Arthur Snodgrass wore his last pair of clean socks yesterday, so today was laundry day.
Sure, he’d wear underwear twice in a pinch, but Arthur had a real thing about clean socks. One horrid day last month, he was forced to wear dirty socks to work after a pipe burst in Vantage Pointe’s laundry room and they barred tenants during repairs. At his rounds, Arthur was jumping out of his skin. An unholy horde of bacteria festered between his toes as a purple, virulent fungus slinked its way around his heels. Or so he imagined. Arthur muttered countless obscenities about Vantage Pointe’s shoddy management that day under his breath. He even went so far as to threaten specific staff members in his mind.
As a contingency against the nightmare from ever recurring, Arthur made a special trip to Target for a pair of his favorite tube socks. Champions. He sealed them in a Ziploc, secreting the hallowed package in the topmost reaches of his bedroom closet. The package was to be opened, as a strict rule, only in the event of emergency.
Alas, today didn’t qualify for emergency status. Repairs were completed, so laundry would be a necessary evil on this dreary Sunday.
Arthur pressed ‘B’ with a pudgy thumb. This is gonna blow, he thought. Everybody does laundry on Sundays. The elevator clanged to the basement level, depositing him into a dank hallway. He dragged a Hefty bag brimming with dirty clothes (most importantly, socks) down the hall and pushed into the laundry room. Gorram! It was choked with a diverse group of his fellow Vantage Pointe tenants. Arthur surveyed the boisterousness for a head of curly black hair. Alas. No Anna. Rather, his senses were assaulted by the unwelcome stink of other people emanating from the piles of begrimed clothing splayed about the room.
The world is grossly overpopulated, Arthur opined, scanning the room. Somebody really needs to do something about it, he reckoned. There should be laws to ban babies, he offered, or they should nuke one of the hemispheres.
‘Out of Order’ signs dangled from three of the washers, and one of the dryers wailed like a dying robot infant. Typical, thought Arthur. Felgercarb! He kick-slid the Hefty bag to the far corner, pushing past an Indian woman arguing with her hubby about dryer sheets and a head-banging twentysomething blasting caustic music into her ear canals. Weirdos. Arthur loosened the tie-string, patting Hefty’s back as it vomited dirty clothes into the mouth of the laundry machine. The machine swallowed most of them, but regurgitated some socks and underwear that wouldn’t stay down.
Arthur snatched a broom leaning against the wall. Planting his left foot on the machine’s lip, he stabbed with un-called-for violence, force-feeding the clothes down its throat. After hip-checking the door several times, it finally clicked, and he stepped back breathlessly. For a moment, Arthur Snodgrass felt a glimmer of genuine pride. Across the room, the Indian woman raised an eyebrow and frowned. Retarded uncouth fatso! she thought to herself, in Hindi.
Arthur fingered four quarters into the slot and slammed the go button. Suddenly, Anna appeared in his peripheral. How did I miss her come in? His heart fluttered like a spastic moth.
Unbelievable Anna. She had moved in down the hall a few years back and had been a profound source of yearning in Arthur’s heart and loins ever since. She looked stunning as usual — white tank top and blue athletic sweatpants, curly black hair tied back with a purple scrunchie. She smelled of sweat, but the flowery, girl kind.
She probably threw her clothes in the machine and worked out while her laundry was running, thought Arthur. Wicked smart. He had been meaning to get to the gym himself. At 39, Arthur found himself the bearer of a bulbous paunch, and his flabby pectorals were most distinguished by their lack of definition. He had learned how to hide the burgeoning spare tire and man-teats, though. The trick: wear loose-fitting clothes that hang away from your body.
Anna breezed across the room, nodding cheerful ‘hellos’. That’s so cute that she’s wearing a scrunchie, Arthur deemed. Girls don’t wear scrunchies anymore, he observed. That’s frakkin’ awesome, he concluded.
When Anna bent over a dryer opposite him, Arthur’s mouth fell agape, the corners curving up in a dullard’s smile. Every operable sweat gland activated simultaneously, thousands of pores spritzing moisture to-and-fro across the surface of his body with points of focus at the palms, forehead, and armpits.
