A scene in San Francisco

Grant and Union, North Beach. A laundromat: “Stanley’s Wash and Dry.”

The walls are painted — chartreuse — but the paint is peeling, revealing bare concrete and cinder block beneath. The ceiling is a maze of exposed plumbing and ventilation, with fluorescent lights breaking up the few unobscured areas. A few plastic lawn chairs are strewn about, often occupied by people reading books, but for now you are the only person here. Half a dozen laundry carts, scattered chaotically around the room. In the middle, a tall, laminated wood table atop stainless steel legs.

You stand about waiting for your laundry to finish — having brought nothing to entertain you while waiting — staring at the wall and playing mind games. You could head home while your laundry is washing, as a few others have done — in this neighbourhood, the risk of anyone stealing your clothes is minimal — but this load of washing amounts to about three-quarters of all the clothes you own, so losing them is too great a risk.

You notice, in the corner of the table, a denim wallet with a pink zipper. Atop it is a ‘feature phone’ — and beneath is a stack of fresh $20 bills, perhaps 10 of them. You think it foolish to leave such valuables out unprotected in public. The thought of pocketing them crosses your mind — your moral sense dismisses it, unless to hand them in as lost.

A teenager comes in with a child, 8 or 9 years old, the child obviously impatient to get their task over with — mentioning the possibility of gelato from the store down the street. They load up their clothes, sharing a joke or two meanwhile. They then leave, as one or two other trusting souls have done. But not you. You will not lose your laundry.

Wait. Pace. Think. Hum.

While pacing, you notice that the pile of $20 bills has gone. You hypothesize that the teenager, or perhaps the kid, took it while you weren’t looking. The wallet and the phone are still there.

A woman rushes in, perhaps in her mid-thirties. She is wearing army-camouflage shorts, a short-sleeved white T-shirt, showing off the multiple tattoos (various abstract gothic shapes) down her arms. She picks up the wallet and phone. The money is gone.


She steps away from the table and breathes deeply. “Shit.”

She pauses, paces back and forth once or twice, then turns and addresses you, speaking (or shouting) extremely quickly. “You OK? You washin’ yo’ clothes? Did ya just finish work?” You answer passively in the affirmative. The thought that she might accuse you of theft crosses your mind, but you can easily prove otherwise by turning out your pockets.

She turns away. “Shit.”

She considers her losses, and leaves at a pace much slower than she entered with.

You finish your washing, stuff it in your laundry bag, and walk back up the street to your apartment, still in firm possession of all your clothes.