I enjoy the diversity of the waiting room when I go for a routine checkup to my miracle worker, Dr. Lobiondo, Director of the Wound Center at Clara Maass Hospital in Newark, NJ. More than five years ago his rigorous routines completely cured a large open wound on my left leg, a result of lymphedema. For 2 years I had been sleeping in a chair with my legs elevated, but no noticeable improvement. Then I discovered Dr. Lobiondo. Physicians visit from all over the country to find out how he does it.
Most of us waiting are old and overweight. Some have been coming for 20+ years. Often conversation is spirited and we enjoy feeling free to talk about all the particulars of our wounds.
Yesterday, one guy said that he had been healed for several years, coming for routine checkups, until a few weeks ago, when his retriever, who has long nails for staying inside most of the time, accidentally re-opened the wounds. He expects months of serious therapy.
“Man’s Best Friend?” I teased. He smiled, as did the seven others in the room, but added many examples of how his dog is his best friend.
A retired Newark cop explained how he made a foolish move in a recent sports event, but is glad that he got to the center early enough and is not likely to need more than a few weeks of therapy.
Then he shifted to a narrative about the reactions he had to two fairies who somehow showed up in his neighborhood. Some giggled. I did not.
With less control of my volume and demeanor than I usually manage, I said, “I am deeply offended that you feel free to bring hate speech to the waiting room.”
“I am not hateful, but homosexual behavior is wrong and a bad influence on children. Have you not read the bible passage that says homosexuals will not enter heaven?”
“So you’re not hateful, but blame it on God. What utter nonsense.”
“I have a right to my opinion, and you have a right to yours!” he replied.
Every time my volume increased, his did more.
“I came to see the doctor, not to seek your theological counsel. Of course you have a right to express your opinion. You don’t have a right to my silence when you do. We both have freedom of speech. I find your bigotry appalling. How old are you?”
“I’m 60 and I am not a bigot. I was let go from the Newark Police Department because they said I was a racist. I took them to court and my black wife went with me. I got a huge settlement. Don’t call me a bigot.”
“Then don’t act like one. How dare you judge me as a danger to children and pronounce that to everyone in the room? I have been a professor for more than 50 years. I can understand why people in my generation are shocked by reality, but you had the advantage of being exposed to many public examples of counter statements to the bigotry you pronounced in this setting. You had to work hard to ignore the evidence.”
“Where do you teach?” he asked, with an obvious bid to get off the hot seat.
“Thanks for changing the subject,” I replied. We were enjoying each other’s company earlier. I believe we both will enjoy each other’s company again. And frankly, I can’t believe I took on a feisty cop.”
He smiled broadly and thanked me for a very interesting conversation.
I hope he slept better than I did. However I slept much better for challenging his bigotry than I would have slept had I let him live with his illusion that he was simply telling a good story.
My friend Lou Crompton counseled me years ago, “Louie, those who step on every snake get foot poisoning.”