Sunday, June 11, 2017

Every Wet Thing

I arrive at the basement laundry room in my building. A young man is finishing up with the washers. Good timing. He'll unload his clothes and then I'll load in mine.

The young man has all of the washers stuffed to capacity. This is not surprising. Young men do tend to overfill machines.

The young man does not do what people usually do when the washers have stopped and someone else is waiting for them. He does not unload all of the machines into baskets, then fill the dryers quickly.

He approaches each washing machine one by one. He takes each item of clothing out of the washer. He painstakingly smooths every wet item. Then he carefully drapes each garment over the bar of the basket.

He does not unload the washers as quickly as possible in a giant heap the way I do.

He does not load the wet things into baskets and then smooth them one at a time. He does this standing at the washer.

When, and only when, one washer is empty, does he move on to the next washer. He repeats this pattern for all of the washers.

When he finally empties a washer, I wheel my cart over and load it up.

It is meditative watching him. I liken it to observing a spider building a web.

It is also infuriating.

I express no impatience until the end. He wedges himself into a corner to slowly unload his last machine, while subsequently blocking the machine he already unloaded. Enough.

Excuse me, I say in a polite but clipped fashion that means business. He moves a tiny bit out of the way. I load my clothes in.

Then he approaches the dryers. I see him taking the previously smoothed and draped wet garments and shake then, smooth them some more before putting each thing, including the socks, into the dryer one at a time.

His methodology has greater implications for me and possibly other residents. People who are quicker about unloading, loading and unloading keep it moving. Now I'll have to wait longer for dryers.

It gets me thinking deeply about the opportunity cost to him. The sheer amount of time spent on each individual garment means less time spent doing other, presumably more important things.

I watch this for a few seconds and then leave.

As I project myself into the future I imagine the trip out of the dryer for each garment. He will need to smooth each one. He will not unload all of the dryers and then do the smoothing, creasing and folding. He will smooth and drape each dry garment in front of each dryer. He will seem not to care that someone else is waiting.

I try to predict if I'll say something to the young man. I'm on a schedule. I don't have all day. I understand the unspoken rules of the laundry room.

A thought pops into my mind.

He can't help what he is doing. If I say something to him it could create enormous anxiety for him. For me, handling my garments less carefully is a comfortable thing. For him, it might be unbearable.

Later on, I go outside to run some errands. I see something that calls to me. Bare branches twist lyrically against an opaque white late afternoon sky. It looks like poetry.

I slip the iPhone out of my pocket and photograph the scene, this way and that. Once I'm sure I have it, I'm on my way.

That evening I scroll through the pictures and though I try to deny it, there's a fatal flaw in every single one. The camera depicts, more clearly than my eye could, an inelegant group of leaves marring an otherwise perfect scene. There's nothing to be done. I delete them.

I get up from the couch and commence the sorting and folding of the clean wash, which has spent most of the day jumbled and wrinkled, but no worse for wear in the laundry bag.

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