Friday, September 5, 2008

The Smell of Laundry Detergent Makes the Mind Wander

Thursday night, I did my laundry. Don't worry – the post will become more interesting than this. You can skip down to the second section if you want. My apartment building has shared laundry services, which consists of two washing machines and two clothes dryers, both coin operated, sitting in the basement. I consider it pretty convenient, as I don't have to go outside to do my laundry. Most people just throw their clothes in a machine, set it going, then head back to their apartments and come back some time after the cycle ends.

I try to do it a little more efficiently. If I leave the basement, I'll make sure I come back before the cycle is over. And most of the time, I don't leave the basement at all. I'll just take a book down with me and read while I wait for the machines to do their business. There are a couple of abandoned chairs sitting in the far corner of the basement just under one of the ceiling lights, so it's the perfect place to relax with a book for eighty minutes, which is how long it takes for both machines to run through their cycles.

Anyway, on Thursday, I happened to come down at the same time as one of my neighbours was moving his clothes into the dryer. I threw mine in the washing machine, and we made small talk about the eccentricities of our laundry machines. He was amazed they still worked properly, even though they were so old. I responded with a joke, saying they should advertise the laundry services with "Arthur Meighen once used this washing machine." I don't think he knew what I was talking about. I am a huge nerd.

So I started the washing machine, he started the dryer, and we both left. He went to his apartment, and I went to the bank down the road, then the convenience store next door because I was almost out of orange juice. I came back down to the basement with the book I'm reading, Stendhal's Le Rouge et Le Noir to practice my French. I am also a bit pretentious. And after a few minutes, my washing cycle finished. I noticed my confused neighbour's dryer still had fifteen minutes left, and while the one next to it had finished, there was still a pile of clothes inside. Clearly, someone had been far from prompt getting their clothes back, but he had also taken his basket with him, so there was nowhere to put them.

I could think of only one course of action, as my neighbour who I had spoken to had left his laundry basket on top of the dryer. I waited until his dryer cycle was finished, took out his clothes, and put them in his basket. Then I put my clothes in the dryer and went back to my book at the far end of the basement. About fifteen minutes later, he came back in and saw his clothes in his basket on the table next to the laundry machines. He mumbled something that sounded pretty hostile, picked up his clothes, and left. I don't think he knew I was there, because he never even looked in my direction.
After that long, slightly strange story, which I think went nowhere, I sat down reading French literature in the basement waiting for my laundry to finish drying. And I thought of a great idea for a short story or a novella, depending on how much I wanted to focus on supporting characters. It takes place in an apartment building that isn't too large, but has a large enough number of tenants to keep a superintendent fairly busy. And while everybody likes the super, thinks he's really friendly, outgoing, and an all-around nice fellow; he's actually lonely, depressed, thinks he's ugly, and spends all his time watching mediocre television.

The actual plot of the story would involve him meeting a woman who likes him, but they eventually break up because of their mutual insecurities that corral them into a series of misunderstandings about their relationship and why they're there. I think that the question of why you're with someone is the most devastating thing partners could ask each other. Then you start giving reasons why you're there, and when you give reasons, it sounds like you're justifying the relationship, giving it a ground outside of itself, which leads to the formulation on both sides, "All you're here for is X." No relationship could survive that reduction.

The main things I'd have to fill in before writing this is figuring out how a superintendent who never leaves his building meets a woman. Once I have that taken care of, the whole thing can basically write itself. I'm not sure if it should end at their breakup, or when they get back together because they don't have anything else in their lives, and can't take being alone anymore.
Also, my alma mater, The Muse, published their first big issue of the new volume on the same day I did my laundry. I've linked it above, and you should most certainly go and read it, either physically or on the internet.

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