Tuesday, December 30, 2008

requiem for a bad dad

Bishop died. He kept saying, "open the door" as his daughter sat bedside, singing him quietly into the next life. Forgiveness is a powerful thing. In the last months he had painted doors and churches and naked figures and yawning graves. He was a pompous and terrible guy, with an Irish tenor (is there such a thing?) when the rest of us were singing variations on "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain" he'd bust out with "Danny Boy" or some obscure 50's lounge tune. He was conflicted, closeted and guilty.

When the struggle for breath was over, Bishop's daughter quietly took his paintings down from the wall, and flew back to New York, where her ability to forgive the unforgiveable will serve her well, no doubt.

What I have always loved about crazy people is that none of that matters anymore. They have come to die, and we stand with them, haphazard guides, just this side of the open door.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


Backyard art in snow.

Let's see... most memorable moment of this holiday season: some guy on a bus bench in front of Freddy's eating a fillet of raw salmon, snow caked around him like a seal on an iceberg, holding the fish in both hands, flesh-tearing face in the middle of it, styrofoam packaging lying at his feet. It was impossible to know at a passing glance, whether it was hunger, mental illness or youthful posturing that I was looking at. Only in Portland. He was eating well, or expensively. Or expansively. Get those Omega 3's, boy.

Christmas was nice. I got an MP3 player and have over 300 songs on it already. I didn't think I'd like it, but now have my own infernal playlist to listen to in self defense of AC/DC. I'm pretty happy to be able to listen to that one Moby Grape cut I loved when I was sixteen. I have everything from the Simple Minds to Dan Hicks to the not very obscure Rolling Stones. I'm a little surprised at the amount of country music, and eighties music. I am anything but sophisticated. I love songs I can sing loud with in the car alone. I'm pretty good. OH. I forgot Quicksilver. Shit. Gotta get some of that.

I also got a set of camping knives that has eight blades that lock into a switchable handle and wrap all up into a canvas bag and stay in the camping gear until time to camp, and then, because I have a crappy memory, its like Christmas all over again.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

traffic update

I made it a block and a half to the corner of 28th place and Division before I got stuck. Now I'm home. Another casualty of the Arctic Blast. Dammit.

Monday, December 22, 2008


As you can see, on Clinton Street we actually have snow angels.
It is so cold and the snow so deep and my responsibility for my crazy people hangs over me heavily as I await the midnight call that somebody can't make it in.
But I can.
I have a new car, and a warm home, and a husband who helps me move heaven and earth and snow to do what I will always think I have to do alone. It is such an adjustment, such unnatural adaptation, for me to accept his help. It is my job, my burden, my people. I lay in our bed at seven, trying to sleep early just in case and he comes in and asks, "Do you want me to warm up your car and scrape the foot and a half of snow and see if the chains work?"
You'd do that for me?
He'd do that for me.
I have carried the responsibility alone so many long winter nights, waiting by the phone, taxiing my staff to and from in heaps of Ashland snow, yellowed christmas lights glittering through the plaza as I drove the night shift to work and the evening shift home. For so many years I have been on call in the service of the insane.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

charlie brown tree.

I guess it isn't really fair to say I lack Christmas spirit, although the whole notion of decorating, preparation, making things just so-- has lost some of the zing, or I have. I am looking forward to December 26th --my favorite holiday-- and this is my tree to prove it. It was easy to put up, and will be just as easy to take down. Wrap the one red ball in tissue paper and call it Christmas past.

I don't so much think I've lost Christmas spirit as brought it into line with reality. I have held my family hostage to a myth for a long time, that the kids are still small, at home, and interested. They are grown, gone, and not. I'm sure this is just one more level of empty nest that I am adapting in my own messy way. The Charlie Brown tree is a symbol my intention to remember that holiness isn't about home decor. My beliefs pale in the shimmer of holiday possibilities: eight foot tall nylon inflated Santas on Harleys and black feather trees with black sequined bulbs. Aaarrgghh, as Charlie would say.

Give me one red ball.

