Suzanne’s assignment – with the standard proviso: “Should you wish to do it.” – was to pluck a winter weed, write about it and perhaps sketch it. There are weeds in Georgia, even here at Covenant Woods, where the landscapers serenade us with their leaf blowers every Thursday. They haven’t eradicated the weeds, but they do keep them confined to areas not easily accessible to the halt and the lame. But I don’t suppose they get many requests from anyone for easier access to weed infested spots.
Besides, a plucky weed is unimpressive next to pansies blooming in January. The pansies were blooming when I arrived in March. That wasn’t impressive; that was a sign that spring was here a few weeks ahead of its long anticipated arrival in northeast Ohio. They bloomed throughout the summer, too, which I assumed was the result of the daily doses of water from the Covenant Woods’ sprinkler system.
It wasn’t until the end of October, when the days grew short and the air cooled, that the pansies began to impress. Fall eased into what the Georgia natives call winter, and still the pansies bloomed. There were days when they were beaten down by the pounding rain; and there were mornings when they teetered on the verge of a frosty death. But a little sunshine and a little warmth always followed, and that was all it took to bring back their springtime freshness.
And so I wonder: Will spring seem as glorious this year? Will the crocuses and daffodils bring the same delight when the pansies have never ceased looking spring-like? Spring is a time of rebirth. And there is much to be reborn here: trees to get leaves and blossoms; grass to become green and lush; flowers to burst open and brighten the world with all the colors of Nature’s palette. Spring will be beautiful, it always is. But will the magic of spring be as magical after a winter that wasn’t so wintery?
In another January surprise: there were two guys here working on my air conditioner. In the spirit of full-disclosure, they replaced the heat pump’s compressor. But it was the air conditioner malfunctioning that got my attention. It was stuffy in the room Tuesday evening, and I turned on the AC to make it a little less so. It worked its magic quickly, the room stayed comfortable and I went to bed. When I awoke in the early but-not-yet bright, the air conditioner was running.
OK, I thought, I’ll get dressed, open the porch door and turn off the air conditioner. Now, I still dress as shabbily as ever, but it takes longer. When I finished tying my shoes, the air conditioner was still running and the apartment wasn’t a bit cooler. I took a peek at the thermostat. It was set at seventy-three; the room temperature was seventy-six. Something was amiss.
After working for almost two hours, one of the repairmen said all was in order. I’ll have to take his word for it. If the ten-day forecast holds, there won’t be much need for the either the air conditioner or the furnace until Valentine’s Day or so.
I began my career as a bingo caller, Wednesday afternoon. Annie said the afternoon game attracts a tougher crowd than the evening game. The ten or twelve women who played were nice enough, but none of them seemed to be having fun. There wasn’t much banter, and I could hear every sigh, groan and “damn it” of disappointment when the number I called was not the number desired. When it was over, however, they said they enjoyed having me and hoped I’d be back. I was back Thursday and survived.
How many more times I’ll be back is another question. After two days on the job, I have discovered that there is a skirmish in progress between Eddie, the territorial and controlling resident, who has been running the afternoon game for longer than I’ve been here, and Penelope, the activities director.
Penelope flagged me down as I was leaving the dining room Thursday and led me to a quiet corner of the lobby. She asked me if Eddie had been bossy at bingo. Given Eddie’s reputation for bossiness, there was use denying that she had been. I hastened to add, however, that I had never had more than a few short conversations with Eddie, and perhaps Thursday, Eddie was just being Eddie.
“Four people have told me how bossy Eddie was today,” Penelope said. “I’m going to talk to her and tell her, when Tom is calling, it’s his game. I wanted to let you know what’s going on, because Eddie is going to be mad.”
All of which brings to mind an article that was on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette website earlier in the week.
“We're accustomed to stories about childhood bullies, but similar behaviors are occurring among seniors in independent retirement communities, assisted living facilities, nursing homes and community centers,” Sally Kalson wrote under the headline, “Hostilities in the nursing home: Bullying tied to loss of independence and inhibition.”
The article brought to mind a conversation Catherine and I had at dinner several months ago.
“Sometimes this place is an awful lot like high school,” I said.
“High school?” Catherine said. “It’s more like first grade.”
Andrea Fox, a gerontologist and medical director of the Squirrel Hill Health Center, split the difference in the K-12 analogy. “One of my patients described it as junior high all over again,” she said.
“I sat out on the porch this afternoon,” Al said. “I smoked a cigar, took a marinol and had a glass of wine. It took me somewhere. I don’t know where. I think I’m turning into a damn addict. Then after an hour-and-a-half, I was back.”
And he talked about the frustrations of being an old guy in a community of old people.
“All I want to do is help people,” he said. “But these people don’t want help. They want to do it themselves for as long as they can.” He thought for a moment before adding, “I’m the same way.”
That realization explains why Al is not among the bullies of Covenant Woods.
I came across the transcript of an All Things Considered interview from 2006. Robert Siegel spoke with William Labov, a linguist at the University of Pennsylvania, in a piece titled “American Accent Undergoing Great Vowel Shift.”
“Half of this country has a merger of the word classes, cot, caught, don, dawn, hock, hawk. You can hear the difference as I'm saying it,” Labov said, to illustrate a point.
Siegel said he could hear the difference. I didn’t hear the interview, but I said the words to myself over and over, and I couldn’t hear any difference between cot and caught, don and dawn or hock and hawk. Then it all became clear.
“But if you came from Los Angeles or Pittsburgh, those words sound pretty much the same,” Labov said.
After all these years, I’m still fluent in Pittsburghese.