Arthur puffed out his chest, trying to look casual, but suddenly, he didn’t know where to put his arms. They seemed awkward. Gangly. Simian. They were just hanging there! He punched his hands under his armpits and directed a fanatical smile at Anna. She didn’t turn around. After a spell (and it’s not an exaggeration to say he was under a spell) Arthur realized he’d been staring at Anna’s rear-end. For far too long, were you to ask Society. He redirected his view, locking eyes with the twentysomething Ipod girl, who was staring at him. She toggled from Arthur-to-Anna-to-Arthur, firing him a look as if to say Are you, like, serious, you fat perv?
Not wanting to seem like a fat perv, Arthur shot his gaze at the popcorn ceiling and started whistling intensely, striking a cool-and-confident pose. Presently, a heavy bead of sweat began wriggling its way down his forehead, creeping along the ridge of his nose before settling on his upper lip. After a few minutes, it started itching. Arthur couldn’t stand it anymore. He sucked the salty drop into his mouth with a FSSPT! Anna looked back, but Arthur didn’t make eye contact. He continued his staring contest with the ceiling, over-smiling, clammy hands jammed under sweaty armpits, a balding statue in a loose-fitting sweatsuit that made him look twenty pounds heavier than he actually was.
“Did you come from the gym, too?” said Anna.
It took a blip for Arthur to register that Anna was talking to him. He lowered his gaze tentatively, but found he couldn’t look directly into her all-consuming eyes, so he skipped them and stared at her chin.
“Me?” Arthur asked Anna’s chin.
“Yeah,” said Anna. “Looks like you’ve got a nice sweat worked up there.”
“No. Oh, no. YES!” said Arthur. “Sorry, you startled me there. I was just thinking about my stock quotes. Dow Jones. Huge day for me at Dow Jones. Yes! I was at the gym, definitely. I like to rock the gym while my laundry’s going. If I had less socks, I would work out more often. No! I mean, I would work out pretty much all the time. No! I mean, I DO work out all the time, every day. Like, try and stop me. Wild horses…What I’m really trying to say when I mentioned the stuff about the socks and stocks is I like to use my time efficiently, so I work out instead of waiting here for my socks to run. Ha! ‘Socks running’!” Arthur cupped his hand around his mouth, calling into the laundry machine. “Hey! Don’t run away! I need to wear you! Ha!”
“Totally!” said Anna. “It’s pretty awesome that we have a gym and a laundry room in the building. You can seriously multi-task.”
“You know, some people just sit here and stare into space while their laundry’s running.” Arthur flipped two thumbs at himself. “Not this guy. The type of person I am, I just really need to stay active.”
“Absolutely,” said Anna. She cocked her head. “That’s weird. I didn’t see you at the gym.”
“Wow, that is weird,” said Arthur. “I work out really…fast. Really intense stuff. So I probably just…beat you here? If I’m being honest with you, I run really fast. My mom says I’m a super-fast runner.”
“Sounds like it!” said Anna. “Do you do mostly strength training or cardio?”
“Both!” Arthur veritably yelled. “I really feel like you need to do both if you want to get the most bang for your buck…Buck…Buck Rogers. Bang for your Buck Rogers. ‘Get the most bang for your Buck Rogers’! Ha!”
“Yeah,” said Anna. “I used to do muscle work, but I’m pretty much all cardio now. What do you use for cardio, the elliptical?”
“Yup. Totally. I mainly focus on cardio. That’s pretty much all I do.” He waggled a finger in the air. “Cardio is where…it…is…at! Gotta love the ellipses for the ‘ol cardioids!”
Anna giggled. Arthur’s sweat glands increased production to ‘fight or flight’ output.
“Do you use free weights or the Nautilus machines when you do muscle work?” Anna asked. “Because what annoys me – ”
“– Oh, totally gotta go for the free weights,” preached Arthur. “I find it’s just a more…honest way of working out. Like Rocky, you know?” He approached Anna, looming. He raised two closed fists to waist-level, leaning in with a stoic glare. “I MUST BLAKE YOU,” said Arthur.
“- because I was gonna say,” said Anna, “I like to use free weights, but they don’t have any in the gym for some weird reason. Am I blind? Are they in a stupid closet somewhere?”
“Noooooooo,” said Arthur, furrowing his brow in mock annoyance. “And it’s killing me. That’s why I had to buy a ton of free weights at Targét.” He paused. “Targét. Ha! So I do the muscle stuff with free weights up in my apartment, and the cardioids on the ellipses machine down in the gym.”
“Wow, that’s dedication,” said Anna. “I wish I had that much commitment. I can hardly motivate to get down more than two days a week.” She shook her head. “Such a slacker.”
