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Learning at the laundromat
I've always used laundromats, and usually like doing my laundry there. When it's quiet, I can read a book or write; otherwise, I get a glimpse into other people's lives. Take yesterday, when I was at a laundromat in Peterborough, which has comfortable chairs and a shelf of paperbacks, re-reading Peter Matthiessen's The snow leopard. Two people came in and asked me for help, and I went and fetched the attendant (I don't know her name - I call her the Lady at the Laundromat to myself). I watched as she helped a very elderly woman, staggering under the weight of her basket, dealt with an arrogant young woman who wanted her wash done - yesterday, if not sooner! - and went back to folding dozens of sheets.

Although Peter was getting close to the Crystal Mountain - one of my favorite parts of the book - I had to ask the Lady "how do you keep so pleasant to everyone who comes in? I work at a library, and sometimes it's really hard to deal with people."

She said "Yes, it can be hard. We try to have two people here, but today I'm alone for the morning. and (lowering her voice) that young woman was standing outside, expecting me to help her carry her stuff in."

And I :"Do you ever lose your temper?" I had lost mine, just the day before, with a patron who brought in boxes of books, at a very busy time.  "People bring in book donations, and they expect us to be delighted, but it means a lot of extra work - and sometimes it's books that nobody wants, anyway."

She folded another sheet,  "Yes, you have to go through them, and do the cataloging, but you know you could bring extra books here - and there's "Annie's Book Stop" down the street."   Still folding "Oh, sometimes if it's getting too much for me I go outside and take a few deep breaths.  I just tell them to wait a minute, and I take the time for myself, and - "

At that point another customer called, and she left to explain the intricacies of the washing machine controls to a white-haired lady with a cane.  From then on the Lady was too busy to talk to me, but I had had my lesson for the day.

Later at the dryer, the white-haired  woman confided "I come here every week, but I can't remember how these machines work".  I wondered: will this be me, in 20 years?  I have always had a vague plan of getting a small, efficient washing machine for my old age - but do I really want to give up going to the laundromat?  

Without resolving this question, I left Peter in the snow on his way to enlightenment, folded the dry towels, and took my clean clothes home to hang on the line.