So here is my story. About four months ago I decide that I should try and see a specialist (1) about this thing. So I go and look up the list of doctors that deal with this thing that are covered by my insurance. And there are four of them. So I go down the list and call and, in turn, the first three receptionists tell me they aren’t taking new patients. Not a good sign but I am intrepid. I call the last on the list and they can see me, in four months. So I make the appointment. I tell the person getting my information what I want to be seen for and they say, sure, come on over in four months.
Last night is the day before the long-awaited appointment. And like I do, when I’m trying to go to sleep, I’m totally obsessing about this appointment. It is like Christmas for a six-year old except without presents. I’ve been waiting for a long time and I’m anxious about what they are going to want to test for and what they might discover and all that and so I toss and turn and get maybe three hours of sleep.
So finally the long awaited day comes and I go to the doctor’s office. The waiting room is tiny and dimly lit. The go through the deal with me signing more papers and copying my insurance card and having me wait in the first room and then moving me into the second waiting room where the doctor will eventually see me. The room where I am asked to wait for the doctor (2) has about the same square footage of other rooms of this type but it is crammed with stuff. There is the examination bed, two regular chairs and then this crazy 1970s style ergonomic backless chair with a makeshift table attached to it. I literally have to walk sideways to get to the seat. This room is maybe three stacks of newspapers away from being a hoarders episode. And here I wait.
The specialist finally arrives. He looks to be about 300 years old, about 4 foot 11 and maybe 85 pounds. As required of old men, his pants are hiked up to his armpits, barely leaving the pocket in his shirt that holds no fewer than 12 pens visible. He has his white doctor’s coat on and has his auxiliary pens in that pocket as well. I have seen my fair share of doctor’s over my lifetime. Typically, when they enter the room, they greet you and ask what I am here to see them about. No big surprise but this was not the case with Dr. McOldy. He walked in, said hello, I said hello back and he then sat down in his goofy ergonomic backless chair, opened my file, put a nice crease down the middle of it and stared at it in silence for a good two minutes. After this moment of mediation, he cleared his throat and said that he isn’t really enthusiastic about trying to work with patients with the thing I have. Which is super funny because the insurance list showed him as being someone to see about this thing. He blah, blah blahed on for a little bit and then said that he bet that I was wondering why they had me come down in the first place, given his disposition on this matter. I felt that was a valid question. He was unable to provide an answer. After some more of his blah, blah, blahing, I stood up and suggested that “we were done here” and left.
I wasn’t mad. Maybe a little disappointed and let down. Despite that, I could totally see how hilarious and ridiculous this experience was. I got in my car and determined, even though it was only about 3:00 pm, I would not be returning to work. I thought maybe a little retail therapy would cheer me up a little so I headed down to Costco (3). We needed some stuff from there so this was a good time to go get it and be done with it and, if a tv or something caught my eye, maybe I’d get that too and that would wipe all my disappointment away.
I’m pretty sure Costco has some complicated algorithm about how many registers to have open at any given time. There must be enough open for them to make enough money to pay the light bills and keep people from giving up and abandoning their carts. Too many registers open and then their margin goes down because labor costs go up. This algorithm is what keeps the lines back to the m&m’s no matter what time of day or what day of the week you are there. I’m waiting in line. I decided against any impulse purchases, realizing that the buyer’s remorse would far outweigh what short term glee I might derive. My cart is filled with graham crackers, allergy medication, batteries and dishwasher tablets and that is it. That’s how I roll, people. I park my cart next to the m&m’s and wait. There are times when waiting in line at Costco or other places of that ilk that you can almost smell the despair of the people waiting in line. You can watch the people coming up to the front, trying to find the shortest line, their eyes wide and thinking “this can’t be” so hard you can almost hear it. Some guy pulls up behind me and tells me that I can count on this line we are both in being the longest and slowest because no matter what line he picks, it is always this way. I tell him to take his bush league weak long and slow line making self away from me because I am clearly the major leaguer in the slowing down of lines. We exchange some back and forth about who is superior in creating slow lines until he puts it to the test and moves to the next line. I’ll show him who can make a line slow.
