My Stocks Are Going Up

“Soooo uhhh….” he laughed a bit, as he always does when he feels uncomfortable.

“Soooooo.” I mimicked, “Soooooo I started my new job today.”

“Oooooh.” He replied, the end of his response going up an octave in unison with his eyebrows.  “What…uh…what is it that you are….that is happening?”

“Well, I’m teaching!” I summed up to keep it simple.

“Are your stocks up?” He asked.

“Well….” I pondered the question, looking for a translation.  When I couldn’t think of one, I decided to interpret it as though he were just being poetic.  “Well I suppose I would say yes.  I’m much more stable than I was before and my future is looking positive.  I’d invest in me.”

He laughed as I broke into a smile.

“Were they good kids?” He asked standing and bumping his head on the chandelier.  As the tumor grows and the dementia progresses Grandpa has started losing certain functions like speech, spatial reasoning, and his shoes.  He’s been stumbling around like a drunkard, bumping into the door frames and tripping over his untied shoelaces.  Heather also caught him eating Noxema, though I can’t say I blame him.  It really looks like whipped dream heaven in a cute little single-serving blue jar.

“Sure…the kids are pretty good.” I was making my first attempt at breading a porkchop.  I knew it involved rubbing the meat in butter and could only assume the next step was lathering on the bread crumbs.

“Are you making it?” He asked sincerely. “The…the stuff.”  He reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet.

Laughing I told him that yes, I was making money.

“It’s a big kid job.” He determined.

“Yep!” I was pleased, “My first big kid job.”

“Well, at least you got the chance to take a chance.” He concluded.

“HaHa!  I’ll say!” I patted him on the back.  “Now what do you think?” I dangled my sadly breaded pork chop in the air for his approval.

“Ohhhhh WOW!” He drooled, eyes soaking in the vision of my soggy bread job.  He is always so flattering.  You’d think I was Bobby Flay.

He watched as I shoved the pork chop into the oven to bake.  “Whatchoo getchoo whatchoo whatchoo eh?” He said, peering over my shoulder.

“HaHa.  Pardon?” I turned to look at him.

“Where’s the pairway?” He asked leaning back on the counter.

“Ummm…” I paused, “Yea…I don’t know what you mean.”

“The pairway.”

“In Springfield?  That’s where the school is.”

“No.” He gave me an exasperated sigh and careened violently off into the darkness like a drunken sailor, only to reappear again in a few minutes with the remote control.  “The PAIRWAY.” He put it on the counter.

Laughing I glanced at the clock.  Time for the News.

Back in the family room, as I snuggled into the side chair and watched Grandpa awkwardly arrange himself behind his TV tray, he ordered me to “raise the controls”.

“You want to volume up?” I asked.

“What?” He asked me, as though I were the one speaking in my own version of pig latin.

“The VOLUME!” I said distinctly, “Do you want it LOUDER!”

“Oh this is what you mean!” He stood and went to the TV, adjusting the volume manually with ease.  He gave me a curt nod, pleased with his display of manliness in my time of need, then lopped back down behind his TV tray.

“Sure.  Good.  Thank you so much!” I nodded my approval.

“Bob Saget.” He replied, throwing his hat onto the coffee table and tucking the pairway into his shirt pocket.

 

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Grandpa Magoo

“I think you underestimate my sneakiness. I am very very sneaky.”
– Mr. Deeds

My grandpa has always been a smart man.  He made a stable living, supported four kids and a wife, invested his savings into promising stocks (like “apples” – i.e. Apple), bought reliable cars, always paid for warranties, and insured every inch of his life.  But Grandpa has never really been known as particularly cunning; never been considered a think tank.

Case in point: Once when my sister and I were very young, we pulled into the driveway with my Grandpa, covered in mud from head to toe, towing a brand new black Labrador in the back of the van.  My grandpa had found the dog lounging on the side of the road and promptly decided to save the poor stray.

“Where did you get the dog?” my Grandma demanded, her skinny hands grasping her hips.

“It was lost!” He replied proudly.  “We saved it!” I shook my head, ensuring my Grandma knew I had absolutely nothing to do with this.

“Well it has a collar.” Grandma discovered, relieved.  “I’m calling the owner.”

