Pessimists say there is no friendliness in the world anymore. They say we sit shoulder-to-shoulder in church without speaking. We share hospital rooms without so much as an introduction. We don't even know our neighbors' names.

The general feeling is that our sense of community has been lost. It's me for me and you for you.Well, rejoice ye of little faith. There is one exception: a Loehmann's community dressing room. For reasons that are difficult to explain, this is the last bastion where desperate souls cling together in some kind of camaraderie reminiscent of the Titanic.

Standing around together in a house of mirrors, wearing only underwear and knee-high's, we pull up short of singing "Nearer My God to Thee" before we all go down.

You're not going to believe this, but I don't have a happy feeling about undressing in a roomful of women I have never met before. My girlfriend says I overreact. "Do you honestly think people are bused in from Orange County just to see you crouch and whimper in a corner?"

The day I was there, however, I was convinced that all the other women in the dressing room were strippers. Why else would they be so relaxed walking around in their lingerie?

I was in a corner trying on a two-piece rose-colored dress. I did this by pulling the skirt up to the top, and then when I had the blouse on, dropping the skirt back to where it belonged. A woman in black hose and a slip stood two inches from me and stared. "Honey, there's a spot on the blouse." Another woman joined her. "It's also a little tight across the hips. I'll bet you need the next size." Yet another one said, "They have it in green, but that really isn't your color."

"You know what the problem is," said the first woman, "a two-piece cuts you in half. How tall are you?"

"I'm 5'2"," I said.

"You look shorter," she said, then turning to the others in the dressing room, asked, "Doesn't she look shorter?" They all nodded.

A young blonde walked over to another woman and asked, "Are you going to take this?" The woman eyeballed the garment she had just removed and said she didn't think so. The woman tossed it at me. "This is more your style," she said. The dress was still warm.

"Get a different belt," shouted an elderly woman across the room. "That one makes it look cheap."

We had done more bonding in the past 15 minutes than I had done with my children at birth.

I hated the dress, but you can't let friends down. I bought it.

1990 Erma Bombeck

Distributed by Universal Press Syndicate