Janet Sheridan: Wasting time

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Janet Sheridan

I become spiteful when forced to wait for others, fuming as I wonder why their time is more valuable than mine. I resist the urge to pound my head — or theirs — on a hard surface, but allow my disgusted sighs to escape and resound.

People move away from me.

If I’m hungry, the ugliness multiplies. My blood pressure skyrockets when I wait too long for a Caesar salad without the waitress offering an explanation: they had to send out for lettuce or the busboy attacked the sous chef.

If they’d let me know, I wouldn’t have to squirm and snarl.

Waiting in a dentist’s chair with a thoroughly numb mouth makes me want to tear my hair, but I don’t. I’m afraid when the good dentist finally arrives, my bloody bald spots might put him off, and I’d have to reschedule.

I tap my foot and frown when a department store salesperson conducts an extensive telephone conversation without acknowledging my presence. I can’t imagine a call more important than my need to get the partner of the bargain-rack shoe that’s a size too small, but might work.

When I’m stopped by highway construction, I act as though the multimillion-dollar operation was planned for no reason other than to make me wait. As asphalt-splattered workers point and stare, I tie knots in the steering wheel.

No horror can exceed waiting for 28 minutes and 32 seconds in the skimpy gown required for unpleasant medical procedures in an exam room chilled to the point of goose bumps — with nothing to read but a chart illustrating the growth of cancer cells.

I’m certain many medical professionals, upon entering my room and observing my facial tics, have considered a call to security.

If not, they should have.

When doctors finally appear, I smile and babble, trying to ingratiate myself so they won’t leave. I stop short of holding their attention by wriggling and bouncing like a lonely puppy, but I would if necessary.

At least in restaurants, when food is delayed, I’ve sometimes been appeased with a free piece of pie. What’s a dentist or doctor to do? Offer to pull a tooth in addition to filling my cavity? Give me a coupon for a free appendectomy?

I’m ashamed of the inner monster I become when others waste my time because I think nothing of frittering away precious minutes on my own. Staring out the window with an open mouth and vacant mind — while 10, 20, 30 minutes slip by — doesn’t bother me at all.

Never has.

As a child, I could spend hours trying to peel the foil off a gum wrapper in one piece, but become indignant if Bob spent too much time reading the Sunday funnies while I waited.

I used to watch Your Hit Parade every Saturday after dinner, hoping Snooky Lanson would be the cast member chosen to sing the week’s top hit.

One week, I hadn’t finished the dishes when the show began. I swore I’d do them the minute it ended but forgot. Instead, inspired by the show’s choreography, I decided to practice my tap-dance moves so I could become a Hit Parade dancer.

I convinced Barbara to sing “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” again and again while I tried out various dance steps. I was working on a jaunty hoedown maneuver when Mom entered and silenced Barbara’s croaking with a look.

She then said she’d never seen anyone waste time like I did and threatened me with no desert for a week, convincing me that clean dishes would contribute more to my happiness than a barn dance in the living room.

I still have a tendency to fritter.

I catch myself postponing productive activity by picking mindlessly at my cuticles, watching sparrows fuss around an empty feeder, or leafing through a Hanes underwear catalogue.

And yet, if Joel should delay our departure for Denver by two minutes, I pace and mutter.

And I’m not proud of it.

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