Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Notes from the Home - July 24, 2013



   “I wish it would stop raining,” Randy, one of the maintenance men, said. “The rain is playing hell with my garden. The squash and cucumbers are gone – root rot. But the tomatoes and peppers are OK.
   “You know what’s really doing good? The eggplant. It’s the Japanese kind. They look like bananas, but they’re purple. You slice them long ways, so they’re like French fries, cornmeal them all up and fry them. You don’t have to get uppity and make eggplant Parmesan. This is the South; this ain’t Manhattan. You don’t need no Parmesan, just some cornmeal and fry them.”
  
   A while later, in response to Shirley’s call that there was a package for me at the desk, I went to the lobby. “Poop,” I muttered, or perhaps it was a synonym of poop, when I saw Ron at the desk talking to Shirley. Ron has a myriad of stories. Every one of them is about Ron, and there isn’t the slightest hint of humility, modesty, self-effacement or self-deprecatory humor in the bunch.
   “Hey, Flash,” Ron said to me, then turning to Shirley, he added, “I nicknamed him Flash.”
   “Good morning, Ron,” I said, doing what I could to mask the more obvious signs of insincerity. After all, I was only going to be there long enough for Shirley to hand the package to me.
   My hope for a quick reprieve from Ron ended when Shirley answered the phone and Dennis, the new bus driver, walked by clad in a long-sleeve white shirt and a bright red vest. The man Dennis replaced behind the wheel of the Covenant Wood’s bus was also named Dennis. It must be a prerequisite for the job.
    “Flash, did I ever tell you about the time my wife made me a vest just like that?” Ron said. “Well, Betty loved to sew, and she could sew anything. And this one time she had some extra red material and she made me a vest just like the one Dennis is wearing. I really looked sharp in it. I wore it work once in a while, and one day this guy in the office asked where I got it. I told him Betty made it for me. He asked if she would make one for him.”
   A Mounty always gets his man, and Ron always puts the other guy in his place. With a look of gleeful disdain, he finished his story with, “I told him she’d quit sewing.”
   Shirley handed me the package, and I fled the scene. The package contained two jars of preserves from Beth’s kitchen. I slathered some on a piece of toast and soon the world was a better place again.

   Al reminisced for a while that afternoon.
   “When I still lived in my house here in town, I’d sit on the swing in the backyard and feed the birds,” he said. “There were two woodpeckers, a male and a female. And there was a robin, a brown thrasher, and a few others. I would sit for hours, watching the birds and feeding them. I’d cut up apples and grapes to give to them. Some of the birds would come up and eat out right out of my hand. Do you think other people do stuff like that?”
   And he talked about the present.
   “Sometimes I sit out on the porch here and think about dying. I know I won’t jump [Al lives on the second floor] but sometimes I think about getting on the floor and rolling off. There are so many things I can’t do anymore. I’m going to have to start asking the staff to do more things for me. I can’t do it all anymore.
   “It’s not a question of damned if I do or damned if I don’t. It’s just, ‘Damn.’ It’s ‘Double damn.’”
  
   That evening, as I made my way around the Covenant Woods’ parking lots, I saw Bobby. He was staring at the groceries in the trunk of his car.
   “Nothing is easy these days,” he said. “The things that used to take two minutes take five minutes. And the things that used to take five minutes take forever. I think I’m going to have to make two trips.”
   There were two boxes of groceries in the trunk. The boxes were too big to put side by side on Bobby’s walker, and they were both too full to stack.
   “Can I give you a hand?” I asked.
   “You won’t be able to handle these.”
   “My lap is available,” I said. “Set a box on it. I’ll be fine.”
   Bobby wasn’t convinced, but he was willing to take a chance. He took a several items out of one of the boxes and set it on my lap.
   “Can you handle that?”
   I looked at the half-filled box and assured him I could. He grabbed a head of lettuce from the trunk and put it in the box on my lap.
   “How ’bout now?”
   “I’m fine.”
   He put a bag of rice in the box and asked if I could still manage. I said I could. He repeated the question and I repeated the answer when he added a box of raisin bran to my load. Bobby then got the other box of groceries out of the trunk and set it on his walker, and off we went to his apartment.
  
