On Friday evening, the dry-cleaning shop I frequent was like Mecca at Ramadan. Seconds after I walked in, several people got in line behind me.
Two women, Ms. Picky and Ms. VeryImpatient, were at the counter on either side of me, for a drop-off and a pick-up, respectively. Ms. Persian, the drycleaning lady, looked hot and frazzled.
Ms. Picky handed over her clothes and in exchange Ms. Persian gave her a yellow slip with the total number of items marked on it by the number of pants, shirts and other. In the meanwhile, Ms. VeryImpatient waited, her two young children by her side, for her cleaned garments; Ms. Persian ran over to the conveyor with that woman’s pick-up slip and punched some numbers on a screen.
I noticed Ms. Picky wasn't planning to leave after she got her yellow paper. “You need to mark this!” she said, waving the sheet at Ms. Persian. “Like, how many black pants, how many white pants, how many colored shirts, and so on.”
By the conveyor, Ms. Persian counted Ms. VeryImpatient’s clothes and verified them against the list. She turned to Ms. Picky for a second. “Lady, don’t you see how busy it is here?” She ran back to Ms. VeryImpatient and handed her the lot. She turned to Ms. Picky with a half-smile. “You know, don’t worry. I promise you we’ll deliver it safely to you.”
But Ms. Picky hung around, like a cold Rowenta on an ironing board. “No, no. I’ve been around,” she said, with a dour look at me. “I go to the dry-cleaners all the time. I know they lose clothes.”
Now I held out my yellow slip to Ms. Persian. While Ms. Persian ran back to the conveyor with my list, Ms. Picky continued to wait. Sighing, Ms. Persian ran back to the counter and let Ms. Picky in. She told her to count her things and mark them down exactly as she wished. Then Ms. Picky stood by the basket and pulled out every one of her garments and proceed to make her notes on the yellow slip.
As I left the store, several things struck me all at once. Greece didn’t have money to buy toilet tissue. In the hinterlands of India, some women chose to not go to school because they didn’t have access to functioning toilets. Another madman had gunned down four people in a military base in the nation. And here was Ms. Picky color-coding her clothes at the cleaners, simply to make a point to the world that she was a woman who could take the cleaners to the cleaners.