Friday, May 13, 2005

Ring Tones

I prewoke the alarm yesterday morning, and turned it off. It was 5:10, which left 5 minutes of bedtime. The clock radio would emit a loud click at 5:15, but there would be no ensuing NPR news drone, so I lay there with one eye open, hoping a trickle of morning light would be enough to keep my reticular activating system activated. I listened to the sounds of the morning -- hungry cats stirring on the floor, DK breathing, and two musical notes, pitched a major third apart: mourning dove and the little morse-code-like tinnitus in my right ear. A pleasant, quiet duet. Just enough.

But it didn't take long to re-enter the world of more-than-enough.

At the click of the clock I got up and headed toward the shower. DK had propped a fresh bottle of the usual shampoo on the towel rack. After a long search when good old Ivory Shampoo disappeared from the cosmetological marketplace, DK and I settled on this type. Its main virtue ? It looks and smells like soap. Regular, plain, clean-smelling soap. Not a fruit stand, spice shelf or tropical garden. Soap.

It may have been our usual shampoo, but it came in a new type of bottle with an ominous new boast on the label. "Now With Amino Acids !!!" As if I didn't already feel guilty enough about using shampoo with various animal-related fats, now they'd gone and added animal protein to it. "Great," I thought. "Why not just blenderize and bottle a cow ?" As if putting "amino acids" on hair did anything anyway.

After a brief mea culpa, I dumped the stuff on my head. Cue spice rack in a fruit stand by a tropical garden. Full of musky quarupeds in heat. I gagged. And rinsed. And rinsed. And RINSED. No avail. I would have to stave off musky quadrupeds all day. Great. Multiple Chemical Sensitivity patients within a radius of ten miles of me would collapse in death throes. I'd have to shave my head. Or scalp myself. Or submit to the guillotine.

Which brings me to the topic of ring tones. For cell phones. Who would have thought there were so many bad jingles in the world, made worse by translation into electronic beeps ? Apparantly these have become commodities. The marketplace trafficks in these odious things. Believe me when I tell you I have heard the whole musical (sic) spectrum of these. Emitting from patients' purses and pockets. Interrupting my brilliant medical advice.

"Sir or Madame, you appear to have a viral upper respiratory infection, and consequently antibiotics will not help...."

Cue: Frantic, beeping rendition of I can't get no satisfaction. Embarrassed patient fumbles in purse or pocket. Brief, whispered furtive conversation ensues.

Hello ? Oh, hi, hon. I'm at the doctor. No the DOCtor. I'm in the exam room. Uh huh. Yes. Right now. I'm with the doctor. No, I told you. What ? No, that won't work. Call Frank. The number's on the table by the TV. I still think we should go with the chocolate. At BJ's. Put it on the VISA. Mm hmm. Talk to you later.

I know I am about to sound like a luddite granny waxing nostalgic for the halcyon good old days (before them new-fangled auto-MO-biles) but damn, those bakelite bell-and-clapper rotary dial jobs were sweee-ee-eet. And had the added advantage to being anchored to one's house. As opposed to cell phones. Which allow ring-tones and human yammering to be introduced virtually anywhere. Church. Concert Hall. Grocery. Car. Subway. Bank. Sidewalk. Cafe. Wilderness. I listened, once, while a woman in the adjacent stall of the cinema ladies' room had a long, animated phone conversation with her pal. While peeing. Like a racehorse. Much to the outrage (and secret envy) of those of us with bashful bladders.

I see a patient from time to time, an older guy, who endeared himself to me from the first by announcing "I am an existentialist." One day I entered the exam room where he'd been waiting for me and found he'd taken the clock off the wall and was removing its battery. The lugubrious, inexorable "tick tick tick tick" of the cheap pharmaceutical timepiece was driving him mad. He knew I wouldn't mind. After all, we'd had many conversations about ambient noise, and our sensitivity to it. How we both have had to flee stores with blaring muzak.

I understand completely, Mr. S, I said, as he placed the clock and battery side by side on the exam table, and we enjoyed an all-too-brief moment of silence together.


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