In case you didn't know, or hadn't tuned into Portland TV stations where there is non-stop "Arctic Blast" coverage, we have just the tiniest bit of snow up here. It is dry, frozen on top like crunchy nut topping, and as slick as, well, ice. The city is at a standstill, Maxx stopped running, everything stopped, and only just three days until the big day. Very little shopping happening around here. We went for a walk in our neighborhood, then posted an extra set of chains on craigslist and delivered and installed them for a lady and her son. We do so many things, we do, while I sit in the truck and observe. I guess there are bad people who are offering chains for 150 bucks. I think its mean. Opportunistic. Tis the season.

My husband has a youtube going of janis doing summertime. Man. That chick could sing.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Sick of sick. sick to death. sick sick sick.

One time me and Cooky spent an entire evening creating the perfect epitaph, rather, what we would have on our respective headstones. Hers was, "I told you I was sick." Mine was, "I got here as fast as I could." At the time I was strung out on speed so it was a little funny. My all time favorite is listed in a book of western graveyard art: "Here lies the man who stole my horse."

Anyway, I'm not dying, but I am really sick. I tried to go to work today, but no luck. And I can't really hang around the patients when I'm like this. They would die of what I have. It may be the actual flu, which people often mistakenly think is a lower-end deal -- diarrhea and such. In case you didn't know, the true flu is an upper respiratory infection, which I have, and which has settled down and had a nice big family in my lungs. I am doing my level best to cough them up, but anyone who has known me very long knows how bronchitis goes. It levels me.

As most of you know, the holiday season is upon us, and as compelling as shopping can be, I am entrapped in winter ice--or the fear of it-- given the endless coverage of weather paparazzi. Yesterday, as sick as I was, I tried to arrange to purchase chains for my car and it wasn't even snowing. But the thing is, the STORMTRACKERWEATHERMORONS won't shut up. They were on the air from 6:00 am until noon with a steady barrage of nonsense and no weather to go with it. No snow, no rain even. "Look! There's a flake." It was cold, I'll give them that, but it is, afterall, December. They are Chicken Little at his paranoid worst. O MY GOD MY GOD the sky is falling!!! Its going to snow on Sunday and never thaw out again until February!! Run for your lives!! Stock up on food and water!!. My favorite part this time was the weather girl-on-the-street, holding up the gloves she had just purchased. "I got these at Fred Meyer where they have sold over 28,000 pair in the past two days alone." Now let us review: it is a week before Christmas. What kills me (besides the flu) is people responding like sheep to the barest suggestion of foul weather. You can't find a parking place at Freddy's for the mass hysteria over potential weather. As if there wasn't a store on every corner that we could walk to if something actually happened. The parental guidance aspect of newscasting is unique to Portland as far as I can tell. "I like to keep my gloves in my car, Jason, as well as an extra blanket. Back to you in the newsroom." And always wear clean underwear in case you get in an accident.

They cut into the Young and the Restless for THAT?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

sick again

It seems like I have been sick for a hundred years. I have blown through an entire roll of toilet paper -- NOT charmin -- and an economy size box of Puffs, Vick's scented. One would think that would be enough, but no. I am full of snot.

I have a cold. It is common, and y'all know how I hate to be common. I've missed two consecutive days of work, something I usually love, but I am miserable. I've been laying in one place, blowing my nose, coughing up small animals, you get the picture. I want to get dressed and leave the house, but in addition to my deathly illness, the ice storm prevents any hope of escape. I am snowed in. We are snowed in.

We were so tired of TV that we played a game of Upwords last night. Upwords is okay but it isn't Scrabble. I am good at Scrabble. I know all of my 2 letter words and the Q words that don't need a U. Qat. See? Wanna play? Makes me miss Madonna. Not the real one, but my old friend, maybe exfriend, I can't remember where we left it... but she was a great Scrabble companion. When I was in chemo for Hep C, she could kick my ass, and took full advantage of my weakness. Who could blame her?

Survivor is OVER!!! I am so sad. But Bob the old physics teacher won, and deservedly. For those of you who have been instructed NOT to call me on Thursday nights, now you can call anytime. I love Survivor. I love it every time. Always in the beginning I am ambivalent, think maybe this time I won't watch, but I always get sucked in by the third episode. Sadly, we organize our lives around a reality show. THE reality show. The FIRST reality show. And I know it isn't really reality. I know I am manipulated. I don't care. We'll have to find something else to do. Maybe American Idol in January. O I hope not.

It seems like the biggest show of the coming season will be the innauguration of Obama. (spelling anyone?) I'm seeing more press about what Obama will wear than what he'll do. I'm tellin' ya -- watch daytime TV. It is mindnumbing. A great reason to have a job.

