Circa May, 2015: I began filling out the small piece of paper required to initiate my appointment on the skinny counter of the reception desk. Though the space allotted for each answer was minimal, the form sought quite a bit of information, including my date of birth, social security number and a lot of other things that I didn’t believe were truly needed for a routine teeth cleaning by the dentist I’d been using for five years.
As I struggled to squeeze my e-mail address into an area only large enough to hold my initials, the receptionist, a heavy-set woman who exclusively utilized her rolling office chair to navigate the small amount of open space on her side of the desk, noted my dilemma and offered, “Don’t worry about all of that Hon, we just need your name and the date.”
I was tempted, sorely tempted, to ask what the rationale was for the form if all that was truly needed was my name — going with the idea that they can probably figure out the date — but decided to go with the path of least resistance. I did my small part and took a seat in the waiting area.
I knew from prior experience that my dentist utilized some sort of cell signal suppression in his office. My phone worked as well as it ever does until I crossed the threshold to his office, at which point it became a paperweight. I also knew that the TV in the waiting room would be on, and it would feature a program I would never watch at a volume that I would never select unless I routinely needed hearing aids but had left them at home.
There was no escape from Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan that morning, so I chose the seat directly below the TV with the idea that the outward facing speakers might not be able to pierce my skull from this position. I was wrong.
After confirming that my phone had no signal, I yielded to the audio of Michael Strahan discussing his weekend. Strahan was a big, fast dude when he played in the NFL only a few years before, and he still looked the part. He is sharp, well-spoken and a good dresser. I knew all of this from seeing him in other TV shows, but I couldn’t see him at the moment in my position directly below the TV. Instead, despite all of my prior knowledge of the man, all I was able to focus on was his somewhat obvious lisp.
I pondered the lisp element and wondered internally if it had anything to do with the large gap between his two front teeth. There’s certainly nothing effeminate about the man. I caught myself wondering why I was doing so much wondering about Michael Strahan. With nothing else to fill the void between my ears I questioned internally if my dentist had ever actually watched the shows he inflicted on his patients. Perhaps the sight of the large gap in Michael Strahan’s teeth and his potentially corresponding lisp called out to my dentist in some way? My pondering was interrupted by the entrance of other patrons into the reception area.
He is old. Extremely old. His body had achieved a curious shape whereby all of the flesh that would normally occupy the extremities had instead decided to roost in His belly. The sleeves from His shirt hung off of him whilst the buttons across the front strained to retain their contents — the strip of fabric between each button over his belly pulled sideways by the tension. He staggered towards the reception desk, an old cell phone clenched in one hand. Each shaky step appeared to potentially be the last.
She was potentially younger, but it’s hard to nail down a guesstimate as Her mouth was locked in a semi-open position and her frizzled, receding hair stood on end. Her attire was a mishmash of form-fitting athletic garb from the 1980s. She might be going to the gym after this visit to the dentist. Then again, She might have worn this same outfit for the past 35 years. A case could be made either way.
They teetered collectively towards the desk. He huffed and puffed as He clenched his phone. She, with a couple of fingers pinching His shirt sleeve for support, lumbered forward with absolutely no expression on Her semi-open-mouthed face.
They made it to the reception desk and had a variation of the same conversation I’d just had regarding the necessary data. From above, Strahan offered parenting tips whilst He signed his name with his free hand and She stared hard at the blank wall to the side of the desk as if she was looking at something on the other side.
They eventually fell into the seats across from me. He checked his phone and then put it back down, cursing somewhat silently to himself.
He then tried holding his phone up in his skinny, outstretched arm as if the signal was hovering over his head. The result was the same. The only thing hovering above is Rippa and Strahan whether He liked it or not.
He chewed the air noisily as he parked the phone in the front pocket of his shirt and stared at the screen. “Who is that big guy there?” Though there is clearly only one big guy involved with the show, He then added additional clarification in the form of, “…that big, black fellow.”
The receptionist, who is black, perked up at this comment and rolled a bit closer to the desk. “Oh sh*t,” I thought to myself, “he’s about to drop the N-word.”
I don’t know why my mind went there other than the fact that this white couple was of an age where the N-word was somewhat acceptable in certain circles for some portion of their lives. More importantly, they were old enough to claim that special status the my grandmother seized at Thanksgiving dinner back in the day when, without provocation or a segue, she announced to the entire extended family seated at the table that, “I’m 65-years-old now and I’ll say whatever the f*ck I want.”
She had no comment or reaction. And He returned to chewing the air. I don’t know where the conversation would have gone from there but it was diverted by the formidable results of Ms. Ripa’s workout routine. I couldn’t see her from where I was sitting, but His description did the job for me.
“Who is that lady? What’s going on with her arms? They’re all ripply. You can see all of her muscles.”
She offers no information.
“That’s just not attractive. A woman having all of those muscles.”
With no change of expression and barely any movement from her still-open mouth, She offered, “Nope.”
She then emitted a belch that would do justice to someone several times her size, whilst never breaking her gaze upon the TV screen.
The door to the interior portion of the office opened and a hygienist dressed in scrubs announced, “Mr. Cobb?”
I left Them in the waiting room — Him still chewing the air and Her with her open mouth — both staring intently at the TV whilst absently scratching their respective bellies. I almost wanted to stay to see how it all played out.