Take Off Your Headphones

ImageWhile going to the laundromat isn’t necessarily my most favorite pastime, I do welcome the allotted amount of freedom that doing laundry provides. This free time allows me to read to the paper, work on the Times crossword puzzle, listen to music, and tweet.

Today, I found myself in the chairs of the neighborhood laundromat reading the Times and blasting music into my headphones. A cool breeze blew through the somewhat stuffy laundromat as I read about a cheating scandal and an unlikely nude beach in Wisconsin.

Amidst my reading, I noticed that an older, tiny woman sat down in the chair next to me. All of the other chairs in the laundromat were empty, but the woman chose to sit directly next to me. I’ve often found that any time I’m sitting in an empty place, whether it’s a movie theater, a train, or a bus, people always tend to pick the one seat directly next to me. As soon as she sat down, she motioned to my headphones.

“You should be careful not to have those in your ears too often,” she said. “Take if from me, I’m hard of hearing and hearing aids are expensive!” I laughed and thanked her for the kind advice. I never much thought about the price of hearing aids, but I welcome any advice on how to save money. I took off my headphones and turned off my music so that I could open the door for a conversation with this woman. She saw the opportunity and we began chatting a little. Once the conversation ended, I returned to my paper to continue my reading.

As I paged through the paper, I noticed the woman peering over my shoulder. I angled the paper so that she could take a peek as well.

“They’re still talking about her?” she asked, referencing the article about Nora Ephron’s memorial service.

“Yes,” I said. “They just had a memorial service for her. They’re talking about who attended and what they said.” I turned the page and moved on to another article.

“That’s awful!” she said, referencing the next article I read about a brownstone in Brooklyn that collapsed.

“It stood for 150 years! Unbelievable,” I said. She began chatting with me about what it was like to visit her old neighborhood in the Bronx many years later when she was a case worker. The buildings were not as large has she had remembered and you could no longer get ice cream for a nickel at the local store. In fact, there was no local store.

She then pointed out another story that I hadn’t heard about–a story about a boat that capsized during the 4th of July fireworks.

“That guy should be held partially responsible for those drownings. After all, it was his boat!” I skimmed the article for the facts and found that the boat had been filled with many more people than its capacity and there weren’t enough life jackets. Worse, children drowned. Enough of that news for one day. I moved onto the Arts section.

“Is it supposed to rain any time soon?” she asked. I picked up the front section and turned to the back where the weather reports are printed.

“Not until Saturday,” I said, quickly skimming. Our conversation came to a halt when it was time for her to move her laundry from the washer to the dryer. I got up to fold my laundry that had finished drying.

As I began folding bath towels and t-shirts, I found myself next to the woman again as she was looking to put her laundry into the dryer. It happened to be just as I took a Wisconsin Badgers t-shirt out of the dryer and began folding. Her eyes widened with excitement.

“Did you attend Wisconsin?” she asked.

“I’m from there!” I said.

“I went to Michigan State. From 1953-1956.”

“Big rivals!” I said.

“My brother went to Minnesota,” she said.

“Another rival!” I said.

“Back in those days, there were only 14,000 people at Michigan State. So our professors new us. That was nice,” she said.

“Only 14,000 people back then? Wow,” I said.

“We went to the Rose Bowl. I didn’t even ask permission from my father. And in those days, there were no planes. We took the train. I can’t even remember if the band was there or not,” she said. The Rose Bowl! The Badgers have played in the Rose Bowl for the past 2 years so I’m no stranger to the hype surrounding the game and the travel plans involved. To think that this woman attended that game in the early ‘50s as a young college student and took the Union Pacific to get there and 60 years later we’re standing face-to-face in a New York City laundromat. Before this conversation, she was just a little old lady doing her laundry, but now, she was something more. A woman of the world.

I had finished folding my laundry and it was time to go.

“It was so nice to meet you,” I said. “Have a great day.”

As I walked back to my apartment, clean laundry in hand, I thought about how glad I was that I took off my headphones. You never quite know who you’re going to run into in this city and it’s such a treat when someone takes the time to talk to you and share their story. I’m also glad this woman took the time to look out for the wellbeing of my eardrums. Especially with the price of hearing aids being so high. I will be certain to take off my headphones more often.

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4 thoughts on “Take Off Your Headphones”

  1. I have always loved the elderly! Just today, in fact, I had my own little old lady encounter, in what (I can only hope) is one of many to come in Lincoln, Nebraska.

    Unbeknownst to me, this woman watched me get out of my car, which has a “Beloit or Bust” bumper sticker. In the dairy aisle she said, “Beloit or Bust? I know where the town is, but…” She trailed off, and I can only assume she was thinking what a man was recently so kind to inform me – that Beloit looks as though it’s already been busted.

    I replied, “Yeah, the town is a little ragged, but, I went to college there and it was great.”

    Then, she told me she was going to get some Wisconsin cheese, but that it wasn’t from Beloit.

    True story.

    1. I love it! First of all, I love it how elderly people feel compelled to comment on things like bumper stickers and to share stories in general. I love their wisdom and perspective on the past.

      It’s also funny that no matter where we are in this country, somehow the conversation always comes back to Wisconsin 🙂

  2. That was way better than my experience with an old lady at a laundromat. I was in Beloit at the time and went to the laundromat with Mac. A homeless lady came in and saw that my long, puffy winter coat was sitting on one of the chairs. She grabbed it and used it as a blanket as she laid down on the floor. She took a nap with my coat for about an hour. Then Mac and I had to leave and I was a little afraid to take my coat from her. But I did and it all worked out in the end.

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