Just twenty minutes later, our new dog’s, old owner came rolling into the drive.  “Where did you find him?” The stout lady asked, gratefulness and cleavage overflowing from above her neckline.

“Well it’s funny,” Grandpa told her, “Right along the edge of Hollybrooke Drive, near the curve.  He was just playing in the grass.  Good thing I drove by when I did!”

The lady blinked.  My Grandma covered her mouth to hide a smile.

“That’s my front yard.” The woman told my grandpa, closing the door of her truck with force.  “You took him.  You took him from my front yard.”

We watched her bob down the hill, hiding our giggles in the sleeves of our muddy jumpers.

“Baab…” my Grandma laughed, “You’re so DENSE!”  She smacked his back lovingly, as the stout little lady returned home with her stolen property.

And that’s what we have always expected from my Grandpa.  A loving, caring, dense old man who was sure to show you a good time, but who you could never count on to find his way home.  He tipped every canoe he paddled, he drove 40 mph in a 40 kmph zone and could barely contain his shock when we told him he drives like an old man.  He lets 3 year olds bait a fishing hook, gives chewing gum to kindergarteners, and has been known for tracking mud across every clean white floor in the tri-state area.  As I said before, he has always been smart in a prepared and pleasant to be around kind of way, but reason, sensibility and planning have been left on the back burner for quite some time.

Until now.

Weeks ago, my mom made the decision to take my Grandpa’s car keys.  As could be expected, all hell broke loose.  He threw every weapon in his artillery at mom; anger, yelling, silent treatment, pouting, arguing, reasoning, and even the occasional blackmailing.

And then Thursday night, my Grandpa calls my mom breaking weeks of the silent treatment.

“I can’t find the deeds.” Came through the other end of the line.

“The deeds?” my mom asked.

“Yes.  Can you please come help me?”

My Grandpa was pacing the kitchen by the time my mom arrived.  He had emptied out every basket, cabinet, and bread box, looking for something.
My mom evaluated the situation.  “Do you mean your keys?”  She asked, worried she would have to remind him he is no longer allowed to drive.  It’s a never ending battle we choose to avoid whenever possible.

“No!” He shook his head furiously, “What I’m looking for…what it is…well I use them at the cur!”  He exclaimed, making up words or possibly borrowing them from a German dictionary, “You take them and put them in and other people use them.  Sometimes he writes on them.”  His ability to be completely and utterly vague is really astonishing.

My mom carefully watched him draw across the air when his words failed him.  “Your checks, Dad?” She held out the check book we had taken from the bread box earlier that week.

His shoulders relaxed and he slumped down in his chair.  A wave of relief passed through his eyes.  “Oh thank you!  Thank you so much!  There it is!”  He hugged my mom and sighed, exhausted from worry.

Pleased, my mom returned home.  “We can let him keep his check book if it helps.” She told me later, “What can it hurt?  If something goes wrong, we can just cancel it or something.”  What could go wrong indeed.

The next morning, my mom arrived at her usual time to put my Grandpa’s Exelon patch on.  “I’m hereeeeee.” She called into the quiet house.
There was rustling coming from the pink hall bathroom.  She followed the sound and found my Grandpa in a war zone of pumps and chains and levers.  The entire contents of the toilet were spread out over the counter tops and throw rug.

“DAD!” She exclaimed, “What did you do?”

“It’s funny,” he replied, “I’m not sure what’s wrong with it.”

“It’s disassembled.”  She thought to herself, “THAT’S what’s wrong with it.  You took it apart.”  But she stayed quiet.  After all, at least he was holding a some-what reasonable conversation with her that didn’t involve the return of “his engines”.

“Ok,” she said after some thought, “I’ll have Jim come by and see if he can fix it.”

“Who?” he asked, turning around hopefully.

“Your son.  Jim.”

“Oh…ok.”  He wandered from the bathroom and flipped on the television, acting casual.  My mom surveyed the damage.  The bathroom looked as though someone was attempting to construct a bomb.  The scene was odd, and his behavior even more so, bordering on suspicious even.  But how do you judge what is abnormal when dinner conversation normally includes a discussion about “the sisters he met while transferring down the train tracks after lunch”?

