business model he prefers. That item was not for sale. But done is done, and you appear to be a nice person."
That seemed like an odd thing to say -- I'd purchased a piece of glass. I wasn’t adopting a cat. "Was it a custom piece, already spoken for? If so, I’ll make arrangements to return it.”
"No -- it was just -- not for sale," he said.
Hoping he wasn't going to ask me to return it, I changed the subject. I asked him, ”What’s with the window sign and the established date, or lack thereof.”
"Oh," he laughed, "That dates back to the original owners, Alice and Blanche White. They were cousins, making a go of it as businesswomen before it was fashionable. This place was one of the first businesses in Old Town."
“From what little I know of our town's history, that must have been around the 1850s, or a bit earlier,” I offered.
"Alice and Blanche made all their own glass," he continued. "Being the only locals in the business, they succeeded in spite of any fuss about them being women doing men's work -- and they found ways to confuse the issue of who was really running things. The daughters and granddaughters have kept the business alive, with a little help from relatives of the male persuasion. It keeps us out of trouble by giving us jobs, I guess." He looked up smiling again as he said that.
"Most of the real work we do now is custom restorations, antique work and occasionally some commercial high end enterprises. Things being what they are, for regular repair and construction jobs we purchase run-of-the-mill stock from suppliers and sell wholesale."
Fred made no mention of offering to exchange the glass for a piece from regular stock, or asking for a premium price. I figured this was not a good time to inquire about buying a second piece so the door panels would match.
Since I was in no real hurry I asked him, “Would you like a drink from XYZ?” XYZ is the local caffeine dealer of choice.
I was interested in hearing more of the history of this odd little shop. I noticed the dust on many items. I assumed there was not too much traffic this time of year. He accepted my offer of a drink, asking for some kind of tea I'd never heard of.
I returned with my coffee, and the special tea for him. The staff at XYZ knew exactly for whom this was, calling it "a Spiegel Special". I guess he must be a regular there too, although I never noticed him.
As we sipped our beverages -- his smelled sweet, yet at the same time, there was an odd perfume, a bit like sweetened medicine -- he continued:
"Many years ago, well over a century and a half, Alice and Blanche started out making glass beads, glass doll figurines followed by small hand mirrors. As they matured so too did the business. They began making custom replacement glass for churches and government structures. They had talent. They could duplicate almost anything. It was said that the replacement glass they created was better than the originals and the glass seemed to give the object a feeling of life.”
I thought of the glass in my door and had to agree. There was something about it that seemed to complement the place. Maybe it was the slight color of the glass itself.
Fred continued, "Back then it was considered immoral and therefore illegal for a woman to be in business or own anything outright. The story of how they managed that aspect is still a bit dusty. They initially staffed the storefront with men in the family.
They were the bosses and everyone knew it. They made all the business decisions, had the formulas for tinting or hardening glass. They called it their 'potions' if you will. The skills were only passed on to the girls in the family."
I asked, “How did they find men in those days that would agree to terms like that.” What I was thinking was maybe some of their 'potions' and 'skills' weren't only for working with glass! That thought I kept to myself too.
Fred ignored my question. "Alice and Blanche seemed to come into their own when they added larger and larger mirrors to their collection of offerings. Their success was due in part to being the only mirror makers in the area, and they knew how to run a business, too. We still make small mirrors that people take a real shine to….when they come in. I see you noticed the dust."
I hastily removed my hand from a dusty shelf where I had been absent-mindedly tracing the words ‘Please clean me’. “I’m sorry, I just did it not thinking,” I apologized.
Fred Spiegel gave me a look of disapproval, shook his head adding to the history, "No, we don’t have a lot of custom business at this location any more, except during the school seasons. Students break things -- like your door, but windows and mirrors, too. We have enough to maintain and keep busy during the rest of the time. Summer is usually time to restock and take inventory as well as project any trends that may affect us."
This is a college town. A Laundromat is almost as important as a library, gymnasium and a bar. I took over the business from an older couple when I retired from my business as a consultant in the National Capital Region. The old couple didn’t have the time or possibly the desire to keep the place up. I renamed it The Laundromat.
I had a background in mechanical and electrical repair too. I had tools. Too many people just trash what ever it is and replace it.
I strive to keep all the machines in good working order, the place clean and the prices high enough to make a profit but not a rip-off.
