Waiting room protocol is something I’m never sure about. Is it polite to ask how someone in a doctor’s office is doing? It’s fine, perhaps, if they’re having a routine physical, but what if their wraparound sunglasses are meant to deter unwanted inquiries?
Smartphones have changed the rules of etiquette. Conversation was once considered courteous. Now, though, it seems intrusive to interrupt someone staring intently at a screen.
There was a time when I would peruse through layers of magazines to see what I had missed from two years earlier. That was before my wife convinced me that old magazines in doctors’ offices are breeding grounds for bacteria. Before I approach the display rack now, I ask the receptionist for disposable rubber gloves and a mask, then I request a copy of the furniture sanitization schedule.
Occasionally there are still opportunities to meet people you don’t know. I enjoyed a recent chat with two longtime senior citizens named John and Matt. I was in Macon with my mother who was having a CT scan. She had been called to the back when the two men ambled in. They stopped by the front desk then settled into chairs across the room from me, maybe 15 feet away.
I don’t know much about them other than John is 84, Matt is 83, and they’ve been friends for 40 years. John’s a tall wiry fellow with thick gray hair and the tan of an outdoorsman. Matt’s a big guy with a reddish beard who looks like he could put a charging bear in a full nelson. He wore a flannel shirt with blue jeans held up by red suspenders. It was like seeing Geritol’s version of Grizzly Adams.
John’s vision isn’t good, so Matt helped him fill out some paperwork. He took the forms back to the receptionist and said, “We can’t pronounce some of these words, so I just answered no.” As Matt walked back toward his seat John called out to him, “Slow down! You’re making me look bad!”
I was amused at their lighthearted banter but too far away to comment without shouting. That’s when John walked over near me to look out a window or maybe examine a painting on the wall.
“That’s a good line I overheard when you told your friend to slow down,” I said.
Matt was within earshot and spoke before John had a chance. “He says that to me all the time. He’s jealous because of my youthfulness.” We shook hands and introduced ourselves. That’s when I learned their age difference is measured by months.
“I was in good shape a few years ago,” said John. “At 76 I climbed up an old sugarberry tree with ropes so I could take it down from the top. People a lot older than me remembered the tree being there when they were young.”
John talked about sawing his way down until he was about 25 feet off the ground. “It was rotten at the bottom,” he said, “but there was a small green part inside that kept the top of the tree alive.” He finished the job without a hitch, but his tree climbing days were winding down.
Matt told me he used to deliver chickens to grocery stores in Dooly County. He fondly remembered Mr. Smith Dennard in Unadilla. “I hauled chickens there before he built the new store,” he said. “I wore a cowboy hat back then. He liked it so much he asked me to get him two just like it.” Matt paused for a second, then dryly added, “He wanted one for a chamber pot and one for a cover.”
“I can’t see well out of my right eye,” said John. When I asked what happened, Matt explained that John’s wife hit him with a frying pan. John laughed and corrected him: “Nope, that was my other eye.” Then he said, “Tell me your name again. My memory doesn’t work as well as it used to.”
“He had his mouth open when you told him before,” Matt responded. “When John’s mouth is open everything that goes in his ears passes on through.” I confessed I often have that same problem.
If you see two weathered old men in a Macon waiting room, you might want to find a nearby chair. I’m glad I wasn’t staring at my phone that day. I would have missed a charming portrait of friendship that’s still being painted with strokes of gentle humor.
If you know John Barron or Matt Evans, tell them a young guy from Dooly County said hello. And if I don’t have their story exactly right, it’s probably because I was listening with my mouth open.