“Hey, Greg,” Taylor said after opening his door. “Come on in.” I walked into the apartment that Taylor shared with Pete and Charlie. When I was looking at apartments for this year, part of the reason I chose my current studio apartment was because over a dozen of my friends from my dorm last year, including these three, would be within a ten minute walk. It was Saturday afternoon, I was still unwinding from having just taken four midterms in a span of less than 24 hours, and I felt the need for human contact, so I walked to this nearby apartment complex where some of my friends lived.
“So what’s up?” Taylor asked. “You said you just had four midterms on the same day? How’d that go?”
“My physics professor let me take his a day early, so I at least had them a little more spread out. I think they went okay. Nothing particularly difficult.”
I heard a door close elsewhere in the apartment, then footsteps. Pete walked into the living room. “Hey, Greg,” he said. “What’s up?”
“I just came by to say hi. What are you guys doing?”
“Just studying,” Pete said. “I have a midterm Monday. And tomorrow we have a long meeting at church about this summer.”
“Did we tell you?” Taylor asked.
“I don’t think so,” I replied. “Tell me what?”
“We’re going on a trip to Morocco with our church this summer.”
“Yeah. We’ll be gone for over a month, with a group of students from all over the world.”
“That sounds really cool!”
“We’ll be sending prayer letters,” Pete said. “You’ll get one eventually.”
“Sounds good,” I replied.
Taylor and Pete and I continued talking for about an hour, about classes, and Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, and church activities, and whatever else came to mind. Charlie, their other roommate, was not home that day. Eventually, Taylor said, “I should probably get to work now. But thanks for hanging out.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I should get back home. It was good to see you guys.”
“Stop by any time.”
“See ya, Greg,” Pete added.
“Bye!” I said, waving, as I got up and walked out the front door.
When I got back to my apartment, I picked up my laundry basket and walked to the laundry room. I had left a load of clothes in the dryer while I went to see Taylor and Pete. But when I opened the dryer, it was empty. I was certain that this was the dryer where I had put my clothes, but they were not here now. I opened every other dryer, and all were empty except for one containing women’s clothes, definitely not mine. I searched the washing machines as well, to see if maybe I had forgotten to move the clothes to the dryer, although I distinctly remembered putting coins in a dryer and starting it. Only one washer had clothes in it; this one was still running, and the clothes were definitely not mine.
Someone stole my laundry.
Someone actually had the nerve to remove my clothes from the dryer and take them. Why? What would anyone want with the clothes of a 19-year-old student who lived alone and had no sense of fashion? I was furious. Thoughts continued to swirl around in my head as I stormed back to my apartment. Do I call the police? Will the police care about some kid’s clothes? If I could not feel secure leaving my laundry behind for an hour, could I really feel safe at all here at Las Casas Apartments? Or was it dumb of me in the first place to leave my laundry unattended for an hour? What would I have to do differently in the future? Would I have to sit with my laundry the whole time? Would I have to take my laundry to an actual laundromat if I could not trust the apartment laundry room?
I picked up the phone, but not to call the police. Instead I called my parents’ house.
“Hello?” Mom said.
“It’s me. Someone stole my laundry.”
“Someone stole my laundry. I washed my clothes, then I moved them to the dryer, and I went to go see Taylor and Pete for about an hour. When I got back, everything was gone.”
Mom paused. “What all was in there?”
“Four pairs of jeans, a sweatshirt, a few shirts, and a towel.”
“I can send you money if you–”
“I don’t need money,” I said angrily. “I want whoever did this to be brought to justice. And I want to be able to leave my laundry in peace. I don’t want to have to sit in the laundry room for two hours every time I need to wash clothes, just to make sure no one takes my clothes.”
“I understand,” Mom replied. “That is inconvenient.”
“It’s not fair!” I said, now fully shouting.
“Calm down. It’s not the end of the world.”
“Right, but now I have to sit there and wait for my laundry to be done. That’s going to be so boring!”
“Yeah,” Mom said. “Can you bring something to read?” I said nothing, brooding and staring at the floor, so Mom continued, “Hello? Are you there?”
“I’m here,” I replied indignantly.
“I know you’re angry. But don’t worry about spending money on clothes. I can pay you back. And maybe you can do homework in the laundry room while you’re waiting.”
“I was actually thinking that too. But it’s still inconvenient. And infuriating.”
“Should I call the police?”
“You can if you want. But I’m not sure if they’d be able to do anything about it. One load of laundry isn’t really a big deal, and there is no evidence.”
