Whenever I hear someone shout “Señora Barbara,” I know it’s my turn. It’s my turn to go sit in the box for my hora, which is usually approximately 13 minutes. You may ask yourself, “Why Barbara?” I ask myself the same thing. It’s not a name that I have a great love for, though I have known some great Barbaras and even a hip Barbra in my time. The problem here is that I have three names. First, middle, and last. In Chile, most people have a first name and two last names. So my middle name becomes my last name. And Señora Barbara was born.
What of this box-sitting of which I speak? The little consult room at the doctor’s office in Chile is called a box, said with a Chilean accent. And every single time I’m called into the box, by my secret superhero name, Señora Barbara, I am reminded of when I worked at Haagen Dazs on Kings Highway in Brooklyn during high school. There in the Midwood Section of Brooklyn, we were a pretty diverse group of people, including Orthodox Jews who would come in for the non-dairy option Tofutti, complete with special kosher scoops in their own little water trough. There were also a number of non-native English speakers that would come in to add to their children’s chance of becoming obese, like they dreamed of in the old country.
But what about the box? Among the non-native English speakers there in the strip of stores that included a Pathmark pharmacy which replaced the Avalon movie-theater, where I first saw a movie with a friend, was an (I think) Russian man. He would come in, average-height, tidy brown hair and a western-style shirt, his two kids hiding behind him. And he would say to me, quite a bit louder than necessary, “Put me a box of vanilla!” (please imagine a strong accent on vanilla, rendering it somewhat vanYilla-like) And I would look at him, take the two different-sized cups off the shelf and say to him, small box, or large box?
And this is what I muse to myself about while I’m sitting in the box, which is a shame, because I’ve been scheduled for fifteen minutes, including getting in and out of the room, and I’ve just spent two of them thinking of a job at which I made ten cents more than minimum-wage and a free 4 oz scoop of macadamia icecream (or any other flavor that I liked) at the end of every shift.
And then I spend another minute explaining that my name is not Señora Barbara and fielding questions on American culture and whether or not I’ve become accustomed to living in Chile. Tick tick tick. Really, it’s amazing I ever get any medical attention at all. At least with my insurance, it’s reasonably cheap.
You should check up the novel “Doña Bárbara” by Rómulo Gallegos, a turn of the century narrative which pits the savage American jungle against the pitiful attempts at civilization by European settlers. Of course Doña Bárbara, as the name implies, embodies the terrible forces of Nature that the invaders must vanquish in order to prevail. Really interesting…