So yesterday, I went to the laundromat to launder our oversized comforter. I’d like to say that this is a tradition, that I do this every autumn when I am employed less than full time and we’re transitioning from summer weight bedding to the autumnal anti-anxiety weight (not actually designed for that purpose, but it is too heavy for mere mortal laundry appliances). I would say this is a tradition, but it’s a good news/bad news situation: This was my second trip; apparently, I only have this free time in October or November every two or three years, and the free time soon ends when I catch onto a full time position or contract right after doing the comforter. Well, that has happened once so far. So I had better enjoy this free time while I can.
So I went to the laundromat with my large comforter and started it up. As you might expect, gentle reader, I am not the sort of person who leaves his clothing or large comforter unattended at the laundromat, so I brought a notepad and a book to read to settle in for a couple hours’ of watching tumbling laundry and wishing I was writing.
But the people in the laundromat held my interest if not my impolite gaze.
A homeless-looking guy walked through the laundromat, which has one door at the front and one at the back. Well, maybe I am wrong; what I call the front faces the strip mall parking lot, but the other door is by the counter for drop-off laundry, so maybe that’s the front. Regardless, the homeless-looking guy passed from one end to the other and back. Maybe he just hit the vending machines.
A customer looked to be macking on the attendant, a comely younger-than-me-which-might-not-actually-mean-young-these-days woman, or he might have just been making conversation, but it definitely had a mackin’ vibe. The attendant, though, mentioned her husband and kids several times.
Another couple was lingering, mostly in their car out front. Apparently, they lived in the car, and the man had some idea about a business based on the car to get back onto his feet. The woman came in, and the laundry attendant took a blanket out of one of the dryers and gave it to her. Apparently, both the laundry attendant and the mack had seen the couple wandering around wearing blankets earlier, and their laundry was getting washed. When the couple was outside smoking, the others talked about how they knew people whom the homeless people know and pooled a little money to buy a meal for the homeless people.
I was the only one in the shop wearing the mandated mask, by the way. Which marked me as a dude from the suburbs–even though I was dressed casually and not in my full going Grant regalia.
I’m not really from the suburbs, though, but I am certainly not working retail and riding the buses everywhere. I sometimes attribute my recent (as in the most recent decade) dearth of completed writing projects to the fact that I have little time (more likely: I am lazy or I am discouraged by how few books I sold, how few stories/poems I placed, and how little traffic this blog gets).
However, I cannot help but note that my most fertile time writing was college, where it seemed like I had a lot of free time for writing (which was mostly time when I was supposed to be writing papers for school, but spent a lot of the desk time in another “window” of LotusWorks working on short stories). But I don’t know that I wrote more because I had time, but because I was meeting and interacting with a lot more varied people.
I mean, now, I work from home (part time, full time, or more than full time depending upon the contracts/employment situation). I go to church, I go to the shops, I go to my martial arts classes, and I interact with people on a very polite acquaintance level. I don’t, or at least haven’t recently, been in situations like the laundromat where I’m present for a period of time getting glimpses and sometimes a bit more of other people. So maybe I really do need to make more time in coffee shops watching people. Or maybe in the laundromat, since it just occurs to me that my dryer didn’t turn on for the last load last night–which means I know what my free time today will be: Troubleshooting the dryer and perhaps improvising a clothesline again.
At any rate, the incident at the laundromat reminded me of something in my journal from September 16, 1992:
Tonight I met Terry. I don’t know her last name, nor even if her name is spelled Terry. All I know is that she is a confused young lady wandering the streets of Milwaukee, asking strangers at bus stops if she can sit and talk with them.
My friend Brian and I were sitting alone at a bus stop on 76th and Burleigh, drinking Mountain Dew and speaking of the treasures we had accumulated at the local hobby shop. We had seen the previous bus go by and we were ready for a moderate wait, but the Cthulhu Mythos occupied our time until Terry arrived.
“Can I sit here and talk to you guys?” she asked in speech slightly slurred.
Brian was silent. “Sure, why not?” I said, pulling my backpack closer to my side to offer her a space to sit on the metal bench and, more importantly, protect my possessions if need be.
She hunched on the edge of the bench. “I just need someone to talk to,” she said.