“Well, like you said, it just takes dedication,” said Arthur. “Commitment. Stick-to-it-iveness. Drive.” He turned his palms to the ceiling. “That’s just me in a nutshell. Not that I’m a nut! But I guess in that metaphor, I would be the nut! Ha! But I’m not! A nut! But hey! Sometimes you feel like a nut and sometimes you don’t, right? Ha!” He flashed a toothy smile. His mom had always told him that his straight, white teeth were his best asset.
“I guess we’re all nuts when it comes down to it, in our own way!” said Anna.
“Not me, though!” said Arthur. “You definitely don’t have to worry about that! I’m a ‘cereal killer,’ not a ‘serial killer.’ Ha! I love me some Fruit Loops! I’m not gonna lie! Does that make me a nut or an axe murderer or deranged sociopath? Don’t think so!”
“Fruit Loops are wicked good.” Anna gathered her baskets and headed toward the exit. “Well, nice chatting with you! I gotta fly.”
“Wait, damn you!” Arthur stammered.
Anna craned her head, squinting daggers. “Excuse me?”
“I mean,” said Arthur. “You live on my floor, don’t you?”
“I think so,” said Anna. “I’m on the twelfth floor — apartment 1201.”
“Yes!” said Arthur. “I thought I might have seen you around, maybe. I’m in 1205, just down the hall.”
“Sounds like we’re neighbors!” said Anna. “I guess I know where to come to borrow a cup of sugar!”
Arthur’s face flushed. You gotta clean that shithole. “Do you need some now?” Of course she doesn’t, you fool!
Anna raised an eyebrow. “No, I’m pretty much all set for now.”
Arthur smacked his head. “Doh! Of course you are. Well, anyway, can I help you with your laundry, sugar? Just put mine in, so I have a free hand.”
“Actually, you know what? That would be great,” said Anna. “I guess I should introduce myself, since we’re neighbors and all. My name’s Anna.”
Anna extended her arm. Arthur had no choice but to shake her warm, dry hand with his cold, clammy one.
“Arthur Snodgrass,” he said. “It’s really, really nice to meet you, Anna.”
“It’s nice to meet you, too!” said Anna.
Presently, it struck Arthur that maybe the world was not such a bad place after all, even if it was grossly overpopulated and should have one, or the other, hemisphere nuked.
* * *
Arthur set down Anna’s basket in the elevator and stared at the ceiling, rocking back and forth on his heels.
“You’re on twelve, right?” said Anna. “Would you mind hitting twelve for me, too?”
“Doh!” said Arthur. He thumbed ‘12’. “Sorry about that.”
“No worries,” said Anna.
As the doors closed, Arthur made a SSHHWWSSHHWW! sound effect, getting as close to the real thing as possible. He nudged Anna with his elbow.
“Entairplize to Arthore Snotgras. Maik sure to obiy thee Prime Deerectif!” He tapped twice on his sweatshirt and made a boop-boop! sound. “But the poor girl needs help with her laundry baskets for crying out loud!” Arthur mock-pushed some buttons on the elevator’s control panel, making some more bleeps and bloops. He put his ear to the speaker.
“ARTHUR, THIS IS KIRK! YOU’RE MY BEST MAN, BUT DAMMIT, DO NOT INTERACT WITH THE LOCALS! DON’T YOU REALIZE IT COULD AFFECT THEIR WAY OF LIFE AND ECOSYSTEM!?”
Arthur winked at Anna. “No can do, Kirk!” he said into the speaker. “This little lady is just tooo coool!”
Anna giggled nervously.
The elevator groaned plaintively, lurching into motion. After ascending a few floors, it came to a grinding halt with a foreboding crunch.
“Oh, crap,” said Anna. “Please, not again. I hate this elevator!”
“Not to worry, not to worry,” said Arthur. “I fix these things, you know!”
“Are you serious?” said Anna. “That’s fantastic!”
“Yup!” he said. “I fix vertical transportation systems!”
“Great!” She shook her head. “What’s a vertical transportation system?”
“Well, elevators, pretty much,” said Arthur. “I fix elevators.”
“You fix elevators? That’s, like, your job? Oh my god, what luck!” Arthur was sure he perceived something worshipful in Anna’s eyes.
“The only thing is — ” said Arthur.
“– The only thing is what?”
“Well, I can’t really fix anything,” said Arthur, “from inside the elevator.”
“Oh,” said Anna. “Can’t you, like, crawl through the hatch in the ceiling or whatever?”
