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CHANGE FOR A TWENTY? BY ANGIE CRUZ

Reprinted with permission of the author. Originally published in the New York Post

So I had a pile of dirty laundry accumulated from a week’s travel in D.R. I had enough quarters for the wash and a twenty dollar bill. I stuffed my clothes in the machines and had just enough time to run out and break the twenty dollar bill before some anxious vecina got to the dryers before I did.

I bounced over to the corner bodega in one of the small pockets of Washington Heights that haven’t been severely gentrified, yet. I decide to buy a banana. The bodeguero, an old fella who reminds me of my grandfather when he was still alive and well – when he played Dominoes and smoked pipes and patrolled the block with an old fashion-tipped hat, wearing tight fitting chacabanas, – said, Mi’ja take the banana. I’m not going to break a twenty for that.

Although I needed the quarters I figured that in a capitalist economy where businesses rather throw out food than give it out for free-it was my lucky day –I’ll get my quarters somewhere else. So I headed over to the smoke shop. I asked the guy behind the plexi-glass, for gum, showed him the twenty dollars and he handed the gum over to me and waved me away. He seemed too busy to deal. I knew it was strange leaving the store without paying for the gum but I was on a mission. I wasn’t going to get analytical over the fact that no one wanted to take my money. I was tired, it was early morning and I’m not a morning person.  Besides I had minutes before some vecina would pull out my clean undies from the washer — Mami, if you are reading this, I know I’m supposed to wash my panties by hand.

I walked further along Broadway to another bodega, a bigger one, that calls itself a supermercado. I grabbed a mango juice and handed the guy behind the counter the twenty. The bodeguero, this time a young one with a neatly trimmed mustache told me, –Mira amor, no tengo cambio ahora. Come pay for it later. –But I need quarters.  So this viejita, she was eavesdropping, gave me a quarter, patting me on the arm as if I was one of her grandchildren.

I feared my panties and bras were in exhibition in the laundry room. I had to go and save my clothing and myself from complete embarrassment. I held onto the free gum, banana and mango juice which I still had to pay for. I arrived to the laundry room and the machines had stopped. The room was empty. The only sound was the dog barking back in the alley.

I sat down on the washing machine thinking about what to do next. A lady who found me sitting on the machine must’ve seen the frustration on my face because she asked me con tanto carino, –Que pasa mi’ja, necesita algo? I wanted to hug this strange woman who was settled in her own body. So I told her in Spanish that I needed four quarters, I mean three, because la señora at the store gave me one. I told her I had gone to three places and no one had any change. I told her about the banana, the gum and the mango juice. And then she opened her change purse and gave me three quarters.  I asked for her apartment number so I could pay her back. She looked at me as if I had insulted her. Her eyes holding a longer history of laundry room days than I could have ever imagined.

Angie Cruz is the author of Soledad and Let It Rain Coffee (Simon & Schuster)

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