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There is a peculiar sinking feeling that we probably are all familiar with it.

It is the "Uh-oh. I've been trapped in a conversation," feeling. (You may get this reading my LJ, for all I know...)

I am generally pretty good at avoiding these. I have no qualms about excusing myself to visit the restroom, fleeing the area, or, if all else fails, simply overruling the conversation with a showstopping "Okay, enough about this. How 'bout that weather?" I am not the freak magnet that some friends of mine are, and for this I am grateful.

However, there are still places where I can get cornered, and the laundrymat is one of them, because they've got you trapped. You are stuck there for the twenty-eight minutes it will take your clothes to dry. You cannot simply go somewhere else in the laundrymat, because there is not "somewhere else"--it's the size of a shoebox.

I go to this laundry because it is empty nine times out of ten. The tenth time, it's an adventure. Today, when the very large man came up to me, and said "Let me ask you a question about women..." I knew it was going to be an adventure.

Now, I do not consider the laundrymat an emotional safe zone. I would not spill my guts there. Even if, as this gentleman so obviously was, I was having relationship troubles and was desperate to get it off my chest, I would not consider doing it during the spin cycle. The laundry, to me, is a sort of perilous demilitarized zone--you get in, you get out, you try not to step on any landmines. The only time that I would ask my fellow launderers for assistance would be if a grizzly bear somehow wandered into the laundry and decided to eat me. Or possibly if I was stuck in a dryer. (And to be fair, I have no doubts that this gentleman would have been a great resource if I were being eaten by a grizzly, being built like a Sherman tank himself.)

So I smiled and nodded. My creep alarms were not actually going off, despite the oddness of the situation. People trying to pick you up rarely extoll the virtues of their girlfriend and her kids at such length. Mostly, I was just thinking vaguely about how I would not be confessing to someone chance met in a laundrymat, and wondering if this was as wildly inappropriate as I thought it was.

And then the other woman in the place came up, sat down, and said "What you need is a nice dee-vor-say who'll appreciate that you're treatin' her right!"

And suddenly I was trapped in the middle of an episode of Jerry Springer.

And my brain was forced to reconcile this dichotomy--that yes, I was now twice as direly uncomfortable, hearing the guts of TWO people being spilled before me--and that, at the same time, neither of them thought that a laundrymat was an inappropriate place for it.

Perhaps this is a Southern thing. Perhaps everyone else knows of the laundry as a place for free therapy, and I just missed that memo. I don't know.

I do know that as soon as I pay off this year's taxes, I am buying a washer and dryer so fast...

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Welcome to Dixie.

Wait until you go in to have your hair done, or some car work or... :-D


Well, you're not far off. It is a Southern thing.

We're raised to perceive all around us as our "neighbors." The kind of neighbors you have when you live out Mayberry RFD-way, where everyone knows everyone and actually kind of cares if Clarice down the street can't get the stain out of her old wedding dress. This applies even if we live in the most cosmopolitan of hyper-cities, with several million "neighbors" to care about.

When they hit the laundry, your partners-in-crime there weren't exactly spilling their guts to strangers --- its more havving a short chat-up with some long lost extended family. And, you know, family says that kind of thing.

Its a social dynamic I haven't encountered much anywhere else, but its one of the reasons I'd have trouble surviving long outside the South.

I am completely and entirely a freak magnet and I've never understood why.

I certainly don't look freaky. Pretty normal, actually. Maybe that's why wherever I happen to be, strangers of all ages are perfectly comfortable sitting down and, unprompted, telling me all about their divorce, or their job troubles, or even their medical problems.

The first few times this happened, it freaked me the heck out. But now I just expect it, so when a massive black woman plops down next to me at the landromat and says, "Oh honey, mah kids are ruinin' mah life, 'cause mah damn lowlife husband ran off with that hussy from the UDF!" I just smile and nod and take in the weirdness, then write it all down later :)

This used to happen to me every week or so in Baltimore - maybe they just had more freaks to go around. I just kind of roll with it. some of these people have nice theories of the universe.

