Monday, February 16, 2009

porcupine? well... yes

First I'd like to say that a quick audit of my last several posts reveals at least one reference to "dragging" myself to work every day via the bus in almost EVERY FUCKING POST! Sorry, why didn't somebody say something?

In other news, I had the kind of encounter at the laundromat today that probably should have given me pause... but didn't. I had loaded up three washers (one double loader and two quardruple loaders... I know) and had settled myself onto a cold bench next to the breezey double doors to read my Russian sci-fi novel and wait for the washers to finish.

After a few minutes I noticed this guy edging his way subtly into my giant arc of personal space. He was pacing in front of me, each pass bringing him closer. I gave him a once over: middle-aged, black, flannel top, knit hat, mediocre. I looked back at my book.

After a few more passes, I could tell he wanted to say something but I couldn't imagine what. I studiously ignored him. Maybe that's what he wanted.

He finally started talking to me without really addressing me. I looked up and saw him looking at me and talking about how, here in America, people are like porcupines, they send out prickly, poisonous energy, they imagine that everyone is their enemy. He went on and on about this. He said he was from Africa, he kept talking about porcupine-people and didn't stop talking, about how it's confusing when someone behaves like a porcupine because you know you haven't done anything wrong. I just watched him and made faces that were meant to indicate that I was listening and at least mildly sympathetic. He said you should be aware of this procupine energy because it can hurt people. Then he said "food for thought" and turned back to his laundry.


I looked back at my book with the growing feeling inside myself that I wanted to chuck a shoe at him. Listen buddy, you think you're the first person to say I'm like a porcupine? HA! I've heard that since I was 5!

Should I feel bad that some mentally ill African isn't getting his social needs met at an American laundromat? Come on, guy! You come from a collectivist culture into the most individualistic culture on the planet (at least that I, in my tiny-American mind, can imagine) and you expect to lecture people at the laundromat into being more friendly? Forget it.

I know I probably should've gotten softer-hearted after he dropped his wisdom on me, but I didn't. I felt some kind of pride-surge. Yes, I am a cold, porcupine American who doesn't smile and laugh with all the strangers at the laundromat. Sure, I talk to people there. When I need to. I politely ask if I can take the cart that stands near the guy folding clothes, I ask the lady on the bench if she minds if I sit next to her. I am a quiet, white woman living in a quiet, white city. I obey and enjoy (at least parts of) the social code I grew up with. What's so bad about that?

Lonely African man? I'm sorry I didn't brighten your day at the laundromat. You're in America now. You're gonna have to learn to meet your social needs in new and exciting ways. You just can't expect so much from strangers.


Blogger zuhn said...

Hmm...I kinda get his point and yours too. But there's also something about laundromats that changes social dynamics completely and making eye contact and striking up a conversation while your dirty intimates are swirling around in sudsy water that makes the whole interaction much too personal.

7:07 PM  

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