Being the new girl is dicey. You need to be wary of strangers, right? So 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 gas bag, 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? Me, I read a book or mess with my phone. Others like to talk. I’ll go along with them, but I know how the conversation will end.
Last week, I hadn’t even finished loading the washer before three neighbors wandered in with laundry of their own. My heart sank, but there’s no way around being sociable. So I plastered a smile on my face and traded pleasantries. I listened; I nodded in the right places; I feigned interest — and daydreamed about pulling the fire alarm.
They exchanged medical conditions, talked about medical bills, and eventually defaulted to the good old days. One chattered on and on about the glory of skating rinks. She waxed nostalgic about swanning around, spinning and twirling and flirting with the boys. Then she wheeled on 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 popped. Chins fell. Crickets chirped.
A lifetime of these stunned, uneasy silences has taught me nothing. I still think I’m hilarious and I’m still surprised no one agrees. Clearly, small talk isn’t my métier, but I can’t avoid it. I’d like to, but I can’t. It’s the everyday currency of polite society.
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 oddly amusing. And not always, just occasionally. And not everybody, just a few.
They’re my favorites.
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