Well, I am coughing my guts out and need to lie down. Lay down? Lye down? Laid down? Layed down? I will never understand usage. Sleep. That's what I need. And a Zpack.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


When a person has dementia, so much is forgotton. On my list of most important things are not so much the wife's birthday or the children's faces or the sensation of thirst, but the awarenss of limitations, say for instance the ability to stand and walk without falling over.

As they come and go, it is always seductive to think the new one moving in as somehow easier to care for because they can walk. This is not always the case. Like I mentioned in an earlier post: it is winter, and as a group, they fail in the winter. All at the same time. It happened last winter, and the winter before. And it will happen again and again. The thing is, after the crop from last winter was finally in the ground, a whole new crop moved in, walking and talking, just not remembering. And as time passed, the whole crowd is essentially failing in many of the same ways at pretty much the same time.

As a community and an industry we have some clever strategies to deal with "fall risk" as it is euphemistically known. "Fall certainty" would be more like it. This may not be very interesting, but I am trying to tell you a story, and can only do it if you have a bit of background and theory.

So we have hourly checks. That is one way of dealing with people who don't know they can't walk. We check them hourly. The obvious problem with this practice is that they don't know when the hour is up, or that we are coming at all, or who we are when we get there for that matter. They get up when they have to pee, or hear a noise, or the urge strikes, which it often doesn't for hours at a time, a fact which is in our distinct favor. And when we do show up, they thank us and send us away, saying things like, "I'll let you know if I need some help." Which they won't because they don't. Know.

And then we have tag alarms. These devices, created by Satan, are magnets connected by string and clips that hook to the clothing and (hopefully) a stationary object such as a chair. When the person leans too far forward, the magnets separate, causing a screaming alarm that, in a perfect world, alerts the staff that the person is "on the move." Sadly, it is often just a scary noise letting us know Louise is on the floor again. And she said she'd let us know. Liar liar.

So, given winter, and brain failure, and the passage of time, eleven of sixteen of my people are at risk for falls. Six are on tag alarms. Three still have the presence of mind to use the "I've-fallen-and-I-can't-get-up" panic buttons around their necks.

These days, the unit sounds like an alarm factory, staff dashing one direction and then the other trying to determine where the sound is coming from, and like a baby's cry, they know each alarm. Apparently there are unique differences to each.

Anyway, I came to work on Thursday and found a note on my desk scrawled by one of my favorite guys, Robert. He sports his Obama button proudly and although he has no idea who Obama is, he knows he is a democrat and that something important happened in the election.

Robert had successfully made his way to my desk, found a flourescent green sharpie, and wrote on a napkin next to his tag alarm:

This for 1 cent.
See Rob Huey

He knows who he is.

Friday, December 05, 2008


I hardly know their names as the cyclic pattern of life and death plays out with seasonal predictability. Winter meets hospice and space is created for another nice lady who can't live at home anymore because the long fingers of Alzheimer's has closed her eyes and ears to all she has ever known.

Myrna moved in last night. I remember the faces of her three children and two grandchildren standing around my desk, guilty, lost, giving mother away to a stranger because in so many ways she has become a stranger. They bring her to my little community and hold their collective breath waiting for all hell to break loose as mom figures out she has been abandoned. One of them nervously laughs, they eldest, asking where is the nearest fire exit. One son says, "I can't watch this." I tell them they might be surprised. Nothing might happen at all.

So they wait, huddled around my desk as though around a campfire, while I walk down to her new apartment. I find Myrna standing with Susan, one of the staff. She says, "This is a nice hotel. I think I've been here before." Susan tells me she'll go ahead and stay a couple of days." She opens a cupboard. "My clothes are even in the closet."

"See? They thought of everything!" Susan says by way of comfort.

"How nice." Myrna says.

I returned to my desk. Her children were stunned. They asked, "So she agreed to stay for two days?"

I told them yes, and that we will do those two days over and over again for the next two years.

They ask when they can visit, thinking we might have a black-out policy like a treatment center. I tell them its her house. Come anytime. If the visits seem to set her back, we'll let you know.

This morning Myrna did set off the fire alarm thinking the hotel was on fire, but these are the details we'll work out. Together with the Portland Fire Department.