Sunday, February 24, 2013

starlight and rose petals

In an Alzheimer's unit, Valentine's Day is never quite whole. Half of the lovers are dead, the others don't know it. In total, I had five couples to celebrate -- well, six, but one couple wasn't speaking to each other because she has persistent beliefs about his infidelity and a nasty temper. Who can say what is true? And one couple is just friends, but friends count. When you're ninety, it all counts. 

So we planned a party, a starlight party, with red globe centerpieces, scatttered rose petals and Hershey's kisses from the dollar store. I found plastic champagne flutes for the sparkling cider. The chef made a beautiful dinner: broccoli soup, puff pastry, pork loin, pasta and squash. For dessert, a four layer red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting and strawberries cut so the heart shape was evident. Sweet. 

But here's the thing. (You knew something was coming. You, my faithful readers, you know everything is never really okay in the merry ol' land of Oz.)

So Pansy, she was dying. Not right in the middle of the party or anything, but dying just the same. She'd been trying to make a ladylike exit since the Thursday before, but her daughter, a nice nice woman, unfortunately the tiniest bit impaired by her mother's slight case of OCD. By the time I got her mom, she couldn't remember the O part. Growing up she had polished the bottoms of her child's white shoes every morning with white shoe polish. That kind of OCD. Untreated. Lifelong. So the daughter, having the final word, needed to say some things. Lots of things, for a really long time. So Pansy, captive little blue-tinted lady by this time, stayed to listen long after she was ready to be onto her next thing.

In another room another of my little people had been on his way out, was taken to the hospital for repairs, and was set to return the next day. 

The party was set to begin at 5:00. Dinner time. Everybody was dressed up, spouses wheeling their ways to the table, single long-stemmed red roses given to the wives by the husbands. Oh -- I told one of my guys that his wife was sitting next to him. He said, "Don't threaten me." I told him I had a rose for him to give to her. He asked, "Are there any thorns on it?" Anyway, there we were, all red and pink and romantic. 

Pansy's daughter, who had been calling me all day, asking for guarantees, like families do: "If I wait until 3:00 to come can you guarantee she'll still be alive when I get there?" 

Uh, no. No crystal ball here.

"I see (she lied), well, how far is she since I was there? How's she doing?"

She's doing fine.  

"She's doing FINE??!!?? Oh my God, she's better?"

No. By fine, I mean she's dying just fine. She's coming right along. She's about half as alive as she was the last time you called. She's dying at about exactly the same rate. Slow. (I didn't really say all of that.)  

So the daughter shows up about an hour before dinner and Pansy is still hanging on. and on. and on. I ask her please to sing or talk quietly. This means, if it makes your mother jump, its probably too loud. I whisper these instructions. To make a point. Its hard work dying and one must honor the process. 

 -- Really, if someone you love is dying, or someone you have unfinished business with, suck it up and wait until after they're gone. If you couldn't figure it out while they were alive, don't lay it at their poor little lavender feet at the bitter end. Not fair. 

So finally, we are ready. At 4:45 the food arrives. Drumroll... You know what happens, right?

At 4:45 Pansy dies. ("I think she's gone. Do you think she's gone?") 

At 5:00 we begin to serve dinner. 

At 5:15, Charlie rolls in from the hospital on a stretcher.


Now, there are things that must be done. So, between courses, we do them. Personal things. All the while, having a romantic dinner, and escorting the mortician around the back door, closing the fire doors so we don't have to wheel Pansy's corpse through the rose petals and chocolate truffles. 

Charlie, of course, thinks the party is a welcome home for him. 




I realized late last night that a newish dresser would solve many if not all of my organizational problems. I considered buying new, but the WWII officer's chest I've been using for 35 years is and has been so unattractive that it seemed selfish to spend much to replace something that, while homely, is fully functional. .I also considered shopping the many vintage shops in SE Portland, but their idea of retro is that slick, blonde, danish-modern, Jetson kock-off crap that is the stuff of my impoverished childhood. Instead, I fired up my computer: craigslist.

