I was doing Joe’s laundry. He’s on the fourth floor. The laundry room is located on the first floor. It was my first time. Not my first time doing laundry – just my first time doing Joe’s laundry.
I was already jacked on caffeine from my own water bottle full of coffee (I put my coffee in a water bottle when I’m in motion) and then the cup that he had forced me to get while picking up his breakfast.
Yeah, I was jItTeRy – just a bit.
The laundry room was huge – lots of room to place a basket, jug of laundry soap, and small box of dryer sheets while the machines did their washing and drying. I put the jug and the box inside the small round basket and placed them on the long table-shelf towards the back of the room.
Joe was still on his way down. We were on our way to Dunkin Donuts because Joe likes to watch the people there. It didn’t take me long to figure out that it was mostly the female people he enjoyed watching. I was taught never to argue with my elders so I watched them as well.
Joe wanted to get me another cup of coffee. He wanted me to have a large one. So we drank our coffees and we watched people. I watched all of them – both sexes – I swear I did. I used the bathroom four times in between. Damn you peer pressure.
For a 76-year-old with thick lenses, Joe could follow the movement of a body for a good quarter-mile before it disappeared into a building. He was damn good.
Finally it was time to get back to the laundry. It was a short ride and a short walk to the elevator. Joe was tired out though. He sat on a bench on the first floor while I went to get the laundry.
Even before opening the laundry room door I could see that the basket, and the jug, and the little box where no longer on the table-shelf. Being wasted on caffeine and on my way to losing my mind as it is, I figured maybe – just maybe I’d taken them back up.
First I looked inside every recycling bin in the room – about six of them. I checked the trash as well because old people can hold grudges. Maybe Joe had cut one of them off on the way to a washer one morning. Maybe that person had waited for months until a new guy slipped up and left the goods out in the open. It happens more than you’d think.
I took his laundry out, folded it, and headed out to find him. He was gone. Jesus, I was hoping they hadn’t kidnapped him as well. Old people have gangs too. And they might not remember to take their meds but they’ll remember being disrespected in a laundry room.
So he was either gagged and bound in the back of a van on the way to Trenton or he was waiting for me up to the fourth floor.
The elevator door opened and a woman with a walker cut me off to get the spot near the buttons. I like pushing the buttons too but have become more and more aware of the bacteria that they carry so I didn’t throw any elbows.
But on the little bench of her walker was a round basket. It was filled with a jug of laundry soap and a small box of dryer sheets. Inside the basket was also her change purse and a plastic cup of water.
I said, “I must be losing my mind. I went to do laundry and now my basket, my jug of laundry soap, and box of dryer sheets are missing.” And I looked down at her basket. My first instinct was to kick the walker out from under her and grab Joe’s things. But she was from the 3rd floor. Her gang of stealing thugs could have been waiting for her.
She looked at me and said in her Italian accent, “Wella. I tella everybody that the backa shelfa is fora anybody to take-ah. Ita meansa thata you do not want it.”
“Oh, I said,” thinking that I could probably fight off a gang of old people if she wanted to get tough about it. “But I didn’t know about that rule. I’m new here. I didn’t see a sign. Why is there not a sign?”
She continued, “Ima very sorry. Everyone knowsa the rulesa here.”
“You need a sign or something,” I said as the door opened at the 3rd floor. There was nobody in sight. She was working alone. Then she gave in, “Ima sorry. Here you are-ah. Justa remember the rules-ah.
She took her water and purse and pushed her walker out of the door.
Joe was sitting on the bench in front of me as the door opened again on the 4th floor. I plopped the basket down next to him – flustered – sweating caffeine.
“Joe, you will not believe this story.” I explained it to him. About the basket, the table-shelf, and the old lady with the walker.
“Ohhh yeahhhh. Sure,” Joe said. “I’ve gotten some great stuff off that table. I got some cans of soup, a radio, and some nice clothes. It’s the rule. If you don’t want something you put it on the table for anyone else to take.”
“But a sign,” I said. “There is no sign. Why is there not a sign? And besides, it was a laundry basket, in a laundry room. It was filled with laundry equipment. The dryer was still running.”
Joe laughed, “I should have told you about the rule. And I am going to go down there later and ask to have a sign put up.”
So, just a warning to the uninitiated: Beware the rules of the common areas.