Business is naturally good during the main school year and drops off a bit in the summer when the campus is quiet. It was during the summer when I installed the glass pane in the door that had been broken by a college student. I paid for it. These kids don’t have extra money. It was an accident and not his fault anyway. And as I mentioned, the cost for the glass was below the insurance threshold.
My customers claimed that the feeling here in The Laundromat had changed since I took it over. They felt that it was part of them and they were a part of it. I wrote off that sentiment to too many drugs -- many are college students, after all. All I had done was to install a few new machines, gave the place a coat of needed paint, and replaced some broken tables. The funny thing is that I have warmed up to the place too.
Yes, it is next door to the XYZ Coffee shop. That may have a lot to do with it. But a few of the locals said they would rather do their wash here and put off purchasing a new machine at home. They can always get coffee at XYZ.
Oh well… as I mentioned earlier, the place seems to reflect the mood of the people here in the store and the town in general. It’s just a feeling; I can’t be specific as to why.
Lately I’ve begun to notice that people walking down the street look into The Laundromat, stop for a moment or two, shake their heads or laugh, and move on.
One couple, just married, said they were coming home from a movie and as they walked past the store they thought they saw sparks in their reflection in the glass. It was a dark moonless night. Go figure.
Little kids just stand in front and giggle. I asked once, “What's so funny? Please tell me. I’d like to know because I don’t see what you do.”
One kid gave an answer, “You should see all the animals”. The others looked at me like I was a kook. They would laugh point to the door yelling, “Ha ha we see it, you don’t”, and run off. Kids and cats see things "regular" people don’t, I suppose. What sort of filters do we have in our minds as we grow?
The other day, a regular, claimed that the day he received a notice of audit from the IRS and was reading it as he waited for the dryer to finish its cycle. The glass I had installed seemed to darken as he looked out the window.
One of my other customers came to complain about that same door today. She said, “That door,” she pointed to it “stuck closed. I couldn’t open it. It took a good thirty seconds to get it open, and then a car ran the stop sign where I would have been. Lucky for me," she said. "But you still need to fix that door young man," wagging her index finger at me, just like my mom used to do.
The regulars all say there is something about this place that is comforting, something in the color of the light. They claim the establishment reflects them some how! I mean you are airing your dirty laundry for everyone to see, you think. I never say that of course. I just nod and smile.
I stopped in the glass store. Fred was there. He smiled as I entered. "Mr. Spiegel, good day to you" I said.
"Good to see you Mr. Stevens, in fact it is always a pleasure."
I’m sure it was, since I always came with a pastry and his favorite tea. We sat and spoke about the weather, the school teams, the comings and goings of people of distinction. We never spoke of politics. The one time I did bring up the subject, his mood seemed to darken; he muttered about seeing "the same damn things" too many times.
I don’t know how, but we got on the subject of his life and such.
Fred sat on a desktop, his feet hanging not quite touching the floor and began. "I never told you much more about the founders of our dear shop did I? Blanche was the originator. Then with her cousin Alice it expanded...
"Blanche's mother died when she was young. Her father adored both of them. Blanche had the best tutors and went to the best schools out side the country. A girl who could read was odd. A girl interested in the sciences, math and such was an anomaly in those days. In addition she had an incredible love of the arts and was drawn to glass making. She claimed later that the local sand was the best in the world and used it exclusively in the beginning, only importing other silica as the business grew. But her sand, wherever she got it, was reserved for special projects later on.
"One day she decided to make some mirrors for the doll collections and as a gift for her father's current lady friend. She slaved over books and methods. Eventually she discovered some formula that allowed her to make mirrors that possessed a quality not found anywhere else. Most people who looked into them seemed to be attracted to the way they reflected their image.
Her future stepmother loved her enterprise and encouraged her to pursue even more study and experimentation to the point of building her a small lab. It’s difficult to imagine a traditionally bred woman encouraging Blanche to step outside a woman's usual role to undertake schooling and this trade! Blanche took to it and never looked back.
"A little while after Blanche's mother died, her cousin Alice came to live with them. Medicine not being what it is today the mortality rates were so much higher. A similar fate befell Alice’s mother and her father could ill afford to keep her. That aside, the bond between the two girls was electric. They fed each other with challenges and encouragement. It was as if they were made of the same DNA. They finished each other's sentences, knew beforehand what needed to be done. They almost seemed to communicate without speaking..."