So, I’m standing in line, smelling the waiting despair, confident in my ability to get through the register well after this guy who was behind me. Those wiffs of despair are bugging me. I recall the conversation I had with a co-worker just before leaving for the doctor’s appointment about the commencement speech that David Foster Wallace gave called “This is Water” (4). In it, Wallace contends, among other things, that we can choose to make the mundane things in our lives sacred if we want. He specifically mentions waiting in line in a grocery store and how that can be a sacred experience. At nearly the same time, I remember from my distant past, 25 years prior when I worked at Price Club, the precursor to Costco. For a time I was charged with going to stores in the area with the intent of signing up the store owners for Price Club memberships. In one of the stores, I gave my pitch and the owner became irate. He expressed his contempt for Sol Price, the owner of Price Club. He hated the very notion that you had to wait in a line to get a membership card and a picture and that the lines were so long to check out. He then had the audacity to say that Sol Price created Price Club as a way at getting back at the world for the holocaust. I took this statement as a “not interested” and left the crazy store. I want to be clear – I don’t think anything about the holocaust is funny or even can be funny. I only tell this story because it was an absurd statement by a clearly unhinged person. So I’m standing in line and I have a choice. I can try the Wallace route and go for the sacred experience. Or I can go with the crazytown notion and see this wait as some minor version of a horrific experience. It is my choice. David Foster Wallace’s sacred grocery store line experience or Sol Price’s mini holocaust terror. I make my choice. I think first about how relatively comfortable the temperature is inside this big box warehouse, given that it is pushing 100 degrees outside. I see that there is a new hot turkey and provolone sandwich on the menu at the food court. I’m not hungry but I’m encouraged to see that they are branching out beyond the hot dogs and pizza. I then decide I can wait in this line all day. I have nowhere else better to be and am in no rush to get anywhere else. It is maybe a quarter to 4 in the afternoon so this is found time, time that I would normally be at work. I decide I that being in this line is no worse than being anywhere else and in fact, it stacks up pretty well compared to maybe changing a dirty diaper or dealing with a difficult co-worker, or worse yet, changing a dirty diaper on a difficult co-worker. The people with the cart in front of me have subdivided their cart into several different transactions. Don’t care. I start to unload my cart onto the conveyor belt and look to the left. There is that guy who was behind me, now already checked out and heading to the food court, maybe getting a hot turkey sandwich. We don’t make eye contact but if we did, I would mouth the words “I win” to him. I complete my transaction and head for the door, another line waiting for me. You can’t leave the store until the old lady with the sharpie has her turn with you. Take your time old lady, draw that smiley face with the sharpie on my receipt, I had no idea they still made Jean Nate perfume. I push the cart out to my car and unload the crackers and batteries into the trunk. I don’t know what your game is Sol Price but today I won (5).
(1) A specialist, in this sense, is a doctor that makes you wait several months before you can see them. They are special so you have to wait.
(2) I really think that all rooms in a doctor’s office should be called waiting rooms because you wait in every one of them.
(3) For years I did not have a Costco membership because I could not afford to save all the money I would save by shopping there.
(4) I think you should read it or listen to it on youtube. I’d put a link here but that would make it far too easy. You need to work a little here.
(5) Actually probably a tie because they did get $100 out of me.
Reed Soper was born and raised in southern California. He considered attending the Lord's University but opted for BYU instead where he met Kathryn Lynard doing his home teaching. They married in 1992 and have seven children. Friends and loved ones often describe Reed as "difficult" or "a slow learner." In his spare time, he likes (virgin) pina coladas and getting caught in the rain. Don't miss Reed's previous guest posts.
Image credit: Manuel Campagnoli (used with permission).