The other night we were holding vigil in the ER (A&E) waiting rooms while a family member was being treated.  Having spent plenty of hours in the waiting places of life, I had brought with me my latest amusement, a sorting box containing a bunch of old necklaces that I was dismantling for salvageable parts.  Aside from the whole reason for being in the waiting room, it was a pleasant experience, and I sat there rocking slightly, filled with the delight of organising bits into rainbow order.

I parked myself in an empty waiting area down the hall from the seats by the ER entrance, free of drafts from the automatic doors, the distractions of anxious people bursting in, and germ-laden sneezes.  I sat there snipping strings, slipping off beads where they rattled into a tray, sorting them, scooping the pieces into small containers, and carefully snapping lids shut.

So I was sitting there at a table where I could keep an eye on the hallway, when a guy shuffled into my airspace.  The first thing I noticed about him was that he reeked of old cigarette smoke and looked disheveled, which I discounted slightly as no one spiffs up for ER visits.  As he began talking to me, I noticed that his speech and comprehension were a bit off, and quickly realised this wasn’t likely a manifestation of an intrinsic impairment — the grungy bloke was drunk.

Oh, joys ( /sarcasm).  I don’t like chit-chat*, and here I was being engaged by a garrulous drunkard.  We then had the most incredible conversation, which he began by asking me,

“Are you counting pills for the pharmacy?”

(Yeah, this was my first clue that the guy was drunk.)

“No, I’m sorting beads to make jewelry.”

“Wow,” he answered, coming near to look at my materials, “that must be very [garble].”


“Therra-pyoo-tic,” he enunciated and hazarded, “You do ther’py with patients.”

“No, I don’t.”

Ooh, I thought to myself, you’re assuming anyone doing craftwork at a table is a “therapist” — I bet you’ve spent time in institutions. I notched up my mental assessment from “drunk” to “possibly chronic alcoholic”. (Yes, I was leaping to conclusions. On the other hand, one does meet a rather motley assortment of characters during late weekend nights in the ER. Making these quick assessments by observations is part of how I keep myself safe when out in the community.)

I bent over my next pile of mixed beads to sort them out, hoping he would wander off and take his malodorous miasma with him.

“You’re make’ those [garble] for patients?”

Apparently he had not noticed that I was wearing casual clothes, not an official Hospital Volunteer smock. My monosyllabic reply was then responded with a rambling tale that had no discernible point, and sometimes lacked key parts of speech. He sat down across from me, and I graciously pulled my purse out of the way, onto the floor by my feet.

Snip, carefully pull beads off strings, sort, sort, sort.

“It’s really boring hangin around waiting. I’m waiting for an x-er’ray to see if my ribs are broke. Or maybe bruised. Broken. Or fuctrac … fruck — cracked. I hurt ’em at work. Do lots of work. With stone. Started out with cultahled mabble. You gotta ‘1,2,3’ and flip on ‘3’ or it breaks. Build’ work with stone now.”

Oh thank heavens, a conversational angle.

“Do you work with ashlar?”

“What’s that?”

“Dressed stone; it’s faceted for even sides.”

“I build things with limestone blocks. Theys cut all even. Have to use a diamond saw to cut them.”

“A diamond saw? But I thought limestone was low on the Mohs?”

“What’s that?”

“Mohs Scale — how hard rock is. Isn’t limestone like a 3 or 4?”

I was remembering all the native limestone bricks you see in century-old buildings; the farmers and masons were not using diamond-toothed saws to mill those blocks! (Today I looked it up limestone; calcium carbonate is a 3 on the Mohs Scale, a relatively soft rock.)

At this point it seemed that he was really drunk, an ignorant hired hand, was spinning confabulations, or some combination of the above. Why me? I mentally asked the universe, I don’t like chit-chat and here I am with a garrulous drunkard. Apparently the conversational topic of mineralogy was too geeky, and to my relief he informed me that he was going to check on his x-ray.

Later on, my daughter (who was waiting by Triage) informed me that he had been bothering the the ER staff, and they had told him to go elsewhere to wait for his radiography results. So I guess that’s Why Me. (I sure seem to spend a lot of my life keeping nudniks productively occupied so others can do their jobs.)

I finished my sorting after I got home.  It took a while, especially as I had a particularly unexpected and spastic motor tic, and flipped a whole 2cc box of seed beads all over the kitchen floor.  “Seed” beads are as tiny as yellow mustard seeds, and the pale beads mingled in with the fragments of catnip, stray pieces of kibble, dustbunnies of cat hair, toast crumbs, and the other debris one finds on kitchen floors a few days after the last sweeping.

I learned several important tips about working with itsy-bitsy beads:

  1. Work on a felt mat, instead of  a hard table that makes dropped beads bounce every-bloody-where.
  2. A small, thin, antique sugar spoon is a great for scooping up minuscule beads.
  3. Vacuum the kitchen floor before working; you always spot the gold spacer beads just before they are sucked up the nozzle of the cannister vac.  :: sigh ::
  4. Don’t just store beads in boxes; put those boxes into bigger boxes and put those bigger boxes into a zippered bag, locked attache case, or drawer. As I discovered this morning, despite lacking opposable thumbs, Bad Kitties can open up wee boxes that challenge Arthritic Woman.  Muchas Oys.

But O, what a wondrous thing is a case full of lovingly organised, beautiful beads.  Just watch out for drunkards and kitties!

* The good news is that waiting room chit-chat is much less demanding than party chit-chat; it’s actually a good time to practice your “sympathetic noise” scripts, or more advanced skills in Responsive Listening.

1 Comment

  1. 16 March 2009 at 21:29

    I enjoyed this, and particularly the point where you used the Moh hardness scale to a person who was drunk. I think even people who make headstones from various materials are not general familiar with the Moh’s hardness scale, though I have very fond memories of it (since our final was the 10 objects of the moh’s hardness scale and a entire box of rocks which we had to identify in 45 minutes. – lot of busy scratching away, I always started with quartz as it was the easiest to see even though it is a 7 I think).

    So I might add to your list, “Avoid talking about Moh’s scale to drunk people unless you are at a geology convention” – also, people think that association makes them more important so I believe, only a theory, that the person was name dropping, he wanted you to think his job was important so it had to be done with DIAMONDS (as diamonds are important thus his job which requires them is important – even if his job does not). But this is just a theory.

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