Over the break, I spent a few hours in waiting rooms for a toothache that turned into a root canal. During my time in abeyance, I thought about waiting rooms as a phenomenon, as a mental manipulator used to tool with the human mind.
A waiting room is an antechamber, a precursory holding pen that prefigures an unpleasant experience, whether it be a root canal or some sort of other drilling, scoping, etc.
What makes up a waiting room? Music, perhaps, Jazz, an irony that attempts to calm one with music based on improvisation and things purposely leapt from convention. A waiting room assumes a naivety on the part of the waiter, a certain unthinking capitulation to the proffered harmlessness of waiting room décor. But if you stop and think about the psychological transparency of the things peopling a waiting room, it is a hilarious placement of balms and tricks.
What else is in a waiting room? Indubitably magazines, specifically ones that eschew celebrity, invention and all manners of facile perfection. Let’s run down the list: Sports Illustrated (bodily aspirations and athletic jealousies to make you feel vulnerable and ready for the procedure), People (a compilation of humans more beautiful than you, whose family planning next to their salacious stories ground your life in the satisfyingly quotidian: “This is what admirable, normal people do, they wait in waiting rooms.” National Geographic (the at once gritty exploration and awe-inspiring portrait of the sublime landscapes, perhaps your post-operational destiny) and maybe even Time (the illusion you are reading premier content in order to stoke pseudo-intellectual pride before you are laid bare for the roving tool of your doctor).
What next? Ah, the tranquil watercolor, perhaps the most easily deciphered. A square of blurred, cool colors, thinly conjoined to portray a vague scene of relaxation. Children playing on a beach? Waves gently crashing to shore? All of these things are meant to a) calm anxiety about the failures of your body (and, by proxy, your personal upkeep), and b) to project the possibility of a blissful future, hampered by nothing but briny air and the gentle surf. It is kind of nauseating to think anyone would buy into this quixotism, but that dripping watercolor is banking on our own ability to convince ourselves of such a wishful vision. Monet never imagined Impression, Sunrise as an attempt to allay a fifty-year-old man’s fear of a colonoscopy.
Lastly, in this room of mystic healing, there are other people. They are the Other, the sweating horde of insecurities and infirmities being ferried along the River Styx to their similarly dehumanizing destination. What are they here for, you wonder, as you weave a more depressing tale than your own, detailed with hyperbolic attributions, deteriorations of vital orifices or organs. In reference to other’s wild imaginations raging out of our control, Jean-Paul Sartre said in his most misappropriated quote: “Hell is other people.” In a waiting room, the other occupants are yet another attempt to assuage the worry that courses through your soon-to-be-bequeathed body. They are the degrees of separation between you and a real health issue. Their maladies have downed nations, their complex diseases erupt out of a science-fiction universe of contagion. Your speck of a visit is nothing but a happy triviality in the face of bubonic implications.
What happens next, after you’ve convinced yourself things aren’t as bad as everyone else’s, after your wait has turned into the space between heroic deeds and knightly acknowledgement? You hear your name called, and the light is snuffed out into darkness.