Never do a stranger's laundry

When I was a little kid, of course, Mom did my laundry, but about the time I was old enough to make my own sandwiches, she decided I was old enough to do my own laundry. I remember standing on a stool to reach the controls of the washing machine.

When I moved out and into my own apartment at age 18, I already had 10+ years of laundry experience, but apartment laundries are different from the basement of your house. First off, I needed lots of quarters, so I went to the bank and bought several rolls. Then, I needed to navigate my neighbors, which took a while to learn.

There were fourteen apartments in the building, but only two washers and two dryers, so I grew accustomed to walking down the hall and down the stairs carrying my laundry, only to come back still carrying my laundry because the washers were both 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. I walked back to my apartment, waited fifteen minutes, and tried again. One washer had a fresh load, just started, and the other machine was still sitting there 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. I needed the washing machine, but my parents had raised me polite, so it seemed rude to leave someone's wet laundry on the table. Therefore, quite logically, I put the stranger's laundry into one of the dryers, and fed the dryer some quarters, and started drying my neighbor's clothes.

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

When my washer load was done, I needed to remove her clothes from the dryer before putting my own clothes in, so of course 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, at least her nice things. Again, just being neighborly. I didn't fold her underwear, because, you know, I don't fold my own underwear, why would I fold someone else's?

I didn't understand 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 purple teddy — should've been drip-dried instead of put in the dryer at maximum heat. Sorry.

After putting my clean clothes away, maybe thinking about that purple teddy, I came back to the basement and put a note on top on my neighbor's 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 watch, and started yelling at her to be quiet, and yelling at me for what I'd done. I closed my door before the drama was finished. It was a low-rent neighborhood, with sirens often in the distance, so I worried all night that the cops might be coming.

I had good intentions, honest. But here's the lesson for anyone young and stupid and polite like I was: Never do a stranger's laundry.



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