Wednesday, July 10, 2019

buying patience at oxxo

I have been thinking about perspective lately. A lot.

Several of my recent essays sound as if I have written them while lying face-up on a therapist's couch. The kicker happened last night when I took the few medications I take each night to keep my narrative from coming to an abrupt end.

The pills are in containers labeled with the days of the week -- just like the underwear some young ladies once wore.

Each of those compartments represent a day I have lived and will never see again. And the full containers represent, I suppose, some sort of hope that I will live long enough to down their contents.

And Just like Eddie Willers, on the second page of Ayn Rand's doorstop-heavy Atlas Shrugged, the process reminded me of something. Eddie Willers looked up to see a calendar erected on the top of a building at the behest of the Mayor of New York City. 

Eddie Willers looked away.  He had never liked the sight of that calendar.  It disturbed him, in a manner he could not explain nor define.  The feeling seemed to blend with his sense of uneasiness; it had the same quality.
He thought suddenly there was some phrase, a kind of quotation, that expressed what the calendar seemed to suggest.  But he could not recall it.  He walked, groping for that sentence that hung in his mind as an empty shape.  He could neither fill it nor dismiss it.  He glanced back.  The white rectangle stood above roofs, saying in immovable finality: September 2.
The cliché Eddie Willers was looking for was: "Your days are numbered."

And though it is a cliché, it has the virtue of being true. In a very real sense, even fairy tales end with "The end." The question then is how we live a life of good with the days we are allotted.

When Cailin, mother of the husband of my ur-putative daughter, visited in May, she brought a fresh sense of Mexico with her. Because everything was new to her, she saw it through the enthusiastic prism of a child. Over the past eleven years, I had lost most of that wonder. To me, each sight was simply part of where I now live.

I thought of her when I stopped by my local OXXO this morning to buy some milk and to catch up on the neighborhood gossip with the clerk.

Some people call OXXOs convenience stores. And I suppose they are. They offer a lot of conveniences that are otherwise not available to my neighbors. Their computer system afford them the ability to act almost as a bank.

I was in no hurry. I learned long ago that stopping at an OXXO can easily eat up an unusual amount of time. Sometimes, I can be in and out in seconds. Other times, my stop is not that brief.

When I headed to the counter with my quart of milk, I thought it was going to be a quick day. Then three people got in line in front of me. A young Mexican and his son, and a northerner who lives here most of the year, but who I tend to avoid because even though he has long been a grouch, politics has turned him into a certifiable crazy person.

Because the man and his son went directly to the cashier when they came through the front door, I knew their transaction would take some time. I assumed they were buying telephone time. I was correct.

The man recited his telephone number and told the clerk how much money he wanted to deposit. The clerk is good, She had everything entered in seconds.

But the man was not done. He pulled out a list of telephone numbers. To avoid all of his family members having to traipse over to OXXO, he had volunteered to buy time for their telephones. (This is not uncommon. And it is a nice practice. I have friends who live in a small village the hills outside of town. One person goes to all of the people in the neighborhood when the electric bills are issued, collects payment, and then takes the pile to pay everyone's bill.)

At one point, the appearance of the telephone list would have stirred up my bile. But those days are long gone. But not for everyone.

When the clerk started on the third telephone number, the northerner suffered what can only be described as a juvenile temper tantrum. He threw his bag of Cheetos on the floor and let loose a list of expletives I could only assume was a recitation of his résumé.

The little boy stared at him -- and then burst out laughing. It was the perfect response. The northerner stomped out the door, and the rest of us returned to getting on with our day.

So, what are we to make of this little morality play?

The first is obvious. If getting in and out of a place is your priority in life, you may not want to choose an OXXO or a Kiosko or a 7-11. The breadth of their services will almost always put you behind someone who has a bank-length transaction.  Go to you local mom-and-pop.

But the bigger issue is one of patience and old-fashioned civility. Mexico is a land where patience and politeness abounds.

And I have to thank Cailin for helping me slip back into seeing Mexico with new eyes -- patient eyes.    

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