The incident of the final t-shirt
October 14th, 2012
There are some incidents in life which you just cannot flush out ever. You keep brooding over them trying to make sense as to why they happened and what curious logic lay behind the actions of those who were involved. There was one such incident which I have never been able to make sense of and it involved a close friend. I never really shied away from asking him, in all earnestness, what motivated him to do what he did but he never gave me a direct answer, leaving me with a constant sense of doubt about my own powers of logic and rationality.
Graduate housing in UCSD has community washing and drying facilities. You have to take your clothes, stuff them in a washing machine, come back after some time to transfer them to a dryer and then come back again in some time to take them back. It's pretty routine generally but every now and then, sheer probability dictates that some poor grad student's clothes will get stolen during the time that he's not there to watch over them. That it would happen to a friend of mine whose complete disregard for conventional niceties meant that his wardrobe was perhaps the poorest of them all is just another indication that God likes to have his little pleasures and enjoys his little cosmic ironies. I can picture him drawing from his big brown bag of half-folded slips, the monthly names of the students whose clothes would be stolen, and I can picture him disregarding those names until he got to my friend for whom the loss of his faded blackbrowngray unironed clothes would be that much more ironical. So it happened and his clothes did get stolen and that incident, by itself, had the humor equivalent of a conventional humor hand-grenade but what made it positively nuclear was what my friend chose to do. Perhaps he was taking decisions under unreasonable psychological stress which must surely accompany a sudden disappearance of most of one's clothes, perhaps he really understood something that I haven't been able to, but he took one of his last remaining T-shirts, one of those sorry little pieces of garment which after years of use crosses the line of presentability into that vague murky zone where it becomes indistinguishable from a dust cloth and lies in a corner with no further hope of being washed again, put it in a plastic bag, went to the laundry room and hung it there in the hope that the rest of his clothes would be returned. The next day he went to the laundry room only to discover that his T-shirt had also been stolen! He may have gotten the plastic bag back but we have to agree that in the face of such a massive disaster the loss or gain of a puny little plastic bag is of little consequence.
Obviously this is one of those sequence of events which are all too rare in this world and which must be savored for all their comedic potential and my friend who is a great sport when it comes to these things went along with all the mirthmaking that accompanied the subsequent divulging of the details. But he never quite explained the incident of the final T-shirt and I have racked my brain trying to figure out why he did what he did, only to raise my hands in exasperation and accept defeat. I haven't been able to fathom the motive behind that final T-shirt. The only reasonable scenario which I can come up with where the sight of a lonely T-shirt would induce a return of the stolen clothes is one where this was a group job. In a situation where a bunch of thieves planned scrupulously and worked in unison to steal my friend's clothes, there is a possibility that the sight of the T-shirt might have invoked deep feelings of regret in a weaker member who could subsequently have gone against the other members and brought the clothes back. He/she may have had to overcome fierce resistance, dispose off a few bodies and make good his escape in the middle of the inky night by dressing like Robin Hood, but we shall not bother with wild conjectures here. The fact that it is only wild conjectures like this which seem to be logical enough to serve as possible solutions to the conundrum just goes on to indicate how deep the conundrum itself is. Perhaps I will figure it out one day when I am wiser than I am now, but I'm afraid that the unraveling of the incident of the final t-shirt would require wisdom which would forever be out of my reach.