Saturday, September 29, 2012

Notes from rhe Home - September 29, 2012

   My eyes weren’t bright, nor was my tail bushy early Tuesday morning. But I was up and about and did my good deed for the day ere the sun came up. A few minutes after five, as I worked an online crossword puzzle, there was a noise at the door. It sounded like the knocker, but it couldn’t be, not at that hour. I figured the guy who delivers the Ledger-Enquirer must be early. He often startles me when he puts the plastic bag with the paper in it on the door handle.
   But a moment later, I heard the noise again. It was the knocker. I went to the door, opened it and beheld Frances in her nightgown and robe. I didn’t realize it was Frances until she introduced herself. My two previous encounters with her were occasioned by her calls for help. Both times she had fallen face-down in her apartment and was unable to get up. This morning, however, she was on her feet.
   “I locked myself out,” she said. “Can you call the desk and ask them to send someone with a key?”
   I made the call, and we waited in the hall. She said her legs were bothering her.
   “Look at this,” she said, lifting her robe to her knee and showing me the large sores on her right calf. The left leg didn’t look quite so bad.
   “I’ve got a folding chair in the room, do you want me to get it so you can sit down?”
   “No. Someone will be here in a few minutes,” she said. “I was restless and decided to walk around a little, but I forgot my keys. I hope I didn’t wake you.”
   “I’ve been up since four,” I said.
   “Couldn’t sleep?”
   “I get up between four and five every morning.”
   “What time do you go to bed?”
   “Eight-thirty; nine.”
   “Seven hours, that’s pretty good,” she said. “My legs are so sore. I don’t know why the Lord does this to me.”  She was quiet for a minute and then said, “He must have his reasons. The Lord has been good to me, and he’ll get me through this.”
   As if sent by the Lord, an aide bearing a passkey came down the hall at that very moment. She looked at Frances’ leg and said, “Where are your bandages?”
   Frances said she didn’t know. But she was in good hands now, and I went back to my crossword puzzle. Later that day, someone told me Frances has lupus.
   About six weeks ago, I asked Penelope, the activities director, if there were any jobs around the place that I might be able to do. She said she’d think about it. As she thought, she thought up an idea for an Antiques Roadshow, Covenant Woods style. The residents with items they were curious about would give them to me, and I would comb the Internet to find out what I could about them. The residents held up their end of the bargain, and I did what I could to hold up mine. I was no good at all as an assessor, but I did find out some interesting stuff.
   For instance, in looking for information on a pewter coffee pot, I discovered that coffee once made monarchs nervous, and not because they drank too much of it. They were afraid of what was going on in the coffee houses. One way to stifle dissent, they thought, would be to outlaw coffee. And the United States turned from tea to coffee during the War of 1812, when tea was in short supply and very expensive. After I shared this information, however, I was told the coffee pot was a wine dispenser.
   Penelope had a hairpin holder, which I would have mistaken for a salt shaker, had she not told me. Stumbling around the Internet, I learned that in the early years of the Twentieth Century, hairpins were seen in some quarters as dangerous and subversive weapons. An effort was made around 1918 to regulate their length. The fear was if hairpins got too long they would be used by suffragettes to attack their enemies.
   This week, I spent a couple afternoons behind the computer in Penelope’s office. She was on vacation, and Annie, who works with her, said there were a couple things I could do if I wanted. Penelope and Annie share the office with Irene, the director of housekeeping, and as I typed the daily schedules for October, several women came by see Irene. They asked what I was doing, and when they found out, they’d say, “Oh, that’s so sweet.” After all that sweetness, it’s a wonder I didn’t leave the office with a face covered with zits and a head too big to get out the door. But nothing beats the feeling of being useful, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to be of use.
   Al has been down to see me twice this week. He is determined to get rid of every nonessential item in his apartment.
   “I don’t need this shit,” he said. “The doctors say I could go any day.”
   I don’t think the doctors mean that Al’s demise is imminent, only that a man of eighty-eight is closer to the end than the beginning. His niece, who lives in New England somewhere, wants to come down with tape recorder and get Al to tell his stories.
   “She wants to publish them,” Al said. “But no one would be interested.”
   As Colonel Potter would say, “Horse pucky!” I encouraged Al to go ahead with the project, and if there is anything I can do to help him and his niece with it to let me know. But, unless his niece uncommonly persuasive, I don’t think Al will do it. And that’s too bad.
   Another chance to be of use came my way this morning. Joe has heart problems and has been looking for an activity he can handle. The son of one of the Covenant Woods residents teaches Tai Chi, and he gave Joe a DVD to introduce him to it. Joe popped the disc into his laptop and nothing happened.
   Because I waste more time in front of the computer than in front of the television, there is a widely held misconception here that I know something about how a computer works. So Joe called and asked if I could help him. It turned out I was able to. A click-click of the mouse here, and a click-click there and the video was rolling. The myth of my competence lives on.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Notes from the Home - September 18, 2012

