Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Waiting

I remember reading once that, based on a life-expectancy of 70 years, most people will spend about five years in the bathroom--not all at once (one hopes), but total. I wonder if that's accurate. Assuming it's in the ballpark, then most of us must spend even more years waiting. Stuck in a chair, leaning against a wall, pacing, or holding a phone to the ear (while being "on hold"). It's probably worse for me because I tend to show up for appointments very early, so like those people at the beginning of Casablanca, I "wait. . .and wait. . .and wait."

It's interesting that people who are sick in hospitals are called patients. For once, an institution tells the truth! By using that name, hospitals are disclosing that if you are sick and come to the hospital, your main task will not be to get well but to wait, to be patient. If politicians were as truthful, they would openly refer to voters and other citizens as "victims," "patsies," or "suckers." The president would begin a TV-speech by saying, "Good evening, suckers! Social Security is toast! I'm spending all your money in Iraq; a lot of it is going to large corporations! What's new with you?"

I don't know how waiters and waitresses and "wait-staff" got that wait-related name and its variations. In most restaurants, they don't wait at all. In fact, sometimes they leave the table too quickly, just when you're ready to order or have a question, or right after they've given you what you did not order. I guess sometimes they wait for the chef to produce the food. "Server" is more accurate, I suppose, but it sounds strange. Maybe we need a brand-new term, like a "plate-jockey" or a "food-hauler" or "calorie-delivery specialist." No, better stick with waiter and waitress. Or server.

It may have been William Burroughs who said that the life of a junkie consists almost entirely of waiting--for the next fix. And what a great word "fix" is in this context. The junkie is in need of constant repair, but once s/he gets the fix, s/he's ruined again and needs fixing.

In my childhood, I heard people make the sarcastic comment, "What are you waiting for?", when they really meant "Start" or "Hurry" or "I'm impatient; take care of me." I don't hear that comment much any more, nor do I hear "I don't have all day!" I do hear the more direct "What's taking so long?"

What is patience? I know it's an alleged virtue. I think it may be the ability to wait without being internally (or externally) agitated. I know lots of people who look calm while they're waiting, but inside things are in turmoil, so they're not really being patient. How do you know when you're being patient? It's more than just waiting with apparent calmness and politeness, I think. It's a quality of being. The more power and/or celebrity people have or appear to have, the less they are required to be patient and the more they are entitled to force other people to be patient. Is that an accurate statement?

Anyway, here's a little poem about waiting (and I apologize for the delay):

Expect Delays

At the annual International Patience Festival,
held every other year (or so),
participants double-park on each other’s nerves;
wait in lines leading up to
unstaffed stations;
are notified appointments with a
chiropractor
have been rescheduled; ache; stand by
for further announcements;
get the runaround and put on hold;
pray, hope, digress; pass the
time;
consult obscure religious texts; sigh; check their
watches,
their messages;
ask each other if there’s been “any word”;
fall behind schedule; and,
and
believe people are basically good.


Copyright 2007 Hans Ostrom

Post a Comment