There’s a theme in a 1995 novel by Martin Amis that came to mind Wednesday morning while I was in a Spokane Valley medical waiting room.
In that book, “The Information,” the lead character is a writer with a problem. It seems those reading his work invariably experience excruciating headaches. That’s bad for sales.
This came to mind as I looked at an elderly man whose expression suggested he was experiencing some sort of gastric distress.
Did I mention he was perusing the newspaper at the time? Unless I missed my guess, he was reading my column.
Oh, you can’t always tell exactly where on the page a newspaper reader’s eyes are focused. But in the 26 years I have been writing columns for The Spokesman-Review I have made quite a study of watching people read the paper in public places. So I felt confident that the gentleman who appeared to be having heartburn was indeed sampling my work.
As for the source of his apparent discomfort and my column’s possible role, well, I try not to delve too deeply into cause and effect. I mean, he was at a doctor’s office, after all. He could have been feeling unwell before he ever picked up my section.
Still, it’s impossible to not wonder, and I have had many occasions to do so.
Sure, I hope readers enjoy what they have before them. But I have learned to settle for subtle signs of approval. Say, not looking like they are undergoing a colonoscopy.
Doctors’ offices aren’t the only places I do this. Airport departure gates and restaurants come to mind. Though a lot has changed in 26 years. Mostly people just look at their phones now. That’s certainly true on the bus.
There’s something about doctors’ waiting rooms, however. At least the ones I go to now and those I used to visit with my parents when they were still alive.
They tend to be places where you see a fair number of older people. As you probably know, older people read the newspaper in significant numbers.
I have seen any number of patients with a variety of dyspeptic expressions apparently reading my column and looking baffled, incredulous or worse.
When the waiting room reader appears simply mystified, I have been tempted to lean over and say, “You see, it’s mildly amusing because …”
But we try hard to get people to read the paper. No sense interrupting someone who is actually doing just that.
Feedback on the column about the Eagles
Kay Steward did not care for my Wednesday offering.
“What the hell kind of column was that in this morning’s Spokesman-Review? You need to retire. Obviously your personal hate, poor choice of topics and lack of respect for individual thought or opinion taints your outlook on the world and reveals more about you as a person and so-called journalist than any other measure.”
She went on.
“Are you trying to further divide our country? It’s not enough for you to draw firm lines politically, but now you have to do it musically. It’s not your job to incite hate. …
“For the record, I have NEVER met anyone who doesn’t like the Eagles. NEVER. …
“Your petty opinion with your troubled motive and use of The Spokesman-Review to progress you agenda speaks poorly for Spokane. What band would ever want to play in Spokane with this attitude?”
It’s not the sort of thing about which statistics are kept.
But you have to wonder. Does Spokane lead the nation when it comes to the number of residents’ vehicles covered with dust and dirt acquired while being driven on unpaved roads in another state or at least another county?
And if you think that might be so, to what do you attribute this?
A) High percentage of Spokane residents with relatives or friends who live on farms. B) Number of Spokane residents with remote lake places in Idaho. C) Number of Spokane residents who hear the siren song of backcountry Montana. D) Some unique quirk of the Spokane lifestyle. E) The number of Spokane residents whose summertime hobby is driving 50 miles to collect firewood. F) That’s what happens when you let your dog do the navigating. G) A surprising number of Spokane residents hear a line from “Top Gun” running through their heads, except it has been tweaked to say “I feel the need … the need for mud.” H) People here regard the “back to the land” movement quite literally. I) Other.