Wednesday, January 18, 2012


The waiting room at the dentist this morning was quiet.

I've been going to this dentist in Gaithersburg for about 35 years. My hygienist today is someone I nicknamed "The Crusher" (inspired by the Warner Bros. cartoon featuring Bugs Bunny) at around 10 years old. I'm not sure whether my gums have gotten tougher or whether she's gotten gentler, but I don't think of her as The Crusher anymore. She even called me Christina, instead of the usual Christine.

It was a little disturbing to notice how close I was to enjoying the "oldies" that were being pumped through the loudspeaker. It was mostly '70s and early '80s stuff: "99" by Toto, "Ramblin Man" by the Allman Brothers. As a kid, the "oldies" were '50s and '60s songs that mostly were not of interest. It won't be long before I'm bopping to some '80s "oldie" and some kid is staring at me like I'm crazy. (I hope when that moment comes, it's a Prince song.)

The woman at the desk, Mary, has also been there for years and years. She always helps me pay for dental work that I vaguely cannot afford and she always asks me about my brother, usually managing to make a link to the fact that he is way more financially successful than I am and might step in if I ever need help with payment.

Today I walked in and gave Mary a smile. "Hi," I said.

"Hi," she said, and gave me a look that said, "What the hell do you want?"

She didn't recognize me? She didn't recognize me. She didn't?

"I'm here for my 11 a.m. appointment," I said, feeling embarrassed to say my name after all this time. In a moment, she seemed to realize who I was, or at least realize that she was supposed to realize who I was, and softened a little bit.

"OK," she said, and started to complain about the computer system freezing up.

Not sure what to do, I smiled uneasily and turned to the waiting room. I had recently read an article about some dude who analyzes speech patterns and noticed that people who are depressed use "I" more often than others. "I'M here for MY appointment," I had said. Shouldn't it be that people who use "I" are more self-centered? Where was that light box when I needed it? I I I.

Another person entered the office as I got settled. "I have an appointment but it's not until 12:00," he said. It was five of 11.

The receptionist said that was fine. "I'm sorry, I have to get here when MetroAccess says I can get here," the man said, pushing his walker in front of him. He had a sunny disposition that pushed ahead of him into the room.

"Make yourself comfortable," the receptionist said.

"I'm accustomed to waiting," he said, as assurance that he would make no trouble. He gave me a smile as he went by, and then sat down and ... well, he waited.

I was sort of stunned that anyone could get anywhere in Gaithersburg using public transportation, so that was the first thing that awed me about this man. The second thing was the way he waited. He just sat there placidly staring out the window with a vague smile on his face. No compulsive smartphone checking (like me). No magazine. No screens. Just being.

Accustomed to waiting.

Music: "Midnight City"

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