Escalation

I’m not a vindictive man. You know, usually.

Mine isn’t a complicated character. When someone fucks with me, I fuck back. I try not to put myself in situations where I’m going to get fucked with. But it does happen. And when it does, I try to discourage it from happening again.

This doesn’t mean I have a temper. Quite the opposite. I reflect with care and sobriety upon the matter before making the determination that I have truly been fucked with. Thereafter I take the time to marshal my forces and execute an appropriate and productive retaliation.

Having a temper just gets in the way.

***

It was my second year of college. I was doing my laundry. I was between girlfriends and so I was doing it alone.

The laundry machines were free. But you got the impression that the school tried to discourage you from taking advantage of this largesse. You had to go through three locked doors to get to them. You had to go down a flight of very steep stairs gouged down into the concrete floor. You had to pray that the machines were working. And of course you had to wait for a machine to be available.

The laundry room itself was a study in claustrophobia. All the walls were concrete that had been washed a sticky white. The neon light in the ceiling made my teeth hurt. There were three washing machines, six dryers, lots of fabric-marker scrawls on the low ceilings, and enough wild tumbleweeds of dryer lint to set-dress a Spaghetti Cyberpunk.

It was also a kind of vortex for unwanted clothing. There was a box labeled “free” that was always filled with stuff. Sometimes clothing, sometimes not. Just because it was in the box didn’t mean its owner had put it there. The rest of the room was also covered in stuff. Mostly clothing. Usually panties.

It was dawn on a weekend. Pretty much the only people awake on the whole campus were me. The first washing machine had some sodden clothing sitting in it. The second washing machine was free, so I loaded it up and left it to its business. 36 minutes. I’d be back in 34 to make sure it was safe.

I made it back in 32 minutes because I am anal. I spent the remaining time pawing through the ‘free pile’. I found a bottle of organic laundry detergent worth more than my car, an unopened children’s mask and snorkel, two copies of the same Harry Potter book, a necklace made of tampon applicators, a pair of stiletto-heeled leather boots, and lots of linty clothing.

I took the detergent. And the snorkel. Went back to my room to play with the latter and wait for my laundry to be dry.

***

The room was a lot louder than when I’d left it. Whoever’d left their clothing in the washing machine had transferred its contents to the dryers. All of them. All six of them. They were all set to their lowest setting with 95 minutes left on their timer (out of a possible 98).

All except one. Which wasn’t turned on.

It was full like the others. Means it had about one sixth of a load in it. But the owner of the clothing had forgotten to put it on.

***

A brief note on the rules of etiquette of a college laundry room:

Washer-hours and dryer-time are limited commodities. You’re entitled to your fair share. But you can’t take more than that.

If someone fucks with your laundry mid-cycle, they are taking your rights from you. They are interrupting your fair share. You have the right to fuck them back. That’s the Rule Of Fair. That goes without saying.

So, okay, if you put something in a washer or dryer for a full cycle, it’s yours for the entirety of that cycle. But when that cycle ends, you’re done. That washer, that dryer is up for grabs. That’s the Rule Of Finished. If you’re not there to take out your clothing, someone else has the right to take it out for you. And they have the right to give you a dirty look, because you made them take out your laundry for you. You prick.

Because if you fuck with someone else’s clothing mid-cycle, you’re denying them their right to do laundry. And if you leave your laundry in the machine while its off, you’re denying the next person their right to do laundry. Either way you are violating the social contract. Don’t be surprised when the Leviathan caps your ass because of it.

We all know this. Right? Yeah. Just checking.

***

So I was faced with a problem. I had wet laundry but there was no empty dryer. Normally I would have to put it in a plastic bag and come back later to try it, guaranteeing wrinkles of sufficient size that a Large would have become a Small and a Small a fucking tube sock. I’d had to do it before. It sucked, but you did it, because that’s how the laundry room worked.

But this was different. Someone had left clothing in a dryer that was off. It was just sitting there, helping nobody, wasting precious dryer-time. It wasn’t that it was selfish; it was unfare. In a situation where everyone has equal interest – is equally selfish; we all want our laundry done – I had the right to take action.

I shrugged. I’d had to do this before too. I opened up the dryer that wasn’t on. I took out the clothing that wasn’t getting dried. I put the clothing in a neat little pile on top of the dryer, and I put my clothing in.

Not vindictive. Not aggressive. Just doing What, in that situation, One Does.

I put my laundry on for a reasonable 30 minutes, turned, and left.

I came back 28 minutes later. Of course.

I went to check my drying, see if it needed more time. I didn’t get that far. I looked down and saw it on the floor.

And I mean, all over the floor. This was not a big room by my soggy unmentionables covered a fair amount of it. On the filthy, nasty, listlessly-linted floor. My clothing, recently clean, thrown down like &c.

I went to the laundry machine that I had been using. On it there was a note, written by hand, whose contents I have not forgotten:

I don’t have time for this shit. Leave people’s laundry alone! If you have a problem with this, call <10-digit phone number.> Otherwise, have a nice day.

