Tales from the ‘Mat
May 25, 2018
As I entered the laundromat today, I recognized the woman coming out. I’ve run into her at the laundromat before. She has a severe and persistent mental illness, and is able to live independently because she receives support with medications and housing. I have cared for her when she has been hospitalized, and also as an outpatient. I greeted her, and she asked me, “Are you here looking for me?” “No,” I said, “I’m here to hand out quarters. Do you need some?” “I just did my laundry,” she told me. “Well, could you use some anyway?” She took the quarters and thanked me. For many, disability payments leave little to nothing for extras, and if, like this woman, you have no family in the area, you have no way to obtain any of those small extras.
Her departure left the laundromat empty, and I chatted with the attendant for a few minutes. I settled in a chair facing the door and waited for customers. A few people came in, but they were dropping off laundry for the attendant to do. Then man entered the ‘Mat and set his laundry down in front of a machine. I approached him. “I’d like to give you some quarters from the community for your laundry. ” These are the words I now use when I approach people at the ‘Mat.. The man looked startled. He said, “I wouldn’t feel right taking quarters. Somebody else needs them more than I do. I’m sorry.” I assured him that I wasn’t offended that he hadn’t taken the quarters.
After the man loaded his laundry into the $6.75 washing machine, he and a woman sat down opposite me. They obviously were together at the laundromat, but they did not seem to be a couple. The man asked me, “Are those really community quarters, or are they from you or from a church?” I smiled and told him that they were indeed from a church. I talked to them about how the Laundry Quarters program started at the church. I told them that people from there faithfully give me quarters regularly. The man told me he goes to a church in North Belgrade, a Baptist church which he said is “a good church.” The woman asked me if I was familiar with St. Helena’s in Belgrade. She talked for awhile about St. Helena’s and the history of Belgrade, including the story of Judge Crater, a vacationing New York judge who mysteriously disappeared in 1930 and never was found. Just then a young couple came in, and I excused myself to go greet them.
The couple had come in together, but they were each doing their own laundry. I gave each of them a roll of quarters “from the community.” The woman held my gaze, quarters in her hand. “You made my day!” she said.
After I returned to my seat, the man told me a story about trying to find a place to live. He told me that he had been promised a nice apartment in Belgrade, an apartment that he had felt could be home. He had gone to look at it, and the landlord told him it was his. But later on, the landlord called him and asked him to come and look at another apartment. This apartment was small and dark, above a garage. It had only two small windows, one on each end. “I looked at that apartment, and I knew that I couldn’t live there. It was so dark, and I knew I would get depressed if I lived there. So depressed.” He shook his head, thinking about it. “I told that landlord I thought he was going to rent me the other apartment, but he told me he was going to rent that apartment to a couple who had been renting from him for two years.”
Continuing his story, the man said that as it happened, God was there in this mix of a landlord who broke a promise and seemingly fruitless apartment hunting. “This week I looked at an apartment in China. It’s beautiful! There are flower gardens, and the apartment is very nice, a two bedroom apartment. I’m going to move there this week!” I told the man I was so happy for him after hearing that he went through such trials. I felt so much joy--for being given a story shared from his heart, and for his change in fortune for which he had no logical explanation--only a story of God’s grace. I knew my face reflected my joy, because I could not stop smiling.
The man and the woman talked about how much they like coming to the laundromat, because it gives them a chance to talk to people. “Most people say they hate coming to the laundromat, but we both like coming here.” The woman told me she had seen me at the ‘Mat some time ago, handing out quarters. “I have some quarters for you,” she said, digging through her purse. As she handed me the quarters, which I took in my cupped hands, she apologized because there were only six quarters. “This is how I get quarters,” I said, “People give them to me a few at a time. They add up.”
I was out of quarters, so I stood up to go. I shook hands with the man and the woman, and told them how much I had enjoyed their stories and talking with them. “I like coming to the laundromat, too,” I said.
As I left, I thought that leaving the laundromat is always a good feeling. You leave with clean clothes, and a feeling that you have accomplished at least one thing that day. But when I leave, pockets emptied of quarters, I leave with good feelings because I have made connections and maybe even made someone’s day. Maybe the people I gave to will see those quarters as God’s grace. Because someone, for no reason, just because you were in the laundromat that day--someone gave you some much needed quarters without any expectation at all of anything in return.