I don't know why but whenever I'm walking down the street, someone driving by will stop to ask me for directions. I wouldn't mind but I have poor sense of direction and haven't lived here long enough to know all of the city. I wonder how many people I have sent to dead ends or to an entirely different part of the city.

Book. Headphones. Permanent scowl.

Works wonders for me.

Wouldn't you know, the thing that really stood out to me in this was the fact that you say "laundrymat" rather than "laundromat". Maybe that's an Ursula-ism, like "sort've"? :-)

I think most of my non-public-transportation-related creepy people experiences have been in the laundr*mat too.

"Laundrymat" returns about 10,000 hits on Google. "Laundromat" gets many times that, nearly half a million. But even "Laundramat", which would be the more technically correct spelling had this really come from Latin rather than marketing, gets a few thousand. And some of those are yellow pages sections.

These people were forthcoming to the point of being expositionist, perhaps, but rate relatively low on the "creepy people" scale, I'd think.

But I expect that each of us has sort've developed our own scales. ];-)

===|==============/ Level Head

These people were forthcoming to the point of being expositionist, perhaps, but rate relatively low on the "creepy people" scale, I'd think.

Yah. Strangers who confide fairly mundane details of their life don't bother me much. It's the ones who hit on me or talk about scary things, like their penchant for cutting themselves, or childhood habits of torturing small animals, that make me edge away. Or run screaming. Y'know, depending.

I think you know why I switched avatars for this one. I developed my own scales. ];-)

===|==============/ Level Head

Nah, I'm going with "Ursula can't spell" for this one, although I appreciate the attempt to offer me an Ursulaism. *grin*

Heheh, well, you were consistent with the so-called misspelling, anyway.

Your clothes only take 28 minutes to dry? You're lucky. Last place i dried mine regularly took 90 minutes, and even then, half the time the clothes weren't dry yet. Now that i have my own dryer, my clothes still take well over an hour... Try having an awkward conversation for *that* long. ;)

My laundromat has the best dryers EVER. Last night I put 2 loads of wash in one dryer, but only for 14 minutes on high heat ('cause I didn't have any more quarters). Half of them were dry, the rest were only a little damp. Just sayin...

And what is my solution? Bring a friend. Pretend to be engrossed in conversation with them. Failing that, talk to a cell phone. You can get old ones cheap at Goodwill.

Actually, the only times I've been to laundromats are in foreign countries. A couple times in Panama and I was safe. They all spoke Spanish, of course, and I was an English-only stupid looking kid. The other times were in New Zealand and I was always in the company of at least 3 of my friends. And we would chat with each other and such.

Granted, we weren't in Dixie.......

I live in NC, and I've never had that happen to me at any public laudry-washing place. But I'm told I come across as rather intimidating, so maybe that's why.

Allow me, at the risk of being the very thing you're justly complaining about, to tell you about Joe. Joe, my friend from the Seattle -> Cleveland Greyhound. Joe, EVERYBODY'S friend from the Greyhound. And Joe's blanket. And Joe's cat. And Joe's house in Orlando. And Joe's advice for getting SSI disability for severe depression. And Joe's sore back, which he always described with the exact phrase "zombie-like pains and spasms." And Joe's opinions about the comparative shipping rates of Greyhound and Amtrak. And Joe's Reba McIntire tape, which to his credit he attempted to lend to each and every one of us equally, without prejudice towards race, creed, or gender. And Joe's science fiction novel, from which he occasionally looked up at nothing in particular and uttered such pearls of wisdom as: "What a stupid name for a dog," "No, I don't think they'd do that on the moon," and "FUCK!" And the promising career Joe thought he would have in robotics, because he'd invented -- independently, mind you -- the idea of robots that could build other robots.

I now bring a Walkman every time I'm on mass transit. Our laundry is done in a dingy, damp basement in our new apartment. It looks curiously like a Doom level, and it is available at 2:30 a.m. My life is not without its blessings.

