Sometimes I wonder if I would rather be old. Granted, my nephew might say that I already am old, but I mean old, old. Like eligible for the Denny’s senior citizen discount old. Or in other words, like my parents old.
During the past few years, while my generation has been battling a weak job market, increasing living costs and an overwhelming atmosphere of gloom and doom in our society, my parents have been battling over whether they should watch Moonstruck or Gone with the Wind for the fortieth time. Or go to the library to pick up some new books. Or maybe just take a nap. Then they’ll treat themselves to dinner at Red Lobster before calling it a night at nine o’clock. Sure, they walk a little slower and get winded a little faster than they did thirty years ago, but overall I’d say that my parents have it pretty good right now. I, on the other hand, have another forty to fifty years ahead of me before I can take advantage of Medicare and the IHOP special. Yet curious to see what might be in store for me come 2062, I decided to do a little investigative work.
Upon arriving at the retirement center, I had no idea what to expect. Would I have to shout all day long? Would I be forced to listen to the same stories over and over again? Would I get pudding? (I assume all senior citizens eat pudding. Easy on the gums.) Instead, I was warmly welcomed by the administrative staff and quickly ushered into the recreational area. Several other volunteers had already arrived and were waiting for the activities to begin. That’s when a dozen or so residents began to slowly walk or roll themselves in and took their seats at the huge wooden table occupying the middle of the room. The coordinator then welcomed everyone, guest and resident alike, and asked that we each say a little something about ourselves. Nice, right? Not to mention, each time someone finished speaking, they received a warm round of applause from the residents. I was immediately charmed by the sweetness of this group.
However, a perceptible shift in the residents’ demeanor was felt the moment the coordinator revealed the bingo cards from his bag. These kind folks who a moment ago were smiling and chatting together had now gone silent and stone-faced as they focused on readying themselves for the competition. Half of them eagerly waved over the coordinator in order to get first dibs on the “lucky” cards while the other half dove their liver-spotted hands into nearby buckets of chips (aka bottle caps) and grabbed as many as their arthritic fingers could hold. Fascinated, I watched as the residents meticulously prepared their stations for battle.
Considering that I was certainly loud enough for the job, I offered to call out the numbers. However, I had only announced the second selection when I was told in no uncertain terms to pick up the pace. Apparently the elderly are not interested in dilly-dallying. Making matters worse was that I kept calling out number after number and yet no one was hitting bingo. I could sense the tension in the room mounting. In particular, the woman sitting closest to my left – the very same one who initially told me that I was going too slow – would let out an exasperated sigh each time I called out a number that wasn’t on her card. I was beginning to get a little nervous. Was I doing something wrong? Was it possible to screw up this game? Then much to my relief, I finally heard a rather defiant “bingo!” called out by a lady at the far end of the table. Before we were even able to confirm her numbers, she then instructed one of the volunteers to bring over the bag of swag. Aha! That’s why this game was such a big deal. These peeps wanted their prizes. While the rest of the group impatiently waited for the winner to make her selection – she finally decided upon a lovely picture frame – I was told that we would be shaking things up a bit.
“What does that mean?”
“We’re going to play birthday cake.”
Was that like patty cake? I didn’t understand. However, the coordinator told me that I didn’t have to change anything I was doing, so I just went with it. Though as the game progressed, I noticed that one of the residents hadn’t covered a number already called out. Upon gently alerting her to her oversight, she briskly replied that it didn’t matter because that number wasn’t part of the birthday cake formation. Oh… okay. I decided that it might be better if I just stuck to calling out the numbers.
A game later, I began to relax a bit. I even cracked a few jokes to my audience, and though no one laughed, I think it was more a matter of their deteriorating hearing rather than me not being funny. Either way, I was liking this whole bingo thing they had going on. I could get used to this. Plus, they had some really sweet swag. I wouldn’t mind a rhinestone-encrusted letter opener or another journal to add to my ever-growing collection.
Just as I was imagining what life could be like when I’m old and gray, the coordinator unceremoniously booted me from my announcer duties. He claimed that I was “great, really great,” but I wasn’t buying it. If I was so great, then why were they giving my gig to an awkward sixteen-year-old who lacked any kind of stage presence whatsoever? I suspected that the residents might have had something to do with this decision. Fine. Whatever. At least I can still chew my food with my original teeth… and I don’t wear adult diapers. Who’s the winner now?