Waiting Rooms: An Essay

(Originally published in the Dec. 26 edition of The Itawamba County Times)

If the United States government were to ever actually shut down Guantanamo Bay, I think we could effectively torture our foreign enemies by forcing them to wait inside the lobby of a medical office.

Thirty minutes of enduring a cast of two dozen or so impatient sick folks — nothing but Home Garden TV and some automobile magazines to keep their minds off all the germs being sucked down their faces — and they’ll be spilling their insides like organ donors.

It was Mandy who was sick. She had the kind of general sickness in which the symptoms could mean any number of things: a cold…the flu…ear infection…sinus drainage…brain tumor.

So the two of us decided to take a quick jaunt over to the urgent care center in Tupelo and have a medical professional discover what kinds of awful things were wrong with her.

The wait, according to the sign, was an estimated two-and-a-half hours.

Even though Mandy and I aren’t really “the glass-is-half-full” sort of people, we kind of hoped that maybe this was just a pessimistic estimation of the wait time. After all, people would rather be pleasantly surprised than disappointed; it’s better to err on the side of negativity.

We were not pleasantly surprised. We sat. And sat. And sat. Hours upon hours of sitting. Since she didn’t feel well, Mandy covered her head and tried to rest, leaving me to stare at all the weirdos populating the waiting room that day.

Medical center waiting rooms always contain two sorts of people: Those complaining about how long they’ve been waiting and those who are too sick to complain about how long they’ve been waiting. Both are cause for concern.

Of the first type, there was, most notably, a woman whom I could very much hear, but not so much see. As time marched on, she gradually grew more and more vocal about having to wait.

“It’s been three [expletive deleted] hours since I [expletive deleted] got here,” she proclaimed, yelling loud enough for all of us to hear. Although I personally felt no sympathy — I’m kind of heartless — the people sitting next to her must have been very concerned because she spent the next 20 minutes vividly and boisterously detailing all of her various ailments, of which she had many. Frankly, I’m surprised she’s not dead.

Directly across from me, there was this young couple whom I assume were deeply in love because they were intermittently lounging all over each other. These periods of PDA would last for a few moments before the two would split apart like atoms, each producing a cell phone from somewhere on his or her person and spending the next 10 minutes flicking up and down the screen, mouths agape like babies awaiting a spoonful of mashed fruit. They looked so silly.

At one point, the male part of the couple produced a second phone. He wielded both simultaneously, one in each hand, flick-tapping away at both screens with his thumbs. He made me think of a modern day gunslinger with twin-iPhones in hand instead of six shooters.

To my right, there was this older guy — grey-mustachioed and walking-caned — who was overseeing a little girl whom I assume was his granddaughter. Small children have this supernatural ability to turn everyday devices into implements of exquisite torture. This particular child had been given a disposable water bottle, which she twisted between her hands again and again and again, creating an endless cacophony of crinkling paper and plastic. It was a horrible, ear-piercing sound that immediately set my nerves on edge.

Not to be undone by someone one-sixty-fifth his age, the grandfather — “Pappy,” he called himself approximately 6,000 times — tried to match her preternatural ability to irritate by repeatedly insisting she stop crinkling the water bottle, but not actually removing the water bottle from the child’s hands. His tactics included saying things like, “Pappy wants you to stop,” and “Pappy doesn’t like that,” and “That hurts Pappy’s ears,” and “Why don’t you give Pappy the water bottle,” and “Pappy thinks you should put that down,” and “Why aren’t you listening to Pappy,” instead of just bludgeoning the tiny child with his cane like any normal human being would have done.

Just when I was prepared to stand and proclaim these two as masters of their craft, the refreshments lady came around carrying a small tray of packaged cookies and crackers and the partners upped their games.

“Do you want any crackers,” Pappy asked.

The girl shook her head. No crackers.

“Do you want any cookies,” Pappy asked.

The girl shook her head. No cookies.

“Pappy’s going to get some crackers. You sure you don’t want any?”

The girl shook her head. No. No crackers.

“She’s got cookies. You want Pappy to get you some cookies?”

The girl nodded. Yes. It was five seconds later. Now, she wanted cookies.

Pappy grabbed the two packs, thanked the lady, gave the tiny child the cookies she didn’t want, but then did and then opened his crackers. Before even taking one bite, the little girl was in his face whining.

“What’s wrong,” Pappy asked.

“These cookies are gross,” she said. She hadn’t even opened them.

“Do you want Pappy’s crackers?”

The little girl shook her head and then ran away out of sight. This began a five minute chain of comments like, “Come back to Pappy,” and “Pappy can’t see you” and “Pappy wonders where you are” and … in what was perhaps the most on-the-nose statement of all time … “Pappy doesn’t think this is fun.”

I’ll tell you one thing, it’s good that I’m not privy to any national secrets.

Sure, it doesn't LOOK like a torture chamber. But, neither does the inside of an arthouse movie theater playing an all-day marathon of the Brothers Quay's "Institute Benjamenta."

Sure, it doesn’t LOOK like a torture chamber. But, neither does the inside of an arthouse movie theater playing an all-day marathon of the Brothers Quay’s “Institute Benjamenta.”

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