I’m in a low-income psychiatric clinic waiting room today. It smells like smoke, wet coats, and hopelessness. It’s a sad indication of our current society that I’m thinking this would be the type of place someone would come in and start shooting. I spend a few minutes figuring out the best way to save the most people and stop the gunman, because I’m sorry but I couldn’t just let it happen. My 20-pound purse could possibly disarm him, and I know my MacBook could probably cause some damage. I dropped it on my lap last week and the starship-shaped bruise is still on my thigh. The woman sitting next to me looks normal enough, but she’s chewing her gum and I can hear her breathing, the teeth chomping away, her slurping up of the saliva squirting up out of her glands. I type harder and faster to counteract. Crazed Christmas music is playing – Trans Siberian Orchestra – and it’s making me tense. I overhear a patient saying she had to stop taking her medication because she was low on money, that she’d start taking it again at the beginning of the year, and I want to help, to pay for this month’s meds as a gift, but we’re low on money, too. The temperature is pleasant enough but the heating system has a high-pitched whine like someone relentlessly trying to start a car on a cold morning with no success. Whitney Houston has taken over the airwaves and she sounds crazed as well. Maybe it’s me. I’m wearing a sheepskin vest that’s quite cozy and bohemian looking, but I find it hard to get comfortable in these plastic chairs. It’s bringing back unpleasant flashbacks of parent-teacher conferences. The horrible whining has stopped; turns out it was someone’s car. I find it ironic that I have considerably relaxed when Mr. Grinch comes on. Am I a Grinch this year? A Scrooge? I’m just getting sapped being strong for others. I want to let myself be sad, but you just have to keep going on, don’t you?
In the waiting room at the clinic again, fourth time in two weeks – I’m the driver. My health is fine except for a gnarly cold that has been producing Blue Ribbon-sized googies – like I could take these babies on tour. Step right up, ladies and gents, behold the amazing two-pound gunk! I’m sitting in the upstairs area, a few empty chairs well lit by windows, yet I can hear a vet on the phone downstairs who has a very clear, loud, frustrated voice that’s projecting up the stairwell, trying to illicit help from some type of legal authority by the sounds of it. I know he’s a vet, because he mentions it a lot, just in case we forget for a second. The entire time I’m there staff from the clinic attired in assorted ugly Christmas sweaters walk back and forth with decorations, crockpots streaming trails of tantalizing meat smells, salad bowls, trays of goodies, for their company party while this man accompanies the jingling bells of their festive jewelry and the parade of cross-eyed snowmen leering out at me from their sweaters with his complaining, berating, negative attitude, heavily sprinkled with “eviction.” I’m trying to feel empathy for the man, yet can’t help wondering how it feels to be on the other end of the phone – you’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar, dude – and how the staff party will be able to shrug off the heaviness of their jobs for a moment of lightness while the guy’s endless futile phone calls are being broadcast into their room while they bite into a bittersweet Christmas sugar cookie.
A man steps into the waiting room filling the door with his frame, proceeds to take off his puffy green coat, followed by the ceremonious unwinding of a colorful fleece blanket from around his substantial girth, where it gets caught on his tonsured, sweaty head, his face broad and red-weathered, his eyes intelligent, though I’m trying not to make eye contact, because I don’t want to get drawn into his crazy, but then my interest is piqued when he starts mumbling poetry like Whitman, Kerouac, Morrison, sprinkled with lyrical flowing biblical references, and when a name is called “Christine is an angel” barely audible under his breath as he waits for the nurse to call him in for his appointment, only when she does comes out she tells him they can’t help him today, and he politely asks for a clean bandage and a pair of scissors, and gently schools her on how he does it and she nods, and says a few canned words that make it seem like she’s listening as she backs away, “a huh, a huh,” dismissing herself to get back to her other more important duties stepping backward cautiously and never returning with a bandage, so the man struggles to lean over and pull up his pant leg, jeans folded up so 6 inches of pale denim are exposed, revealing worn tennis shoes too narrow for his feet, the shoe strings wrapped around and around the bottom and over the top of his foot, and grunts as he finds the end of the Scotch-taped Ace bandage, and breathlessly begs pardon from the two women sitting across from him, saying he would do this at home, but he doesn’t have one.