Do elementary school classrooms still have dulled metal pencil sharpeners secured to a wall? Waiting for the next child to crank its handle so it can gnarl on the yellow chewed up wood until it reaches a sharp point; and then feast on the number #2 shavings in its oblong belly? And when fully consumed, does the school custodial engineer/janitor collect and save the grinded remains, so it can be used to absorb the days lunch the next time a second grader violently hurls their mac n’ cheese and strawberry jello down the long winding staircase leading directly to the bathroom on the first floor?
15 minutes in, the speaker forgot there were 200 people in the hall. He spoke as if he was looking in the mirror and loved what he heard from the guy in the glass. At 20 minutes in the attendees shift in their seat, the upright positioning begins to sink. 30 minutes in the drone of his voice was hard to distinguish from the hum of the air conditioning. Wait!……did he look up? …….no, back to his notes. It didn’t have to be this way. When he started there was an attentive openness in the room. Elbows perched on conference tables, hands folded like school children. Pens were bobbing and jerking rapidly across the note paper trying to keep up. Legs were tucked under the chairs, the feet appeared ready to push off.
At 35 minutes in, noses are carefully scratched, glasses come off and are set definitively on the table. Some noses are pinched right at the bridge, the back of necks are grabbed, and massaged slowly. There’s a guy trying to appear interested by perfecting a thinker pose. Chin taps, and goatee stroking are followed by the default arm crosses. At 40 minutes in the here-to-for unappealing bowls of hard candy are suddenly calling. The mise-well interest starts a crinkly sound wave across the room as hands reach into the bowl. The sound has jarred awake some of the head nodders. The foggy bobbleheads stop abruptly, necks stiffening from the idea that people have seem them nod off. Some steal looks around the room to see if anyone is trying to catch their eye. The tissue boxes are now coming in to view. Some have grabbed a tissue to spit out the stale tasting mints. Others have just reached for one unconsciously propelled by the mild distress in the air. Tissues are scrunched in agitation and balled up hard in sweaty palms. Others pieces are twisted nervously and laid on the table looking blatently like large rolled up joints.
It did take until 50 minutes in ( for this was an over- 40 crowd.)…..but stealthily out came the shiny square boxes of light. First resting on laps, they emerged, some were brazenly slid onto the conference table. Green bubbles of texts glow and flash as they pull people from the droning voice in the room back into their lives and stresses. For some, there is comic relief. Heads tilt down and private grins emerge, lightening some of the angst quietly building in the room. Brightly colored nail tips tap expertly on the tiny screens. The clicking is almost inaudible.
At 60 minutes in, the bodies in the room convey what no one dares to utter out loud. The speaker has left them far behind now oblivious to the message being screamed silently from the rafters. The body language shifts between despondent and enraged. The fast jiggling foot sends an inpatient count down of the minutes of tolerence left. The slouching backs signal the resignation of those who have given up. The legs stretched out boldly in front of chairs with feet carelessly pointing up, reek of a rebellious full body middle finger. But the speaker drones on, enjoying his brilliance, deaf to the cacophony from the imprisoned bodies in the room.
I hunkered down in a small waiting room chair in an older doctor’s office. I gazed at another chair just like the one I was sitting in across the room. The chairs were non descript…….making no statement, just doing their job day in and day out. They were tan with leather across the seat. The arms and legs were made of a soft light colored wood that had gotten darker over the years. The arms had a tired look as though many nervous hands had fingered, scratched, and rubbed them over the years. I imagined one person’s finger prints seeping into the soft wood. When the next patient came and put their hand in the exact same spot, what would seep up through the wood? Could the next person feel the worry, sadness, and fear of the hand that had clutched that rounded corner a day before or an hour before?