I saw it right away, which completely defeated its purpose. A green-patterned camouflage jacket is useless unless its found in the woods or deep in the jungle. Had this clothing been piled up next to a bush somewhere in the Congo, it most-certainly would have eluded me. But lying in the middle of the grey washing machine tub, it stood out like a minority at the Republican National Convention.
There’s one washer and dryer for every building in my apartment complex. That means I have to compete against twelve other rooms of people when I decide my clothing has reached an unbearable level of nastiness. During the Great Depression, it wasn’t uncommon to have one Whirlpool, front-loading, high efficiency washer for every four-hundred families, so it’s difficult for me to complain.
Yet, as I do with all my first world problems, I continue bitch and moan. Especially when the only thing keeping me from doing a wash is someone else’s sopping wet camo.
When you have three floors of residents in an endless battle over a Sears appliance, war criminals will rise from the ashes. The worst offense you can make is leaving your clothing in the washing machine for an extended period of time. You’re inadvertently clogging up the entire clothing-washing system.
It’s evil. It’s careless. In my opinion, you’re more likely to make friends with your neighbors by taking a dump in the communal stairwell.
On this particular Monday night, I had a basket of dirty clothes ready to go. I had checked the laundry room several times during the course of a three hour period. The camouflage jacket remained. Had it been snow camouflage, it might have blended in a bit. This camouflage didn’t even try to hide from me. It stood out more than anything I had ever found in the washing machine and that irony deeply angered me.
Imagining the culprit angered me even more.
I pictured a white, middle-aged man with a long, braided chin beard. His head is shaved. He has a tattoo of an eagle on his left shoulder and the misspelled name of his high school ex on his right. He’s overweight from a diet of Burger King and microwaveable breakfast sandwiches. He doesn’t read. He doesn’t know what the second amendment is, but he would take a bullet for it.
He hunts on weekends, spending hours in the woods firing his rifle at defenseless deer. They never see him coming. He blends in with his surroundings like a fat tree with a NASCAR hat. When he’s not using his camouflage to destroy the lives of animals, he’s wearing it as a fashion statement to impress his buddies at tailgates. He takes his wife to Pizza Hut on their wedding anniversary.
This man was easy to despise. But then again, I did make him up to put a face to the attire that was ruining my laundry night.
Like when you encounter a car that’s moving obnoxiously slow on the highway and, even though it’s not safe, you can’t help but crane your neck to see the driver as you pass. It doesn’t matter who is behind the wheel. You just want a face to hate and any man, woman, grandfather, teenager, or handicapped person will do.
Another hour passed and the camo remained. By this point it was looking more and more like I would have to wear a bathing suit and a hand towel to work the next day. All because of one man who doesn’t care about the people he lives around.
I decided the culprit’s name was Dwayne and he runs local skinhead gatherings, plotting hate crimes and shouting “white power” at the top of his lungs. He has three daughters between the ages of five and sixteen. He drowned the youngest in a bathtub for crying during Wheel of Fortune. The middle child was expelled from school for lighting a teacher on fire. The oldest listens to Katy Perry on her Samsung Galaxy S4.
I thought about pulling the camo from the machine and tossing it outside the building. It would lie on the walkway in a sad puddle of soap, water, and lint. Everyone who entered the building would see it and know what an asshole Dwayne is. We’d rise up against him and run him out of the building.
I was so caught up in the fantasy of evicting my imaginary neighbor, that I almost didn’t notice the sounds of somebody in the laundry room right outside my living area. I pressed my ear up to the door to listen. I could hear the distinct sounds of somebody putting quarters into the dryer, closing the door, and firing it up. Then they left the room.
Quickly, I pressed my eye against the peephole so I could get a better glimpse at the chubby, hillbilly who had caused me so much anger that night. But all I saw was a young man, about my age, with a healthy physique and short haircut. He walked past my room and down the stairs.
“That’s not Dwayne.” I said to myself. My face still pressed up against the door. That’s the first time I realized I could have been very wrong about the situation.
Maybe it wasn’t Dwayne’s jacket at all.
Perhaps it belonged to Kevin…
Kevin has lived in Ohio all his life. He comes from a small, midwestern family with very little money. He joined the Marine Corps right out high school and has since served multiple tours of duty in Iraq in Afghanistan. He lives with his pregnant fiancé and their dog, Steve Jobs. His best friend was killed in the line duty last year and he blames himself for not being fast enough to jump on the grenade before it went off. He spends every day wishing it was him and not James. James didn’t deserve a fate like that. He hopes that, by continuing to serve his country, he can save the lives of many more men and woman. Which is why he was shipping out again for another tour of duty. All he needed to do was wash his uniform and spend one last night with his wife. A night that was so magical, he completely forgot he left his stuff in the wash.
And even though, like Dwayne, Kevin was a figment of my imagination. At the very least, he still served to make me feel like a huge dick as I poured detergent all over my dark hipster jeans and my cheap polo shirts.