Sunday, January 23, 2011

SampleSunday: "Yes. Uh huh. That's the way it goes." excerpt from One Hundred Open Houses

Le dernier semaine

Yesterday I spent four hours getting my taxes done at the senior center.  Once I heard that the senior center did taxes for free and did them immediately, I headed there without a qualm.   The preparer assigned to me had once been the chief financial officer of a multinational conglomerate.  He now helps comatose seniors to sort out their tax returns.  Why does the government bother these people?   Leave them alone. They’ve done enough for you.
While we were all waiting for our turn, there was inter-taxpayer conversation.  One tall man who had that gait where the legs go out to the side in a kind of cowboy walk, said:  “They raised the property taxes big time. I see the supervisor gave himself a nice raise.”  The full figured woman across from him who had on a green nylon warm-up jacket with the New York Yankees’ logo on the back, said,  “Yes. Uh huh.  That’s the way it goes.”
I don’t know if what he is saying is true, but it gives him a platform and an opening salvo to establish himself in the group.
I went to get a cup of coffee in the senior center dining room and there was a worker handing out bagels. I put my hand out and received one of the bagels. This place was probably in my future so I looked around and it was one continuous surprise.  They offer a lot of free stuff and free services.  Free yoga to begin with and then free transportation and free home repairs.  Free food, too, or hot meals delivered for a couple of dollars. The only deficiency I could see was the excess of laminated plastic in the décor. 
 I had my coffee and bagel to nibble on and I got to listen to all the seniors bitching about this and that.  It was pleasant. A new arrival, a man, came in and he could not find tax forms anywhere.  “Mind if I sit here,” he asked the woman with the Yankee jacket.
“Be my guest,” she said. 
He told her he had been to the library for forms and they were all out and the library sent him to the post office and they were all out. 
“Yes.  Uh huh.  That’s the way it goes,” she said.  I thought, this woman knows how to attract men.  She just says ‘yes, uh huh, and that’s the way it goes’.  Maybe I should try that instead of talking so much.  The other thing I realized about senior life was that you could make continuous conversation about what had just happened to you that day and it was okay.  You didn’t have to be witty or ironic.  In fact, it was preferable to be a little dull. You could just barge in and talk as if you had known these people your entire life.  It was also okay to whine because the seniors considered themselves a unit of solidarity and were not judgmental about each other.
 Imagine being able to whine to your heart’s content?  Everybody whines.  Winston Churchill whined.   Just read the letters to his mother during the Boer War. “Can’t make sense of the foxholes, my clothes are damp…”. The only person I can’t remember whining was Mary, Jesus’ mother.  The only time I remember her saying anything was when Jesus’ stayed behind on some trip.  I think she said, “Why did you do that?” which is almost exactly what I would have said.
So this was senior life and it was not unpleasant.  You could spend the entire day at the center and participate in many activities. From what I could see, you didn’t even have to be a senior.  There were people in their forties having taxes done and having their children’s taxes done, too.   I wanted to tell my friend, Delores all about this bonanza so she wouldn’t be so harsh on the government. She used to call the former president an inchoate mass of deception.  “Look, Delores.  Look at all the free stuff the government is going to give you. You think they want to take everything away but it’s not true.”  They even have a Sunshine Club although I don’t think I would join that.
If Delores went to Capitol Hill and they did everything she asked them to do and she was suddenly living in a country that carried out her ideals to the letter, including making animals more important than people, I don’t think she could adjust.
It took two hours to do my return because of all the stock shenanigans.  The guy was tired and distracted and kept saying, “Wait a minute.  That’s not right.” I started chatting about his life.  I didn’t want him to send me home without finishing.  He told me a story that was really an eye opener.   He said his mother had four boys.  She wanted a girl and kept trying but the last time she got twin boys.  “Me,” he said. 
“You’re a twin?” I asked. 
“Yes, but my brother died.  At eighteen.  I can’t talk about it.”
I thought he was going to cry like the woman one street over that can’t have a satisfying conversation with her mother. 
“My mother loved her boys,” he said.  “Once this woman was over and she said, ‘I love my girls.’ My mother said, ‘well, I love my boys.  My boys are all I want.’ And the woman said, ‘My girls are the best.’  And my mother said, ‘My boys are the best.’ They got into an argument and the woman left.  I heard all that."  
When he finished my return and I got to work there was a drama going on in the office.  The hardest worker was having a meltdown because someone was sending letters with no return address threatening to destroy her son’s reputation at his job.  This had been going on for a week. Estera, a former language teacher, (her real name is Esther but she now likes the Greek version) the woman in charge of transportation introduced something very interesting.
“When things get worrisome or have no solution,” she said, “the best thing to do is to turn them into a French translation exercise. Then she encouraged us to cobble together French words that would approximate the tribulations we had just heard. Everyone strained to remember their high school French and weigh in with a word or two.
Alors.  Le dernier semaine nous avons to bear une mal homme sending les postes tres mal avec pas de return address. Et il dit les choses mal de le fils de Suzanne. You get it. That’s how it went. 
Even though this was the weirdest mood changing solution I had ever heard, when she was done, everyone was on to something else and she had completely replaced the intensity and discomfort in the room with a whole new set of brain waves.  I’m definitely going to do that when things get tense.

1 comment:

  1. Consuelo, I love your writing. You say the quirkiest things. By the way, I'm reading Daughters, but I have 2 other books going at the same time, so it will be a while until I finish.