“Hey! What is this, Mission Impossible? Ha!” Anna laughed not. “Well, sure. Definitely. Of course, but, even if I were on the outside, I wouldn’t be allowed to work on it, because my company doesn’t service this elevator.” Arthur frowned knowledgably. “It’s serviced by Eagle Elevators. I would get in trouble.”
“Great,” said Anna. “So, what do we do?”
“Well,” said Arthur in his best soothing, paternal tone, “let’s give it a minute to see if it starts working again, and if it doesn’t, we’ll hit the emergency call button.”
“Oh, great! ‘Cause that’s not what I would have done anyway!” Anna fidgeted with her hair. Several minutes passed in excruciating silence. When Arthur hit the emergency call button, nobody came on the speaker even though, only minutes before, Kirk had spoken through it.
“You know what?” said Arthur.
“What?” said Anna.
“I don’t think the emergency button is…connected.”
“Great,” said Anna, “but you fix these things, right?”
“Right,” said Arthur. “Gorram! I wish I had my tools.”
“If you had your tools,” said Anna, “would you be able to fix it?”
“Well, I could probably fix the call button,” said Arthur, “but, technically, I’m not allowed to service this elevator. Like I said, I would get in trouble.”
“So, really,” said Anna, “your tools would be useless.”
“Well, the tools wouldn’t be useless –”
“– but you would be,” said Anna.
“Yeah, I guess,” said Arthur. “Shazbot!”
“So, what should we do?” asked Anna.
“I guess we just…wait?” said Arthur.
“Awesome,” said Anna. She slumped to the floor, hugging her knees.
A few more minutes passed in painful silence. Arthur racked his brain. Finally, something came to him.
“You know,” said Arthur, “they have a new dollar menu at McDonald’s.”
“What?” said Anna.
“There’s a new dollar menu at McDonald’s,” said Arthur, “except I can’t understand what the deal is with this new ‘McDouble’ sandwich, you know?”
“Seriously?” said Anna.
“Seriously!” said Arthur. “I mean, the McDouble is basically a double cheeseburger with just one slice of cheese, right? So, you can get a single cheeseburger for a dollar and five cents, or you can get a McDouble for one dollar. That’s weird in itself, but what I don’t understand is that if you get a double cheeseburger, it costs you a dollar sixty-nine, right? A McDouble is basically a double cheeseburger with just one less slice of cheese. So, are you telling me that one slice of cheese costs McDonald’s sixty-nine cents? They buy in bulk! That’s crazy!”
Anna stared up at Arthur, eyes widening.
“I know!” said Arthur. “And get this. I was at the McDonald’s over on Tremont Street last week, and they told me they ‘don’t do the McDouble’ there. That makes no sense, because you could just make a double cheeseburger and take off one slice of cheese! It’s not like it’s a specialty sandwich like the McRanch or McRib that requires special preparation or anything! Just take a double cheeseburger, take off a slice of cheese…” He paused a moment for effect, then clapped his hands. “BAM! McDouble!” Arthur flailed his arms in the air. “It’s crazy!”
“Wow,” said Anna. “That is crazy.”
“Right?” said Arthur. He bobbed his head, twirling a finger in the air. “Ba dah bop bop bah! I’m lovin’ it! NOT! I told the manager how stupid it was, and she gave me attitude, so I called the McDonald’s corporation and logged a complaint against her. I was like ‘you deserve a break today’? No, no, no. I deserve a break today!’ They were actually really responsive. I got some coupons in the mail, and they sent me a letter apologizing about the whole thing, and I guess they disciplined the manager.”
“Unbelievable,” said Anna.
“I know,” said Arthur, beaming. “I was pretty psyched.”
“Good for you.”
“Thank you!” said Arthur.
Awkward silence descended once more. On a scan, Arthur realized he had exhausted all ideas for conversation. Mercifully, the elevator lunged into motion. Anna squealed with delight.
“You see?” said Arthur. He cascaded a benevolent smile, patting Anna lightly on the back.
“See what?” said Anna.
Arthur was stumped.
When the doors opened safely on the twelfth floor, Anna scooped up her laundry baskets before Arthur could help, marching down the hall. Just outside her apartment, she paused.
“Sorry if I was rude,” she said. “I’m just really claustrophobic. Like, I’ve been diagnosed with claustrophobia. They keep sending people to fix that elevator, but it never seems to get fixed.”
