Sunday 10 June 2012

Laundering Patience

By Eric Hanna, S.J.

Buildings in most equatorial countries have a greater degree of integration between inside and out than do buildings in colder climes. There's no need to keep out the snow or the cold, so large indoor gardens, living rooms half in- and half out-side are standard. This means that individual rooms of the house need a higher level of security because they are completely accessible from outside. So heavy bars, multiple locks, and small windows are also common.

All that was the last thing on my mind when I went down to do my laundry. It was dark, so I brought my flashlight. It was about 20 minutes before supper time. The laundry-room was probably a storage room in its first iteration. It had steel doors and no handle, just a keyhole, like a shed, with a set of keys in it. I traipsed in and let the door fall shut behind me with a satisfying little click.

I stood straight and realized my mistake immediately. My first reaction was to laugh. I tried the door. Locked tight. The lightswitch? On the other side of the door. Alternate exits? None. Well, there was only one thing to do. I folded and organized my laundry. In the dark. I laughed. A ridiculous predicament. I was not seriously worried. There are over a dozen people living in the Philosophy house where I'm staying. Someone would be sure to wander by soon.

Of course the trouble with over a dozen people is that it's not really noticeable when one of them is gone. So there I was, sitting in the basement, while everyone else was having dinner.

It was embarrassing to shout but I figured it would be worth a try. However, people who live in Caracas are so used to people in the street shouting things at each other at the top of their lungs that they have long since adapted to tuning out the noise. I'd probably have ignored the noise, too.

So I treated the situation as an intellectual problem. First I tried twisting a coat hanger into a hook which I could slide through the crack between the double doors in order to hook and retrieve the key. But no dice. The doors was designed with a steel plate to cover the crack. At least we could all sleep well knowing that our washing machine was protected by fortress-like security.

I found two screws holding the lock mechanism in place and wondered if I could unscrew them. I had no coinage to improvise a screwdriver. But after a few minutes search I discovered the jackpot: a spoon. A spoon with a nice, flat lip. The screws began to turn easily under its pressure. I thought how people would praise my resourcefulness as I recounted the hilarious story.

At that very moment I heard somebody bringing out the garbage to the garage. Rolling my eyes I screwed the screws back in and banged and hollered. It was not long before the hapless, helpless gringo was liberated. We all laughed and I reflected that it was probably for the best that I didn't dismantle their door and require someone to fix it later. And, after all, I returned safely from my period of captivity with fresh and well-organized laundry. And had some late dinner.

So let that be a lesson for all of us: You can take away our freedom, but you'll never take our laundry.

Come to think of it, that's a pretty terrible lesson. I'm beginning to suspect that the 45 minutes I spent locked in the laundry room might have been a complete waste of time! Nah, I went to do my laundry and I might have learned something about patience. Who could have guessed?

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