In order to do my job effectively there are certain places I hang out that wouldn't make most people's social calendars. No, I'm not a drug dealer. However, being an eldercare marketing rep is sort of like being a drug rep (the legal kind) but not nearly as sexy. Rather than using my expense account to lunch doctors and do spa pedicures with their gatekeepers, I often find myself loitering in funeral home lobbies, feeding Tom, the local nursing home's king-sized tabby and catching reruns of Matlock at the retirement lodge. I love working with seniors. They're smart, funny and have amazing insights into the world around us, that most of us younger folks are too busy and self-absorbed to notice.
Today was a special day. It'd been noted on my Office Max desk calendar for over a month. I was scheduled to give a presentation on nutrition to 65 potential eldercare clients at a new venue, the Mellow Oaks Senior Retreat. And then, the ultimate honor, I'd been appointed official caller of three whole BINGO games. In senior citizen culture, this means you've "made it," like being awarded the key to the city or having a denture adhesive named after you.
All weekend I practiced "B-10, N-34, pause...O-69, Z-28," modeling my voice after Renelle Williams, the California Lotto announcer on KGO.
As for my presentation, I'd also rehearsed for hours in my "did you know" kind of voice spouting facts about antioxidents, memory boosters, cancer fighting proteins and homeopathic Viagra substitutes. Shirley, the director was excited about the topic, saying that nearly all of the members were quite health conscious.
I even bought fresh blueberries, dark chocolate and edamame for audience members to snack on. The presentation would end with a two minute empassioned pitch about my company. Then they'd all burst into a standing, walker and wheelchair ovation chanting my name. So many seniors would sign up for our services that I'd run out of forms. There'd be a waiting list... and I'd be a Mellow Oaks Retreat celebrity, welcome to make speeches and call BINGO games there..... forever.
Upon my arrival, the dining room was half-filled with ornery, somewhat rowdy 80 somethings squabbling over coupons, threatening each other with scrapbooking scissors and jausting with canes. As I walked by a portly gentleman whose left arm seemed attached to his shoulder by a spring (because one minute it was down to his knees, and the next it wouldn't quite make it to his hip), he chanted "hey, baby how bout warming up my lap for me. I'm still trying to recover from that cold winter). I pretended to ignore the exaggerated wink of his left eye, which I'm pretty sure was a prosthesis.
You'd think that at 11 AM, a senior home TV would be tuned to The Price is Right or The View. Not at Mellow Oaks. A small group was huddled around a particularly hilarious Spongebob episode. They howled in hysterics at anything Plankton said or did.
I do a LOT of speaking engagements. And I'm used to them being a success. Usually the event host fusses about, adjusting the podium and sound system, offering me a drink and checking my bio for their introduction.
Unable to find anyone in charge, I turned to a pleasant silver-haired lady who was obviously a popular girl there, a clique leader. She'd probably have been a cheerleader, if the establishment had a football team. "I'm Adelle Hensler," she said snappily so that it sounded like Adolph Hitler.
"Excuse me?" I begged.
"Adelle Hensler," she said. "If you're going to speak to us, you can go ahead and get started, but that fellow in the corner you were staring at, he's mine! So keep your harlot hands off! Can I have some of those Dove Bars you got in that basket?"
At that I handed her a bag of mini's which she demolished like a teenage pirhana that'd just had its braces removed. Before I could set my notes on the podium, a blue-haired African American woman with perfect teeth shouted, "Hey White Lady, we want chocolate too; give us some." Rather than beginning the speech with my name and topic, I started throwing handfulls of candy into the demanding crowd like an enslavened Willy Wonka. A slow motion stampede ensued. When it was over and their eyes were semi-glazed in chocolate stupor, I began speaking. After about my third sentence where I was to introduce senior savvy grocery shopping techniques, Mr. Spring Arm's friend whistled and shouted, "you can take ME to Kroger any time!" They all howled with laughter.
Someone else shouted "you sure you don't got more candy in that pocketbook 'a yours?" I tried introducing Edamame, seasoned soybeans to them as an alternative, Miss Adelle snapped "get those overgrown boogers out of my face. Marge, pass out the BINGO cards."
Taken completely aback, I slid down into a folding chair, and then jumped up again upon noticing a Bouffant-wigged woman named Ida Pearl rifling through my purse. Had I been speaking at a preschool, or an alternative school, or an alternative preschool for juvenile delinquents and parolees, I'd have expected this type of reception. But these were seniors, sweet, loveable grandmas and grandpas and nanas and mee-maws and paw paws and any other ridiculous name you want to add. They were supposed to smell like talcum powder and want to hug me and fix me banana pudding and tell me about the good ole days and offer to include me in their wills.
I, in turn, would soak up their attention, get lost in their memories of wars and depressions and the Spanish inquisition and Jesus. I'd provide them with useful information about keeping up their health, eating fresh vegetables and maintaining a basic fitness regimen. And then I'd call the greatest BINGO games ever played at Oaks.
When I finally regained my composure and headed over to the head BINGO table, Marge, an enormous woman, who I'm sure once used that bulk to make a fine living, stopped me.
"I'm not sure who ya think ya are, but this here's MY BINGO game and NOBODY does the CALLIN' but ME. You can hand out the prizes, though. They's in that box over yonder."
With figurative tail tucked, I began pulling 14 ounce silver cans out of the box that said PORK on the side. Marge nodded and said "every time somebody calls out BINGO, they get a can of pork." As I shook the can, listening to its sloshing contents, the incongruity of the situation hit me. I was there to do a presentation on nutrition, a topic I was told interested this group. And here they were fawning over canned sowbelly.
Prizes for the next game were boxes of Food Lion Cream-e-os, the half-breed cousins that Oreos don't claim. The third game's awards were boxes of cereal called Crispy Hexagons. All I could think was "who names a cereal Crispy Hexagons? An ex-geometry teacher? I can't wait to taste the Nutty Rhombuses and the Fruity Trapezoids."
I'm scheduled to go back to Mellow Oaks again next week. Though, I think I might have to call in with Senioritis.