Waiting rooms call for preparation. You can’t count on the quality of their magazines, fellow waiters are seldom adequate company and the television is reliably loud and witless. Whether dentist or Jiffy Lube, waiting rooms must be endured with the aid of the proper book. For years my palliative of choice was Boswell, who possesses the virtues of familiarity and dip-in-anywhere readability. Of late, I’ve switched to Beckett’ post-war short fiction. Most of the stories are the length of a typical enforced wait, and sometimes you can polish off two or three and feel bolstered for bad news. The stories are grimly funny, humane but never nice.
Roger Boylan told me the other day he had reread “The End” from Stories and Texts for Nothing, and I judged the title appropriately chilling for the waits between “tests” at Baylor Medical Clinic. That’s where I spent much of Tuesday. When I wasn’t being jabbed or imaged, I sat in the waiting room on the twelfth floor in a hospital gown, feeling like a soldier among mere civilians, enjoying such passages as this description of “a cabin in the mountains”:
“If there had been any furniture it was gone. The vilest acts had been committed on the ground and against the walls. The floor was strewn with excrements, both human and animal, with condoms and vomit. In a cowpad a heart had been traced, pierced by an arrow. And yet there was nothing to attract tourists. I noticed the remains of abandoned nosegays. They had been greedily gathered, carried for miles, then thrown away, because they were cumbersome or already withered. This was the dwelling to which I had been given the key.”
And then Beckett riffs on companionship and the natural world:
“I had lived too long among rats, in my chance dwellings, to share the dread they inspire in the vulgar. I even had a soft spot in my heart for them. They came with such confidence towards me, it seemed without the least repugnance. They made their toilets with catlike gestures. Toads at evening, motionless for hours, lap flies from the air. They like to squat where cover ends and open air begins, they favour thresholds.”
Finally, the narrator lives in an abandoned boat and is reluctant to climb out of it, even to relieve himself:
“So I waited until the desire to shit, or even to piss, lent me wings. I did not want to dirty my nest! And yet it sometimes happened, and even more and more often. Arched and rigid I edged down my trousers and turned a little on my side, just enough to free the hole. To contrive a little kingdom, in the midst of the universal muck, then shit on it, ah that was me all over.”
Perfect words to read in a perfect state of asepsis.