Like ol’ man river, life at Covenant Woods just keeps rolling along. Mark Twain made the river endlessly intriguing. The days here, however, are often just endlessly endless. But not every day.
Thursday had its moments. It started when I went up front to ask Shirley if December’s rent invoices were ready. She picked up a stack of envelopes, shuffled them and handed one to me. On the way to my room, I glanced at the envelope. It was addressed to Joe. Back at the desk, I waited while Shirley apologized, reshuffled the envelopes and found the one addressed to me.
In my apartment, I put the envelope on the table and then spent several minutes looking for my checkbook. There was a time when I had hoped scientists would discover a way to give telepathic powers and the ability to move to inanimate objects. That way, my checkbook and pen would sense when I was about to use them and go to the spot where I was most likely to look for them. That never happened. The checkbook, pen and all the other doodads I needed from time to time did nothing more than stay where I’d put them.
The path to the suddenly necessary item was always long and winding, giving me time to loosen up my tongue and hurl imprecations. In days past, this seemed like a waste of time. Life would be better, I was sure, if the thing I needed got to where I was going to look for it before I got there. These days, a little imprecation hurling helps pass the time. Then I pass more time by reorganizing things so I won’t have the same problem next time. Fat chance.
But I digress. After spouting a mere two or three imprecations, I found the checkbook. “Right where you left it,” I could hear Mom say. I unfolded the statement and found a strange figure in the “Pay this amount” box. I had been charged for one guest meal. I didn’t remember treating a guest to a meal.
“Aha,” I thought, “another excuse to get out of the room.” On my way back to see Shirley, Johnny, one of the maintenance men, came up behind me.
“Hey, Tom, what were you cooking yesterday?”
“A can of chili.”
“Cooked it too long, didn’t you,” he said.
“I don’t think so.”
“A couple people called,” Johnny said. “They thought something might be on fire. The smell was coming from your apartment.”
Then I remembered the grilled cheese sandwich, the one I cooked well beyond well done. I ate it quickly and went out for a ride around the parking lot. But the aroma lingered, and a concerned neighbor or two alerted Johnny, who determined that the odor was coming from my apartment. He took a look inside and decided the stink was merely an expression of my culinary incompetence.
“You ate it?” he asked.
“Yummy,” he said, smiling doubtfully.
Then I asked Shirley about my bill. She said she’d look into it. Friday morning, as a group of us waited for the bus that would take us to the National Infantry Museum, Shirley told me to ignore the charge for the guest meal.
Eleanor, Catherine, Richard and I had lunch together in the Fife and Drum, the Museum’s restaurant. We had a lively conversation about this and that. And along the way, Eleanor said something that included a sentence containing the words “men” and “balls.” I did my best to stifle a laugh. My best wasn’t good enough.
“If you’re laughing,” Eleanor said, “that means you have a dirty mind.”
“If you know why I’m laughing you must have a dirty mind.”
“You’re right,” she said, laughing out loud. “I do.”
After lunch, I watched a movie in the Museum’s IMAX theater about the Canadian Pacific’s struggle to find a route through the mountains. The film sparked another interesting conversation. This one with Richie, a few hours later during the Friday happy hour at Covenant Woods. Richie is easily confused sometimes. I don’t think the problem is dementia; he’s a year or two younger than I am. But he does like to give the impression that he knows more than he knows.
“What was the movie about?” Richie asked.
“The building of the Canadian Pacific Railroad.”
“Oh, Cornelius Vanderbilt. He’s the one who built all the railroads.”
“Vanderbilt was the man behind the New York Central. This was about the Canadian Pacific.”
“Oh, that must be out in California somewhere,” Richie said.
One day years ago, I was in the car with Uncle Jim meandering through the streets of Pittsburgh. The radio was tuned to WQED, a classical music station, and the conversation turned to tastes in music. Jim was all for the old masters. “A lot of the modern stuff is crap.” That was a mighty strong statement coming from Jim. When it came to expletives, Jim seldom ventured beyond “crap.”
Last week, a group of us went to a concert given jointly by the Columbus State University Contemporary Ensemble and the CSU Jazz Combos. The first work on the program was the world premiere of Among Distant Fields by Bruce Reiprich, who was on hand to direct the performance. Mr. Reiprich asked the audience to have an open mind: his composition was not built around melody, harmonies and rhythm. He said the inspirations for the work were his dog and Chiyo’s haiku:
I wonder in what fields today
She chases dragonflies in play.
My little girl –
Who ran away.
Four lines and twenty-four syllables don’t make a haiku. But what do I know? My fear of having to sit through something weird was eased by the image of a dog frolicking in a field. But that dog didn’t frolic, and Uncle Jim’s words came back to me.
Eventually, the Contemporary Ensemble gave way to the Jazz Combos, and it turned out to be an evening well spent.
Al stopped by the other night. He talked about growing up here in Columbus, his experiences in the Army, his experiences at Covenant Woods and whatever else popped into his mind.
“We’ve got to get together sometime,” he said. “I’ve got so many stories. And you can write them up.”
I would love to do that. But Al’s stories always end up being an ever-changing, kaleidoscopic tour of his eighty-eight years and journeys the world over. His niece wants to give Al a tape recorder, but he says he won’t use it. That’s too bad. I don’t think my note-taking skills are up to the task. Of course, as soon as I open up a notebook and get poised to capture some of Al’s ramblings, he says “Why are you doing that? Nobody’s interested in this shit. And nobody would believe it.” Then he goes on to tell another story.
“I’ll sit out on the porch and feed the birds,” Al told me the other night. “Nobody believes it, but some of the birds come and eat out of my hand.
“You think I’m crazy as hell, don’t you, Tom. Did I ever tell you about the skink? Do you know what a skink is? It’s a lizard. Years ago there was a skink that let me feed him. And one day he brought his wife with him. And once they ate, he grabbed her and twisted her around, and they fornicated right there in front of me.”