Somehow I’ve managed to live my entire adult life without an in-unit washer and dryer. They must have always been lower on our priority list, whether consciously or unconsciously. But the result of this is that I have spent many hours of my life in laundromats.
And truthfully, I love doing laundry and going to the laundromat. I feel happy when I’m going around the apartment stuffing the clothes into our laundry bag and thinking about being there for a couple of hours. I like it mostly because it’s an enforced reading time. I have nothing else to do there but read. It’s the same reason I get excited to fly. I love reading but I am also very good at finding reasons to do something else. So when I’m stuck somewhere for a couple of hours and I have a book I’m feeling pretty good about life. This year, since I’ve become a little more active on Twitter and now have the New York Times app on my phone, sometimes I wind up looking at my phone in the laundromat, tweeting jokes and whatnot. This is considerably less satisfying than just reading a book for that time.
The laundromat in my neighborhood is just around the corner, only a block away, and it’s decent, so I feel pretty lucky. It’s not a “nice” place with new machines but it’s generally pretty clean and in good order. If I go on Saturday, it’s a breeze, easy to find open machines and do my thing; if I go on Sunday, sometimes it can be a hassle because all the washers or all the dryers are full and I have to focus on getting a machine. That’s a drag.
It’s not unusual for people to come into the laundromat and ask for spare change. Most of the time I say no when strangers ask me for money, I’m not sure why exactly. Probably because I don’t really like thinking about it and I’d rather just have a default position. I chose to make “Sorry, don’t have any” my fallback position somewhere along the line. I was probably thinking about how people asking for spare change sometimes use the money for drink or drugs, at least that is what I’ve been told. Sometimes I’m moved to give for one reason or another but most of the time I decline.
When I lived in San Francisco, I had an unusual relationship with a homeless guy where I would lend him money sometimes and he always paid it back. His name was Larry. He was probably around 60, walked with a cane, generally seemed in pretty rough shape physically but I didn’t know his story. And he asked for money one time and I said no and he asked if he could borrow $5 and I said OK. And he paid me back, and eventually it worked up to where sometimes he would borrow $50 and he’d always get it back to me. I believe he got a disability check and he paid me back out of that.
When you’re sitting in a laundromat, it’s hard to say “Sorry, I don’t have any spare change” with a straight face since the fact that you are in a laundromat suggests that you have a pocket full of quarters. In my laundromat, roughly 2/3 of the time I’m in there, there’s a particular woman asking for money. I’m not sure what her situation is, but she is definitely mentally ill, possibly schizophrenic. She dresses pretty ragged, and often wears strange wigs. She has a very unusual presence. She’s also kind of large, and sometimes she gets really angry when she asks someone for money and they say no, and she starts threatening them. There are attendants in this laundromat, but they are definitely of the “Everyone including us should mind their own business” school. So I’ve seen some situations where this woman was getting agitated and it was tense.
For whatever reason, though she always asks me for money and I don’t generally give it to her, this woman is nice to me. To the point where I feel like I must remind her of someone she likes from her past. I’m usually deep into my book when she comes by and I’m hoping that she won’t talk to me, but then she does, I say no, and she’ll often want to make conversation. One time we talked for maybe 15 minutes about the war in Afghanistan. It was clear to me when talking to her that she’s actually very intelligent, but there’s something wrong with her brain that makes her thoughts go to strange places. I could tell from the way she was talking about it that she actually had a pretty good understanding of the facts of the situation and also the political issues. But then she’d say something completely off the wall that has no connection to our reality and to her there was no distinction between this and what the rest of us agree is actually going on. I don’t know her name.
So today I was doing laundry and reading and she came in. And she started asking people to my left for money, they said no, she asked me, I said no, and then she asked what I was reading. And I was reading a little book called Being Logical: A Guide to Good Thinking that is sort of a primer on very basic ideas about logic. I saw a reference to it somewhere and it seemed like a good time to check in on this subject, since I hadn’t spent much time with the nuts and bolts of it since college. So I told her the title, and she said, “What does logical mean?” and I tried to explain it as best I could. And I was really doing just an awful job, which made me think that I hadn’t absorbed the teachings of this book very well at all. And she said, “Is logical like being happy?” and I said, yes, maybe it is, kind of. And I said it was about trying to get at truth, which might be connected to happiness. And she said, “Truth, right, because there are people trying to deceive you,” and I said, “Yeah, that happens, but also, sometimes we deceive ourselves, because we don’t see the whole picture or choose to ignore critical information.”
It was the strangest exchange, because she was asking reasonable questions and I was thinking hard and trying to answer them in a way that made sense and I was finding it a lot more difficult than I expected. And obviously, given what I know about her mental state, it would be very hard for me to know and understand exactly how logic fit into her day-to-day.