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Chuck Hinman: IJMA. Somebody's sitting in my chair

Somebody's sitting in my chair. Chuck says in institutional living residents, no matter how naive when they arrive, soon learn rules. They become street smart.
Next earlier Chuck Hinman column - Wash Day

By Chuck Hinman

Somebody's sitting in my chair

The furor stirred up by known troublemaker, Goldilocks in the well known nursery rhyme, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, is not over. It surfaced recently at prestigious Tallgrass Estates in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

In a recent Managers and Residents Meeting, a red-faced new resident reported he/she had been turned away from sitting at a certain table in the dining room, the reason given "it is the table ALWAYS sat at by Daddy bear, Momma bear, and Baby bear" (names substituted for privacy obviously).

Trying to nip problem in the bud with memo from on high

Management thought they nipped the problem in the bud with this executive statement -- "As we all know, we don't have assigned seating at Tallgrass Estates. It hurts the feelings of the people who are treated this way, now doesn't it?" Tsch -- Tsch. End of issue. Or is it?

Who would have thought when you saw Tallgrass Estates rising out of the Bartlesville prairie and you pondered the care-free, no-problems luxury offered by these digs that there could be any problems? Seemingly you would just move in and your worries would be over; everything is done for you and you are at last on easy street in your golden years!

You have to claim your rights

After living here going on four years I have discovered, sometimes the hard way, that the management's chic advertisement 'Gracious Retirement Living' doesn't become a reality without a certain amount of effort on your part. You have to claim your rights. The problem then becomes "How do you do that? and am I too old, tired, or incompetent to master that?" You're smirking. I am dead serious.

On my first day at Tallgrass, I was a little worried where I would sit in the glamorous dining room. It's an important decision. My furniture is in, my pictures are on the wall, but a most important question surfaces, where does my bottom go in the huge dining room at meal time. It's not a frivolous non-issue. I soon found that I spend nearly three hours per day, that's one-eighth of the rest of my life at a table, eating or waiting to be fed. Shocking?

All institutions have unwritten rules

Welcome to Tallgrass USA. This is institutional living, make no mistake. And just like in the big house at McAlester, (another Oklahoma institution albeit a huge prison), residents, no matter how naive when they arrive, soon learn rules. They become street smart, even the little blue-haired ladies.

Now, don't act surprised. It began on the first day of school, another institution. You survived and learned the system, or you were miserable.

Staking out rights by 'marking'

The system basically works like this. It is most easily illustrated by using animals, particularly dogs. It is bred in all of us, people and animals alike, when we arrive at a new home to, as soon as possible stake out your rights. Dogs do it in a primitive animal way, urinating on all they are stating to the world -- 'THIS IS MINE.' Sometimes, the process is called 'marking.'

Now understand one thing, I do not mean to suggest that anyone at Tallgrass would crudely urinate on a leather chair in the chandeliered dining room. But 'sitting in the same chair at two successive meals' comes close to establishing certain inalienable 'squatter's rights' guaranteed by no less than the Constitution of the USA, the pronouncement of Tallgrass management to the contrary notwithstanding. That's legal jargon -- for 'This is mine -- stay the hell off!'

People need something they can control

Well, you are saying about this writing "That's a lot to do about nothing!" And I say with steely blue eyes and as firm a voice as this old geezer can muster "I couldn't disagree with you more!"

A friend of mine, whom I collaborated with on writing this article, said it better than I could. She said "People, especially people who have lost control of their world, need something they can control -- a chair is a small thing. Depending on whether or not 'you' have claimed said chair can mean the world to a person." And I might add, it becomes a 'line drawn in the sand.' Step over the line and you're dead.

Why fight it? It's worked all through history, even in the animal world. Call it law of the jungle or whatever. Over a period of time everyone, even at Tallgrass learns it. They have a seat they call home, in their room or in their bed or at church or in the car. It's NOT natural to float.

Gypsies - professional opportunists - grab the best seats

Of course, you always have gypsies even at Tallgrass. They are professional opportunists that arrive at meals, 45 minutes ahead of time to grab the best seats depending on which end of the dining room service begins today. They keep books. Know what I mean?

But over a period of time, street rules prevail and even those nomads (some of them my friends) decide they are tired of bucking the system, the piercing stares and sneers of the "why don't you find a home" and SIT like the rest of us.

It works and management isn't even involved.

Written by Chuck Hinman. Emailed 22 January 2007.

This story was posted on 2014-07-20 06:29:12
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