The building’s management in their idiosyncratic and mysterious wisdom finally shut down the laundry room on my floor by locking the door and putting up a sign stating that it was closed until further notice for renovations. This was of course the laundry room from hell that was forever being flooded, with most of the washing machines either inoperable or for all intents and purposes left for the dead hulking white steel shells that they had become; and now filled to the brim with dark murky water, they were never to see so much as a dirty sock or to burst a phosphate driven pollution inducing bubble ever again.
And much like the rest of the amenities that were once offered as renter incentives, the easy short trek down the hall to wash my clothes had now become the one sided roll of the dice that most gamblers would avoid like the plague. Because the odds of any of the various laundry facilities located elsewhere on the premises being in operating condition were about as likely as not being able to score a rock of crack cocaine across the street in front of the liquor store.
Yet none the less it was laundry day and as much as I’d love to just skip it and do really important things like “not a god damn thing,” I’m not in the possession of a whole lotta clothes and even though I work at a drug and alcohol rehab I still gotta look at least presentable, if for no other reason than my boss always telling me that I dress like the clients, but that’s a whole ’nother matter all together. And so clothes bag, laundry soap and a pile of quarters in hand, I venture off to find out if one of the few remaining laundry rooms is open and that at least one washer and a dryer are not only still taking my money but are also able to churn out some suds and a little hot air too.
It use to be that besides the laundry room on my floor there was also one on the fifth and the sixth and of course the dreaded always open never-see-your-clothes-again main laundry room situated right off of the lobby. But like I’ve been insinuating those former glory days have obviously come and gone only to be relinquished back to the lore of local history. And now you gotta go search out your prospective available laundry facilities and then keep an eye on them while they spin around and make the dirty bits of your life’s outer garments all clean! And recently I’ve had pretty good luck on the sixth floor though just last week only two of the four washing machines were working and the dryer situation was even worse. But no one ever seemed to be doing their wash up there so that’s where I chose to head first. Yet unfortunately when I got there the one washer that was still operable was in use and there was a huge bag of really stinky clothes deposited on top of it in either a claiming territory sort of statement or else someone was just disposing of it at the first available opportunity. But whatever the case it hardly made much of a difference, since to sit around and wait to sort it all out would have been more trouble and time consuming than it was worth.
So my next attempt was to go down to the fifth floor and as I approached I couldn’t detect any sounds of washing machines whirling or the hum of a dryer; but that could either be a good or a bad sign since either no machines were working or no one was using them. Yet when I opened the door to the room I was greeted by a small aged woman in rumpled clothes wearing a light blue bandana on her head and sitting on one of the washers with the lid closed, and she was holding a tattered paperback in her hand that I assumed she was reading.
“Hey how ya doing?” she asked as she looked up from her book. “Come on in there’s plenty of room!”
Now usually on my previous trips to the wash room there’s always the possibility that a number of folks could be there: other tenants doing their laundry, crackheads sleeping a fitful sleep behind the dryers or one of the local thugs plying his trade by breaking into the coin boxes in the machines. But not one of them has ever greeted me with so much as a kind word as this woman was doing, and this was the first time that I’d ever laid eyes on her! In my building it seems you gotta see someone for like two months at the very least before you even acknowledge their presence, even when they’re only a foot away from you in the elevator. And when doing normal everyday functions, especially like when you’re doing laundry, well, the going ritual is to not even make eye contact, barely grunting an affirmation when absolutely forced too by circumstances!
“Thanks!” I told her as I deposited the quarters and started up the washing machine. That’s when I noticed her bedroll tucked out of sight behind the last washer to my right.
“Ya just let me know if I’m in ya’r way at’all, ok?”
“No, don’t worry, you’re not in the way in the least. What are you reading?”
“King Lear. It’s an old book by an author named Shakespeare. Ya’ever heard of him?”
“Yeah, I’ve heard of him, but I don’t think that I’ve ever read King Lear.”
“It’s a study in relationships.” She says. “Ya know, it’s a shame the way the world treats people.”
“Speaking of how people are treated – in case you didn’t know they lock up these laundry rooms at 10pm every night. So you might just want to find another place to sleep before then.”
“Oh don’t worry, I’ll be long gone before ten! But I appreciate ya tellin’ me.”
Only after I had said that bit about a place to sleep, she looked at me with sadness in her eyes like I had found her out and amazingly it made me kinda feel guilty like I had unintentionally insulted her or something.
“Ya know I’m better off than ya’d think. Not being all encumbered with all that material crap that society says we need, like cars and clothes that ya need to wash!”
And with that said she goes back to reading her book, and I’m left standing there wondering what to say or how to apologize or even if I should.
“Hey I didn’t…”
“Don’t worry, all of this means nothing. It is nothing but an illusion.”
Ok, as abnormal as all this was starting to become I wasn’t about to get into a convoluted philosophical discussion with some book-toting homeless-shelter seeker, even if it did have certain Zen connotations to it! Because my usual routine when doing my laundry is to clean my apartment at the same time and as small a job as that is, I can all too easily find many an excuse not to do it and this situation was presenting itself as a perfect opportunity to wander into that realm of inertia. With that thought in mind I made for the exit.
“Well, illusion or not I’m going to open this door, this one here in front of me that I can’t walk through, and go back to my apartment that desperately needs cleaning and believe me I truly wish that the dirt in my apartment was an illusion. So see you later.”
“Ya’r a slave.”
“Ya’r a slave to your material possessions. Ya need to relinquish ya’rself of ya’r excess before all is lost!”
This was getting a little beyond weird and awfully close to the “end is near” sort of school of thought and yeah, I too tend to think that way too much importance is placed on material wealth and that because of it and capitalistic greed the human race is destined for extinction. But is the answer really giving it all up and coming to live in my building’s laundry room?
“Ah, yeah. Well, have a nice day!” I absentmindedly mumbled and I was almost all the way out the door before she muttered:
“Don’t tell me how to live my life!”