I returned the next day. We sat sipping our drinks and nibbling on the pastry I brought. Fred continued as if we had never stopped the day before. It was story time:
"I mentioned that the girls hit it off. Alice too had an interest in similar subjects, but she was more the scientist than the artist. She was also a bit more of the loner. She would bound off into the woods, wander around for hours -- but always come home for dinner. Sometimes she arrived home somewhat disheveled, but with a smile. We never got the whole story of where she went or how she spent her time. Alice would sometimes mention something about playing cards with friends or something to that effect. At that I do remember the girls would both break out into uncontrollable laughter."
There was something odd about the way Fred talked about the girls. The shop had been established by Alice White around 1850... or earlier. He told the story as if he had been there. He never gave me a date. I figured I’d ask some time later. Maybe it was his manner of story telling. It was captivating. I wanted him to continue.
"The two of them would work in their work shed in back of the main house for hours on end. One day they almost burned the place down. They claimed they were attempting a new metal to glass bonding technique but never spoke more about it. Would we have understood? Not likely."
He continued, "These incidents I mentioned are not in any particular order of events. The mirror bonding process, I do believe, came before Alice’s woods wandering. But I do know Blanche's stepmother just loved the mirrors they made for her. She thought it was "magic" the way those mirrors reflected everything. They seemed to talk to her, she would tell them. They -- all three of them -- would fall over in laughter."
Fred shook his head. "There is just something about the women in this family. They seem to have a form of communication and or understanding that is beyond the ken of us men."
I interrupted. “Fred let me get a large coffee and your special tea. I’ll get more treats too. Give me a few minutes.” The fact that Fred talked about them as if he had been there from the start -- even before the shop had been opened... It had to be …otherwise, he would have to be -- how old? I wanted to know. I figured that question was out of bounds. I’d wait for the right time.
I returned. We both took the tops off the containers and let the drinks cool. I handed Fred an apple Danish. I had one for myself. I love apple almost anything, especially if it’s made with Granny Smith apples.
He took a slow long sip, looked about the store to see if anyone was in, -- there wasn’t, and began again. "One day the girls asked if they could sell their glass trinkets and such. As I mentioned, girls and women were not allowed to own or run businesses, although they could be clerks and such, that is with the approval of their fathers or husbands.
“However, Blanche's dad had no backbone where Blanche, Alice or his wife were concerned. That was especially so when Blanche would bat her eyes and pout, He figured a way to get this fledging business off the ground. The boys "ran it" but when it came to answering technical questions they were a silent as rocks.
"Eventually all the local girls wanted Blanch and Alice’s glass beads and mirrors for their dolls. The mothers were also taken by the clarity of the mirrors and requested adult sized products. So as the girls grew into women so too did the business mature. It matched the age of the customer base. But they never forgot the origins of the business, and as you can see, we still carry doll stuff."
I didn’t mind his repeating parts of the story. It fleshed out little bits here and there. A quick glance confirmed that there were indeed boxes of glass beads, faceted and smooth, colored and clear, on some of the shelves, along with miniature-framed mirrors suitable for old-fashioned dolls. They were among the dustiest things in the shop -- not the kind of thing those college girls and the boys chasing them were likely to buy.
Fred took a few more sips and a bit of the Danish. A big grin broke out. I got a show of white sparling teeth. “This is good,” he said his mouth half full of Danish. “I love the full load of fruit they put into their pastry.” He waited a second or two to swallow picking up where he left off.
"The mirrors got bigger, the jewelry expanded into a glass making business. We made glass for Church restorations, older building restorations, custom pieces for artists and other here and there things.
“The girls claimed the best sand was from this area. The business managed to purchase huge tracts of land, each of which -- they stated-- had sand with different properties, that when mixed properly for a particular project produced the ideal glass for that purpose.
"One day there was an accident and some of the specialty mirrored glass sand got mixed up with the regular glass stock. They were very upset and instructed that this finished glass was never to be sold by anyone to anyone. They never destroyed it either. Why? We still aren’t sure. But you, because of our "dear nephew", managed to purchase a piece for your Laundromat door. And I can see no harm done."
I decided that Fred was a great teller of tall tales. His recounting of the history of the shop was like a fairy tale and corporate history all rolled into one, with Fred himself as the immortal family retainer. Maybe he caught me rolling my eyes -- he ended that day's story by saying that had some paper work to do.
"After all, the women still run the business -- I'm just the bookkeeper and manager."
I’d be more polite next time. “Sorry,” was all I said. He waved it off like nothing happened.