   The following morning, I found an e-mail from Beth in the in-box. It was a video of smiling little MaKenna.
   “Can you say, ‘Good morning?” Beth asked, and MaKenna smiled. “Can you say, ‘Good morning, Grandpa?” And MaKenna looked like she might burst out laughing.
   I smiled, said “good morning, MaKenna,” very nearly shed a tear and got on with things, knowing that a smile from MaKenna in the morning makes any day a good day.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Aging Gracelessly - Again



   At Piggly-Wiggly this morning, the cashier told me, "Twenty-one dollars even." But, as I was fishing in my wallet, she said, "Wait, today is Wednesday." She turned back to the cash register, punched a button or two and said, "Nineteen ninety-five."
   "Wednesday must be a good day to shop," I said.
   "It is for you."
   "Does that mean I'm old?"
   "Well," she said, "it means you've been around longer than I have."
   That got me thinking about the following piece, which ran in the Star Beacon in 2008 and which I posted here in July 2011.

   The change was correct; it was the receipt that bothered me. I couldn’t understand why I had been given the senior discount at the fast-food place.
   In some narrow chronological sense, of course, I qualified for it. But I was in the drive-through, and the lady with the garbled voice who took my order was somewhere inside. How ever did she know?
   Age has its privileges, mostly in the form of discounts. Discounts are wonderful things, and I am not too proud to avail myself of them. But I thought it would be a while before sales clerks could take one look at me – or simply hear my voice - and pronounce me deserving of them. Given my well-preserved features and immature demeanor, I assumed I’d have to fight for discounts until I was well into my 70s. And I was gleefully girding myself for battle.
   A few months ago, in the weeks leading up to one of those birthdays that end in zero, I received a Golden Buckeye Card. The State of Ohio had given me a powerful identification tool I could use to stun and embarrass sales clerks. Or so I thought.
   I pictured myself at the checkout, watching the clerk ring up my purchases. Then, just before she hit the total button, I pulled out my Golden Buckeye Card and held it two inches from her nose, in the manner of a television cop.
   “Tom Harris, high-end Boomer,” I said with great authority.
   “Mr. Harris, I’ll need to see your driver’s license,” she replied in the snippy manner the young have when they’re given a modicum of authority.
   “Look, young lady, this is a Golden Buckeye Card issued by the State of Ohio and it entitles me to certain rights and privileges, including discounts on my purchases at this store.”
   “I know what it is. Do you think I’m like blind?” she said. “If you want the discount, you’ll have to show me your driver’s license. And if you don’t stop acting like some four-year-old with a plastic badge and a toy pistol, I’ll call the manager.”
   “Actually, I’ve always thought I was more like Special Agent Gibbs, NCIS…”
   “Yeah, right,” she mumbled while working over her chewing gum. “Just show me your license.”
   “OK, here it is. Read it and weep, Little Miss Priss.”
   A triumphant smile spread across the clerk’s face as she took my license. But then, as she examined it, her gloating faded to shame and remorse.
   “I’m so sorry, Mr. Harris,” she said.
   “Apology accepted. It happens all the time.”
   “As you probably know, a gang of really evil 40-somethings is flooding the system with counterfeit Golden Buckeye Cards,” she said. “The manager told us, we have to ask for a photo ID from every really young looking person who attempts to use one. It’s not my fault you look so young. I busted two people this morning, and they both looked at least 10 years older than you.”
   “They probably should eat more carrots,” I said.
   “And maybe I should be a little slower to accuse,” she said. “I’m like so embarrassed.”
   “Don’t worry about it. No one likes to be mistaken for a youthful miscreant, but we all have to make sacrifices to preserve the integrity of the system.”
   “Thank you for being so understanding,” she said. “Here’s a $50 gift card for your trouble. Do have a nice day.”
   I don’t know why, but nothing even remotely similar to this has happened to me.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Notes from the Home - July 13, 2013



