After a bad spill I took a few weeks back, I spent four hours in a busy ER, where, after being ushered past Registration into the vast waiting area, my main thought was, “Where do I sit?”
I first saw a seat next to an elderly woman with a sort of Dowager Princess accent who was going on and on to her companion about the “horrid” job the city does in maintaining the public walkways. “Hmmm, not beside you,” I thought. Then I saw one by a guy I’d put in his late 30s who was scowling angrily and massaging his back. ”Maybe not beside you either” I also thought.
I walked clear to the end of the row, down by the two public toilets, just happy to sit down and open the new Gloria Steinem memoir that I had just received as a gift. But as time passed and people kept trooping in and out of these facilities not three feet from where I sat, I decided to do my waiting elsewhere.
I spotted a small semi-enclosed area with a television. “TV!” I thought, and entered it to find it occupied by two very tall men.
The brow of the first man furrowed as he showed me his swollen hand. “I have to stay here all night attached to this IV,” he told me, indicating the apparatus he was connected to.
The lip of the second one twisted into a sneer the second he caught sight of my book.
“Gloria Steinem!” he snorted, his hand covering a gash on his chin. “She made all that stuff up, I hope you know.”
“MADE IT UP? Seriously?” I thought, but said lightly, “Oh, I don’t know about that.”
Just then a third man with long gray hair over his eyes arrived at the entrance to this area and stood for a moment beside the staff member who was escorting him.
“Jeez will you look at THIS guy!” yelped one of the tall men.
“Hey, SHAGGY!” cried the other. “Get a haircut!”
“Guys, guys!” I whispered. “He can hear you!”
“Who gives a crap?” the first man replied.
The man took a chair and slumped over an arm of it, cradling one hand against his chest.
“Hey FOOL!” said the second of the two men, at which point the newcomer sat up and let loose a barrage of curse words seldom seen in a family newspaper.
The two tall men cursed him right back. The air grew thick with profanity.
“People!“ I finally pleaded. “Can’t we all just get through this?”
“Come on!” replied the sneering man. “This is FUN!”
And that’s when I realized: Here I was making judgments about what I thought I saw in these others, never imagining that they were very likely making judgments about what they thought they saw in me.
And what did they see? Some kind of book-clutching post-menopausal woman in running shoes, a backpack and an ancient fur coat.
They didn’t know I wore the coat because I had travelled 100 miles, by bus, on an eight-degree day to get to this ER. They didn’t see the holes under its arms, or know that it had once been fiercely peed upon by my cat Abe, right through the bars of his pet taxi. They only saw someone resembling those two Jacquie Onassis relatives from that ramshackle house in the Hamptons. Someone who thought she could teacher-boss everyone into behaving nicely.
So I guess none of us knew very much about anything or anyone in that big ER on that cold wintry night; but it seems pretty clear to me now that no one understood less than the preachy lady in the ratty fur coat.