"You have to stay faithful to what you're working on." - Stephen King
Picture this. It’s late evening in a small Hospital waiting room in Raleigh, North Carolina. The room is pretty full – full of many different characters. One older black gentleman, dressed in red pants and a red shirt, is aimlessly rambling on about whatever is bursting into his head. Sometimes he is singing, other times he’s preaching, and occasionally his is on the verge of tears only to wrap back around to a laugh and a poignant quote from scripture. Folks around him can’t help but listen, whether that’s consciously or subconsciously. It’s just madness, really.
A large security guard steps out from behind the front desk and asks for everyone, in an aggravated tone to “Keep quiet and keep it down.” Followed by a sigh and a forced, “Please.” He shakes his head and steps back behind the desk, breathing hard. He’s the sort of pissy that people get when they haven’t eaten, or when they’re stuck at a job that they hate and they hate all of the people they work with/for (but really they don’t they just hate themselves and what they’ve settled into). Probably definitely the case here. Most likely a combination of the two is my best guess.
Why am I here? I’m here with my girlfriend meeting new family members! It is not the ideal place for first meetings to unfold, but life isn’t always ideal is it? If it was, would it be any bit as interesting? Becca and I and her aunt snicker at the frustrated security guard, feeling like scolded children in a class room. The man in the red shirt and red pants all but becomes a mute.
For a while…
I sit mostly quiet, taking everything in, as I do always. I speak to Becca’s dad briefly, and her aunt and try my best to make what I’m sure is an uncomfortable situation for everyone as easy to cope with as possible. There are all grades of emotions in the air, colliding from all different directions and all different conversations. It’s a moment in time that could easily be overwhelming and awkward, but to me, it just feels like a moment in time. A memory in the making. Obviously.
At some point, a man carries a little girl into the room. She’s hanging from his arms and crying and he looks absolutely fucking petrified. There are a few other little girls that slump in behind them. Then I realize that the girl he's carrying, isn't his daughter. The crying girl has a busted lip because one of the other girls pushed her down at their slumber party. Money says that today and forevermore, they are the most hated parents on the block. And speaking of money, it would appear that the girls with unbusted lips are thirsty - probably parched from bullying their “friend” - so, they acquire a crisp $10 bill from somewhere and saunter over to the front desk.
Over to where our friendly security guard is sitting with his back turned to the waiting room.
One of the girls asks, “Can you break this for us?”, speaking of course about the $10 bill. The security guard rudely, and grade-A-ass-like, responds, “No. Can’t do it.” I don’t even think the dude turned around to look at them.
Becca and I raise our brows and smirk at one another.
“What a dick?”, we ask. She asks if I have change for a ten, and I do, but before we can get it to the girls, they’ve already put the $10 bill in the drink machine. What happens next puts both of us into an extensive laughing fit – so much so that tears start rolling out of Becca’s face.
The machine proceeds to give the girls back their change...all in quarters! Hahaha! Just a constant Ba-Dink! Ba-Dink! Ba-Dink! Ba-Dink! – at least $8 worth of quarters, guys, I’m sure of it. And I know that every single Ba-Dink! of change rattles deep inside of the angry security guards head and I picture a tightening wince on this guy’s face as his pent up hatred grows a little bit with each quarter. We laugh so hard, although we’re trying hard to keep it at an acceptable level of noise and fun. ‘Cause God forbid we push this guy over the edge…we’d probably all end up patients in the ER there.
When Becca and I decide to leave, we couldn’t be happier to do so. I wonder now, in retrospect, had we not had to meet her family there, had we just met at their house under “normal” circumstances, would we have ever known that a drink machine would break a ten in quarters?
I just don’t know.
It was all worth the laughs and the shared experience, found and enjoyed somewhere within the blurry boundaries of The Twilight Zone.
- Jared C. Shumate