A Nickel’s Worth of Laundry

My friend Sheldon lived in Peacock Court, although I don’t think we played and hung around together as much as we had before. Kid friendships tended to drift back and forth like that.

I was curious about Sheldon’s background. I think he told me that he was Haida, and from a bear clan. I had no concept of my own heritage at the time, and Sheldon’s immediate sense of identity made me feel like I was sort of unrooted by comparison. His bear clan sounded cool.

Sheldon had an older brother whom I thought was a bit of a tough character, and he scared me. He was the same guy I mistakenly had thought had mugged me the previous year, although that event seemed to have been forgotten by everyone.

One day I heard a loud, repetitive banging coming from Sheldon’s unit, so I went to investigate. Sheldon’s brother was squatting on the blacktop in front of their steps, whacking a coin with a hammer over and over again. I learned that you could get a nickel expanded to the size of a quarter this way. It sounded like cheating but also seemed like a cunning plan. (Another technique I’d heard of for cheating vending machines was to use a metal slug of the right size. I’d seen a few of these around on the ground before.) Boy, did Sheldon’s brother ever whack the hell out of those poor nickels! Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!

I’d have never thought it was possible, but the extra-large nickels must have done the trick, because later that day, I watched Sheldon walk up the lane from the laundry building with a huge black garbage bag of clean laundry slung over his shoulder. Behind him, socks and underwear fell regularly out of a big rip, forming a trail behind him.


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The memoir and family history of E. John Love