The stories made me think about the glass I purchased. Early the next morning when I opened The Laundromat, I stared at and through the "special" pane of glass from the inside looking out. There was nothing unusual to mention. It was a bit wavy, either due to age or because it was cast in a mold whose bottom wasn't quite level.
People walking past appeared a bit different when viewed through that piece rather than through the other door glass panel. They seemed to tint a shade or two to the light or dark side of the spectrum. I assumed again that this was caused by the refraction of light and the position of the sun. The hue change was interesting, whatever the cause; I wondered if that was what the little kids laughed about?
I’d apologize again to Fred for being rude over coffee and his tea. I liked the old guy. Ii was just getting ready to go to XYZ for coffee a few Danish pastries, and my morning down load from Fred.
Just then The Laundromat seemed to lighten up. A well-dressed woman was walking by. She was new to this part of town, yet strangely familiar. I had seen her somewhere before. That much I knew. She looked at the glass, looked at me, looked at the glass again and then came in.
"Did you forget your laundry?" I asked knowing full well that wasn’t the case.
She looked around, and said, "No -- I was here on business, and when I glanced at the reflection in your door --"
I said, "Yes, it seems to affect most everyone differently. Most people like what it does."
Her eyes narrowed for just a second and then she dropped a bomb. "Our work seems to do that," she said. "It’s The Art."
She said it just like that. I could hear the capital letters in her voice.
"Even our flat panes have a bit of The Art to them, but especially this piece of glass." She pointed directly to the new pane. “I was looking in and couldn’t believe you had one of our oldest custom pieces in your door! I’m here on business; possibly making some changes, some physical alterations to our operations, and couldn’t believe what I saw. I just had to come in.”
I told her the story about Kit selling me the piece some time ago, and her uncle being very upset but trying not to show it.
He’s your brother, cousin, or nephew?” I asked. “Fred never set that straight.”
I said, “People seemed to take to the glass panel especially the children. The kids love it. Just thinking about their faces when they walk past and looked in is a hoot. I wish I could see what they do.”
She said again, "It’s The Art. Our work, especially some of our older work, does that to people, especially the children". She finished up with a smile.
She was blushing a bit -- or was it the reflection of light off the glass?
"I’m sorry I was so abrupt earlier. I was taken aback when I noticed you had one of our Custom Pieces". She held out her hand and shook mine and said "I’m Dr. Louisa Karol White. I head R&D operations, Mirror Works in Corning NY. We’ve actually done work for the space telescope at Kitt Peak Observatory and we’re working on new projects that will bring more of the universe to light, pardon the pun. You may call me Louisa."
"Hello Louisa," I replied, "I’m Rick Stevens, no Ph.D. Former business consultant from the National Capital area, and now owner of a laundry operation, located in this pleasant college town. I'm also the owner of a piece of glass that seems to have magnetic qualities. It brought you in."
She smiled again, this time without the hint of tension around her eyes. She suddenly looked down, patted my orange tabby, Spud the Cat, who by the way was going nuts next to her as if he was getting something special, making all sorts of wacko cat noises and rubbing up against her legs. Then he just rolled over like he had inhaled a large dose of catnip.
What a strange family. I watched the affect she had on my cat. I wondered what her cousins are like?
I took my shot, "If you're going to be in town for a while, I've heard so much about the family business from your uncle, I would love to have lunch or dinner with one of the current principals -- if you don't mind the company of semi-retired men, that is."
Her eyes narrowed as she answered, "Yes. I love Italian or Japanese food, if you know of a place -- I haven't been here for a while. I know my favorites may have changed ownership."
"Hmm," I said, "There are some okay places in this town, but I’m a better cook then any of the establishments here. After all, they mostly cater to the palates of college kids. Maybe I could make you dinner?"
"Let me get back to you," she said. "I do need to see my uncle first. I’ll call on you in an hour. Maybe we could just have drinks first? Across the street? By the way, you’ve done wonders here. This is a nice establishment."
An hour or so later the phone in my office rang. “Hello, The Laundromat,” I answered.
“Rick, I’ll be there in a few minutes. Uncle Fred speaks highly of you. See you.”
I looked at the phone. I hung it up. Then it came to me, a rocket-through-the-brain type thought. She was the woman I had seen reflected in the glass the day I had installed it. Mirror, mirror in my door -- the ‘Art’ indeed.
micheledutcher - This was an entertaining story, light-hearted and easy to read. I like the fairy-tale images brought into the present day. Thanks for letting us read it.
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