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Thursday, Feb. 23, 2006 10:04 pm

Here and there

The parking lot’s always full, the patients are overweight, and nobody wants trouble

He was not from here; he was from there. New places made him apprehensive, but it seemed friendly here. The sign outside the building read “Welcome to the Medical Center Parking Ramp.” He’d never been welcomed to a parking ramp before — a comforting start. The parking ramp was full. He joined the circling cars, looking for vacant spaces. The cars here all had vanity license plates; some of them were disquieting. He was wedged between “STR ANG 1” and “2 BEE ZAR.” Eventually he escaped, parked on the street, and walked to his destination. It was hot for January — 58 degrees, according to the bearded man in the dog-fur hat and heavy full-body-length coat, in a car with the license “IM KRA Z2.” “Parking ramp was full,” he told the receptionist. “It’s always full,” she said. “Never any parking spaces.” “If it’s always full, then . . . ” She interrupted him: “Sign here, please.” Where he came from, areas with “never any parking spaces” were called “no-parking zones.” It was obviously different here. He signed his name on a form and sat down. The man in the long coat was next in line. “Is it hot in here — or is it just me?” he asked. No one answered him. Apparently they don’t comment on “hot issues” here. The waiting room’s television was rehashing yesterday’s news. A mayor and the mayor’s sidekick were holding up report cards showing that they had urinated into jars, proving to the satisfaction of the local newspaper that they had not had booze or dope since Tuesday. Another politician followed and suggested that all public people urinate in jars — as an example to others. Now, he worried; he’d been led to believe that it was more sophisticated, more urban here — but back there, where he came from, folks didn’t need an example of how to urinate into jars. The television left the politicians and jumped to a fat nurse decrying obesity in children. The story moved to a grade school where a fat teacher called a group of children in from their playground games to watch a film on proper exercise. “So they know the value of staying active,” the teacher explained, “we have a series of films scheduled.” He looked around, thinking to ask someone here questions, but thought better of it when he saw that everyone was overweight — 28 fat people in skinny chairs. When he turned back to the TV, his view was blocked by a thin lady, just arrived. He couldn’t see the screen, but he heard a TV voice say, “We’re addicted to oil; we must switch to corn.” Therein the fat problem, he reasoned — they drink oil here! Where he came from, they used oil for heat and lubrication. When the thin lady sat down next to him, he decided to share his observation. He said it low enough so that only she could hear. “No wonder everyone here is fat — they’re obsessed with oil and eat no corn.” “A low-oil corn diet!” she said, “I’ll give it a try.” And then, “It’s my slacks, isn’t it? I asked my husband if they made my butt look big, and he said no — as if he even looked or cared about anything except his stupid sports, the sonofabitch!” She ran from the room in tears. The receptionist saw the whole affair and wrote something next to his line — on the form. He was very uncomfortable now; he wanted out of here. “How much longer?” he asked the receptionist. “Can’t say,” she said, “I’m offline. The network has been shut down to increase response time.” He should have stayed quiet, but he wanted at least one answer to the methods here. “Why,” he asked, “would you want to increase response time? Seems you’d want to decrease it. And when you shut down completely, you have by the act itself reduced response time as much as it can be reduced. And . . . ” “Take a seat, sir! We don’t want trouble here. And stop bothering the other patients!” She wrote on his line. He sat down. It was a slow, protracted, small-town hour before she called his name. “The doctor wants a sample.” She gave him a jar. “I’m not a public person,” he explained. She stared at him, “I’m getting a little tired of your antics. We’re busy here. You know very well I’m not talking about doing it here! Use the bathroom.” “Where is it?” he asked. There!” she said, pointing with her eyes. And so he went home, away from the madness here, and ate some corn, with a spoon.


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