Recently I applied for a life insurance policy and as part of the screening I was instructed to go to a clinic to surrender some bodily fluids to insure that I wouldn’t be collecting on the policy anytime soon. On the appointed day I arrived at the “clinic”, which was actually a converted storefront in a strip mall.
When I entered the clinic I was immediately overwhelmed by its sterility. This was the whitest office I’d ever been in; devoid of any color or artwork on the walls. I approached the receptionist’s window and read the small note card: “Please ring the bell for service.” I tapped the bell and it let out a single tone that lingered unnaturally in the cold space that crowded me as I stood alone.
A lovely black woman in her mid-thirties greeted me warmly. “Good morning Mr. Cheetham, I’m Layla and I’ll be taking care of you today.”
She gestured to a door to my right, “Go right in that door and I will meet you in the lab.”
I walked through the door – more unbearable whiteness; walls, ceiling, tile floors, and fluorescent lighting. It was a large room with one table and two chairs against one wall and a chair with a small medical table next to it used for taking blood samples.
Layla walked in wearing blue scrubs that accentuated her dark skin. She stood in stark contrast to my surroundings. “Let’s sit down and do some forms first,” she said gesturing to the table and chairs. I sat down holding my ridiculously large set of keys and my oversized phone. “You can put those on the table, Mr. Cheetham.”
I put my keys and phone on the table. Layla unfolded a tablet on the table saying “let me just look through these forms.”
I sat quietly in the echo-chamber of a room, then it started – emanating from Layla’s tablet – Elvis, the King himself, wailed:
“Well that’s all right, mama
That’s all right for you
That’s all right mama, just anyway you do
Well, that’s all right, that’s all right
That’s all right now mama, anyway you do”
Layla picked up the beat as she reviewed my data on the tablet. She almost imperceptibly moved her shoulders to the rhythm before she caught herself and looked at me as if to ask, is it okay?
Before she could speak I enthusiastically answered, “Oh, I like Elvis.” Who couldn’t like Elvis? He was shattering the sterile environment and that’s all right.
“So we’ll just leave the music on?”
“Yes!” I answered immediately.
Layla did some light typing and then handed me a small plastic cup. “Okay Mr. Cheetham, I’ll need a urine sample.” She pointed to a small bathroom.
“That’s all right, mama” the King sang.
I walked into the bathroom and got to work, but I couldn’t help thinking, she doesn’t seem like the Elvis type. Just goes to show you Cheetham, you can’t account for music tastes. I walked out of the room only to be greeted by the sounds of Gene Vincent:
“Be bob a lula, she’s my baby
Be bop a lula, I don’t mean maybe…”
This was becoming much more than an insurance screening – this was a certifiable rockabilly revival right in a sterile lab inside a nondescript strip mall!
I place my sample on the table as instructed.
Before Layla could speak to give me my next set of instructions I smiled and said, “Gene Vincent. This guy was a genius. Love this song.”
Layla smiled, “It is good. Isn’t it?”
“I love this stuff,” I returned.
“Okay Mr. Cheetham I’m going to ask you to sit in the chair so I can take 3 small vials of blood.”
Of course, I’d be glad to give my blood to her. This was a woman who understood rock and roll. As I sat down and rolled up my sleeve, I started constructing essays in my head. My mind raced, “you see – this is the real power of music, people. A young black woman and a middle aged white guy are connecting, right here in a stark laboratory, because Gene Vincent was forcing us to connect. That’s beautiful.” My thoughts were the thoughts of an obnoxious long-haired sociology professor preparing to lecture bored 18 year old students.
Layla wrapped my upper arm with a rubber band and applied alcohol to my bulging vein, “You are gonna feel a little stick.” And as if she was synchronizing her movements, just as I felt that stick, from the tablet on the table came the drum intro and then Eddie Cochran kicked in with:
“Well c’mon everybody
And let’s get together tonight
I’ve got some money in my jeans
And I’m gonna spend it right…”
Layla changed out the vial of blood and started a second sample collection.
“I’ll tell you, I just love this rockabilly music. I listen to it all the time at my house,” I said. “Do you use Pandora?”
Layla kept her eyes on the blood, “oh yes, I like Pandora.”
“I listen to this same type of channel at home,” I added, “amazing.”
“Just one more vial, almost done,” she assured me.
Take your time, I thought.
Layla finished and deftly replaced the needle with a cotton ball. “Direct pressure for a minute.”
She was labeling vials and Chuck Berry was singing:
“Maybelline, why can’t you be true
Oh Maybelline, why can’t you be true?”
A second nurse entered the room and took note of the concert. “Ooh I like it. Where’s that coming from?” Layla gestured to the table. “Nice! We should have music in here all the time.”
“Why don’t you?” I asked. “You should have music in here all the time.”
The second nurse readily agreed, “We really should!” And then she breezed back out of the room.
Layla finished putting a bandage on my arm, “you are all set Mr. Cheetham.”
I hated to say goodbye, but all good things must come to an end. I reluctantly gathered my keys and my phone. I thanked Layla and walked out of the lab, out of the office and out to the parking lot.
Then something astonishing happened. Right in the parking lot I heard, loud and clear, Bill Haley and his Comets and they were rocking and rolling – singing:
“I said shake rattle and roll,
Well, you never do nothing,
To save your doggone soul.”
It wasn’t my imagination. It was coming from my pocket.
It was my cell phone.
My cell phone had been playing my Pandora rockabilly channel for more than 30 minutes.
Copyright © 2018 cjcheetham