Today I made a follow-up visit to my doctor about my torn calf muscle.
Actually, to be precise, I went to the orthopaedics department in the same complex where my doctor practices. It was my first trip to this particular waiting room, and I must say, I wouldn’t mind if it were also my last.
First of all, there was the usual waiting room nonsense. The long and boring dawdling, the months-old magazines, the moldy and uncomfortable chairs. I can deal with these things. I know these things. My grad student apartment was these things. I’m cool with that.
But on this day, in this waiting room, something just a little different happened. Different, and unsettling. Let me explain.
In this particular waiting room, there are about a dozen chairs for patients to slouch in while queueing up to have their various creaky parts fondled, prodded, and realigned. And when I got there, there were only four or five people waiting. So, I took a seat in the middle of a line of four empty chairs near the door, being careful to leave that all-important ‘buffer chair’ from the portly, pornstached gentleman to my right. I picked up an issue of Sports Illustrated from 1983 or so — I hear there’s some kid at UNC named ‘Jordan’ or something who might be pretty good someday — and I settled in for the wait. So far, so good.
And that when she walked in. Of all the doctor’s offices in all the world, she had to walk into mine.
She was… a large woman. I’m not sure how much more delicately I can put it. She was a bit older — in her fifties, perhaps — tall and wide and breathing heavily from the exertion of making her way down the hall. I glanced up when she walked into the room, then went back to minding my business in the magazine. I barely gave her another thought, until she sat down next to me.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I didn’t mind sitting next to the lady. I’ll sit next to anyone, just about — I’m pretty certain there are many more people out there who wouldn’t want to sit next to me than the other way around. Especially once they’ve gotten to know me. No question.
But the thing is, she needlessly violated the sanctity of the ‘buffer chair’. There were other empty seats around, even a couple with empties on each side — there was absolutely no call for busting up my buffer, or anyone else’s. There’s a protocol to these things, dammit, and she just ignored it completely. You don’t invade someone’s personal space without a good reason, you don’t use the urinal between two guys without an exceptionally good reason, and you don’t occupy someone’s buffer seat, either. It wasn’t the very worst thing she could have done, but it wasn’t cool.
And besides, the very worst thing she could have done was coming next. Stick with me, here.
So, she sat down, and settled herself, then laid her purse on the floor, on the side opposite from me. By that time, I was already engrossed in my SI again, reading about how some Doubleday fellow had invented some new game or other. Baseball, I think it was called. Sounded complicated. The mag apologized for not having any pictures of it, but they hadn’t actually been invented when the issue came out. Anyway.
Here’s the bit where I need a bit of help with the question of etiquette. I’ll tell you what happened, and tell you what I did — then maybe somebody can tell me what I should have done. Or shouldn’t have done.
So, after just a few seconds in the chair, the lady’s purse fell over. Like I mentioned, it was on the other side of her feet from me, so I heard it, but didn’t actually see it. I might not have known exactly what the noise was, except that she immediately bent over, away from me, to straighten things up.
And farted. Loudly. Sort of… I’m not quite sure how to describe it… sort of moistly. Not so that you’d think she’d had an ‘accident’ or anything — I’m just saying that it wasn’t a petite little ‘pfffft‘. By no means. This was a firecracker of a fart.
And then, while she struggled with her purse, she did it again, with just a little less fanfare. The big bang, and then a pop-gun reply. And with that, it was over. She rose back to a sitting position, and went back to her wait.
Meanwhile, I continued staring at my magazine. And trying desperately not to inhale. I mean, it’s one thing to accidentally float an air biscuit in public — it happens; we’ve all been there. It’s embarrasing for all involved, and the less said, the better. No big deal.
But this time — this time, I was not only at point-blank range for a two-barrelled rear retort from this stranger sitting beside me, but both barrels had actually been pointed right at me when the firing started. And I’m a standup comic in my spare time, for chrissakes. If those aren’t ‘extenuating circumstances’, dammit, then I don’t know what is!
I’ve got to admit, though — I didn’t know what I could really do in that situation. Or what would be proper to do. Or even humane to do. A few things raced through my head, but they just got sillier and more outlandish, until I realized that I hadn’t actually taken a breath for thirty seconds or so.
Anyway, long story short, I didn’t do anything. I just kept reading my book, and trying not to inhale very deeply, and, a few minutes later, she was called into the doctor’s office to be checked out. And that was the end of it — we never exchanged words, or even a look. There was no ‘Oh dear, excuse me!‘ on her part, and no ‘Holy mother of methane, what the hell was that?!‘ on mine. We just pretended it never ever happened, and hoped — I think I can also speak for her on this one — that we’d never see each other again.
So, that’s what happened. No lie. I went in for a checkup, and got noisily farted on. I guess I should be thankful I wasn’t going in for surgery; who knows what would have happened? And while I’m not sure I did the right thing, exactly, I’m also pretty sure I didn’t do the worst thing I possibly could have. And I’m not sure this sort of thing is covered in ‘Roberts Rules of Order’, or anywhere else for that matter, so I was in a bit of a ‘gray area’, as interpersonal negotiations go.
I did all that I was capable of at the time, which was absolutely nothing at all. Not the best part of the story, I suppose, but that’s what really happened, so there you have it. So now you tell me, you Dear Abbys and Miss Manners types out there — what would you have done, exactly?Permalink | 9 Comments