Thursday, January 14, 2010

On Being Two Opposite Things at Once

Sitting in the doctor’s office. It’s time for my weekly allergy shot. The nurse comes in, flips through my chart, deciding which arm she gets to stick this time. It’s the right one. I turn my head away as the needle goes in. The job done, I now have to sit for twenty minutes to be sure I don’t keel over and die, or face some similar outcome from having allergens injected directly into my muscle tissue. Or, maybe it just makes me feel like I’m getting owed time for my $26 weekly fee.

Usually I bring a book for such visits, but today I don’t have one, though I notice an “I Spy” book in the magazine rack. I am nuts about puzzles and things (in case anyone wondered why I became a professional cataloger), so I grab a hold of it and look through it. I scan the pages trying to find the objects—5 bats, 6 squirrels, 12 birds, whatever. Damn, this is hard. They give this to kids?

I have vivid memories of going to the doctor’s office as a child. The office was decorated with that light brown paneling that seemed to decorate everything in the Seventies. The benches were the obligatory blend of brown, green, avocado--I mostly remember how the place smelled. Can you have a visual memory of a smell? I think it was a strong antiseptic smell, but I just associated the smell with that office, that paneling. The examination rooms smelled the same way. Their walls were decorated with pictures obviously made by other patients, Sunday newspaper cartoons, and a really scary looking rug-hooking of Raggedy Ann and Andy. I can remember reading what were at that time new Peanuts cartoons, in particular the new year’s day one for January 1, 1980. The doctor would come in, smiling, a short round woman with a red face, no neck, a shock of red hair, and a stethoscope around her neck. She smelled like everything else there. I remember her scolding me once, in the fifth grade, for being 5 pounds overweight. This may have been my first obvious experience of hypocrisy. Or maybe not. From the reports on child obesity, it sounds like pediatricians don’t bitch enough at kids about their weight.

I think a lot about hypocrisy. I live such a strange and apparently incongruous life that I sometimes wonder if I’m not hypocritical. I have very stereotypical “good girl” traits, and just as many stereotypical “bad girl” traits. But that may be the rub—the “stereotypical”. Do I want to be stereotypical? Not particularly.

Hypocrisy has more to do with judgment—if I judge others for doing the things I do, that would certainly make me a hypocrite. I don’t think I really judge anyone, not even the mentally ill. I remember a guy who used to come into the library I worked at, and he would frequently get into arguments—sometimes even fist fights—with someone who wasn’t there. If he got out of hand, I’d go over to him and say, “Both of you knock it off!” I figured, heck, just because I can’t see the other guy doesn’t mean he’s not there. What do I know?

I do question behavior that I find disrespectful, insulting, or hurtful—to myself or to another person, so perhaps I judge in that way, though that has more to do with communication, and perhaps discrimination (the good kind, not the illegal kind). I don’t think it’s possible not to do this—I just may be very over-analytical about it. More than likely, though, I’m responding to people’s criticism that I can’t be two apparently opposite things at one time. I think, “Gee, maybe I can’t. Or shouldn’t. Maybe I have to choose.” Then I laugh, and go louche some absinthe.

My 20 minutes are up, and I still haven’t found the 12th bird in this damn picture. The nurse looks at the welt on my arm, pronounces it “normal”, and I am free to go. As I drive home, I notice that it is 5:00 and still light out. I am encouraged.

No comments: