I went to a specialist office the other day. It was a typical experience around here.
The people who worked there were annoyed, edgy. When I tried to make small talk, the receptionist responded in monosyllables. I tried to be friendly, perky, doing the whole Manifest My Light bit that I try to reach for. But the dulled and unhappy looking office staff would have none of it.
This is pretty typical for the world in and around Berkeley. It’s hard to receive a smile back when you send one; people are continually walking under a “dark cloud of doom and gloom,” as a visiting friend once put it. It’s no wonder: as you probably gathered from my previous posts, the stress around here is horrific. Believe me, I have to stretch myself plenty to summon a smile or a friendly hello.
But today, the unfriendliness really got to me. Maybe it’s because an acquaintance told me about visiting the Midwest recently and what a drastic difference it was from life in these parts. She was a bit overwhelmed by the smiles and the greetings; she even admitted to being a bit rusty about how to make small talk with all of the chatty people in restaurants or even on the streets.
So rather than sit and stew about my life in Berkeley, I ended up doing something different. In my mind, I had an imaginary conversation. It was with an imaginary receptionist in an imaginary doctor’s office in an imaginary city and town. Here’s how the happy dialogue went:
Perky Receptionist: Good Morning. It’s nice to see you again.
Me: Well, you too, Claudia!
PR: Are you here to see Dr. Jones?
M: Yes, I am!
PR: He’s running on time and will see you shortly.
M: That’s great!
PR: How was your Easter? Did you do anything special?
M: Well, yes, I enjoyed a lovely service at so-and-so church.
PR: Oh, my cousin goes there. Do you know her: Becky Smith?
M: Yes, I do, since people are so friendly there as well! [in my imaginary church]
Other Perky Receptionist Chiming In: My next door neighbor goes there too. She loves it. I was thinking about going myself.
M: Well, please do. It would be great to see you there.
At this moment, an imaginary medical assistant appears. She happily greets me, “The doctor will see you now!”
I go in and get weighed, etc., as the assistant chirpily tells me about her upcoming plans for the weekend. “And what will you be doing?” she asks, as she listens to the rhythm of my blood pressure.
A few minutes later, my specialist arrives, also a model of good cheer. He makes plenty of small talk as he asks about symptoms, and responds with great empathy, “Well, I’m sorry to hear that, but I’ll do my best to help!”
As I make my way out of the office, I say goodbye to all of my new, imaginary friends. They all bid me farewell with smiles and waves and I merrily wave back. But suddenly, I’m startled out of my calm and peaceful state by the real medical assistant, who barks out my name and tells me to follow her. Sadly, I’m reminded again that my pretend world of courtesy, friendliness, and good cheer is all a daydream.