Happy New Year from the laundromat

My washing machine died full of soap and water (is there any reason washing machines can’t die BEFORE the soap and water part?) so on New Year’s Eve I went to the laundromat with my sopping, soapy clothes. Happy freakin’ New Year.

And then…

While I was at the laundromat brooding — partly about a new story I’m plotting, but mostly about how unfair it was that I was at a laundromat on New Year’s Eve — a guy biked up. After poking through the ashtray outside, he came in to check the machines for lost change and dig pop cans out of the recycle bin. His baseball hat was askew and his front teeth were missing. A frayed knee brace was pretty much the only thing holding up his baggy jeans.

He asked me if I knew where the lost & found was. I pointed him toward the locked office (ain’t nobody at a laundromat on New Year’s Eve who doesn’t have to be) where the refund forms dangled from the door knob and loaned him my pen, which wasn’t doing me any good coming up with the heroine’s internal motivation anyway.

I asked him what he was looking for — partly because maybe I’d seen it, but mostly because writers are nosy — and he said somebody had taken his laundry from one of the dryers.

“All my socks,” he said. Then he added in a mumble, “And underwear.”

Stealing somebody’s laundry is low. Stealing somebody’s socks and underwear is really, really low.

He filled out the form and pushed it through the slot in the office door. When he returned my pen, I gave him the rest of my quarters. His fingernails were black with dirt.

“You can get some new socks,” I said. Then I thought maybe that sounded presumptuous — I mean, he might have had access to more socks somewhere else; just because he looked homeless doesn’t mean he was — so I added, “Or a New Year’s Eve beer.”

“I’m laying off the sauce,” he said. “The socks’ll keep me warmer.”

Probably there’s a 50/50 chance he was fibbing about the socks or the beer. As a writer, I look squinty eyed at everybody’s stories, even my own. But anybody out on New Year’s Eve looking for half-smoked cigarette butts, empty cans, and lost laundry deserves the benefit of the doubt.

I’m ending 2013 with a bunch of annoyances: there’s a mysterious oily patch that may or may not be coming from the car, the dog has an intermittent limp that was getting better but of course got worse right before the vet closed for the holiday, I just spent way too much at the dentist, someone stole XY’s bike off our front porch on Christmas Eve (not the guy at the laundromat; I checked his bike), and I’m already hyperventilating about whether I can really do everything I want to do in the next twelve months. Also I have a zit on my chin. And let’s not forget the broken washing machine. 

But I think I’m going to start 2014 with a more positive mindset. After all, I still have a dryer. And thanks to my loving family, I got cute new socks and underwear for Christmas. I’m not sure the guy at the laundromat would appreciate being my New Year’s Eve attitude adjustment — I didn’t have that many quarters left — but I appreciated the reminder that I have more opportunities than some people to make the most of 2014.

What I do with the new year isn’t entirely up to me, of course. I think none of us can take all the credit (or all the blame) for where we end up. While my goals are properly self-directed, some of my wishes are reliant on forces outside my control. But how I deal with the inevitable challenges of 2014 is entirely up to me, so I’m going to focus on my strengths and resources and do my best.

Here’s to a happy, healthy, rewarding new year for all. And here’s hoping we all get to face it with clean underthings.