Monday, September 04, 2006

Allegedly a Lady

I went for my first ever mandatory drug test the other day. The director gave me the paperwork and directions, saying, "I don't know why they have us do this. It's really no big deal."

It was an elaborate lab slip. And I know lab slips. There were wrist bands, stickers, code words and numbers to match. I sat on a folding chair in a waiting room with an empty water cooler and ripped up, worn out "Parents" and "Child" magazines. Apparently they weren't just testing for drugs at this fine establishment.

A teenage boy, at least six feet tall with a constellation of zits all over his face sat with his mother. He hung his head down. He put his baseball cap on backwards, then forwards, shifting in his chair. "Stop figiting," his mother said, her lips pinched together so tightly it's amazing any words could escape. It's as though, for my sake, she was trying to be a ventriloquist of discipline.

A man with a military haircut and a starch-white shirt and labcoat said, "Atto-lon-ni!" His teeth were kinda yellow which made his labcoat look all the whiter.

"Attolini," I smiled.

"Are you ready?" he said.

I nod and he tells me to come on back. I notice the dirt around the door knob because that kind of thing is gross and shouldn't exist in a quasi-medical facility- or at least in a place where they take blood. In a back room, he takes several plastic cups out of his pockets and begins to label them. He goes through the paperwork, my basic information, height, weight, job, marital status. He tells me to wash my hands and instructs me which soap to use and how much. He watches me do this. He hands me a towel. I say thank you and ask if I should pick out the colors for my manicure. He is not amused.

The irony here is that I've never done a hard drug in my life. It's not that I haven't been offered them, or haven't been curious, but when the moment to actually take them came, I just...well...said no.

I've often wonder if this strange sort of virginity has clogged up my subconscious. All of these missed experiences at parties, backstages, barbecues, study sessions, concerts, camping trips, road trips, or just the trip in general- has been the cause for it to appeal so graphically in my fictional writing.

He tells me to go behind a curtain with the cup. Under no circumstances am I to flush the toilet, or use the sink. There is blue stuff sprinkled on the toilet. There's warning signs on the walls, but they are all written in Spanish, so I can't read them, but they look like they mean business.

Of course I will pass this test. After going vegan, they'd be lucky to find traces of corn syrup.

He shoos me into the makeshift bathroom and sits on a folding chair a foot outside the bathroom. I can hear him: rustling with my papers, tapping his foot, humming. "Excuse me," I open the curtain, "Could you give a lady some space?"

"No can do," he says suspiciously, like I'm allegedly a lady. "Rules say I sit here till you finish your sample."

A minute or two pass, then five. He's making me nervous. I think I have to go, but I can't. I imagine waterfalls, rivers, overflowing dams, and still the guy is giving me stagefright. I've done this a million times, but never in a "lockdown" situation. I'm too freaked out.

I finally give up. "Listen, I'm sorry. I can't do this." I say. I hand him the empty cup.

"I must inform you Ms. Anto-lo-ni that if you do not go right now, you will be not be able to be tested for another hour and will not be able to leave the facility. Otherwise you must contact your boss and be administered new paperwork," he dictated, a memorized imprint on his brain from a Manager 101 seminar. I'm kind of worried for a minute that this "paperwork" will be difficult to get, expensive, and was coded just for me.

I nodded my head like a kid in trouble for not winning a game, producing results. But I was relieved to escape from behind the dingy curtain, and worse, the aura he cast on me that I was already guilty. "Sorry you had to the chair for me, Sir," I say. I'm surprised at myself for calling a guy just a couple of years older than me, or possibly younger than me, "Sir." He seems to eat up the faux respect. "I'll just talk it over with my boss." I tell him.

"You do that. I guarantee he will not be happy!" he decides.

I do not tell him that my boss is a woman. I do not tell him that this test is so that I can continue to VOLUNTEER my time to people, many who are sick, and some who are dying. I nod, head low like the teenager in the lobby, resigned to his small world of doom, scowls and crookery.

I walk down the hall with over-trafficked carpeting near the doorways. Places where people walk especially fast, to get away from the evidence they have left behind. Especially if they may wonder how they might handle, if they suspect they have something to worry about, whatever is ahead of them. Namely the truth.

Fortunately I'm not one of those people. I'm just a girl who cannot pee on demand.

The man in the labcoat is walking behind me. "So what's your novel about?" he asks.

"Oh, It's about trailer parks, rockstars, drugs," I say.

His eyes sharpen. "I see," he says.

I tell him that it's not autobiographical or anything. It's fiction. He hands me a piece of paper. "Don't come back until you have new paperwork," he says. "Exit on your left."

Driving home, thinking about nothing at all, I feel uncomfortable with the five gallons of water I downed earlier. I pull over at a Borders Bookstore, and wait in the automatic ladies room line. I'm certain that's why our life expectancies expand another seven years-to compensate for the time we spend waiting to go to the bathroom.

When I see my boss, I explain to her what happened. She laughs a little as she opens a file cabinet stacked full of the paperwork that once seemed so exclusive.

"Don't worry about it, Jaynel" she tells me, "It's really no big deal."

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