Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Notes from the Home - August 28, 2013

   Russ came to my door recently with a gift: a copy of The Saturday Evening Post Special Humor Issue. According to the cover, the Special Humor Issue contains “300 Funniest, laugh-out-loud cartoons ever published.” Three of Russ’ cartoons are among them, which means, my son, the cartoonist, is responsible for one percent – the top one percent, in one man’s humble opinion – of the funniest, laugh-out-loud cartoons ever published. Not bad for a kid who just turned thirty-five.
   It is a sign, I suppose, that these seventeen months in Dixie have had an effect on my system. Sunday evening, I heard the weatherman say it would be sixty-six in Columbus, Monday morning. And I wondered if I should get a sweatshirt out just in case.
   Along with the cooler temperatures, the meteorologist promised sunshine and omitted any mention of rain. There have been buckets of it this summer. This is my second summer here, so I’m in no position to pass judgment on what is normal for west Georgia, but even the natives are commenting on all the rain.
   I can say, however, that it was unusually warm in the first-floor hallway. To say that the first-floor hall was unusually warm is not to say that it was uncomfortably warm. The hall is usually quite cool, cool to the point that you wouldn’t want to be stranded in it without a sweater. But for a few days last week, it was cooler in my room than it was in the hallway. I figured someone had complained about the hall being cold all the time. But when I asked Johnny, the maintenance supervisor, he said that one of the air-conditioning units was down. A day or two later the unit was back up and the temperature in the hall was back down.
   Happening guy that I am, I did what all the really happening guys do on Saturday evening. I did my laundry. Judging from the crowd in the laundry room, I am the only happening soul in the building. Jim did come by, survey the situation, tell me he had a hamper full of dirty clothes and would be back in twenty minutes or so. When my washers stopped spinning, I put the clothes in a dryer, and went to my apartment to do that other happening-guy-on-Saturday-night thing: wash the dishes. After allowing forty-five minutes for the clothes to dry, I returned to the laundry room. Jim had apparently found better thing to do.
   Bud died a week ago. A Command Sargent Major in his younger days, he was, at ninety-one, a shrunken, hunched, completely bald man. He had a scooter that he rode to dinner. He parked it next to the table, then, with great effort, he got up and moved to a chair. Bud seldom spoke, but when he did it was obvious he had been following the conversation, that he was aware of what was going on around him.
   Bud’s son, Chris, an optometrist, visited his dad every day. Around five-thirty, he would come into the dining room and sit with his father. When Bud finished his dinner, he and Chris went back to Bud’s apartment. I don’t eat lunch in the dining room, but according to Eleanor, Chris often dropped in to see his dad at lunch time, too.
   A couple days after Bud died, Chris was filling the trunk of his car with his dad’s belongings. “He was ninety-one, so it wasn’t completely unexpected,” Chris said. “In many ways it was a blessing. His cancer was starting to come back. He died peacefully. He didn’t suffer; he wasn’t in any pain. We’re going to have his service here. This is where most of his friends are.”
   Elsie slowly shuffled behind her walker as she made her way up the lengthy hallway to the mailboxes.
   “It’s a long climb up this mountain, isn’t it?” I said.
   “Yes it is. And the doctor told me yesterday I shouldn’t do it anymore. Here it is, the next day, and I’m doing it again. But I get tired of sitting in the apartment all day looking at the same four walls. I bet you do too.”
   Dennis, the new bus driver with the same first name as the old driver, has apparently been doing some research. And in his research, he has discovered that mine is the only wheelchair with all the necessary brackets to be properly strapped down. Dennis said he wants to use me and my wheelchair in a demonstration of how to tie down a wheelchair on the bus. I don’t think the demonstration will draw much of a crowd. Penelope and Annie are the only other staff people who drive the bus.
   Be that as it may, I’m sure Dennis had me properly strapped down this morning, when five of us departed in the bus for appointments with doctors around town. I was the first to be dropped off, arriving at the West Georgia Eye Care Center at twenty-of-nine for my nine-thirty appointment. My concerns about having to spend forty-five minutes cooling my heels in the waiting room were quickly dispelled when a woman with a file folder in hand said, “Mr. Harris.”
   She led me to a room, where she asked some questions, had me try my luck with an eye chart and asked me look straight ahead and tell her how many fingers she was holding up, in order to assess my peripheral vision. Then she led me to another room, where another woman took pictures of my eyes and then led me to the examining to await the doctor. The doctor peered into my eyes, examined the pictures the woman had taken, said there was no need to stick a needle in my eye and told me come back in six months. The woman at the desk handed me the card for my next appointment at nine-forty, a mere ten minutes after the scheduled time for my appointment.
   I went outside, found a shady spot and called Dennis to tell him I was ready to go. He was on his way back to Covenant Woods to pick up a few more residents with appointments and said it would be a while. I waited until eleven o’clock. But it was a pleasant wait: clear sky, gentle breeze and a parade of people. So pleasant, in fact, I didn’t realize how warm it had gotten until I got on the air-conditioned bus.
   The other morning, I noticed Melvin jogging. At least he appeared to be jogging. Melvin is wiry, has full head of unkempt gray hair and wears wire rim glasses. Watching him trot reminds me of Warren, the Star Beacon’s crack photographer.
   “I usually run from here to that driveway over there,” Melvin said when I saw him the next morning. “It’s about a hundred yards or so.”
   “How old are you?”
   “Seventy,” Melvin said.
   Perhaps vanity made him say that; maybe it was senility, but I’m convinced Melvin shaved a decade or more off of his age. He is a wise man, however.
   “You have to keep doing it to be able to keep doing it,” he said.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Mysteries of Technology