[signed, a common rich white girl’s name]

In an instant I knew what had happened. It was painfully clear to Sherlock Of The Soggy Socks. She had come in and seen that someone had taken out her drying. She presumed a Rule Of Fair violation, got pissed off, got vindictive, and dumped the offender’s laundry on the dirty floor.

She hadn’t realized that she’d forgotten to turn the thing on. She hadn’t considered the possibility that my action was a response justified under the Rule Of Finished. She’s just presumed she was right and I was wrong, and thrown my clothing on the ground.

I gathered my clothing up. I brushed it off. Then I had some thinking to do.

***

Now, it was pretty clear what had happened. As far as dryer-use goes, neither of us was really at fault. I could have avoided this all – probably – if I’d left a note. Not that I was obliged to do so. But, in retrospect, it would have been helpful.

My problem wasn’t one of laundry-room law. It was one of simple etiquette. She had taken my clean laundry and thrown it on the floor, done so after I had treated hers with care and consideration. She’d failed to consider what had happened, she’d instantly assumed she was right and I was wrong. And then – and then – she’d indulged in the luxury of being a dick.

I thought and I thought, leaning against that marker-besotted wall, but try as I might I kept coming back to the same conclusions:

1) My actions in re: the dryer had been correct.
2) Her actions in re: the dryer were, if not correct, than at least understandable
3)My actions in re: her clothing had been neighborly
4) Her actions in re: my clothing were vindictive

Therefore, by rules that extend well beyond the laundry room, I had the opportunity to be vindictive in kind.

I could have just left well enough alone. I could have gone to a different laundry room. I could have called the number Miss Pissy McPassive-Aggressivepants had left. And I would have done one or all of these things. If not for the way she’s treated my very-own stuff.

Or I could have responded in kind. I could have taken out her clothing, dumped it on the floor, written her an equally >:| note, and hoped that things wouldn’t continue to escalate from there.

On the other hand…

She had started a cycle of violence. I believe such behavior ought to be discouraged. And, y’know, I find the best way to discourage such behavior is to win.

I could have taken an eye for an eye, eventually leading to a blind world. Or I could step it up, blind the rest of the world, fuck the empty sockets, and have a beer.

After careful consideration, I decided that she had quite clearly thrown down a gauntlet. I was quite within my rights – by my own lights, and those of the laundry-room – to pick it up. Moreover, I was right, she was wrong, and therefore I could find as much enjoyment in picking it up as I wanted.

I had righteousness on my side. It didn’t make me stronger. But it made me happy as I fucking wallowed in it.

***

The first thing I did was stop all six of her dryers.

Then I took two dresses and put them in the free pile – at the bottom.

Then I took a pair of distinctively-patterned leggings and left them on the floor.

Then I emptied the lint traps in all the dryers.

Then I took a few of her panties, covered them in detergent, and mixed them with the lint.

Then I returned the panties to the dryers – one pair per dryer – and turned them on high.

Then I took about three quarters of her clothing – a fair quantity all told – and put it in a washing machine.

Then I took a bottle of bleach that someone had left there, and poured the entire contents into the washing machine.

Then I closed the washing machine.

Then I put it on a 98-minute spin cycle – during about 94 minutes of which the door would be locked.

Then I reached behind the machine to the water valve and shut it off.

There was nothing in there but bleach.

Then I took the remainder of the clothing and put it in a bag.

Then I took my clothing – wet and linty though it was – and put it in another bag.

Then I went outside. It was the dead of winter. It was snowing.

Then I went into the middle of the quad.

Then I dug a hole in the snow.

Then I dumped in her clothing.

Then I covered it up.

Then the snow that was falling kept it covered until the thaw – three months later.

Then I took my clothing to a different laundry room, found an unoccupied washing machine, and started it on the road to getting clean again.

I set it for 38 minutes. I came back 36 minutes later – no problems.

I moved it to the dryer. Set it for 38 minutes. Came back 36 minutes later – no problem at all.

I took it back to my room, threw it on my bed, and, while it was still all warm and toasty, I burrowed into it and rolled around like a baby in a warm blanket.

Or a triumphator in a bath of red lead.

***

There’s no real climax to this story. No just comeuppance. No happy ending. No eventual makeouts. Nothing but drawers full of laundry – or not, as the case may be.

But likewise there was no escalation in the cycle of violence. I made sure that there wouldn’t be. There was a bud that I didn’t want blooming, so I burned the bush, chopped up the roots, and pissed on the ashes.

That’s no way to continue a story. That’s okay; I wasn’t trying to continue it. I was trying to end it. And the non-proportional response is a pretty interesting way to end a story, I find.

Effective, too.

– Kennebunkport, 2011

PS – Aren’t you glad the title of this story wasn’t “Spin Cycles of Violence”?

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~ by davekov on 1 February 2011.

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