I have many other stories to tell about conversation partners on Greyhounds, such as the the Montanan broadcast engineering professor-turned-rancher who bragged to me at length about shooting coyotes; the perfectly bland and pleasant middle-aged Minnesotan woman who suddenly launched into a hilarious, obscene tirade about Ken Starr; and the pagan chick who claimed her ex-boyfriend was having the Crips stalk her across the country. But unlike some, I know when to shut up. :)

Southerners do in fact have the tendency to bring anybody available into a conversation. Doesn't matter what the subject is. Doesn't matter if you've never met. You can be anywhere. The best is when some woman in curlers and a nightgown sits down to have a chat with you about her husband and the kids and such.
When going to the laundromat, I always took a book and headphones (be they attached to a cd player or nothing at all, they still help you to look aloof) and looked as engrossed as possible. All hail the home washer and dryer.

No no no, the "Best" is when your dentist(or orthodontist, take your pick) tries to carry on a conversation with you while cleaning your teeth or whatever. Then, as a good southerner, you feel compelled to at least try to reply to their queries even though they have your mouth pried open.

That sort of thing always happens to me in thrift stores, except with a zesty dash of insanity. I once found myself listening to a woman's harrowing tale of her quest for a... pillow.

"I could take a bunch of these clothes and make them into a pillow, but I don't need to do that because I found this pillow. I didn't have a pillow at home, my room mate has the bed and my other room mate has the couch so I sleep on the floor with a quilt and that was nice but when you fold up a quilt to make a pillow you can't use it as a quilt no more! The bed came with the apartment, the couch belonged to her so she brought it in-(ad infinitum, I actually remember most of the conversation)"

Entirely strange. I live in Arkansas (where people supposedly don't wear shoes--or at least that seems to be the opinion of folk from the east coast and such) and have for many years now. Nothing like that has ever happened to me. Although, I don't really hang out in laundromats...

Well, it's better than what you get in laundromats up North...

Philly: "...hey, babe, you come here often?"


Detroit: "...bitch, I got a knife..."

Jersey: [gunfire, screams, sirens]

Re: Well, it's better than what you get in laundromats up North...

*chuckles* Being a Metro Detroiter most of my life, I find this *hilarious*.

...and that is why I currently don't go to the laundrymat. ;)

the oddity of laundrymats

I've been in a laundrymat a total of once, and that was when I was travelling in Japan.
I don't know anyone who doesn't do their own washing at home. Is the laundry/laundromat an American thing?
In fact, we don't even own a dryer, and hang our clothes on a washing line. Archaic indeed. And it only works because New Zealand isn't smoggy enough yet to dirty the clean clothes on the line.

I look them in the eye and tell them I don't speak English. If need be I add that I do speak Urdustani and could chat to them in that if they're familiar with it. This seems to torpedo unwanted conversations quite nicely.

Seems everyone has plenty of advice for avoiding such conversations. But unless you felt unsafe, it certainly provides grist for the idea mill, no? Could fuel some more of those exceptional dreams you have...or amusing posts anyhow.

I've often said that I live in New Hampshire, tolerating blizzards, mud season, bad roads, and even Presidential candidates simply so I can avoid country music and unsolicited friendliness.

Then some @#$%%# started a country station in Manchester.

I may have to see if they need EMTs in Greenland.

99.5! I've been listening to it since 6am :-D

Hmmmm, that's funny. You could say I'm a 'freak magnet' [I prefer 'approachable' :-)] but I'm almost always grateful when random people (as long as they're not random *scary* people) come up and talk to me.

Not because I'm *that* starved for social interaction, but because people are fascinating (yep, even the banal ones) and it all goes down into the ideas box. I would never recycle somebody else's personal life onto paper, but as inspiration it's great. Although possibly if they knew I was mentally noting everything down, they wouldn't be so keen to talk to me.

Actually, that's an idea. Next time somebody corners you, start taking notes....

That's why I don't go to walmart on weekends. Same thing happens when you're trapped in line ^_^;

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