I let out a long sigh. “You’re probably right.”
“Are you okay?”
“Are you calm? You know I worry when you get upset like that.”
“Okay. When you do get new clothes, just tell me how much money you need.”
“You don’t have to send me anything,” I said.
“But I want to.”
“If you say so.”
“Are you sure you’re ok?” Mom asked.
Mom spent another twenty minutes telling me about some kids from my brother Mark’s school, some old lady that Grandma was mad at, and a flaky unreliable coworker. I did my best to listen and not lose interest.
After I hung up the phone, I put a Hungry-Man dinner in the microwave. Then I turned on the computer, listened to the whirs and whistles and twangs of a dialup modem connecting to the Internet, and connected to my usual IRC chat channel. I griped to a few strangers and one girl I had talked to before about my clothes being stolen. I spent the rest of the night eating, chatting on IRC, and reading, and when I undressed for bed that night, I realized that the pair of pants I took off was now the only pair of pants I owned. I hoped they would not be too dirty or smelly for church tomorrow.
The next morning was sunny but cold. I walked over to apartment 239 and knocked on the door. My neighbor Heather Escamilla and I were in the church choir together, and we often carpooled to church. “You ready?” Heather said when she opened the door. She wore a long sleeve sweater and pants.
“Yes,” I replied.
The two of us walked toward my car, and as we were getting in, Heather asked, “Aren’t you cold? You’re wearing short sleeves with nothing underneath.”
“My laundry got stolen yesterday,” I said. “I don’t have anything with long sleeves anymore. And this is my only pair of pants left, because I was wearing these when it happened.”
“Oh my gosh,” Heather replied. “Are you serious?”
“Yeah. I left my clothes in the dryer for about an hour, and when I went to get them, they were gone.”
“I know. I feel like now I’ll never be able to leave clothes unattended again. Now I’m going to have to sit in there the whole time when I have clothes washing and drying.”
“I’ve never had that happen before, but I’m sure it’s happened to other people.”
“I guess I have to go shopping this afternoon.”
“Look on the bright side. It’s an excuse to get new clothes.”
“I guess.” And Mom said she would pay me back, although I did not say that part out loud. I did not want to advertise the fact that I was mooching off of my parents, nor did I want to grow up to be a lazy bum.
When we got to church, we walked over to where the choir was assembling. Danielle and Carly Coronado were talking to each other. They were sisters; Danielle had lived right down the hall from me last year, and now she lived in the same apartment complex as Pete and Taylor. Both Pete and Taylor had seemed romantically interested in Danielle during freshman year, to the point that I could never tell exactly what was going on with them, but now she and Pete seemed to be in a full-blown relationship.
“Hey, Greg,” Danielle said. “Pete said you were over at their place yesterday?”
“Yeah,” I answered. “I just went on a walk for a study break. I would have come to your place if they hadn’t been home.”
“That sounds nice. How was your weekend?”
“Frustrating. Someone stole my clothes.”
Sister Mary Rose walked past at that moment. “Stole your clothes?” she repeated.
“Yeah. From the laundry room at my apartment. This is the only pair of pants I have left, and I don’t have anything with long sleeves.”
“Oooh. That’s not good. Can you get new clothes?” Sister Mary Rose asked.
“I think I’m going to have to do that this afternoon. It’s just frustrating that someone would do that. And now I’m going to have to sit in there and wait while I’m doing laundry, every time.”
“That is frustrating. But maybe someone less fortunate really needed the clothes. Maybe it will help to think of it that way.”
“Maybe,” I said.
“Don’t stress about this,” Danielle added. “Sometimes that’s just life. You learn things the hard way.”
After church, I dropped off Heather, ate a quick sandwich, and got back in the car. I headed north on Highway 117 toward Woodville. It is commonly said that one cannot buy underwear in Jeromeville, because Jeromeville has no major department stores. The aging hippie intellectuals who ran the local government in Jeromeville seemed obsessed with the delusion that Jeromeville was a small town and should stay one forever. One recent example that had been in the news lately concerned a dirt alley in the old part of the city, just a block away from church. The packed dirt was uneven and full of potholes, and during the winter these holes would fill with rainwater and become breeding grounds for mosquitoes. The city’s Transportation Department had proposed paving the alley, a plan supported by all of the residents whose property backed up to the alley. But the City Council vehemently disagreed, on the grounds that these historic dirt alleys are more in character with a small town like Jeromeville, and paving the alley would carelessly throw away our history and encourage runaway growth and crime. Ridiculous.
