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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  1. Angela says:

    That’s definitely a Southern thing. My family is from Louisiana, but being an army brat allowed me to escape the “let me tell random strangers everything there is to know about my family, friends, and self” cultural assimilation (my mom, on the other hand, is the reason why complete strangers the world over know who I am, where and what I study, and my future career goals).

    While getting my undergrad degree I also worked for my university, and once spent part of my workday on the phone with a student’s father, who wanted to tell me all about how his wife left him for another woman, and that his daughter blames him for it and won’t talk to him, which is why he was calling our office asking us for information protect by federal privacy acts.

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