A heart to heart over the laundry (May 31, 2007)

There is little I have seen to wound a Swiss heart more than mucking up the laundry schedule. When people are caught on the train without a ticket, they banter away so happily you expect them to pull out photos of their kids. When people cut each other off in traffic... actually, I can hardly recall such a dispute. This unworldy good nature, though, does not extend to the laundry schedule. There, their hearts are open and vulnerable.

This morning was the fourth time I started a day in Lausanne with someone fussing at me about the laundry schedule. The only difference compared to the other three times was that they give me pity instead of vitriol. The deep-seated passion was the same, but instead of yelling, the concierge spoke like I was a two year old. Now, Monsieur, each person gets their time slot. A good person gives up their laundry key at the end of their slot. You want to be a good person, now, don't you?

The pity response is actually worse than the angry response. With the angry response, they look completely ridiculous, turning red and berking away about, of all inane things, the laundry schedule. With the pity response, though, something in me wonders what they are going to do to me. Logically I know the looney bin is not a realistic future, but there is still this queasy primal fear that comes from being spoken to as less than a thinking being.

The whole event was really emotional. This time I talked back. If you get to use the laundry on a free day, why not me? Do the rules not apply to the concierge? People were looking on, waiting pained-facedly for her for some kind of actual productive work, and to my shame I did not resist dropping a few snarky side comments. We broke apart fuming, but I left my door open, and later we had a heart to heart about it and sort of made up.

If you saw us, without understanding the words, you would see deep-cutting wounds being inflicted and patched over. You would think I had insulted her vocation, or that she had insulted my character. You would think someone had giggled at a religious observance. No, my friends and family, the knife that cut so deep was my disrespect the laundry schedule.

It is really demoralizing. On none of these four occasions have I actually caused anyone to lose laundry time. I understand, without understanding why, that we only have one machine, and so we have to share. However, life does not live inside the lines drawn on that stupid laundry schedule. From time to time I bend the rules, but I am very careful about it, and nobody has lost laundry time due to me. It does not matter. It is the principle that sets them off.

I am close to giving up and simply using laundromats. They are inconvenient, but at least I understand the capitalist exchange of money for service. You put your money in and the machine does its job. I would even understand a communist system, where the apartment dwellers form a community and we share our bizarrely limited resources. That would require a community, though, and there is no sense of community here. There are just lines on the schedule, and that is just how they like it.

Lex Spoon