Friday, June 23, 2017

Happy Birthday To Whom?

They meant well. Of course they did, they’re nice people. Besides, it’s their job. But the only way I got through last night’s debacle was by telling myself what a great anecdote it would make.

Here it is:

My elderly mother is now in Assisted Living. Fabulous place, we both love it. The people are great. I can’t stress that enough. They’re wonderful. But sometimes, I question their judgment.

For one thing, they occasionally try to enforce fun. Last night was the monthly obligatory birthday dinner. Everyone with a birthday in that month is allowed one guest. This month, that included my mother (and, by invitation, me). They (we) all have to sit at a special long table. There are balloons. There is cake.

Sounds great, right?

Except that it was a long table against a wall and the people use walkers. Try getting between someone who can’t maneuver and a wall to reach your assigned chair. (Oh yeah, you don’t get to sit wherever you want. They decide.) That was fun.

Once I managed to get my butt down, I tried to make polite dinner party conversation with the nice lady on my right. That was a bit of a disaster. As soon as Emily Post would have, had she been alive and in my seat, I turned with some relief to my mother on my left. She was trying to make conversation with a tiny lady with a mischievous smile who was wrapped in a turtleneck and thick jacket. On the hottest day of the year so far. I had sweated off my makeup before I even got there.

Turns out Jacket-lady can’t speak. For discretionary purposes, I won’t describe what happened when she ate. That would be jumping too far ahead anyhow. There was no food for an hour and twenty-five minutes.

A huge, beautifully decorated cake was brought out. We waited ten or fifteen minutes for a handful of non-uniformed employees to be summoned. Happy Birthday Dear Resident was sung. Meanwhile, we watched uniformed wait staff serve meals to everyone else in the communal dining room.

Then the plot twisted. Two more birthday people showed up who weren’t on the list and hadn’t reserved seats! The long table was full, the song had been sung, and the cake had been rolled away.

Another table was shoved over, quickly and efficiently. A cautious young waiter took drink orders and brought soup. Every grandma at the table held her breath as the bowls rattled in his careful but nervous hands. Think of an ant under a magnifying glass. He was a champion. I wanted to applaud or hug him. (I did neither.)

By this time, we’ve been sitting there for about 45 minutes. Everyone else in the room was eating. Many had finished.

The others at the table had all lived there for years. The conversation centered on how it used to be in ye goode olde days, with champagne and special food for the birthday people instead of the same ordinary menu everyone else got. The nice lady across from me has memory issues, so we had this exact same conversation on about a seven minute loop, with increasing emphasis, whenever she looked down at the menu in front of her.

Eventually, the overwhelmed young waiter took food orders with the helpful guidance of the elegant and charming new Dining Room Manager who really ought to work somewhere with a galaxy of Michelin stars and a high rating. My vegetarianism was generously accommodated. Like I said, I love these people.

The cake came back out. By this time, pretty much everyone else in the room was done. They all got slices of cake. It was a really big cake.

It’s now been an hour and twenty minutes. The non-food service employees have all gone home. The room slowly emptied. My truculent neighbor on the right got up, squeezed unsteadily past the late arrivals, grabbed her walker and left. I think she was convinced that she’d already eaten.

A woman across from me had gone through an entire oxygen tank and had to switch to her emergency back-up one.

Eventually, the food arrived. Except for my garden burger, it was the exact same food everyone else had gotten. There was more discussion about that. There was also a mix-up because one of the ladies had been sitting for so long she’d forgotten what she’d asked for and took someone else’s entrĂ©e. A fresh one had to be ordered. You can imagine how well that went over.

Jacket-lady was wheeled away. The process of getting her back into a wheelchair involved three people (two worked there, one lady at the table tried to be helpful but got in the way) and an equal dollop of tragedy and comedy. Even when she stiffened her body like a little surfboard to avoid the wheelchair, Jacket-lady smiled that same sweet, twinkly smile.

The remainder of the cake was wheeled back out. One of the late arrivals insisted on being sung to. Repeatedly. Since the employee choir had long gone, the Manager did a solo. In Italian. In an operatic baritone. (I kid you not. He was amazing.) On further request, he even brought out champagne and sparkling cider for the handful of remaining celebrants. I had cider. It was good.

After we left, my mother apologized for having invited me. I assured her that it was much better this way. Now, it’s a story.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Lock, Lock and One Mocking Carole*

One night late last year, a car plowed into the side door of our favorite morning coffee place. Insurance companies being what they are, the door isn't fixed yet. The yellow hazard tape is down but the "Please use other door" note is still taped up. That's the important point. There is a sign.

The nice lady kept trying the door. It won't open, but she kept trying. The server explained and pointed to the working door, through which the nice lady had entered in the first place.

She kept staring at the locked door. The one with the sign on it.

She tried it again.

That's what got me. She tried it after someone explained it was locked. After the sign was pointed out. After she had tried it half a dozen times.

It's the impulse to press the already lit elevator button, to think that those five other pedestrians didn't activate the walk signal. It's the "Here, let me try" phenomenon.

What do you think, neurosis or The Little Engine That Could? I'm waffling. No, smarty-pants, I didn't have waffles this morning. I only had coffee. This is philosophical or psychological or something like that.

Do we do it out of a conviction that we can make a difference, or to make sure that it was done properly, or to fill the waiting time with something to do, or what? Because we've all done it.

Except that once, I didn't. And that one time was also this morning, hence the repetition of the word "lock" in the title of this post.

Also this morning, the deadbolt on our front door broke. The door won't open. Robert tried the latch on the inside and the key on the outside. I phoned the nice man who installed it, and he said he'll come over next week, but the thing is that Robert suggested I try it and I demurred on the grounds that he already did.

That was before I saw the nice lady in the coffee place persist in attacking her locked door. That's why she became symbolic, why I started thinking, and why I'm putting up (what is now a very rare) blog post about it.

What was it that caused me not to do that thing we all do? Oh, it was probably an urgent need for that first cup of coffee, but maybe not. Maybe I've gotten a little more wisdom than I thought I had. Maybe I've reached a point where I can accept the world for what it is.

Then again, after we got home but before I called the door guy, I did try it myself. So never mind.

(*Read it to the tune of "Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels". Well, it cracked me up anyhow)

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Tattoo You

Do you have a friend who reads signs out loud when you're in the car? I do. Probably most of us do. Most people read t-shirts too, although I often don't. But I do read tattoos.

That's where I got in trouble. I was trying to read a tattoo.

In my defense, it was on his arm, and he was wearing short sleeves so the ink was visible. Short sleeves on a cold day -- I assumed that he wanted it to be read.

Silly, silly auntie.

"Sorry, could you repeat that?" I asked with a smile. "I was trying to read your arm and I got distracted."

Two things happened. First, he twisted around to try to see the back of his own upper arm. Of course he couldn't, not without a mirror. Besides, he should know what it looks like.

Second, he got annoyed. Not that I hadn't been listening, but that I presumed to invade his privacy by looking at his arm.

I assure you, my darlings, your auntie was not being nosy or lascivious. If anything, I was politely respecting the fact that he cared so much about whatever the tattoo signified that he put it on public display. So I asked about it.

"That's personal!" he snapped.

So today's moral is this: Just because someone goes out of their way to put something in front of your face, that doesn't necessarily mean that they want you to look at it.

No, I don't get it either.