Sounds in the Waiting Room

So there I was, waiting for my husband to get a minor surgical procedure.  I’d come prepared — with editing work, part of the weekend newspaper, a magazine or two.

Several feet to my left in the waiting room, a TV blared.  It wasn’t on Fox, or I might have bashed the screen in.  But it was some other, less objectionable station where they pay people to talk constantly, even when there’s really nothing to talk about.  Then they repeat themselves for several hours.  (What am I complaining about?  I should be so lucky to get paid to constantly repeat myself.)

But, anyway.  I stepped up to the receptionist and made a subversive suggestion.

“Do you mind if I turn off the TV?” I asked.

She looked a little alarmed and craned her neck around.  There was only one other person in the waiting room, a guy who was reading a magazine.  “I guess it would be OK,” the receptionist said doubtfully.

I shut off the TV, feeling that wonderful relief that happens when the noise vanishes — like it does when you turn off a vacuum cleaner.  It reminded me of the last time I turned off the TV in the waiting room at a car place.  Salespeople wandered through the room, staring at the empty screen, looking a little lost.  I almost felt guilty.  (What had I done to those poor people?)  But not very.

But now, I settled in and did my editing, then read my newspaper.  I ended up talking with another two people who were also waiting for their spouses to get the same unnamed surgical procedure and we ended up in a discussion about whether men or women are bigger babies when it comes to pain.  (Men are, the three of us — two female, one male — agreed.)  It was fun and engaging — and I’m sure we wouldn’t have talked if the TV had been on, dominating everything, sucking our brain cells out through our eyelids and ear canals.

I’m not a snob about TV.  I watch it most days.  But I hate it that people can’t deal with silence or be lost in their own thoughts, that we all need some kind of outside entertainment bombarding us every minute of the day.  If the TV is on, that must mean we’re alive, right?

After we escorted my husband out to the car and he slept the rest of the day, he took his car in to the Prius shop for a warranty check the next day.  There had been several people in the waiting room there, he reported later, and a TV that wasn’t on.  Instead, everybody there was reading a book.

Oh, hell.  Sometimes, in spite of my fears of extreme political correctness and looming SUVs, I begin to think I might be the Prius type myself.  At least they wouldn’t hate me in the waiting room.  I might fit in perfectly.

(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)

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