Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
People we know change our lives for good or bad all the time. Those that are the closest to us have the most influence on us, but every once in a while a total stranger, who we were never properly introduced to, and don’t even know their name, has a big impact on our lives. This is the story of one such person that changed my life forever, and she doesn’t even know I exist.
When I was eleven years old in 1978. We lived on a boat in Channel Island Harbor in Oxnard California. There was no washing facilities on our 35” Owens cabin cruiser so we would have to go to the laundry mat each week. When I look back my childhood was that idyllic past America that politicians say that will return us to. Even though that place never existed anywhere besides in my pre-teen memories. Life wasn’t perfect, I had what we would now call ADD, but back then school psychiatrist just scratched their head and said my scholastic problems must be dyslexia. I read way above my grade level, but couldn’t concentrate on anything longer than a short story. And it made laundry extremely monotonous and boring.
My father and I were doing the weekly laundry, when I saw her. Sitting on a coin op washing machine. She was short and petite (But taller than 7th grade me) long strait blonde hair, a light weight sweater, over a man’s collared dress shirt. Tight indigo jeans without a belt, sockless Vans on her feet. Sitting on that orange colored washing machine, she was nonchalantly reading Arthur C. Clark’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
I was in love, or whatever it is that eleven year old boys feel for an attractive total strangers when they first see them. She was the epitome of my idea of what beautiful was. And she was reading science fiction. Not just any sci-fi but hard core nuts and bolts space opera. Something at eleven years old, my classmates had let be known wasn’t cool unless it was t Star Wars or Star Trek. But there she sat a true California dime, non-apologetically reading the most philosophical of the hard sci fi book.
For the first time in my life I was conscious that I was looking at a female, in that way. I kept forcing myself to look away as not to get caught. I seriously doubt that I was even on her radar. As I folder my jeans, I watched her move her laundry to a dryer and then go right back into her book without missing a step.
I never saw her again.
That was around November, the next February was my sister’s 7th birthday. She got a sewing machine, and per our family tradition I got to get a small president. Four month later still thinking of the blonde in the laundromat I begged for a copy of 2001. It was the same version the girl was reading, the cover had a photo of David Bowman, in his spacesuit, the glass reflecting the colors in space. I felt an immediate bond with someone I had only seen one time.
But I had a real difficulty reading anything that was not a young reader chapter book. My dad would read it to me (and my mom read many other books too) and I would imagine that the story was being told in the voice of my suffer girl. But because of changes in his job he didn’t have the opportunities that he once had to read to me. If I wanted that surreal otherworldly connection to the girl on the washing machine, I would need to read it myself.
Though not easy at times, I did struggle through and 2001 was the first full length novel I read on my own. By the end of the school year I had also read Eugene Burdick’s Failsafe. Asimov’s Foundation and Foundation and Empire. And a World War Two Japanese Ace’s autobiography Samurai.
When Arthur C Clark died, there was a challenge to write something how he affected my life. I wrote about my struggle reading, and how 2001, was the first full length novel I had read. I left out the part about the Blonde beach girl, but no respect to Mr. Clark (he did invent the communications satellite after all) I think it may have been her not him that influenced me.
I never saw her again. I never knew her name. She’d be in her fifties or sixties now and probably be amused by this post if she ever read it. She will never know how much she changed my life. If she is still alive she is probably a gray-haired grandmother now. But to me she will always be young and beautiful and she will always be reading.