There were more than seven pages, at 100 dressers per page. As I cruised the offerings, I narrowed my choices and developed a plan. This is the beauty of craigslist: you see so much shit you end up galvanizing your choices. I realized, for instance, I needed a highboy (rather than lowboy), with as many drawers as possible. If I had nine drawers, I could have a whole drawer just for black turtlenecks. Oh, and it would need to be more or less in the arts & crafts style, preferably a darker stain. And real wood. No chipboard. There was so much to consider. And the drawers needed to work flawlessly. Nothing I hate worse than sticky drawers. Well, that's a lie. There are many things, but not at the same time. If I'm hating something and I pull out a drawer and it sticks, I hate the drawer more.

I'm stunned at the items for sale, the sheer number of dreadful things: long, low, mediterranean-esque sets with carved fake-wood moldings; shiny black disco-era dressers with chrome swans for pulls. Sexy; Lots of white french provencial sets, aged with brown or gold or avocado green, swirled around spindled accents.

After about twelve hours I found just what I wanted. Of course I did. two hundred bucks. So we drove out to Tualitin and picked it up. It wasn't easy or fast. And it had one tiny little problem: a history of bug infestation. Not like bedbugs, but some kind of floridian powder beetles that chew through lead to get to wood, apparently. This scared my husband. Nothing scares me. I live my life on the principle that: I've never chewed up your dresser ergo you'll never chew up mine. This works for robbery too. The fact that I used to be a robber doesn't count. My rules.

Anyhow -- We did a thorough inspection (It's pretty, let's buy it) and humped it out to the truck, home, up and into my dressing room. A place for everything and everything in its place. Amy fucking Vanderbilt.

The next morning, my darling husband says, "What if the bugs aren't gone? What if she lied?" Well, I just don't operate on those fear-based, people-are-inherently-bad, beliefs. I stroll happily through life, surprised at the mayhem of the human race. So we drive back out to Tualitin and get the actual jar of poison that killed the alleged bugs. I say alleged because I didn't see any. There is the smallest, ever so unnoticeable bit of damage across two thirds of the entire top of the dresser, but that's what dresser scarves are for, right?

My husband's fears were only allayed when he looked up the dresser online and found that it sold retail for 3 thousand dollars. It may chew down our old wood house, but he does love a bargain. He says the sale price compared to the original price supports the argument that she is lying about the bugs. I say it supports the argument that she is nice.


My husband has been out buying bullets. Rather, trying to buy bullets. There aren't many to be found in the post-Sandyhook-hysteria. Not even in a liberal oasis like Portland. Its a redneck Easter egg hunt, four-wheel drivers filling the lots of Bi-mart just as it opens, waiting at the door, rushing the counters. We may look like Liberals, but we're country folk at heart. Even with limits, boxes of .22 shells sell out in minutes.

Why am I writing about this? It's Sunday morning and I slept way in. My husband went fishing and I slept and slept, having circus-bizarre dreams, finally to awaken to an empty house. Ahhh. I could be doing so many other things. Laundry, dishes, bad things.

So I said to him as he left the seventh store in search of ammunition, "Just how many rounds you think you're gonna get off before the army that is marching down Clinton Street gets you?"

But for him, it is just not liking to be told what to do. Or not do. There is no army marching down our street shooting citizens. We just aren't that interesting. But it does raise those questions, doesn't it? What is freedom? I won't try to answer that, but I do question the political debate that focuses soley on guns and again and again turns a blind eye to mental illness.

Since Reagan de-institutionalized the mentally ill (whenever that was -- don't ask me about dates, I wasn't paying attention during the entire Reagan administration) -- the "rights" of the mentally ill have, in my opinion, created a false reality that behavior can be predicted with mimimal oversite and the assumption of appropriate use of medication. This paradigm works well for insurance companies that don't want to pay for care/housing, or long term treatment, or diagnosing of the breadth of the problem. Associations like NAMI, persuasive organizations that advocate for the rights of the mentally ill, have a great argument, but faulty at its core. You can't fix a broken brain with a broken brain.

 Its not that I would return to the days of trepanning, but it is, I'm sure, far more costly to deal with the mental health crisis than to go after the guns. All that being said, it is only one facet of gun violence: what about black men shooting black men? It's a great solution for white men, so we won't look too closely at that.

Anyway, happy Sunday. I'm gonna heat up my wax and paint.