This sort of mentality among the Jeromeville City Council led to my current situation: I had to buy clothes, so I had to either drive to Woodville or cross the Drawbridge into Capital City. I chose the first today, because Woodville was closer, and I only wanted to buy what I needed and leave, rather than browse all of the huge two-story mall in Capital City. This made no sense to me. This was America. More than 50,000 people lived in Jeromeville, and they needed to buy clothes, so the free market would suggest a need for a department store in Jeromeville. But according to the Jeromeville City Council, a department store was inappropriate for their small town, so the nearest clothing store was seven miles outside of the Jeromeville city limits in the slightly smaller city of Woodville. It was an easy drive, with Highway 117 being two lanes in each direction the entire way. Here in the agricultural heart of Arroyo Verde County, I drove past cow pastures, nut tree orchards, and fields that would be planted with corn and tomatoes in the appropriate season. A newly installed sign named this stretch of road the “Vincent Fiore Freeway,” after this area’s long-time member of the United States House of Representatives who had recently announced that he would retire after this term and not seek reelection. For a couple years in high school, I used to listen to Rush Limbaugh’s political talk show when I was home from school in the mornings; he always said that Vincent Fiore was a liberal who was out of touch with the American people.
Woodville had a very small shopping mall with J.C. Penney, Mervyn’s, and Target as the anchor stores. I parked the car and walked toward Mervyn’s. Mervyn’s was a major department store in the western United States for much of the late 20th century, and I seemed to remember it usually being my mother’s preferred store for buying clothes. It remained my preferred clothing store until the company went out of business in 2009.
I bought four pairs of Levi’s 550 jeans in my size, in three different colors. I am not normally one to insist on brand name clothing, but I have been loyal to Levi’s jeans for years. The 550 and 560 styles fit me better than the more traditional 501 and 505. I bought a plain gray pullover sweatshirt; the sweatshirt I had lost was a University of Jeromeville sweatshirt, and I could buy one of those at the campus store on Monday. It was okay to have two sweatshirts. I bought two polo shirts, one navy blue and one dark green, replacing the ones which had been stolen. I bought a towel that resembled the one that had been stolen. After this, I looked around the store a bit more to look for anything else I might need. I found an interesting jacket; the torso was made from shiny black athletic wear material, the kind of material that a track suit would be made of, but the sleeves and hood were made from sweatshirt material. It looked comfortable, and I had come to realize recently that I did not have enough cold weather clothing, so I bought the jacket too.
I brought my purchases to the cashier. When she told me the total for my order, I cringed inwardly as I handed her my credit card. I always paid off my credit card at the end of the month, never carrying a balance, but this was the most money I had ever spent on clothing in one sitting, as well as the highest credit card bill I had ever had so far in the eleven months since first getting this credit card. I had enough money in my bank account to pay the bill, and Mom said she would pay me back, but I still hated spending money and I felt bad accepting help from Mom. Once I was done with school and working full time, I would make a point to take care of myself and not accept Mom’s unnecessary handouts.
The next morning, Monday, I waited for the bus wearing all new clothes: the green polo shirt, one of the new pairs of jeans, and the new jacket. Although wearing new clothes can be fun and exciting, today it just felt irritating. I could have avoided spending all of that money if some jerk had not stolen my laundry, or if I had just taken the time to wait in the laundry room until my clothes were finished. But, on the bright side, I had a new jacket, and I definitely felt warmer than usual waiting for the bus today.
When I did laundry again a week later, I waited in the laundry room the entire time. There was no chair, so I sat on the table intended for folding and sorting clothes. I brought math and physics homework to work on, and I finished almost all of my homework for that weekend. Yes, it was annoying having to wait in the laundry room, but I could get used to this. The laundry room was much less distracting than my apartment. I never left clothes unattended in the laundry room at Las Casas Apartments again. After that school year, at my next apartment, I started risking leaving the laundry room while the washer and dryer were running, but fortunately, I never had clothes stolen again.
As I got older, I never did get better at dealing with this sort of minor inconvenience. Making a mistake that ends up costing money is just as frustrating to me as ever. I know, though, that I need to put this kind of thing in perspective. Buying new clothes to replace those stolen was no big deal for me, but millions of people all over the world are much less fortunate. I tried to convince myself that Sister Mary Rose was right, that someone less fortunate needed my clothes. That still did not make what happened right in the eyes of the law, but this could have been one of those times when God works in ways that I cannot understand.