Monthly Archives: July 2015

The Awaiting Room


The sterile, white walls of the UCLA Medical Center beckoned me through her emergency room doors again recently.

Only this time, for once, I got to see the behemoth vertically, with a peripheral view.

Normally, it’s the horizontal perspective of fluorescent lights you enjoy from the gurney. But I was there with friends who had to visit the new ER, a gleaming, $ zillion wonder of byzantine architecture. Infinite PR has heralded the state-of-the-art campus, which features valet parking and customer satisfaction surveys.

But, as Maude says, aesthetic appreciation always takes a little time. So I can’t really give an honest report, having relied on it for so long. There’s a conflict of interest. I will say, however: The lighting is terrific.

And in observing the place instead of puking  on it,  I came to a couple realizations that I probably knew in the back of my mind. But this time, they could not help but find their way front.

The first: You should be able to opt out of jury service, but only if you agree to spend that time in an emergency room. It would not only give people an option to not bathe in legal molasses; this community service would actually improve the community.

How could it not, to watch a parade of real life? I will concede this to fate: It is brutal, merciless and often unfair. But it’s impartial. The destitute and the destined alike arrive through same doors, face the same gray horizon. Spend some quality time there, and we may even be less inclined to lament our lives as a living hell. Though I try not to be pollyanic.

waiting room sketch

The second: When a family is convicted of Illness, the defendant is often less harshly punished than the witnesses.

You realize it in the faces of families awaiting health news. When you’re the one sick, your one job is simple: feel better.

When you are among the Concerned, you can face a much tougher sentence. To make someone else feel hopeful; to be a support beam and not a crutch; to not cry in the middle of random conversations. Or, worse still, to attempt the impossible: Accepting you have so little say in the life you brought into this world.

Yet, look closely, and you can make out real beauty, too. A mother who thinks nothing of a 10-hour admission wait; A father willing to challenge armed men to get a child due attention. The strength of conviction.

As I said, I’m no more an expert on architecture than I am in Spanish, or cooking, or household repair, or anything else that’s actually useful in real life.

But there’s no denying the building lighting really is terrific. Especially when it illuminates the world inside the building.

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Makes No Difference Who You Are


I was at Disneyland for the Fourth of July (or, as dogs refer to it, Annual Armageddon Day). And while normally I chafe at Disney’s corporate worldview and misogynist fairy tales in perpetuity, I get why the Mouse House boasts that it’s the happiest place on earth.

If you’re the right age, perhaps it is.

Sitting on the ledge of a fountain in downtown Disney in Anaheim, I saw a dad walking his son, perhaps three, to the water to toss in a coin and make a wish.

He handed a penny to the boy — dressed head to toe in a tiny Los Angeles Angels baseball uniform — and told him to make a wish. The boy gazed at the cent, new and tangerine shiny.


“Make a wish and throw it in,” Dad said.

Without hesitation, the child hurled it into the fountain. Then he teetered perilously over the ledge to look at the shimmering coin floor, at least half of which was silver.

Dad tottered the boy back from the fountain before it became a mini swimming pool. He stooped behind his son, and wrapped a hand around him and over his stomach, speaking into his ear.

“Do you know what a wish is?” dad asked. The boy shook his head.

“A wish is something you want,” the dad said, rummaging for another penny. “Take this, think of something you want, and toss in the coin. Maybe it will come true.”

You could almost see the light bulb go off. And I realized I was witnessing a child learning how to wish. What a human experience. How many times would he exercise this new skill, to daydream? And for what will he pine, aside from being a Big Leaguer? Bringing a stuffed animal to life? calvinLiving in Disneyland? And in years to come; falling in love? Getting into school? Being a father?

One thing was certain: Dad had better keep a pocketful of change from this day forward. Because whenever they pass a fountain, kid’s gonna want wishing moolah.

Clearly, he got the concept.  Dad asked if he understood. Kid nodded like a stoner at a Metallica concert. Yes, yes, yes. Now where’s that penny?

Dad put it into his boy’s hand. Kid hesitated for a second, closed his fingers and looked at his tiny clench. And concentrated. Furrowed his brows while he decided on a wish, as if the wrong one could bring calamity. He drew his arm back, more assured this time.

“I want more money!” he yelled, throwing the coin twice as deep into the fountain this time.

Dad stood up and turned around. He dropped his hand, extending an index finger. Kid reached over his head and clasped the finger as he had the Lincoln head. They walked back to a family of a half dozen.

“You know,” the dad said. “Sometimes I wish for that, too.”


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