Now whether or not these preceding events were connected to what followed just an hour later, we will never know.  With hindsight being 20/20, there are some of us who think he used the toilet as a distraction, to confuse his enemy like a suicide bomber.  Sometimes you have to sacrifice an asset for the good of the cause.  Others think he was plotting his next move since the recovery of his check book and renewal of monetary power.  And then of course it’s also quite possible that he just randomly took a shot in the dark and landed on a truly genius idea.
However much preparation went into his plan of attack, there is no one that can deny the sneakiness.  It was the D-Day of this war.  He snuck up on us from the water when we were looking the other way, at the disassembled toilet.

Heather, my Grandpa’s new home health care professional, was the first line of defense for “Team Family”.  She arrived an hour after my mom left and found my Grandpa in the driveway with a serviceman from AAA.  The gentleman was elbow deep in the guts of my Grandpa’s car, attempting to hotwire the vehicle for the nice man who so unfortunately “lost his keys”.  If I have ever doubted the security or benefits of being a Triple A member, I doubt it no longer.  They really will do just about anything to get you moving again, save buying you a whole new car.
No one spoke for a minute.  Grandpa kicked the doorstep, knowing he was in trouble.  The Triple A serviceman continued to work.

Heather broke the silence.  “You can’t do this.  You’re not allowed to drive!”  She dialed her boss, who promptly arrived, just as my Grandpa, frustrated that his plan had been foiled and “the fruit” had showed back up at his house, took off on his bike.

“Follow him.” Heather’s boss directed.  “See where he goes.”

Grandpa wobbled along on his bike, darting across streets, diving in front of traffic and whipping around corners (helmet not included) all the way to the Senior Center to play bridge.   Somehow, just like Mr. Magoo, he somehow made it alive and unharmed, most likely leaving wreckage, chaos and carnage behind him.

Luckily we know a guy, who knows a guy, who works at Triple A and said that this would never happen again and quite honestly told us that it probably should never have happened in the first place.
The moral of this story?  Taking the keys from a senior citizen isn’t enough.  They can’t be fooled.  Even if they regularly steal dogs from people’s front yards, watch the news 3 times in a row and keep their personal belongings in the bread box.  Those old people, they are a different kind of smart than us.  Street smart.  Must be because they never had Google.

Aged Whiskey

There are two things that I look forward to about becoming a Senior Citizen in Ohio.

1) The Golden Buckeye Discount: According to the Ohio Department of Aging, Ohioans have saved over $2 billion using their Golden Buckeye Cards since 1976.  That’s a lot of dough.

2) Unconditional love.

Aside from the road rage you occasionally see encircling the 1996 Buick Century driving 25 mph on the freeway, most people adore the elderly.  I suppose I may be lying about “most people” but I know that at least I do.  Old people are odd, I’ll give them that, but in a way, it’s incredibly endearing.

There was an old man who used to come to the restaurant I worked at every other Sunday, like clockwork.  His name was Mr. Smalls.  He smelled like cigar smoke and peppermints, insisted on sitting in the same spot (table 55 near the door) and ordering the same thing.  Every single time.  He was grumpy and rude, and acted like he knew better than you did about anything and everything.  But the thing was, 9 times out of 10, he probably did know better.  And he was old and lonely and from time to time said something hilarious like, “In my day, women weren’t allowed to wear slutty clothes like that” as he pointed to a possible hooker at the host stand.  So, because we found all of those things simultaneously annoying and adorable, we served him with a smile, jumped through hoops to make his dinner as perfect as possible and always had table 55 waiting .

Of course, he was also an ESD (Elderly Single Diner).  Those are a rare and depressing breed.  They brave the pain of solidarity and widowerism for that one meal that they just cannot live without, though of course they bring their newspapers and their paperback romances to keep them company.  Those ESD’s, they always, without fail, tug at my heart strings.

I may be alone on this, but I just genuinely get a kick out of old people.  Maybe I  hold a special place in my heart for the aged and wrinkly because I spent the better part of my toddler years following one around like a puppy dog.  Or maybe it’s because I watched Darkwing Duck escort one too many old ladies across a busy street before flying off to save the world.  Whatever the reason, I love me some old people.