“Okay,” I said. She wasn’t too big, and the only thing she had in her hand was a perfume bottle or something.
“I lost three friends,” she said simply.
“How?” I asked. She then told me of her problems with friends. One committed suicide by hanging himself from a tree near his mother’s house, another seemed to need her space, and her roommate seemed to be pushing her away. Terry voiced her own desire for death and claimed to be unloved. I expressed my belief that suicide was a bad idea and told her to “As the Brits say, keep a stiff upper lip.” I told her that trials build the character (and then explained what that meant). She seemed unconvinced, but so many people do when I try to explain my philosophy to them.
I asked her if she had a job. She said no. I asked if she was going to school any where. She had dropped out.
“Why?” I asked She was silent. “Why don’t you go back or get your G.E.D.?”
“I am sick of it. They beat me up, called me ‘Mental’ and ‘Stupid’ and ‘Lesbian’ and ‘Fag’. I don’t want to go back.”
I murmured some agreement and pleaded of her to do it anyway.
“I want to be happy and for someone to love me and just hold my hand and talk to,” she said. She seemed to be staring at something I couldn’t see in the lot of the gas station in front of us. I didn’t volunteer to hold her hand and I was very conscious of the fact. What would my role be in helping Terry?
“Happiness is out there,” I assured her. “You just have to work for it. Set some goals, make a plan of action to reach those goals, and stick to it. It will be hard, I know, and it will seem impossible, but that’s what you have to do.”
Later in our short conversation she mentioned the fact that she had worshipped the devil and repented and worshipped God and then gave up on God and worshipped the devil again. It seemed to be a cycle. She feared God could not forgive her this time.
“Of course God will forgive you,” I said, feeling somewhat hypocritical–here I was an atheist trying to convert a self-professed devil-worshipper. “God is forgiveness. He can forgive. What denomination are you?”
“Do you go to church regularly?”
“Not like I used to.”
I asked why twice and received no answer either time. “I know, getting up early on Sundays is a bummer.”
“No. Because I worshipped the devil and…my problem.” She looked down. Something in her voice urged me not to push the point.
“Well, if you talked to your pastor and went to church, perhaps he could help you. You’re not alone, you know. There are people who will help you if you ask.” At this point, the 67 bus appeared behind her. I realize now that I had been watching for it, and I feel guilty for the relief.
The last time I saw Terry, she was still hunched and clutching her bottle. The bus pulled away, and I wondered aloud if I had done her any good. Brian said that I had done her more good than he had, and I guess that’s true.
Did I do her any good? I have to hope so. I doubt that my words carried any special meaning for her. They must have been like so much rheotoric: “Stay In School. Go To Church. Don’t Kill Yourself.” I hope my words on the nature of friendships and self-motivation struck home, but they are rather tangled precepts that most people don’t understand when I speak them. I only hope that my example of actually listening to her and my thin display of sympathy might reinforce the words somehow and that she will seek more extensive help. Unfortunately, whatever the nature of her unspoken problem, it seems to have created a schism between her and the Lutheran church.
Brian complimented my knowledge of psychology and attributed it to my college classes. I have never had a psyche course, so how am I qualified to help Terry. Sure, I fancy myself a student of human nature, but what if I do more damage with my meddling than good? With the disarray that is my mind and-slash-or soul, how can I go about trying to straighten out others?
Such thoughts plagued my walk home from the bus stop, but then it must not be as bad as the demons that torment Terry.
I think I turned that in as part of my Journal bundle for some English class or another. I know, you’re saying, Brian J., have you copied that from every computer you’ve owned since you first tapped it into LotusWorks on a 286 in 1992? To be honest, I am not sure if it’s every computer, but, yeah, pretty much. I have all my college papers, all my short stories, all my essays, all my novel attempts, and all my poetry from the era (some of which made a fine book) in folders that I tend to copy from computer to computer. And if I fear I am missing something, I have a drawer full of well nigh thirty-year-old disks and a USB-floppy drive to look through them in their original form (and LotusWorks files open okay in Microsoft Word; they just have some header and footer garbage, but the text in between is in readable shape–and I have cleaned up the files in the folders in some past .doc version of Word).
And in conclusion, that’s enough for this post. I should go to a coffee shop to watch people or troubleshoot my dryer. Have a good day.