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You Pay Now!

Al Billings

One day in Austin, back in the mid-nineties, I brought some garments to a tailor on South Congress Avenue. For years, an old Chicano had altered my clothes, but he’d moved on. The new owner was a tall, sallow Chinese woman sporting an explosion of black, curly hair, at least six feet tall, ugly as a mud fence, and given to scowling at me whenever I entered the store. She was an expert at her craft, but short on customer relations. Well, hell, I thought, I’ll figure out how to work with her.

I threw a pile of shirts on the counter and she examined them. “You pay now,” she shouted. “You pay now.” I looked her in the eye and said “I pay later. In America, you do the work and then we pay you. Understand?” She pissed and moaned, but she completed the work and then I paid her. I had to return several times to have her alter other garments for me, and each time I appeared, she’d bellow “You pay first!” I began to get used to her demands, and I realized that if I calmed down, the whole set of exchanges were hilarious, but I wasn’t about to tell that to the Chinese lady.

The owner of the building had repeatedly warned her to take care around the industrial dryers, but he said that she was hard-headed, and took advice from no one.

I hadn’t seen her around for a few weeks, until one morning the local newspaper printed a story explaining that late one night, the Chinese woman had stuck her head too far in to the drier, got her hair caught up in it, and the dryer banged her to death, most likely leaving her head a mass of bloody pulp. Who knows the horror she must have experienced, or how long she suffered before she died. What a hell of a way to depart this planet.

I felt sorry for her, even if she was a bitch. For all I know, she might have been supporting other family members, and when she demanded her money up-front, she might have needed the money more than any of us ever realized. The building is still standing, and I pass it each time I drive down South Congress Avenue, now some sort of up-scale outdoor eatery. I wonder how well they’ll digest their food after they read this piece?

October 2, 2013 5:17 pm

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