Never do a stranger's laundry

When I was a little kid, Mom did the laundry, but around the time I started making my own sandwiches, she decided I was old enough to clean my own dirty clothes. I remember standing on a stool to reach the controls of the washing machine.

With ten years of laundry experience, I moved out and into my own apartment at age 18, but apartment laundries are different from the washer & dryer in the basement of your house. First off, you need lots of quarters, so I went to the bank and bought several rolls. But also, you need to navigate the neighbors.

There were fourteen apartments in the building, but only two washers and two dryers, so you might walk down the hall and down the stairs carrying your laundry, only to come back still carrying your laundry, if both washers were already washing someone else's clothes.

One morning I carried my laundry down to the basement, and one washer was going, and the other washer had finished, but it was still full of someone else's clothes, all wet. I walked back to my apartment, waited fifteen minutes, and tried again, and by then, one washer had a fresh load, just started, but the other machine was still full of the same wet clothes.

Correct laundry etiquette in such a situation is to unload the washing machine, and pile the wet clothes on the sorting table. Whoever's clothes they are, that person will eventually come down and find them on the table.

Six months out of high school, though, I didn't know laundry etiquette. My parents had raised me polite, and it seemed rude to leave someone's wet laundry on the table, so I put the stranger's laundry into the empty dryer, and fed it some quarters to dry my neighbor's clothes.

In the process of doing this, yes, I noticed that there were dainty bras and panties in the stranger's laundry, but that's irrelevant. I would've put her clothes into the dryer just the same if they'd been sweaty and greasy mechanics' overalls. It was the neighborly thing to do.

Half an hour later when my washer load was done, I needed to remove her clothes from the dryer before putting my own clothes in, so that's what I did.

Some of her clothes were nice things — blouses and skirts and pants, and a sleek purple teddy — and I knew that you should fold the nice things or they'll get all wrinkly, so I folded my anonymous neighbor's laundry.

Well, at least her nice thing — I didn't fold her underwear, because, you know, I don't fold my own underwear, why would I fold someone else's?

It honestly never occurred to me that what I'd done might be perceived as creepy instead of neighborly. Also I didn't understand that some of her delicates, like that silk teddy, should've been drip-dried instead of dropped into the dryer at maximum heat.

After putting my clean clothes away, and remembering that purple teddy, I went back to the basement and put a note on top on my neighbor's neatly folded laundry:

"Needed the washer, so I took your clothes out." 

That's just good manners, right? Then I signed it and added my apartment number — you know, in case the nice lady who owned those bras and panties wanted to knock and say thank you to me.

Indeed, she knocked on my door, but it wasn't to say thanks. Instead I got loudly hollered at by an Asian woman old enough to be my mom.

"I ought to call the police," she shouted, several times. Other people came out of their apartments to see what was the ruckus, and some of them yelled at her to be quiet, and others yelled at me for what I'd done.

I said I was sorry, then closed my door before the drama was finished, but this was a low-rent neighborhood. Sirens sounded in the distance often, and for hours I worried that the cops might be coming.

The cops never came, and that old Asian lady never stopped scowling at me when we passed in the hallways. 

I'd had good intentions, honest, but that was the day I learned a lesson I'll share now, for anyone young and stupid and polite like I once was: Never do a stranger's laundry.

Republished: 8/26/2023  

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