Just the other day I brought a couple of winter comforters to the laundromat. I needed their extra-large washer, the one for eight bucks a load. When all the kids were around, I had an industrial sized washer that would accommodate stuff like this, but when it died awhile back, I got a normal-sized one.
I don’t mind laundromats. Why would I – seeing I only have to go a few times a year. People tend to be friendly and helpful. The last time I was there, a homeless-looking guy offered me some of his quarters. This time another guy helped me get the wet comforter into the dryer. I don’t encounter helpful people this often at the grocery store, or at the mall. In those places I’m more likely to have someone run up the backs of my ankles with their cart, or shove past me.
Does washing our clothes evoke our better selves? Or is it something to do with sitting around and waiting? With that forced idleness do we take a breath and actually see our fellow human beings?
Halfway through my washer cycle, the laundromat owner came in. He was collecting the money from the machines, and he and an assistant cleaned the place. He remarked to someone how his laundromats in well-off towns like this one require more cleaning than those he owns in less privileged areas. When he made it down the row to my machine, I asked him about this. He said he guessed that the problem with wealthier areas was a sense of entitlement. That perhaps it’s more difficult to maintain civility the higher up one goes on the socioeconomic ladder.
I left wondering whether it really is harder to remember to pick up my garbage if I’m used to having someone pick it up for me. While I might be meticulous in my own space, what do I lack if I take no care of public spaces? I left wondering what creates and maintains thoughtfulness, and what it takes to be a consistently considerate person.
At this point it’s still hard to see how any good could come out of this pandemic. But if it wakes privileged people up to the greed, tunnel vision, and selfishness that have for so long rendered their fellow less-privileged human beings invisible – that will be a very good thing.