Hello, again… It has been more than a week since I last posted anything and part of me feels guilty, but the other part feels justified. I could very easily write an extended post about the challenges of getting started in a new quarter, new classes, financial issues, or the like–all these issues and more have popped up in the past week and a half. However, I’m not going to throw a pity party or try to argue that I’m doing something herculean–when in reality I’ve got a lot less problems than most. Instead, I’m going to tell you a true story and you can take it any way you’d like.
First, you have to know that my wife and I are White–in fact, if I was any whiter I’d be transparent. Second, you need to understand that while Hyde Park boast’s housing prices that start at $250k and frequently don’t settle for anything less than a million, just about seven blocks to the West of my apartment the neighborhood’s standard of living plummets exponentially–that’s only four or five blocks from President Obama’s house. However, when my wife decided that it was time to bite the bullet and have an inner-ear “wooshing” ailment treated at a local clinic she thought nothing of looking up nearest clinic and making a 5:15pm appointment.
The plate-glass windows had been painted over from the inside at some time in the past, but the oil-based paint had long since lost its battle for elasticity with Chicago’s weather blistering and cracking like my scalp, when in sixth grade, I’d played in the lake too long and suffered the worst sunburn of my life. The light that managed to find its way through that cancerous film cast disorienting patterns on the dirty tiled floor and 1960s press-board paneling inside. Seats pulled from a bus terminal or perhaps an adult theater were propped against the outside walls–instead of bolted to the floors–causing them to tilt and sway drunkenly whenever a new occupant sat down or a old occupant finally grew more tire of the springs digging into their butts or backs than they had been of standing. There was no room for the seemingly requisette three-foot personal bubble that would have been common anywhere else–but also no reason for it. With the exception of the pale, well-fed couple transgressing the rusting threshold, the occupants had long-since learned to make the necessary hollows in themselves that conformed perfectly to the shape one another’s too-thin elbows or knees.
For, my wife and I, the transgressors from the land just to the East where perfectly machined, stainless-steel circles of light were metered down from geometrically placed street lights–edges never more than a pace apart–the room was blacker even than the closets of childhood boogeymen. Dark skin, black hair, brown eyes, and midnight’s chain-smoking voices seemed to leave the cramped waiting room starving for the light than struggled around our shoulders when we opened the door and excused our way through to a pair of–fortunately–adjacent chairs. The dark chocolate voice of the nurse cum receptionist cum keeper-of-the-peace skittered through the wall of wooden slats that separated she–the keeper–from us–the animals, “You’re Sarah. The five-fifteen.” My wife and I traced the voice back through its juking path and found the smiling woman who had stated rather than asked. Weaving and ducking the three of us performed a impromptu pop’n’lock routine as we searched for one another’s eyes through that maze of hastily painted aluminum and two by fours. Having mutually assured ourselves that all of us had eyes and expressions–though one could only see alternately the latter or the former–the nurse/receptionist/warden said “the Doctor is late. Might be in by five-thirty. Might be later. You all just sit here for a while.”
And sit we did. Long enough to understand the geological composition of the room. The old women in the fake-fur full-length coats and the old men in pea coats with cigarette burns on the sleeves were in the corners having arrived first and pressed into the warmer corners away from the constantly flapping exterior door. Next to them sat the single mothers who had rushed in after their shifts at the bar or the hotel while their children–still at daycare or at home with strict instructions not to touch the stove no matter how hungry they became–plucked at their wrists with ghost-hands uncovering the anxious faces of watches and women alike. Next to them, and closer still to us, were the younger couples struggling to entertain their children who danced to cell-phone ringtones and made the women still in waitress and maid outfits guiltier still. Then us, pretending to be accustomed to waiting for as-long-as-it-takes to see the tardy doctor who couldn’t be bothered to call–who hasn’t been to the clinic in two weeks–doing our dead-level best to become just two more stains on those sticky naughahide seats.
The steel bars on the pharmacy window and that alternating wall of wooden slats weren’t there for these people we quickly discovered. These “regulars”–the men, women, and children who gambled when they took the bus or confronted bitter wind and waited for the doctor who showed up whenever he finished his rounds at the hospital early or had someone die on the table and needed to feel better–walked in a steady stream to the unlocked door that lead to the bathroom–and those “sensitive” areas of the clinic. The slats that diced conversation and the grills that laid it out flat and–somehow–metallic prevented those from other neighborhoods from getting any ideas, but they were props in a play only meant to fool the audience because all the actors here knew they could put their heads through the unlocked door and speak as they would in their kitchens over cups of chicken noodle. The police were real enough, though. Parked in an unmarked, but armored van they waited to descend on any who exited the clinic to smoke on the sidewalk outside or drink their cup of soup from the motorized catering truck pulled up at the corner with blinkers marking time.
Cups of soup carrying people suspended on clouds of comforting steam were bruskly warned off the sidewalk with threats of incarceration or worse, while the White folks wondered if we’d be treated the same if we stepped outside. The regulars here–like pigeons too often hastled from their perches by pernicious children–were indignant, but not surprised–unlike we who felt a bit of our freedom slip away when those men and women far too old and tired to be any kind of threat were treated like criminals because they stood too long on the sidewalk.
The doctor didn’t come that night. Or if he came, he did so after we–unused to being stood-up and counted as granted–had already taken our leave. My wife and I had choices. Her infection would not go untreated until it became something worse. Our bodies were smooth and bulbous–not hollowed out from elbows, insults, and police potshots. We knew nothing of the scars and craters from so many surgeries that stripped people of both dignity and pretension until we had each shown up promptly at five-fifteen for our self-respectomies.