   Perhaps it’s the weather. As I was heading up the long hallway to get my mail this afternoon, Elsie was coming toward me.
   “Where are you headed?” she asked.
   “To get my mail.”
   “Isn’t anyone here today? I was sitting on that bench for forty-five minutes, and only one guy came by, and he didn’t say anything.”
   “It does seem awfully quiet,” I said.
   “Do you have family here in town?”
   “My son lives here.”
   “My kids are in Texas,” she said. “Do you ever get tired of sitting in your room?”
   “Sometimes.”
   “Me too,” Elsie said. “I like to sit here in the hallway and look at the sun. But there hasn’t been much sun to look at this summer.”
   Betty wasn’t feeling chipper either. She was sitting in the laundry room, thumbing through a magazine and listening to her clothes tumble in a dryer. Betty said she moved to Covenant Woods about a month ago.
   “I didn’t have any trouble selling my house,” she said. “My kids and grandkids are here in Columbus, but they’re awfully busy.”
   “How do you like it here?”
   “I don’t know. The people are nice. And I still have my car. It takes some getting used to; I’m still trying to adjust to living here. I’d rather be living at home.”
  
   I was talking with Annie as she worked on one of the bulletin boards when Pat, a personal care aide, came by.
   “Hello, Mr. Harris,” Pat said with enthusiasm. A few seconds later, she said hello to another resident in a much more perfunctory fashion.
   “The staff really likes you, Tom,” Annie said.
   “Oh.”
   “Didn’t you notice the difference between the way Pat said hello to you and the way she said hello Henry? The thing is, Tom, you’re not crazy.”
   Before I had a chance to thank Annie for her high opinion of my sanity, Bob and Grace came along. We exchanged pleasantries, they went on their way and I told Annie about Grace at dinner the night before. The server taken our orders, and while we waited for our meals to be delivered, Grace turned to Bob three times and asked, “Did she take our orders yet?”
   “See,” Annie said, “she’s crazy.”
   Alas, if that’s the definition of crazy, I’m not there yet, but there are days when I get real close.
  
   In his cinematic manifestation, the evil genius is easily recognized. He sports a great shock of unruly gray hair that he occasionally combs with his fingers, and a mustache that he trims once a year. He speaks with a sinister Eastern European or Middle Eastern accent. He stuffs pens, pencils, small tablets, receipts from Disasters-R-Us and the remnants of a jelly donut into his breast pocket. His career goal is world-wide devastation, misery for millions,
   Russ, who isn’t evil but might be a genius, took me shopping the other day. Our first stop was Target, where I bought two pairs of shorts to replace the shorts that came out of winter with less girth than I. From there we went to Publix, where, on a whim, I reached for a jar of peanut butter. That jar, however, had the words “Low Fat” emblazoned on the label. Granted, a man whose wardrobe is in need of expansion ought to consider the low-fat option, but I didn’t and instead picked up a jar on which there was no mention of “low fat.” Unfortunately, I didn’t pay attention to what it did say.
   That afternoon, I went to the cupboard, pulled out a box of crackers and the as yet unopened jar of peanut butter. Moments later I came face to face with the modern day evil genius. The jar had a clear plastic band around the lid. You know, the clear plastic band that you can’t see and don’t realize is there until you try to open the jar but can’t. I couldn’t and fetched a paring knife to cut the darn thing. How is it that the plastic band was so lose and so smooth that when I tried to turn the lid the band went round and round, and the lid didn’t?  Yet, when I tried to insert the knife between the band and the lid, the blade slid over the band and into my other hand. After stabbing myself three times, I was finally able to cut the band and remove it. The impediment gone, I picked up the jar, gave the lid a mighty twist and unleashed an oil spill all over my lap.
   And in some large corporation’s research and development laboratory a modern evil genius laughed an evil laugh of delight. He doesn’t look like an evil genius, he doesn’t talk like an evil genius, he doesn’t even have an assistant named Igor. He lives in the suburbs, drives an SUV, has a wife and a couple of kids and commutes daily to the R-and-D lab, where he invents ever more frustrating modern inconveniences.
   How did he know that I would unknowingly grab a jar of “all natural” peanut butter? I don’t know, but he did.
   How did he know I wouldn’t bother to read the label and what it said about “natural oils may settle on top of the product?” I don’t know, but he did.
   And how did he know that I’d have so much difficulty with the plastic band that when I finally was able to remove it I’d twist the lid off if a fit of anger and frustration, causing the natural oils to spill out all over my lap? Because he invented the damn plastic band with people like me in mind. That’s how.
  

