Russ and Karen were over Sunday for the Covenant Woods’ Christmas party. It was a nice affair, with lots of food and drink, carolers, Santa and even a horse-drawn carriage. The carolers looked as if they’d just wondered in from 19th Century London. And for a while, they labored under the misdirection of maestro William.
I was out front waiting for Russ and Karen when the carolers gathered across the drive from the main door and began singing the music of the season. The area was crowed with people wanting to listen and others waiting for a ride in the carriage. And in front of them all was the somewhat more than slightly inebriated William, gleefully singing and waving his hands as though conducting. He looked like a kid at a parade.
A few minutes later, Russ and Karen walked up the driveway. We went inside, spotted a table in a corner of the crowded dining room and settled ourselves. We were joined by Margaret, Grey, their son, Craig, and nephew, Bill. Grey has Alzheimer’s and sat quietly. The others were jovial and bantered good naturedly all evening.
“Did I ever tell you about Matilda?” Bill asked his aunt. “I really, really don’t like the name Matilda. I was dating this girl. Her name was Sue, and we were getting along pretty good. But one day, she complained about her driver’s license picture. ‘Let me see it,’ I said. She did. It turned out Sue was her middle name. Her first name was Matilda. I couldn’t date a woman named Matilda. I never saw her again.”
I’m not sure Bill was being completely honest. He didn’t seem the type to unceremoniously dump someone. But his tale wasn’t the only one of sniper warfare between the sexes. Joe, who is a retired New York City transit dispatcher, dropped by to say “hello” and tell a story of his own. It seems there was a bus driver who, as he was navigating the mean streets, spotted an attractive young lady in a car. They kept passing each other in traffic, and the bus driver was determined to meet the woman. But how? When she stopped for a traffic light, he saw his chance. He pulled up behind her and nudged her car with his bus.
He did it gently enough that there was no damage, but the two got out of their vehicles and took a look. Although there was no police report, the bus driver did make a report to the transit authority. And the story of the driver using his bus to meet a woman quickly spread to all corners of the New York transit system.
A few months passed, and the driver was assigned to work out of the garage where Joe did the dispatching. When the guy’s records arrived at the garage, Joe’s curiosity got the best of him, and he took a look to see how the driver had handled the incident with the woman.
“According to the report, the bus was stopped, and woman ran into him,” Joe said. “I told him, that wasn’t the way I heard the story. He said, ‘She wouldn’t go out with me. If things had worked out, I’d have taken the rap.’”
Tuesday morning, Annie called and asked if I had a few minutes. I did. She wanted some help with Table Talk, the twice weekly sheet with the schedule of activities and newsy tidbits. I went to the office and was told the problem was a bit of unsightly white space. Could I fill it with a short poem?
“Sure,” I said, and sat there with a now-what-the-heck-do-I-do look on my face for ten minutes.
“Come on, Tom,” Annie said. “Look at all the decorations around here. You can write something Christmassy. Look at all the lights.”
Voila! It isn’t memorable, and it’s devoid of literary merit. But –
Christmas lights everywhere you look,
On every tree and in every nook,
Brightening spirits day and night.
Isn’t it a delightful sight.
filled the space. My task completed, I went back to the apartment. That afternoon, the phone rang again. Table Talk needed to be delivered door-to-door, and Elaine, the resident who normally delivers it, was under the weather. Would I? Sure.
I was just a Table-Talk-delivering machine, going up and down the hallways. Then, while I was on the third floor of the B Building, the fire alarm went off. My first thought: how fortunate I am to have a first-floor apartment. I can’t do steps, and the elevator kicks out the second the fire alarm comes on. So I waited. A woman came out of her apartment.
“I’m sure there’s nothing wrong,” she said. “lf there were a problem, someone would be up here telling us what to do. And if my daughter heard me say that, she’d say, ‘That’s just like you, Mom, always telling us to look on the bright side.’ And I’d say, ‘Well, goddammit, why don’t you?’”
After a while, Katherine came along. The fire alarm didn’t bother her. She was still too angry about the restaurant we went to on Friday. So, it was a relief when William emerged from the stairway.
“Nobody’s come for us,” Katherine told William.
“Don’t worry,” he said, “if there’s an emergency, I’ll make sure you get out.”
I didn’t find that particularly reassuring. Katherine, however, said that when she fell in her apartment a few weeks ago, it was William who came by and heard her calling for help. It was a needed reminder that William’s heart is in the right place, even if his brain is often where his liver and onions ought to be.
Then Johnny came up the stairs to tell us the problem – smoke caused by leaking Freon – had been corrected and the guy was in the process of resetting the elevators. Right on cue, the elevator dinged, and I was headed for the ground floor. The challenge now was to deliver Table Talk to the apartments in C Building quickly enough to get to dinner on time. But Annie and Irene met me en route, and we divvied up the copies. Annie delivered to the first floor, Irene to the second and I did the third. As I was getting on the elevator again, the guy from Convalesent Care, the company through which many of the residents here have gotten their power chairs, came along. He watched me as I expertly positioned my wheelchair in the car.
“Good job,” he said.
“This elevator isn’t as deep as the one on the B side,” I said, fishing for an enhanced compliment.
“You’re right,” he said. “This is the one we use when we want to test people.”
My performance had been less than stellar when I was in the C Building elevator Saturday, but he didn’t need to know that.
Beth called yesterday. She has been having a lot of pregnancy related discomfort – some major headaches – but they seem to be abating.
“Ken has helped me so much,” she said. “He’s always there when I need him. He’s not like the other guys I dated. I dated a bunch of guys that thought they were so tough. Most of them were assholes. Ken’s not like that at all.”
She made her father proud. And she made him hope she sees a little of her dad in Hayden’s dad.
Judy, the cleaning lady, brought back memories of Ash/Craft this morning.
“Good thing you’ve got your window open,” she said. “I spilled a little Clorox in the bathroom. Can you smell it?”
“Anybody going by in the hall will know your room got cleaned today.”
Years ago, in the Ash/Craft employee lounge – also known as The Dark Room with the Loud People – a colleague frequently bragged about putting a little bit of Clorox, or Pine-Sol or other strong-smelling cleaner in the sink and allowing the odor to waft through the house. And when her husband came home, he was sure she’d been cleaning house all day long.
It can’t be age; it must be the Clorox clouding my memory, but I can’t remember who that sly trickster was.