Good Magazines Make Good Neighbors

My last full time job was as the Senior Producer of  a live, daily, news, arts and culture show on the local public radio station. Outside of our studio we had a green room that was not so much a room as an alcove. But it was painted green. The best thing about it was the chance encounters between guests, when you’d walk by and catch the Nobel Prize winning chemist talking to the college age banjo player in the new grass band. Or the CEO of a Fortune 500 Company meeting someone recently exonerated after spending a decade in prison. It can be a whimsical crossing of paths, or a profound one. But everybody loves to talk in the green room. It works off the nervousness.

Other waiting rooms are less social. Most people are either about to be poked and prodded or with someone dreading the imminent poking and prodding. Everyone knows the rules governing those rooms: don’t sit next to someone if you can sit with an empty seat between you.  No staring, farting, belching or yammering on your cell phone.  If you must eat or drink, do it quietly.  Don’t talk to anyone unless there’s a problem for the two of you to solve, like there’s no receptionist and someone is knocking on a locked door. Most importantly, do not hog the magazines. If there are multiple People Magazines that you haven’t read, select the oldest one, leave the most recent for the people like me, who are always up to date on their celebrity gossip. Oh, and a tip: Sports Illustrated is a great read, full of heroes’s journeys and come-back narratives.

The waiting rooms of pediatric psychologists and psychiatrists have their own code of conduct. Most of us are parents or guardians.  The first timers are anxious because they are waiting for their kids to finish being assessed or for the results of an assessment. The veterans, like me, are relaxed, because our difficult kids are with someone who can manage them. We don’t worry. Sometimes we relax so much we fall asleep.

We make plenty of eye contact. We search each other’s faces for acknowledgement. We smile with recognition.  We nod. We make our own small talk, “Anxiety?”

“Yes. Oh God, yes. Yours?”

“Depression.”

“Oh, my son has Bipolar, which includes depression.”

Because appointments are so often standing, when we see each other again, (and again,) the conversation progresses, “When did it start?”

“How long have you been coming here?”

“Do you have an IEP?”

“How do you get through the summer?”

“Valium.”

Dark humor is one of the things we share. We rarely exchange names or numbers. In so many ways who we are doesn’t matter. What matters is how we get through it. That we’re not alone. That our kids exist in a gossamer web of difference, and pain, but we make up that web, we are threaded together, surrounding them, holding them up. That once (or twice) a week we can come together, share gum or a breath mint and a People Magazine.

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