Being the new girl is dicey. You need to be wary of strangers, right? So, as a precaution, I put my guard up and maintain a low profile while I learn the lay of the land. Then I try to figure out who’s a gossip, who’s a snitch, who’s a buttinsky, a gasbag, a clinger, a pest. Watching and listening is a preventive measure.
So is waiting to do laundry until 10:00 at night; it reduces the chance of long awkward encounters with curious strangers. Laundry rooms can be deadly — what is there to do while you wait for the wash cycle to finish? If you’re me, you entertain yourself with a book or your phone. Others, though, want to talk. I’ll go along with them, but I know how the conversation is destined to end. And I’m rarely wrong.
Last week, I hadn’t even finished loading the washer before three neighbors wandered in with laundry of their own. My heart sank, obviously, but there’s nothing for it except to pretend I’m sociable. I plastered a smile on my face and traded pleasantries. I listened; I nodded in the right places; I feigned interest — and fantasized about pulling the fire alarm.
They exchanged medical conditions, talked about medical bills, and eventually defaulted to the good old days. One described the glory of skating rinks. She waxed nostalgic about swanning around, spinning and twirling and flirting with the boys. Then she turned to me and asked if I remembered that kind of thing. I piped up with, ‘Well, sure. Know what I did at skating rinks? I cracked my head open.’
Eyes got wide. Chins dropped. Crickets chirped.
A lifetime of stunned, uneasy silences has taught me nothing. I still think I’m hilarious and I’m still surprised no one agrees. Small talk isn’t my métier, but it’s the everyday currency of polite society. I can’t avoid it. I’d like to, since it’s where trouble starts, but I can’t.
Oh, given enough time people realize I’m harmless, some even start to think I’m funny. But it takes for flipping ever and they never think I’m as funny as I do, just amusing. And not always, just occasionally. And not everybody, just a few.
They’re my favorites.
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