Waiting rooms are among the most uncomfortable places on earth for me, and I blame my mother for making me feel that way.
But before I get to those mommy issues, a bit of context is required.
On Thursday, from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., I spent quite a bit of time in a waiting room while my spouse was having a couple of tests done. That meant I had the better part of seven hours to worry, sit, fidget, worry, stare at my iPhone, worry, sit, avoid contact with other people, and worry some more.
The good news is that my favorite human came through her tests even better than expected. That made the day a huge win because it’s always a victory when you leave a hospital or doctor’s office feeling happy.
Still, it was an object lesson in just how out of place I am in such situations. In fact – if the dictionary is correct – I’m what’s known as an ambivert (an extroverted introvert).
An ambivert is someone who is either “on” or “off,” and that sums me up rather nicely.
Back in my paid journalism days, I enjoyed interacting with fans, players and coaches because we were all part of the same “tribe,” even though we had different roles in the village.
And while you can argue that in waiting rooms we constitute a tribe because we’re all there to wait and worry, I much prefer to keep to myself and speak only if spoken to.
Instead of cheerful and confident, I’m shy and reserved.
So after Mary was wheeled away and I was relegated to the waiting room, I found myself “alone” with six other people.
There was an elderly man, who was either sleeping or praying, or possibly praying for sleep.
Two middle-aged women were apparently a package deal, sitting together and talking about their recent trip to Hawaii.
One young woman was wearing ear buds and completely immersed in her smart phone.
And the other two people were, I’m guessing, a grandmother-grandfather combo, with granny rocking short blue hair and a running suit, and grandpappy proving once again that polyester britches never go out of style.
Now, had I not spent many years taking my mother (rest her soul) back and forth to the doctor, I might be the life of the waiting room party today.
Chances are I would’ve jumped into the Hawaii conversation, even though my only knowledge of Hawaii is the two-part Brady Bunch episode that featured Vincent Price and Don Ho, and a tarantula that crawled up Bobby Brady’s shirt.
And if any of the other waiters had made eye contact, I’d have returned the gesture – and probably worked up an almost-sincere smile.
But thanks to mom, I learned not to engage.
See, she was what I call a “Conversation Fisher,” someone who would just plop down and start chatting about whatever was on her mind, hoping someone would take the bait.
What was worse, though, is that she often tried to make me the center of her fishing expeditions.
For example, while in college I worked part-time for a hypertension center. I was majoring in journalism, but this was a job I could do around my class schedule.
Basically all I did was take blood pressures at supermarkets, and when I was “in the field” I was required to wear a lab coat.
Naturally, my mother thought this meant I was training to be a medical doctor.
I’ll never forget sitting with her in the waiting room at one of her checkups and hearing her bellow, “My son, Scotty, is making a doctor.”
There were many things wrong with that sentence, not the least of which was being called “Scotty.” Also, for those of you unfamiliar with southern expressions, “making a doctor” means going to medical school.
I was not making a doctor.
I never had any intention of making a doctor.
(I did once hope to “make a nurse,” but she just wanted to be friends and we never even kissed).
Point being, having mom belt this out to the other waiters was highly embarrassing. Invariably, someone would say something like, “Oh, that’s nice,” or “What are you specializing in?” and I’d have to mumble through an explanation that I was simply taking blood pressures in order to make beer money.
That mattered not to mom … if I was wearing a lab coat then I was, by god, making a doctor.
Finally, after spending many years as a newspaper sports editor, she finally accepted the fact that I was, in fact, a journalist.
She just never quite knew what I did or where I did it.
Jump ahead to another doctor’s office visit. All is relatively quiet and then suddenly, “My son, Scotty, runs the newspaper.”
I was head of the sports department at a few papers, but never came close to “running” the whole operation.
Then, when some poor soul would decide to take part in the conversation and ask where I worked, before I could answer mom would say, “Oh, he works at that one where they do all the sports. He’s head of it all.”
Lord, I wanted to crawl under a rock. I loved her and know she meant well, but I reached the point where I dreaded having to sit with her because I knew something awkward was going to happen.
One time – I swear this is true – we were in a waiting room and she tried to engage a deaf woman. Mom didn’t know sign language, so she just made freestyle hand gestures in an effort to communicate.
That was as close as I’ve ever come to setting a trash can on fire just to create a diversion so I could jump out the window and run away.
And now you know the back story of why I tend to lay low while in waiting rooms.
Of course, I did smile when I thought what it would’ve been like had mom accompanied me on Thursday – especially since I was wearing an Avengers tee-shirt.
“My son, Scotty,” she would’ve said proudly, “is one of earth’s mightiest heroes.”