NOW THAT I AM 85: I Have an Imaginary Friend
I met her late at night, in a laundromat in Berkeley, California. I was alone in that laundromat, observing my sheets and towels go round and round in the “wash” cycle, when she walked in.
She looked rather like a 1900-vintage Parisian laundress in a Degas painting.
In one hand she carried a large pail. In the other, a big partly-used bar of some peculiar-smelling yellow laundry soap. Her head was wrapped in a white scarf.
When she spoke, softly, it was all in French. To my surprise, considering that I had had only two years of that language in high school, I understood every word.
Possibly you need some back story.
I had been reading biographies of the composer Erik Satie, and listening compulsively to Blood Sweat and Tears’ arrangements of his music. The biographies marveled at the juxtaposition of two facts: Monsieur Satie, on his daily 10K jaunts (walk/drink wine/compose/repeat) from Arceuil to Montmartre, was always immaculate, in his person and his clothing. Yet, upon his death (from the somewhat-predictable cirrhosis), his brother Conrad, with Darius Milhaud and a couple of others, entered his room and found utter squalor. The place had apparently not been cleaned for the entire twenty-seven years Satie lived there. How had he, each day, emerged so spotless?
Thus began biographic speculation about a mysterious laundress . And the question arose: had she done more than wash? The discussion always ended in a verdict of “Nonsense!” His only affair of the heart, they claimed, had been much earlier, with the painter/acrobat Suzanne Valadon, and he had thrown her out a second-story window to demonstrate his annoyance. She– simultaneously demonstrating her acrobat training– was unhurt.
The hurt was felt by my new friend, the laundress, who did not care to be dismissed as nonsense.
Apparently I am her only confidante. I have come to believe she wants me to tell you everything I know about her.
That Is why I am currently making a short film entitled “Hommage* to Erik Satie’s Laundress”. It is being produced by Jill Warner. The wonderful pianist Abe Fabella has already recorded the musical part of the soundtrack.
*My acquaintances point out that “Homage”, as they know it, is spelled with one “m”. But I feel that, out of respect for my new friend, I should spell it “Hommage,” the French way.
(In the meantime, my next shlog is entitled: “My Little Husband Has Gone to See an Analyst”)