On our way to Target, Russell talked about life in the audio/video department of Barnes & Noble.
“A guy came in yesterday; said he’d recently moved into a retirement-community-slash-assisted-living place,” Russ said. “You know, an old man.”
“Whoa,” says I. “A person isn’t old just because he recently moved into a retirement-community-slash-assisted-living place.”
Russell took his eyes off the road just long enough to shoot me a get-over-it-you-old-fart glance before going on with the story. Russ and a woman were working at the counter, but the man insisted on speaking to Russ, and he insisted on speaking to him in a corner, away from the other customers and staff. The man said he had become friends with a woman at the retirement community, and she had invited him to her apartment a few times to watch movies. To reciprocate, the man had come to Barnes & Noble the day before and purchased a movie. A comedy; his lady friend likes comedies. That evening, the woman came to the man’s apartment, he slipped the movie into the VCR, they got ready to laugh, and then…
“You have to sit through all the commercials,” the man told Russ. “But the movie finally started. And what do you think we heard when it did? A whole lot of moaning. That’s what we heard.”
And, according to the man, it was all downhill from there: the moaning continued, foul language filled the air and everywhere you looked there were actors and actresses in dishabille. The movie was Bridesmaids.
“I want to return it. And I want to know how I can find a decent movie. I don’t want a movie with a lot of moaning, foul mouthed, naked people.”
Russ suggested he try the Marx Brothers or maybe a Cary Grant comedy. But the man, not wishing to be an old fogey among the old fogies, said he was hoping to find something more current. Russ pointed out that the film he was returning was the director’s cut of an R-rated movie, something he might wish to avoid in the future.
Back at Covenant Woods, Al was waiting for the elevator as I headed to my apartment. He asked me if I had time to go up to his room and visit for a bit. If there is anything I have in abundance, it’s time, and I followed him to his apartment.
An eighty-eight-year-old retired Army lieutenant colonel, Al fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, where his leg was injured. “It got all blown to hell,” Al said. “I was working for Westmorland at the time. And when I saw him in South Carolina a few years later, I really gave him hell.” With steel rods for bones and screws for ligaments, Al gets around as well and stands as tall as many men twenty years his junior.
Al talked about growing up here in Columbus; a kid who preferred to be alone, who read poetry and spent a lot of time trying to make sense of the world. As soon as he had his high school diploma in hand, Al enlisted. After basic training, he went on to Officer Candidate School and from there he was stationed in Virginia. But he complained mightily about not being sent overseas. Eventually, perhaps to stop his carping, the Army obliged and sent him to join the fight in Europe.
For the last few days, Al had been having balance issues. A day or two earlier, he fell in his apartment and had to struggle to get up. He’d gone to the doctor, but Al worried that the medication changes the doctor prescribed amounted to little more than tinkering. Then Al pointed to his forehead and said, “This is going too. I can’t remember shit anymore.”
Al said he asked me up because he’s convinced he’s an old soldier who is about to fade away, and before he does he wants to find a good home for the things cluttering his apartment. “Take whatever you want, Tom,” he said, opening the refrigerator. “I’ve got three Ding-a-lings [Yuenglings] in here. You can have them.” I took a couple three-pound dumbbells, but said no to the stationary bicycle – I have my own balance issues – and countless other proffered items. But Al wasn’t through. Before I left he filled a bag with bite-size Dove bars, Reese’s cups, caramels, a jelly-filled pastry and a gingerbread man. I felt like a kid going home after a visit with the grandparents.
I saw Al last night at dinner. If his health is declining, it isn’t obvious. And his voice was as strong as ever. “I gave the exercise bike to Ralph,” he said. “I haven’t been able to get on the damn thing for years.”
And this afternoon, as I was touring the parking lot, Al called to say he some more stuff he wanted to bring down to my room. He brought me some sort of exercise devise with two pedals that you can spin with your hands or feet. I’ve used it a couple times today and used the weights three times. Come morning, I’ll either jump out of bed with the greatest of ease or be too sore to move. But regardless, I’m sure Al will be the same old contrarian he’s always been. He’s the crusty old guy I want to grow up to be.
Sue, who came to Covenant Woods a few weeks after I did, told us recently that she is planning to move out. She has been having trouble with her house and her dogs. She can’t sell the former and she can’t silence the latter. It was the dogs that forced the issue; several of the people on her hall have complained about the barking. Covenant Woods has offered to let her move into one of the duplexes for the same rent she is paying for her apartment. Sue was tempted, but she was concerned that her new neighbors might not appreciate the dogs any more than the old ones did. Arthritis is was also a problem. Sue has arthritis in her feet and the daily suppertime trek to the main building, though short, would be painful. So the plan now is to rent her house – there is a prospective tenant ready to sign a lease – and Sue will move into the small cottage on the property.
It seemed like a great plan until Sue started talking about her health problems. The reason she moved to Covenant Woods she said, was because she was alone and fell several times, and there were a number of occasions when she had no idea what was going on. Once she was out of it for over twelve hours. She says she’ll need someone to check on her at least once a day, but she isn’t sure who that someone will be. Nonetheless, she is moving ahead with her plan. Her ex-husband stayed with her last week to help her get ready to move.
“We’ve been divorced since 1983, so we’ve put a lot of things behind us,” she said. “But last week was enough to remind me why we split up in the first place. All he did was sit on the couch and watch TV. He’s got heart problems, but he is a very controlling person.”
My gender-identification issues continue unabated – people are still having problems identifying my gender when they speak to me on the phone. I had a doctor’s appointment last week and arranged to be transported on the Covenant Woods bus. About 6:30 that morning, the phone rang, and the man on the other end said, “This is just a friendly to Mr. Harris that he needs to be in the lobby by 8:15.”
“Thank you,” I said.
“You’re welcome, ma’am. And have a nice day.”