   I’m not sure what Al is trying to do to me. Our paths crossed in the hall yesterday. He spotted a bench, said he was tired and sat down. He asked me if I had a few minutes to bullshit. I did, and he proceeded to quiz me about my condition.
   “Can you get up?” he asked.
   “I’ve got a walker in the apartment,” I told him. “I use it when I need to go to the bathroom. And every other day or so, I use it to go out on the porch and water my plant.”
   “How far can you walk with it?” he wanted to know.
   “Not very,” I said. “Across the room, not much farther.”
   “We’ve got to get you up and walking again.”
   A woman came by, and Al said “hello” to her. There was nothing unusual about the woman. She was nicely dressed, and her gray hair neatly coifed. She used a cane but stepped out more smartly than most people here. She conversed with gusto and didn’t seem to have difficulty hearing what Al said. I would have guessed she was in her late seventies. I would have been wrong. She is 101. For many years, I have thought of Alma, a retired Ash/Craft secretary, as the most youthful old person I’ve ever known. But no more. Even Al, a young whippersnapper of eighty-eight, is in awe of the woman’s energy and admitted he couldn’t keep up with her.
   Al said his niece has been asking him if he’d tell her all his stories if she came down. She wants to publish them.
   “I talk too much as it is,” he said. “And nobody would be interested in them.”
   “I’d be interested,” I said. “I think you should tell her all your stories. It would be a fascinating book.”
   He mumbled something and shifted the subject back to my ailments.  Al is a voracious reader, and he has a stack of newsletters from the Harvard medical school.
   “If I find anything about your problems, I’ll pass it along,” he said. “They say now that red wine is good for you. Red wine and black coffee. I read an article that said if you drink three cups of black coffee and two glasses of red wine a day you can live damn near forever.”
   “I’ve got the black coffee covered,” I said.
   “Don’t you drink, Tom?”
   “Not much these days.”
   “Dammit, Tom, you don’t know what you’re missing. You’ve got to come up to my room some time. I’ve got beer, wine, some scotch, a little whiskey and a bottle of gin that I’ve had for six years. And if you don’t want that, we can smoke some marijuana, or I can give you some marinol. It will take you to the most wonderful, peaceful place. But you won’t remember it when you come back down.”
   That’s when I began to wonder. Al began the conversation by asking if I could walk at all and what could be done to restore my ability to walk. And he ended it by encouraging me to drink more. Should a genie grant those two wishes, someday I’ll walk into his apartment, but I won’t be able to walk out.
   On my way to dinner last night, I spotted Al coming out of the activity room with a glass of red wine.
   “What’s going?” I asked.
   “A reception for the new residents,” he said, holding up his glass. “You ought to get yourself some.”
   I did.
   Occasionally all this leads to a cartoon moment, with Al hovering around one ear, urging me to drink more, while Catherine is on my other shoulder, telling me to thirst after righteousness. She came by this morning ostensibly to give me the phone number of her dentist. But her real purpose, I think, was to give me a copy of Jesus’ Claims – Our Promises: A Study of the “I Am” Sayings of Jesus. “You’re going to need the Lord,” she said.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Notes from the Home - September 12, 2012