   A family of four is having dinner in a restaurant. The parents are middle-aged, their daughter in her early teens, her brother about eight. There is little conversation at the table: a word or two here and there, an occasional short sentence, a grunt, a snort. They seldom make eye contact; each of them is focused on his or her IPhone. It’s a scene right out of a subway car at rush hour. But the four are not strangers, not commuters hidden behind newspapers. They are a family, parents and children, each in a separate world, the world of the electronic gadget in his or her hand.
   In his apartment at the retirement community, a man with too little to do fires up his computer. Among his e-mails are three from his daughter, who lives on the other side of the country. The first is a video of his three-month-old granddaughter lying on the bed, smiling the world’s most beautiful smile. The second e-mail is a video of the man’s two-year-old grandson looking out the kitchen door and calling the chickens.
   “Here, chicken,” he says. “Here, chicken.”
   He stares through the screen for a moment then turns and runs toward the unseen woman with the electronic gadget in her hand.
   “Mama, chickens. Mama, chickens,” he says.
   The third e-mail is another video. His granddaughter is lying on the floor, laughing and excitedly shaking her little arms and legs. Her brother enters the picture. He has a blanket, which he carefully puts over her legs and stomach before bending down to gently kiss her on the forehead.
   Later, the phone rings. Does the man want to Skype while the kids eat lunch? Of course he does. For a half hour, he watches his grandchildren be children. And before the Skyping ends, he hears his grandson say, “Hi, Grandpa.”
   Strange, isn’t it? The technology that seems to destroy the intimacy of a family crowded into a restaurant booth somehow makes a grandpa feel so close to his grandchildren two thousand miles away. How does it do that?

Friday, August 23, 2013

Just a Few Clerihew

  A snide Alex Trebek
   Gave the little guy heck,
   Said he couldn’t spell,
   At least not too well.
   Hey, Mister Tom Harris
   Oh, please won’t you spare us.
   We have read all your stuff,
   It’s baloney and fluff.
   The Texas senator, Ted Cruz,
   Could be a Canuck should he choose
   To take his disorder
   North of the border.
   When the formerly chaste Lone Ranger
   Fell for a beautiful stranger
   He said, “To the drug store, Tonto.
   I need prophylactics pronto.”

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Notes from the Home - August 17, 2013

   Tuesday morning at quarter of eight, my wheelchair died. The chair had been difficult to rouse when I roused myself around five that morning. But rouse it I did, and all seemed in order as it carted me from bed to bathroom to the refrigerator to the table. The chair sat patiently while I ate breakfast, did the LA Times and USA Today crossword puzzles on line, and then checked out, along with the on-line editions of the Star Beacon, Post-Gazette and Plain Dealer. And when asked, the chair took me to the kitchen sink, the coffee maker and the bathroom without hesitation or difficulty.
   At seven-twenty, I set out for my morning inspection of the Covenant Woods’ grounds. On my way down the hall, however, I was unable to get the wheelchair out of P1, its slowest speed. I stopped and pressed the button several times, to no avail. I went on, and at the door I pressed the button again, and again the chair did not respond. Outside, the clouds hung heavy and low, and the wind whispered, “If you come out, you best be prepared to make a mad dash when the rain starts.” Being prepared to dash madly is one thing, madly dashing in P1 is another, and I opted to return to my apartment to give the wheelchair time to adjust its attitude.
   Back in the room, I pulled up to the computer, shut off the chair and pretended to write for a few minutes. But I didn’t want to write; I wanted to go outside. That’s when the wheelchair, in the manner of all the women I’ve ever known, failed to respond to my efforts to turn it on. And like those women, the chair snickered contemptuously when I tried again and again to get some action.
   So, there I was, at the table, sitting in a power chair that hadn’t any power. The first order of business was to call Convalescent Care, a local concern that, among other things, services wheelchairs. Finding the number wasn’t a problem; I’d put it in the phone a few months ago, when the chair first exhibited its disagreeable feminine attributes. My call was answered by a machine that told me the slug-a-beds at Convalescent Care don’t show up for work until eight-thirty.
   The next order of business was to get away from the table and into my manual wheelchair. I disengaged the wheels and used my feet to push me and the chair backward until I ran into the bed. From there, a lengthy stretch enabled me to grab my walker, which enabled me to get up and pull my manual wheelchair from its place between the file cabinet and the bookcase. My mechanical ineptitude and physical limitations combined to make a ten-minute chore out of the thirty-second job of setting up the chair. With the chair in a ploppable shape, I plopped into it and waited until eight-thirty to call Convalescent Care again. Kevin said he’d send one of his lackeys over, probably around ten-thirty, with a new control unit.
   The lackey showed up shortly after eleven. In his late twenties or early thirties, and a pudgy five-eleven, he had the look of a man who’d been eschewing exercise since his career as a third-string lineman for his high school football team ended. And after two or three minutes of less-than-strenuous labor, he sounded like it too. He rasped, he gasped and he wheezed for a minute or more before announcing that he would take the chair to his van and replace the control unit. Had the NSA been listening to my breathing after I bumbled about getting the manual wheelchair and compared it to the lackey’s, it would have concluded that I am by far the superior physical specimen. But the lackey had a job to do, and he did it. The wheelchair is working again.


To Bed, Perchance to Sleep

According to an article on the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's website, a person with MS is up to three times more likely to exper...