Friday, November 19, 2010
The Useful Person
"Did you enjoy the trip to Brisbane?"
"It was good. The high point was when we were sitting in the waiting area for the CT scan thingy at the hospital and the old man was filling out the form and he asked me what the date was. And it was funny he asked me that because when he's at home he asks me what day it is every single day. Sometimes several times a day. In spite of the fact that the newspaper is always right there in front of him face up with the date prominent, he never bothers looking. Instead he asks me what day it is and I always lean across and say, 'The newspaper's here. What does it say?' And I point at the date and say, 'Oh look it's Thursday.' And he always says, 'Oh right,' and there we are, another conversation dealt with.
"So we're in the reception area in the hospital and he's there filling out his form and he asks me the date. The day is one thing and the date is another - I never know what the date is. So I ask the receptionist and she tells us and he writes it down. And it was good that that happened because otherwise the 12 hours I spent in the ambulance and standing around at the hospital would have been a complete waste of time with me as the most superfluous man in the world. As it was it was a good thing I was there since I saved him having to ask the receptionist himself.
"And not only that, what was really brilliant was how it cast my whole life into stark relief. What with all those hours sitting in the ambulance staring out the window (with barely five words of conversation during the whole trip) I came up with a one-page Robert Crumb cartoon that describes my life.
"It involves a man at an information window (that would be me) and on the glass it says 'Ask me what day it is'. And above the glass is a huge LED sign, it's like 2m across in bright red and it has the day and date on it - Thursday 18th November 2010. And anyway, I'm standing at the window and an old man comes up and says, 'What day is it?' and I point up at the big LED sign and say, 'If you look just above your head there, there's a big sign with the day and date on it and it says that today is Thursday.' 'Thanks very much,' says the man and shuffles off. And the next day he comes back and asks me what day it is and I point up at the sign, 'If you look just above your head...' etc. etc. And we repeat that over and over until the page is full and then in the last panel someone comes along and says, 'You're doing a great job. The old man is very lucky to have you.' "