   The hallway outside the activity room was alive with activity Thursday. On one side some residents were lined up to have their blood pressure checked, and on the other side there was a line of residents waiting to take a memory test. It was shaping up to be a forgettable day, so I opted for the memory test. As I waited, a question that had been floating in and out of my mind floated in. Annie was there keeping an eye on things; so I asked her.
   “The maintenance man – the little guy who’s always riding around in a golf cart – what’s his name?”
   “That’s Terry,” she said.
   I thanked her and continued my wait. A few minutes later, I was looking across a table at a middle-age woman who told me her name and the name of the organization she works for. Then we got started. She asked me what day it was, the day’s date, the time, the season of the year, what sort of facility we were in, what floor we were on, and on and on and on. There were thirty questions on the test, and I went thirty-for-thirty.  Needless to say, I was one insufferably proud man as I went down the hall to my apartment.
   When I opened my door, however, I was washed away in the wave of humility that surged from my humble abode. Sure, I knew the day, the date and all the other stuff that lady asked. But did I remember the name of the woman who administered the test? No. Did I remember the name of the organization she worked for? No. But the most bothersome realization came when I tried to recall the name of the maintenance man. I couldn’t. I had no idea. And if I hadn’t asked James a day or two later, I still wouldn’t know.
   Then I started wondering about some of the questions. I knew the date, the year, the day of the week, the time. But what if I hadn’t? Would that be an indication of a failing memory? Or would it be the result of not needing to know? For me, anyway, the rhythms of life are different here. For sixty-four years my life marched to the beat of the workaday world. Dad went to work. In time, I started school, and eventually I went to work. I haven’t worked for five years, but when I lived with Nancy, the tempo of life was usually dictated by her work schedule. Now I’m in an apartment by myself, with no job, and surrounded by people who are retired. The days are all the same. Oh, there are doctor appointments and this and that to keep in mind. But most of the time it isn’t vital to know the day, date or time. Of course, I knew all that stuff. It was Terry’s name I forgot. The one bit of information that was important enough to me to ask about, I forgot. Go figure.
   Four of us went to hear the Ft. Benning MCOE Jazz Ensemble Sunday. The event was sponsored by the Columbus Jazz Society and was held outside on the grounds of an Episcopal church. It was a wonderful night for an outdoor concert, at least for those of able to get seats in the shade. But even in the sun it wasn’t as hot as it has been, and the humidity was much, much less oppressive than it has been for a couple months.
   In its first set, the group played a few selections from the big band era, a few tunes from the sixties and seventies and a couple pieces that are familiar to jazz aficionados and few others. After taking a break, the band began its second set shortly before seven o’clock. After they played a song or two, Catherine said something about going home. If Catherine was ready, none of us wanted to force her to stay, and we left.
   I didn’t think of it until I was back in my apartment, but on our way to the concert and on our way back, Catherine talked about Peyton Manning, the Denver Broncos new quarterback. Catherine grew up in Tennessee. Manning played his college football at the University of Tennessee, Catherine said she hoped he would do well against the Steelers that evening. I think Catherine wanted to be sure she got home in time to watch the football game. Then Manning and the Broncos went and beat the Steelers.  There is no justice.
   As I went to get my mail today, Lynn was coming back with hers. We said “hello,” and then she said, “You have such a beautiful smile.” I hear that a lot here. A woman who lives down the hall has told me several times that my smile is an inspiration. The first person here to comment on my smile was a man who no longer lives at Covenant Woods. A week or so after I moved in, I was up in the lobby, and the man said, “What a nice smile you have.” I must have looked surprised, because he hastened to add, “I’m not coming on to you or anything.”
   There are some crabby people at Covenant Woods. But there are crabby people everywhere, and I am not the only person here who smiles. Yet, the smile that no one noticed in the Rust Belt seems to wow them here in the Sun Belt. It must have to do with the angle of the sun.
   I was looking at some old posts earlier this week and noticed on April 20 the wheelchair odometer had 792 miles on it. On Monday, the odometer reached 1,300 miles. Five months and 500 miles, almost all of which came while I was circling the building. That must say something about me, but I’m not sure what.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Fear of Football

