by Hugh Gilmore

If you still don’t believe that there are people in this world who really and truly sit in a room and plan how to break into your mind and steal your money, read on.

This past Saturday, on my way to a friend’s house in Bucks County, my car needed gas, so I stopped at the first station past the end of the Route 309 expressway.

As I emerged from the car, I heard one of those happy-happy advertisements in the air, promising me happy-happiness if I boughtsomething. I looked around, guessing the sound came from someone’s car radio. But, the auditory quality was different, more ‘televisiony.’


But anyway, who cares? The modern world requires your brain to brush away thousands of these sounds every day. They’re like mosquitoes, swarming about you everywhere you go, all day long.
I tuned out.

Wallet opened, VISA plucked from within, I oriented my card’s stripe and started to swipe it when I came face to face with … did you guess ‘a television set’? Yes, mounted on top of the gas pump.

An AccuWeather spokesman was now telling me the chances of my experiencing the weather I was experiencing. Could it be? Had the guys in the blue-blow planning room found yet another place to plant one of their brain drills? My eyes scanned the other 16 pumps at this station.

Yes. Every one. What had once been a holy mental-resting-place, akin somewhat to one of the Stations of the Cross, a place where I could be luxuriously bored while I refilled my car’s gas tank, a place where I could be reminded of the horrors of inflation and the greed of Big Oil, had been retooled as a mental breakdown center.

A worry dashes in as I write this: How honest can I afford to be in writing for a family/community newspaper? I wonder. Because my first thought on seeing that that contraption had invaded “my” space (i.e. my mind) was to sabotage it. Puttinging hands in my pockets, I casually walked around the pump, getting up on tip-toes where needed, looking for weak spots, points of possible attack.
I needn’t tell you this is a weakness of mine, this temptation to fight bak against Space Invaders. I’ve written columns about these skirmishes, the first one appearing in this paper more than five years ago (‘Waiting Room TVs’). Back then I described an experience at the hallowed Wills Eye Hospital.

Flashback – 2006.

My then-19-year-old son, Andrew, blind in one eye as a result of ‘retinopathy of the premature,’ had called at 5:30 a.m. to say he thought the retina in his ‘good’ eye was detaching. He sensed a shadow, like a window shade drawing, in the corner of his eye. We knew what that meant from two earlier retina surgeries that had failed to save his left eye. Up we sprang to gather him from Arcadia University nearby and dash to Wills Eye Hospital.

At the hospital, the usual insurance delays and red tape kept us in the waiting room much longer than my nerves could stand. I said, at different intervals, to three different receptionists, “Look, never mind the insurance, I’ll pay cash for someone to look at my son’s eye. Time is the enemy. He needs to be seen.”

This plea brought sympathetic nods, but no obvious actions. Information that might calm you down is always hoarded in hospitals and police stations. Things seem to move so slowly in emergency rooms.

Except when it’s their emergency.
As in: “Sir, don’t touch that!”

“Sir, what are doing, sir?

“Leave that alone, sir”

They’d all cupped their phones, or dropped their clipboards to stare, while the receptionist barked to stop me from turning down the TV.

The whole time we’d been waiting, the reception room television had been spewing its audio pollution at us. Good Morning America. Pretend news, shilling for the guests’ new moneymaking ventures. Such loud, awful noise. No one was looking at it, so I’d walked over and reached to lower the sound. The staff reacted as though I’d tried to kick their puppy.

“Sir, other people are watching it, sir.”

“No, they’re not. They’re trying to read.”

“Sir, she’ll take care of it, sir.”

They looked ready to mace me, so I backed off, suspecting they’d call security and have me thrown out.

After a doctor examined Andrew later, we learned our son’s guess was right. “There’s some elevation of the retina in the corner,” he said. Surgery was scheduled for tomorrow.

The next morning, they allowed us to keep Andrew company through admission and prep. We met the surgeon for the first time, asked our feeble questions, and then it was time for our son to be wheeled away to pre-op.

From Janet’s journal:

“Only one parent could accompany Andrew into the prepping area. I went. Hugh had to phone Arcadia, etc. A doctor started an IV. The surgeon wrote ‘BH’ over Andrew’s right eye. I asked what that meant. ‘Bernard Hurley, my name. We initial the eye that’s to be operated on.’

“They put a blue shower cap on Andrew just before wheeling him away. I looked into his eyes and thought that might be the last time he saw his mother’s face, and I started to cry. He said, “Don’t cry, Mom.”

“I hugged him tight, so he wouldn’t see more tears, and told him I love him. They took him away from me, and I broke down completely, hot tears of self-pity and godspeed-wishing and such a sense of sorrow for my little boy, who’s been through so much pain. He is a Wednesday’s child, indeed.”

The family waiting room, 7th floor:

Two men were sleeping in a deeply settled posture that said they’d been waiting there a while and still had a long time to go. A woman knelt on the seat of a chair, facing the window, gazing moodily out and across the rooftops.

I felt bad for them. I hoped the person they were waiting for would be all right.

Jan and I were nervous. We started trying to suppress our cold panic by reading.

On cue, the woman came away from the window and used a remote to turn the high overhead TV on.
Loud. Static snow screen though.

The lady said, “How’s this thing work”?

One man awoke and stood on the chair and turned dials till the picture appeared. Their voices were respectfully quiet, but why, if they knew to keep their voices down, did they let the TV yell so loud?

I’m thinking, “Geez, can’t you folks live without noise from the world for a little while?” The occasion of medical danger calls for peace and calm. Consultants are paid lots of money to tell hospitals what colors to paint their rooms and what kind of art to put on the walls in order to soothe people. Then they install these monstrous scream-boxes to upset us.

The other sleeping man stirred at the noise. I was just ready to say, “Excuse me folks, can we vote on this TV thing? Majority rules?” counting on the sleeper’s not voting, but then he stretched and stood and joined the others for a family conference in the doorway.

The TV stayed on as a kind of bookmark. The woman stepped back in and used the remote to turn the TV off and they all left together. Peace at last.

But for how long?

I didn’t want to put up with any more Wills Eye TV. I put my book down and walked to the doorway and looked up and down the hall.

(Continued next week. One reader’s revenge)