“Oh, not a problem, I totally understand,” Arthur said. “If I had my tools I would just go ahead and fix it myself, but there’s all sorts of regulations…”
“Don’t worry,” said Anna. “I get it.” She turned the key to her apartment. “Have a nice night, Arthur.”
She remembered my name! cried Arthur, jubilant.
“Hey Anna!” said Arthur. She popped her head back out into the hallway. Arthur mutated his face, letting his jaw go slack. He hoisted a weary fist in the air.
“AAAADDDDRRRRIIIIAAAANNNN!” he yelled. “AAADDDRRRIIIAAANNN! AADDRRIIAANN!”
Anna offered a generous smile. She pointed at him. “Rocky, right?”
“Don’t be afraid of those free weights in the gym!” said Arthur.
“But they don’t have any free wei –”
“– Eye of the Tiger!” said Arthur. He jogged in place, punching the air. “You can do it! JUST DO IT!”
She was closing her door now.
* * *
Arthur launched his keys onto the kitchen counter and swiped a Pabst Blue Ribbon from the fridge. Beef awoke from his slumber at the Pabst cracking, yawned huge and immediately started licking his nether regions.
Arthur collapsed into his trusty recliner with a satisfied sigh. He pulled the lever, swinging the footrest into place. Taking a lusty gulp of beer, he ran the encounter over and over in his mind, analyzing every word he said to Anna and the tone and innuendo contained in her responses.
Is it possible? he mused. Could I really have a shot?
The mental tape played on a loop. By the third run-through, his brow furrowed, and a look of consternation overtook his visage. By the fifth replay, poor ‘ol Arthur was mortified. By the tenth, aghast.
Arthur’s head felt hot. In his peripheral, a familiar black cloud began to seep into the apartment. Curling under the front door. Billowing from the heating vents. Pouring from the faucet.
“No, nonononono,” said Arthur. An apocalyptic doom began to grip.
The black cloud was thickening now, enveloping him, choking him. His head was throbbing, spinning. He gasped, but could not draw breath. His cardiac began to undulate with discordant panic, like it might explode right out of his chest.
Before him, the formless cloud began to congeal. Piercing through the darkness, sinister red eyes flashed.
“FELGERCARB!” Arthur cried. He jammed the lever on the recliner forward, springing headlong into the far wall, cracking the frame on his Arwen poster. The one signed by Liv! Fighting through the dark vertigo, he careened down the hallway, family photos crashing to the floor as he hugged the wall still clutching his Pabst.
The malevolent entity chased behind him. Right on his heels. Stumbling to his bedroom, Arthur swung open the closet door and pawed frantically at the top shelves, a shower of closet miscellany pouring down on his head. The apparition’s prickly tendrils encircled his neck. Where are you? he thought. Where the frak are you?
Arthur let out a joyous whimper when he saw what he sought. He seized the Ziploc from the topmost reaches of the closet, tearing open the package with the carnivorous zeal of a Christmas brat. He kicked his flip-flops across the room, where they landed on the decomposing remnants of a McRanch value meal.
Ripping the emergency socks from the bag, Arthur eased the fresh, pure delights onto his feet with a slow, precious motion. Left foot, slowly, then right. Ever so slowly…
“Oh, yessssss,” moaned Arthur. Eyes closed, he let out an ecstatic sigh. The prickly tendrils began to relax their hold.
Arthur took a few more gulps of Pabst and fell back onto his bed. Wriggling his toes, he relished the feel of immaculate, bacteria-free material.
“Sweet baby,” he said. “That’s nice.”
The black cloud receded as the soothing, sensual sock ceremony steadied Arthur’s soul. His chest muscles softened, and blood started flowing to his extremities again. The dark entity began losing form, dissipating, banished to the dark recesses from whence it came.
“Oh, frak yeah,” whispered Arthur. “That’s right on target, mama…” He played solo foosty, taking turns caressing one foot with the other. The material was so soft, so clean, so uncompromised.
“That’s the ticket, baby,” Arthur purred. “That’s right on frelling target.” He raised his legs, admiring the firmness with which the white tube socks clung to his shins. He did a few scissor kicks, then started bicycle-peddling.
A dull look of contentment returned to the face of Arthur Snodgrass.
“Beef!” he called into the living room, still peddling in the air. “Firefly or Battlestar?”
From Beef, there came no response.
“Agreed!” said Arthur. “Same page as usual, Beef! It’s a Firefly kinda day! General Gau?”