    When I told my friends in Suzanne Byerley’s Thursday writing class at the Kingsville Public Library that I was moving to Columbus, Ga., Chuck Becker warned me about Phenix City, Al., just across the Chattahoochee River from here.
   “When I was in Ranger school at Ft. Benning,” Chuck said, “we weren’t even allowed to go Phenix City.”
   Not long after I moved into Covenant Woods, I happened to be sitting with Catherine at dinner. She’s a very proper lady of 91, and in the course of conversation she mentioned that she was from Phenix City. I told her what Chuck had said.
   “That’s right,” she said wistfully, “it was a wide-open town.”
   Alas, “was” is the operative word, and Phenix City in 2012 is no longer a notoriously wide-open place. But danger still lurks along the banks of the Chattahoochee – both banks – and, apparently, throughout the Southeast. The danger is football.
   Not all football. When I wear my Steelers T-shirt, no one notices. That’s not true. Joe noticed, but only because he’s originally from Pennsylvania, albeit from Pottsville, on the other side of the state.
   The NFL doesn’t generate much excitement here. In the race for space in the sports pages of the Ledger-Enquirer – home of The Chattahoochee Valley’s Largest News Team – the Atlanta Falcons run a weak fourth to the Georgia Bulldogs, the Auburn Tigers and the Alabama Crimson Tide. In today’s paper there was a story about each of those college teams. The only mention of the Falcons was on the agate page, in the list of the weekend’s pre-season games.
   As the 2012 season nears, have I come to realize that college football here is not for the faint of heart. It started with an e-mail from my brother, Jim. He and Susan, my sister-in-law, are thinking of driving over from Birmingham on Sept. 2, and he wondered if I’d be around. If I was going to be available, Jim said, I’d better hope that Alabama beats Michigan on Sept. 1. Otherwise, Susan, an Alabama native and a staunch Crimson Tide fan, would be a most unhappy woman.
   This was a joke of course, and it was my job as a wit – or at least half of one – to keep it going. I will be rooting for Alabama, I told Jim. After all, if the TV broadcast ends with a raucous rendition of “Hail to Victors” playing in the background, I’ll have to run out and purchase a couch. Then when they visit, Susan can, in the great tradition of Southern ladies, lie upon it with her hand on her forehead and say, “I do declare, life is hardly worth living when Alabama loses.”
   Jim, who apparently never heard the old saw about discretion being the better part of valor, forwarded the e-mail to Susan. “I am no Southern lady when it comes to Bama football,” she wrote back. “You will also find that Georgia women are no ladies either when the Dawgs are down.”
   I took the matter up with James, the maintenance man who has been previewing the high school football season for me – Carver High is the team to watch. I told him what Susan said.
   “She’s right. There ain’t nothing but Georgia fans here, and they get all worked up – all worked up. The men are bad and the women are worse,” he said.
   With that in mind, please pardon my trepidation as the kicker approaches the ball to start the 2012 college football wars, which down here take place both on and off the field. Or so I’ve been told.
   The Tide humbled what is known in Ohio as “that team from up north,” and Susan was delighted. Her only complaint was that the University of Alabama has put limits on the use of the cheer: “We just beat the hell out of you/Rammer Jammer Yellowhammer/Give ‘em hell, Alabama!” Political correctness, it seems, is everywhere present.

To Bed, Perchance to Sleep

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