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Notes from the Home - July 2, 2013



  “My first two years in the Army, I was a private,” Al said at dinner tonight. “I was a private the whole time. I didn’t even make private first class. After basic, they sent me to West Point, New York. I was supposed to be watching for enemy planes. It was beautiful up there, and we had a wonderful view of the Hudson River. But I kept telling people I wanted to get to Europe before the war ended.
   “Finally, they sent me to Newport News. I had done some drafting, so they had me draw different views of ships and what was in them. Then, if the Germans sunk a ship, we’d know exactly what was on it and how the stuff was stowed, and we could send another ship in its place. After four or five months, I got bored with the job. I told a colonel I wanted to do something that would get me into the war. He pointed his finger at me. And I pointed my finger right back at him and told him I wanted to get to Europe. A couple days later, he told me I was going to infantry school at Fort Benning.
   “They put me on a train in Newport News. In those days, the conductor put a tag on your seat so he’d know where you were supposed to get off, or change trains, or whatever. Well, this conductor forgot about me, and the next think I knew I was on a train to Cincinnati. I was supposed to have changed trains in Richmond. They put me off the train at some tiny station and told me if I’d follow the dirt road about a mile, it would take me to the main road and I could hitchhike back to Richmond. I did what they said. Back then if you were in the service, you never had a problem thumbing a ride. The guy who picked me up was about half drunk, but he said he could get me back to Richmond in time to catch the train. And he did.
   “It was Friday afternoon when the train got to Columbus. I grew up here, in the Rose Hill area, and I went to see some of my buddies. We spent the weekend drinking moonshine whiskey and going over to Phenix City, to the nice houses they had over there, the ones with the red lights. Then Monday morning I reported to Fort Benning. They told me I’d been AWOL for two days.
   “A couple of weeks later, we were scheduled to have a map-reading test on Monday. That Saturday, I went downtown to see a movie at the Bradley Theatre; it was new then and quite a beautiful place. I was sitting there enjoying the movie when somebody tapped me on the shoulder. It was a colonel. ‘You’re supposed to be studying for the map test,’ he said. I told him I’d studied for four hours that morning. I hadn’t studied at all, but I wasn’t going to tell him that. Then he told me if I didn’t pass the test I was done. Well, I passed it.”
   After dinner, I went out to breathe some non-air-conditioned air and to enjoy the sunshine, which has been a rarity here for the last week. Beverly was on the way in from her evening walk.
   “Hey, Bev, how are you?”
   “I’m going to my room to mope.”
   “Mope? Why?”
   “I was talking to my son this afternoon. He said I had to stop spending so much on the dentist. I don’t want to let my teeth just rot away. I told him that, but he said Elizabeth, my daughter-in-law, told him they’ve been buying all sorts of stuff for me, and I owe them over a thousand dollars. I told him I bought him several thousand dollars’ worth of stuff when he was younger. Now he probably won’t speak to me for a while. So I’m going to go to my room and mope.”
   I went on my way, and as I was going through the parking lot behind the C Building I heard music. I couldn’t tell if it was coming from one of the cars or from the shopping plaza on the other side of the trees. I decided it must be coming from the plaza and went on. The next time around, about twenty minutes later, I heard the music again, and went to check it out. The source was a pickup truck. I looked in the passenger-side window. A man sat in the driver’s seat, his head down, his chin resting on his chest. I knocked on the window. It startled him. “Oh hey,” he said. I asked if he was OK. He said he was. He seemed alert and oriented, and I continued my jaunt. By the time I got around to the front entrance, I realized I should have talked with him a while longer, just to be sure he was OK. Instead, I told Aleasha, who was working at the front desk, about the man. She went back to see what was up. Apparently, the guy’s mom is in the process of moving in, and he was waiting for the rest of the family to get there with the truck.
  

Life is Good at Covenant Woods???

WARNING: It has been nearly two months since I've written a word for this blog, or for anything else. If, for some strange reason, you ...