A former co-worker and I were regular afternoon coffee companions back during my working years (Hi, H). At roughly the same time each day, one of us would launch an informal summons via the office chat application to query if it was convenient to make our daily trek to Starbucks. Invariably, though, my friend would always need just a little extra time. She would faithfully add a small coda to our electronic tete-a-tete of, “Just give me five minutes to powder my nose.” It became our little joke.
I thought about this recently when I had a follow-up appointment with a medical specialist that I am obligated to see annually. It is a requirement of this practice immediately after checking in that patients are asked to go into the bathroom and provide a urine sample. They have a small unisex bathroom located within the waiting room proper. Not down a small hallway, not behind the reception area, nor near the examining rooms. Nope, this baby is in direct proximity to a hushed seating area. I worked in libraries my entire career, and I don’t think there was one that rivals the pin-drop acoustics of this place. Patients waiting to be seen each sat studying two-year old Newsweek and Gourmet magazines as if they might hold the secrets of the Skull and Bones ceremonies. Shhhh…
Naturally, when the receptionist explained the process of how I needed to place an adhesive sticker with my name on it to one of the plastic cups offered in the bathroom, it seemed as if her voice echoed all over that room. Thankfully no one looked up. People continued to look down at their reading material, trying in vain to act as if they were in their own worlds. And for all I know perhaps they were. Soon, of course, I would be joining them and mimicking the same behavior. But first I had to fulfill the mandatory bodily function.
I thought about all of this as I headed to the bathroom. I also thought about the fact that I had only just been to the bathroom not 15 minutes earlier at my own home, and now I was required to give them more. Surely this was Oliver Twist in reverse with “Ms. Bumble” at the reception desk making me feel just as vulnerable as poor old Oliver.
The thing about writing a blog which focuses primarily on life’s absurdities is that I am tempted at times to stretch an anecdote or three. In the noble quest of offering something entertaining to read, I do admit to the occasional slight exaggeration. In fact, contrary to previous self-deprecating descriptions, I don’t at all resemble Lyle Lovett but rather am a stark composite of George Clooney and John Kennedy, Jr. With that admission finally disclosed (imagine my relief), what follows is an exact portrayal of what happened in the doctor’s office, and my unmitigated delight as it all transpired.
On reaching the door to the bathroom, I discovered that someone was already in there. At home when this happens we all mumble “sorry” or “oops” in response to the more aggressive, “hey!” or “do you mind?!” as we intrude on a loved one’s private business. In a public setting no words are spoken. I instead turned around and selected a seat in the seating area, the adhesive sticker containing a printed version of my name, rank, and serial number still stuck to the end of my finger. Not wanting to imperil the sticker in any way, I simply sat there waiting for the bathroom to become available. Insecurities also mounted about my ability to fill that cup.
Then a noise disrupted the sanctity of the waiting room’s tomb-like atmosphere. A song began playing and everyone looked up from their own private worlds and established actual eye-contact with one another. The sound came from inside the bathroom. It was apparently the person’s cell phone with an unmistakable and familiar ringtone. For two beats we all continued to stare at one another as neural pathways began to formulate exactly what song was being played behind that closed door. Yep, there was no mistaking that very recognizable John Williams-scored theme to Star Wars.
Star Wars?! How perfect! Everyone in the room began to smirk and nod knowingly. Don Rickles’ famous line about dropping your pants and firing a rocket was never more apt. One by one people in the room began to laugh. Even the receptionist sitting behind her open window (next to a sign asking patients to turn off their phones) was smiling. My phone’s volume had already been turned off, but I was already crestfallen that my own ringtone of “Carpet Crawlers” could never compete with such exact precision. I felt sorry for the man when he finally emerged from the bathroom, but fortunately all of us dutifully looked away or down at reading material.
My turn in the bathroom continued the absurdity, however. With the adhesive still on the end of my finger, I tried in vain to open the wrapper around the plastic cup. But it wouldn’t budge. Carefully removing the adhesive to hang on the edge of a shelf, and now with two full hands, I yanked and pulled that wrapper all to no avail. It simply would not tear open. So I tried another and then another. There were a mountain of cups at the offing and each one apparently hermetically sealed. After trying probably up to seven, I stood there questioning my sanity and ultimately my manhood, which if you think about it had at least some tangential relationship to the task at hand.
Finally I chose a cup in which I could “pop” the outside wrapper like a balloon for it to be removed. I then was able to safely apply the adhesive to the cup and move on to my required procedure. Of course, I’ll spare you any further details of the escapade. Suffice to say the operation, as it were, was ultimately successful. But just like “Luke Skywalker” who proceeded me, I did feel every eye on my person as I made my way back to my seat, feeling as if I had somehow put on a similar show for the peanut gallery.
Next year when I have to return to this doctor, I’m bringing a pocket knife just in case. And do be careful when you need to powder your nose in public bathrooms. Things can happen.
Until next time…