On the ride to my grandpa’s the other day, I passed an old couple waiting on the bus.  I was stopped at a red light right as the bus pulled up to the curb.  The old man stood and reached to help his wife to her feet.  She bobble a bit and fell back on the bench, laughing hysterically.  The old man hitched up his pants by the belt loop, adjusted his horn rimmed glasses and tried again with two hands, a huge grin spreading across his face.  Again she fell back on the bench, tears rolling down her face in amusement.  Finally, a young man with a skateboard gave a helping hand, but their laughter never stopped, even as they slowly hobbled onto the bus, canes in hand.  I grinned the entire way to my grandpa’s, in amusement, in jealousy and in admiration.  Of both their love for life and their enjoyment of each other.

Not two days later I passed a police car parked up on the grass.  I did the obligatory speedometer check and sighed in relief as I braked at the stop sign.  As I slyly peeked out my window at the cop I noticed in bright orange letters painted on the side of the car: “Volunteer”.  Inside sat a man who couldn’t have been younger than 80 ( and who, I might add, was a dead ringer for Jack Nicholson), eyes wide, both hands on the gun, tracking speeds that flashed in warning beside him as the traffic pushed towards home.  There was no doubt in my mind that that was a check mark on that man’s bucket list.

I suppose that’s what being old is really about; enjoying each other, fulfilling your dreams, putting things in order, and relaxing enough to make the 50 calendar’s worth of time spent working, worth while.  Maybe it’s this peaceful agenda that makes those elder ones so endearing.

I really think that they are all generally alike, those geezers.  Whether they have blue hair, black hair, white hair, grey hair, curly hair, straight hair, red hair or no hair, they are all generally the same.  They take naps holding fishing poles, teach their grandkids ridiculous jokes, take too many vacations, cook the best cakes, let you lick the spoon, play bridge in their neighbor’s kitchen and cheer when they win a dollar.  They tell their deepest secrets to their hair dressers and barbers, drink liquor straight up, keep all their receipts in filing cabinets in the attic, throw quilts on furniture that needs reupholstering, smell like tobacco and shampoo and grab you too hard when they want you to listen.  And listen we should, because they have years of wisdom and hardship and grade A scotch behind those eyes.  They know more than we will ever know.  That is, of course, unless we listen.

So here is where I make a plug.  Though, this isn’t a plug for me or for my blog or for a teaching job.  This is a plug for the old, the tired (though this time not for the poor or those huddled masses).
Whether the elderly one in your life is your mom, your sister, your grandpa, your uncle or your dog, there is never a day so short that you simply can not find time for them.  Of course they are odd, of course they are finicky, of course (most humans excluded) they drool.  Of course they are going to lecture you to sit up straight, drink your milk and stop fidgeting. (And I’m sorry, this won’t even stop when your 54.)  Maybe it’s inconvenient to stop by, or maybe you’re worried it will lower your self esteem 6 notches to be criticized, or maybe you’re just avoiding that big sloppy kiss that comes right before you leave.  Whatever the reason, it’s inconsequential.  Because these are the people who drove you to ballet, scrubbed the dirt out of your scrapes, can their fruit for you every fall, write you checks every birthday, buy you sweaters that are hideous, donate to charities you love and always remember how you take your coffee.  They love you unconditionally, and without pause.  They adore hearing about your life, even if they can’t actually hear.

Of the roughly 39 million of people in the United States over the age of 65, somewhere around 5 million have Alzheimer’s.  These 5 million still make their weekly trip to the beauty parlor, still buy their favorite cigars, still attend bridge parties, hold their grand babies, secretly break their diabetic diets, ride their bikes and still eat at table 55 every second Sunday.  There isn’t a cure for Alzheimer’s (yet), but there is a mentality that you can subscribe to, and that is rooted in support.

You can support those little wise cracking, soup slurping, wrinkly old people who for years have taught you life lessons and lovingly pinched your cheeks raw, by taking a cue from Bing Crosby and trying a little tenderness.  You can support them by taking them to dinner with their Golden Buckeye card, popping in with a jigsaw puzzle, joining them for their daily dose of As the World Turns, and paying attention.

Visit the old person in your life today, tomorrow, Maunday, Tuesday, Thursday, Wednesday.  I promise you’ll have a good time and I swear that it will be riot, if you let it.  Because like whiskey, people just get better with age.

You can find the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s here:
http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_10_signs_of_alzheimers.asp