Mon 30 Oct 2006
My friend Amy is coming to visit for a few days, and in her honor, I would like to retell her absolutely true story of “The Laundry Burglar.” It’s a Thanksgiving story but its scary elements work well for Halloween too. I never tire of hearing it. I’ll try to do it justice. All the coolest parts (such as the term ‘donut-eatin’ cops’) are hers and hers alone, and this story works best if you imagine it told in a Tennessee accent.
It was Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, and Amy was tired to the bone. She’d known, abstractly, that teaching in an inner city Baltimore public school was going to be difficult, but the actual experience was something else altogether. Now, at the end of a short week, she kept herself going by focusing only on the immediate hour or two ahead. School had been a half-day, but she’d stayed late to try to get some grading done. Finally, as dusk was falling, she walked home, and met her two roommates loading suitcases into the back of a taxi. They were already heading out for the holiday. Hugs all around: Goodbye, have a great trip! Goodbye! Amy herself wouldn’t be leaving until very early the next morning.
Amy lived in a rowhouse, which for all you West Coasters is exactly what it sounds like: a house that is connected to the other houses all down the block. Row houses are skinny, tall, and built of brick. As Amy climbed the steps to her front door, she was already plotting how the evening would go. She’d run up to the top floor to get some of the laundry that had been piling up all week. Then she’d run down two levels to the basement, where the washer and dryer were. Then she’d run back up and start packing, and maybe get a little more work done before starting the next load. Everything went according to plan until she got to the third phase, getting stuff done. She sat on her bed to work, rubbed her eyes, and next thing she knew, it was the middle of the night.
Oh no! Her plan was totally messed up! Well, she still had a few hours before she had to leave for the airport. All was not lost. First, she needed to get those soggy clothes out of the washer, so she stumbled downstairs and pulled the chain to turn on the basement light. She spent a few seconds staring into the washer before the facts dawned on her with a chill: the washer was empty! Out of the corner of her eye she caught a glimpse of her clothes, which were neatly folded on top of the dryer. Amy had definitely not dried and folded those clothes.
Her first idea was to run out into the alley through the basement door and go for help. Whoever had folded her clothes was probably still in the house, and she didn’t want to be wandering through it alone. All she could think about was that thriller she had seen, where the murderer straightens the entire house before attacking. Amy made for the basement door and had her hand on the knob before she realized that she didn’t know anyone in Baltimore, at least no one that she felt comfortable waking at two in the morning. It also didn’t seem that much safer to be wandering the streets alone, in the rain, at such an hour. She grabbed a rake off the wall and ran back up two flights of stairs to get to the cell phone in her room. She made short work of pushing furniture against the door once she was safely in, and dialed 911.
“There’s a stranger in the house,” she told the operator. “How do I know? Well, whoever it is folded my laundry while I was sleeping.” The dubious silence on the other end of the line frustrated Amy, and she started mentally scripting a complaint letter to the government. “Look, could you just send someone over to check it out? I’m here alone and I KNOW I did not fold that laundry.” Amy waited awhile, and soon enough she heard a knock on the front door downstairs. She grabbed her rake and made sure the coast was clear before she answered the door for two police officers standing on the steps.
Baltimore is not known for having the most competent police force in the lower 48, but even so it was clear to Amy that they had dispatched the B-team. The pair was already grinning and they were two of the most donut-eatin’ cops she had ever had the pleasure of meeting.
Cop A: Soooo, we hear you got a laundry burglar.
Cop B: Take us to the scene of the crime!
The cops decided not to turn on the lights, and instead swept their flashlights around the main level of the darkened house. Amy wasn’t feeling very reassured. She’d spent the waiting time creating elaborate theories about the stranger, his dangerousness, and his location in the house. She grabbed a kitchen knife as they inspected the kitchen and made sure she was between the two cops on the trip down to the basement. Cop A started crooning like he was calling a kitten.
Cop A: Laaaaaauuuunnnnndry burglar! La- La- La laundry burglar!
The two officers aimed their flashlights at the pile of folded laundry.
Cop B: Well, well! I wish the laundry burglar would come to my house!
Cop A: Yeah, he could teach my wife a thing or two!
Amy was disgusted. She walked with them to the top level and decided to wait in her barricaded room while they checked the rest of the house. She listened to their heavy footfalls moving up and down the stairs and through the rooms, torn between curiosity and fear. Then, suddenly, there was a scream and a thump. More screams– Amy couldn’t stand it, she had to see what was going on. She rushed out of her room and into her roommate’s room, where all the noise was coming from.
Cop A was screaming. Cop B was screaming, and had dropped his flashlight. A third person was also screaming; this person was in her roommate’s bed. She looked closer, and it was in fact her roommate, who had been startled awake by a wide, looming figure shining a flashlight on her face. Her scream had started a chain reaction.
Once the lights were on and everyone was calm, it came out that Amy’s roommate had dropped off her luggage at a friend’s and returned to finish up a few chores that night. She had folded Amy’s clothes so she could do some laundry herself. By the time the story was straight and the sheepish cops gone, Amy had to leave for Tennessee. She walked in the door of her childhood home exhausted and bedraggled. “You won’t believe the horrible thing that just happened to me,” she announced to her entire extended family. She launched into the story and it gradually dawned on her that instead of gasps and sympathetic sighs, the room was filling with laughter. Finally she started laughing, too.
laundry basket — www.conservewater.utah.gov