UNITED STATES—Brendan Howe watched the hypnotic tumblings the drying socks and underwear through the glass circle of the dryer door. It was his first time here in the laundromat in the new neighborhood where he had moved after the divorce.

Scribbling in a small spiral notebook, he sat in regimented plastic chairs, bolted to the floor. An attendant watered hanging ferns. A TV droned on a corner next to the ceiling. It was a disappointing parade of new headlines. For the first time in days, there weren’t any creaking, wrenching Titanic-sized new celebrity Humpty Dumpties falling after fresh revelations of sexual misconduct.

All of it was the the sheerest escapism for his divorce-tortured soul. It was a dose of titillating suspense that relieved Brendan from the recrimination and lies that preceded this judicial severance. Full of anticipation, Brendan could wage through the each breaking story’s vague wordy journalistic packaging: teasing, leaving him poised for the inappropriate payoff. He’d wait and wait, watching the Enquirer worthy visuals of a celebrity in a stew flitting across the screen. After being hooked, Brendan saw talking heads expressing solidarity with the victims, and they’d never state quite what they were victims of. They’d bait and switch, leaving Brendan wanting the fetishes detailed, the gender of those being harassed, and age. Usually on the lower side. No celebrity had yet demanded the public imagine a person upwards of sixty being mistreated, but it could happen.

Previous to his divorce, Brendan was to all appearances a solid individual, a family man, a pillar of the community. There was great schadenfreude and smugness watching all the libidinous celebrities squirm and flail. Brendan Howe would have handled this so much better than the accused celeb; of course he was free of such taint and had nothing to be ashamed of.

In the laundromat, he was making notes in a spiral pocket notebook. Brendan was not aware that anybody had been watching him. But he was.  By a curly-haired man, hair fringed by gray who was slowly chewing popcorn in his mouth.  After gobbling the last kernels, the man appeared at the side of Brendan’s seat.

“Did you used to go to—” And he mentioned the name of a known university.

“Why?” Brendan still hadn’t penetrated the person’s identity. People really don’t look the same after 25 years.

“We used to live in the same apartment on Severance Street.” The name of the street resonated newly in view of recent events.

“I remember you. You wanted to go to skid row. I later ended up working with some of those people.”

When people brought up something from Brendan Howe’s past, they seemed to have been rescued from another life. It took a while to bring them into focus. Eric Radcovich. Student housing. That one semester.

“I wasn’t sure it was you. And then I saw you writing in that little notebook,” said the guy. “You won’t remember me. “I’m Eric Radcovich.”

“Are you still writing?”

“In a notebook,”  said Brendan. “It is a strange coincidence that I’m using it. I lost my electronic notebook when we separated. It was very irksome.”

“I have shoeboxes full of them–these spiral notebooks.”

Brendan had been talking a few minutes before he actually came up with a clear image. Eric stayed up loud; a lot of night’s in the living room they’d stay up smoking pot and drinking beer. Brendan Howe was a loner. He had dreams of becoming a poet, dreams that were taken very seriously to devote himself to his calling; he didn’t go out on Saturday nights with the other students. The only time he and Eric went out was Halloween and Eric was all over a red-haired girl who had very deep red lips, hid behind her Halloween mask.

To be continued…

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Hollywood humorist Grady grew up in the heart of Steinbeck Country on the Central California coast. More Bombeck than Steinbeck, Grady Miller has been compared to T.C. Boyle, Joel Stein, and Voltaire. He briefly attended Columbia University in New York and came to Los Angeles to study filmmaking, but discovered literature instead, in T.C. Boyle’s fiction writing workshop at USC. In addition to A Very Grady Christmas, he has written the humorous diet book, Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet and the popular humor collection, Late Bloomer (both on Amazon) and its follow-up, Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood. (https://amzn.to/3bGBLB8) His humor column, Miller Time, appears weekly in The Canyon News (www.canyon-news.com)