Last week I had a perfect day.
Perfect days do not come along often. Savor them. I am still grinning and happy today because yesterday was so perfect.
It started out with a b… sec, phone…. breakfast bar, a liter of water and coffee.
Then I colored my hair.
Hey, I’m not afraid to admit it. Both my parents have that early grey hair gene so that means I have it too. If I don’t color my hair I might look like I’m over thirty and I just couldn't face that. It came out a little less red and lot more brown than I would have liked, but all the grey is gone. Even the grey streaks in my mustache and beard are gone.
Wendy had to do some errands and asked if I wanted to go which was a thankful yes. The scale has been very kind to me and we didn’t go for a run that morning so walking around Madrid for a couple hours and then up four flights of stairs with groceries sounded like a good idea. And since I’m working on the part of Marilyn’s story where she first gets her colostomy bag, I was looking for an excuse to work on anything else. Anything.
Let me start off our day talking about Spaniards.
(This story happened a couple days ago, not on the perfect day.)
Wendy has a very big meeting this morning so I hang around the apartment doing chores and writing. She comes back and is thrilled because the meeting went so well, but then she went to El Corte Ingles to pick up some chocolate eggs for Alana’s birthday party which starts at our apartment at 10:00 pm this evening. Yes, starts at 10:00 pm.
She hits the restroom at the store and there is a line. Standing next to her is an shrunken older woman with a cane. After a few minutes, another woman comes in, moves to the front of the line and stands there. The old woman with the cane immediately shuffles in front of her. Not afraid of confrontation, Wendy, well, confronts her.
“You know there’s a line.”
She looks Wendy up and down and snorts “How rude.”
“I’m rude? Well, there’s a line and you’re behind us.”
“I know that.”
“Well you have to respect the line.”
“I know that. I was uncomfortable standing back there so I moved up here.”
As if being uncomfortable “in the back of the line” automatically justifies ignoring it. This is perfect Spanish logic.
At this point she turns to another woman who she also cut in front of and says “Can you believe her. My god.”
This woman looks at her like she’s insane and wants nothing to do with this.
Wendy moves in front of her and says the most insulting thing you can say if you are in Ecuador (Which we’re not, but Wendy spent 18 months there and figures a lot of what works there works here.)
“Okay, now that is just badly raised.”
Spanish people have a unique disposition concerning time and their place in the universe. It is best summed up by the phrase “Viva Yo.” Which Michner translates as “Fuck you, go me.”
In the heart of a huge city, every Spaniard thinks he is alone. They will happily walk in front of you at a brisk pace, and then just stop to read a sign, completely oblivious to your presence causing you to lurch sideways to avoid running into them. They will stop in the middle of a major pedestrian thruway and chat as if they weren’t surrounded by hundreds of people looking to get by. Wendy has had people smash into her, while standing in one place, and have them glare at her as if it were her fault for standing in their way! After they just crashed into her!
Having never lived in a big city before, I didn’t know if this was a city thing or maybe its only town people that actually plot a route through a crowd. Wendy assures me that in Boston and in NY that everyone plots a route as well. It's only the Spanish that seem to have no peripheral vision, no sense of anyone around them, no idea that they are awash in a sea of people and they are blocking traffic.
This is readily apparent at Bullfights. There is barely enough room in the outer ring of the arena for people to press through and get to their seats. Despite this, there are hordes of people standing outside the beer and sandwich stands amiable chatting, smoking cigars and sipping whisky. While chaos reigns around them.
One night a few weeks ago, two of Wendy’s more distant relatives visited and we spent a night showing them around. One of the first things out of their mouth’s when we sat down at a little café was “Where did these people learn how to walk?”
Back to the perfect day.
Apparently, today is slow and stupid day and no one informed us.
The first place we stop is the Spanish equivalent of Kinko’s. A tiny little shop where Wendy frequently does business presentation bindings and copies. Today is copy the front page of our passport. We’ll keep the copies in a drawer at the apartment and if we ever lose our passports they are much easier to replace by showing them the photocopies of the previous one.
There’s about five people ahead of us when we get inside but the line is moving fast. About two minutes before it is our turn, a middle aged man comes in looks to be in quite a hurry. He is edgy, eyes shifting side to side, eager for attention.
And he knows we are in front of him.
I do a lot of writing about the wonders of Madrid. As you can imagine, this isn’t because I think it’s better than America, but because I am being opened up to new things, and just sharing them with my readers. Well, for anyone who got the mistaken impression that I thought Madrid was all wine and roses and nothing whatever was wrong with it, let me tell you a few stories about it to change your mind.
In the states, when you are in kindergarten (that’s German for “children’s garden” you know) one of the first things you learn is how to line up. Usually single file. Standing in line and knowing your place in line is very important. Cutting in line is very bad and can get your hand smacked or in some red states, killed.
In Spanish schools, they follow the parable of “The Last Little Duckling.” Which I thought was a very famous story but now I can’t find a link to it which probably means I just have the title wrong. What I remember about this story was that there was a herd of ducks tended by a boy. And every day the ducks were let out to swim and eat. And every night the boy rounded up the ducks and put them back in their pen. The last little duck into the pen got a sharp rap on his ass with the boy’s stick.
Well, one little duck found himself last and didn’t want to get hit by the stick and instead hide and all night long had horrible, fearful adventures involving pimps and lesbian gangs. The next day he was last again, but this time he was happy to get hit in the ass with a stick rather than be outside all night long.
I always found this a very disturbing story even as a little kid. How fair is that to get hit on the ass with a stick for being last? Every day someone has got to be last! There’s no way around it! One of those ducks is going to be last! I just think that little boy had a thing for duck ass.
Anyway, this is the parable they teach in Spanish schools. “Theres the bell! Everyone crowd through the door with no line! Don’t be last or you’ll get hit on the ass with a stick!”
“But Jaimito’s in front of me. He was there first.”
“Well shove by him! Pretend you didn’t see him! Haven’t you ever heard the African expression “First come, second served?” Learn it and live it! Viva Yo!”
You think I am kidding but I am not. Spaniards are awful at standing in line. I’ve writtten about it in my columns. It’s a cultural thing around the world. American’s are excellent at standing in line. Spaniards, while awful, are only the middle of the scale. According to my friend Steve Savage and two Africans I meant at the Berlin Zoo and Time magazine, Africans and Chinese are the worst. They haven’t the faintest idea of what a line is. You just rush the window, or door, or whatever, pushing and shoving to be next.
Wendy is very aware of the man in the suit. Luckily, so is the person helping people and breezes right by him and up to Wendy to help her. We get our copies and head out.
“You know that guy was trying to go ahead of you, right?”
“Yeah, I saw him. And I was going to call him on it if he did.”
“Yup and he would have pretended he thought you were already being helped.”
“Or would have pretended he didn’t see us. Or that maybe we just came in to get out of the heat and have a smoke.”
Okay, that story didn’t come out nearly as well as I had hoped but I’m leaving in because I like the duck story with the lesbian gangs. Is Bill O’Reilly insane? I think we can safely conclude: yes.
Wendy has a meeting this morning so I hang around the apartment. She comes back and is thrilled because the meeting went so well, but then she went to El Corte Ingles to pick up some chocolate eggs for Alana’s birthday party which starts at our apartment at 10:00 pm this evening. Yes, starts.
Okay, need to finish this later. The perfect day will continue in a couple days. We're flying back to the states tomorrow.