When I returned to the community laundry room, I discovered I had 80 minutes left on my dryer.
Something was not right. It had already been running 40 minutes, and I know I only inserted enough quarters to send the dryer spinning for an hour, not two.
What kind of soaking wet clothes would require two hours of tumble?
A kindly older gentleman was tending to clothing in several washers.
“Hey, I’m never going to use all this time left on the dryer,” I said to him. “Somebody must have fed some quarters into it by mistake. You can throw your clothes into it if you want.”
Thus began a conversation I might never have otherwise with a 70-year-old man washing his clothes.
He was no laundry expert, he admitted. In fact, this was only the third time he’d done laundry after having someone else take care of it for 40 years.
“It’s a lot of work, those household chores,” he said. “I can see why women complain about it.”
Turns out, he was recently divorced.
“Oh, I never know if I should say, ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘congratulations,'” I said, my face making a polite grimace.
“Oh, it’s OK,” he said. “I’m getting by. We got married when she was 23 and I was 30. I told he then our age difference might be a factor someday, but she dismissed me. I guess she changed her mind.”
“So you got divorced after being married 40 years?” I asked, incredulous.
“Yup,” he said without a hint of sorrow or bitterness. “She sat me down in November and said, ‘I’m not happy. I want a divorce.’ We sold everything off, and that was that.”
Something was not right.
What kind of woman married 40 years asks for a divorce?
“She was never really happy,” he said. “I mean I tried to help her. We talked about it. But sometimes she would just burst out crying for no reason.”
I didn’t know this man 15 minutes earlier. Maybe he was a perfectly fine husband, and his wife was just sad. It sure didn’t seem like he was airing dirty laundry. He was simply telling it like it is.
“Did she have a boyfriend?” I asked (yes, I asked).
“Oh, probably,” he shrugged. “I don’t really know. We still get along, though. In fact, I talked to her for 45 minutes today. No use being angry or bitter.”
Nope. No good in that.
“Unbelievable,” I said, shaking my head. “Forty years.”
We talked a bit more. I gathered up my warm, dry clothes, ready to depart. The washers he was using finished their job.
“Oh! Don’t forget the dryer — throw your clothes in that one,” I said. “Use up that time someone else paid for.”
“Yup, I will,” he said. “Somebody else’s loss is my gain.”