A tune about old folks loving life and having fun, cause fun isn’t just for the young ones. Stay Young at heart.
“We don’t stop playing cause we get old, we get old because we stop playing” George Bernard Shaw
A tune about old folks loving life and having fun, cause fun isn’t just for the young ones. Stay Young at heart.
“We don’t stop playing cause we get old, we get old because we stop playing” George Bernard Shaw
There are words I wish I’d said. But I always told myself there’d be time for words, 26 letters assembled into some future confession of love. But tomorrow is never guaranteed——-the future is a theory, an algebra problem where x doesn’t always equal y——a law of physics that can’t explain the speed of loneliness. But it takes courage to say what’s often left out because it’s so much easier to comment on the weather. Why is “I love you” a secret tattoo hidden beneath your long sleeved heart. I tell myself, “Oh it’s obvious, they already know how I feel.” But that’s bullshit I feed myself. Do you ever check to see if your emotional Fitbit has reached your quota of kind words required in a day? Why is it that anger and petty complaints come so much easier than kindness and compassion? These emotions are stuck on mute in a movie with no subtitles. It’s easy to mistake a deep kiss for a vampires siphon, like that feeling you get from someone who’s always taking, but never giving back. But then, without warning, there are those who’s humanity walks me back from the edge. Things I wished I’d said, “Jackie Gleason was right, baby you’re the greatest.” “I’m so fortunate to have you in my life”. “You make me laugh, cause you’re the only other person I know who’s favorite movie is ‘Herold and Maude’”. “Thanks for ‘getting me’.” “You make ‘goodbye’ the saddest of all words.” “Thank you, thank you, thank you for being you.”
Don’t let anyone tell you that poetry is ‘nice’, because it’s not, it’s a clumsy coping mechanism to escape the chains of depression. It storms the tower and breaches the walls of isolation. It doesn’t make everything okay, but it makes the darkest hours of the soul tolerable. Tolerable?—–Thinking too hard, feeling too deeply, is a road leading to a cliff just beyond the horizon. I put my thumb over your wrist until I feel your pulse match mine, we gradually fall into a comfortable rhythm. The heart is a muscle because it takes so much strength to reach out to another. Things I wish I’d said, “I choose you.” “If I had to be quarantined for the rest of my life, I’d want to spend it with you.” “You make me wish I were a piano, cause your touch makes me feel like music.” “You make me believe everything is gonna be okay, one moment at a time”. “You’ve always been there for me and I’ll always be there for you.” “You stood up for me when the ones who I thought would give a shit just couldn’t be bothered.” “My heart will always be your 7-11, a bit shabby but open day or night for you.”
Love isn’t like a pair of flip flops that claims one size fits all. I’ve tried on the wrong size only to be left with painful blisters. Sometimes love is something you struggle to squeeze into because it no longer fits comfortably. Sometimes it’s all false bravado and make believe——it takes trust to be allowed inside another’s world——-Be careful who you share you world with, it may leave you with painful blisters and a bad case of athletes foot—-one size doesn’t fit all. I know this because, I have small feet and a big heart. In all this chaos that makes up a life, finding a true friend is a rare and beautiful thing. Things I wish I’d said,“ ”You and I are a good fit”. “I desire you”. “In this world of 7 billion people, I’d always choose you to be my partner”. ”After all the meanness this world can dish out, you somehow make it worthwhile.”. “When my day has been shitty, you have a way of making me feel better”. You taste like spicy chili on a snowy January night, you’re my comfort food.” “You smell like a July afternoon at the beach, a blend of Sea and Ski suntan lotion and a salty sea breeze—-you’re the sun on my face”. “I won’t let anyone hurt you.” “You make me laugh in a world constructed of bullshit and lost promises”.
There are those who will tell you that you have all the time in the world, but that’s a lie. Time is a Salvador Dali clock slowly sliding off the shelf of your life. But we pretend we are immortals, that we can transcend life and death with a foreverness, but forever is like trying to comprehend a blackhole where at its center time stands still. If I could, I’d pull you in beyond the event horizon and give you a forever kiss. And who say’s “Theoretical Physics” can’t be romantic? When I think of these impossible thoughts for too long, I scare myself. My emotions are like the lone hitchhiker on a dark stretch of a deserted highway. Should I stop and pick this stranger up or just keep moving on? You can never be sure who or what you’re letting in. It might be a stranded depression, a deserted memory, or an abandoned truth. Or, perhaps emotions are more like Jenga? You just never know what will happen by pulling out a single block from the tower of teetering blocks. And, if it all comes down, do I have the time to put it all back together? It takes a lot longer to build something than it is to tear it down. Time is a rogue wave, you never see it coming until its crashed on you and swept you out to sea. Things I wish I’d said, “If you were drowning, I’d dive in and save you.” “I feel better just knowing you are out there”. “Thanks for listening.” “Thanks for making me feel like I belong.” “Lets you and I take a walk in the woods.” “When I was ready to take the ten count——When everyone was screaming for me to just stay down, you gave me the strength to get back up, you are my second wind.”
We walked those old city streets like we owned them
Warm breath turning into clouds of white
Walking back to your tiny apartment
Ellis street dark, we once found love here
You take your coat off
The sounds of the city, from open windows
You ask if I wanna know you
You play me your play list
Every song reminds me of you
Is this still the soundtrack of you
I asked you to leave this town with me
You stared out the window, into dying stars
You say nothing, another silent no
It’s so hard to move on, knowing you moved on
I hate this city
I’m so tired of everything
That old apartment always drafty and cold
Impatient traffic rolling off to distant places
I now avoid Ellis street
Strangers spying from broken blinds
God, this is all killing me
Do you ever think of Ellis street
Was it a dream we once lived in
I wish we’d moved out to the country
In the past, there’s no new beginnings
I’m homesick, wishing away my past
You say nothing, another silent no
It’s so hard to move on, knowing you moved on
Michael behind the wheel driving back home for the holidays. HIs wife Lyne is in the passenger seat. The radio is playing “Have A Holly Jolly Christmas”.
Michael, “Why do they have to start playing Christmas music two days before Thanksgiving? Can’t we just enjoy each holiday and celebration before the next one is being shoved down our throats.”
Lyne, “It’s what they call a business plan. Some people like to get their Christmas shopping done before August. Maybe it’s an Amazon or Walmart conspiracy.”
Michael, “Christmas suppose to be a sacred holiday. I swear, I think it’s a capitalist conspiracy to keep us in a constant state of unfulfilled desire. Always wanting the next thing, the new iPhone, that new gadget or gizmo that’s gonna make you complete. (Spoken with sarcasm) Its gonna make life easier. I swear, Alexa and Siri know more about me than god does. Everyone’s chasing trends and the next big thing. Definitely not living in the present.”
Lyne, “I didn’t know that you felt Christmas was such a spiritual celebration. You use to tell me how you and your buddies would play poker and get drunk on Christmas eve and then all head off to midnight mass. (Sarcasm) How Catholic of you and the boys. Now that does’t sound so holy or Christian like.”
Michael, “Maybe it wasn’t the mass as much as a tradition. I miss having traditions. I remember after mass walking across the frozen field back to my mom’s house. The December air was crisp and the stars seemed to be burning brighter than normal. The Milky Way Galaxy making me feel small, yet alive and grateful. Just glad for no particular reason. That’s the best kind of happiness, nothing attached to it. Me and my buddies just goofing and laughing. It was a god-felt moment in time.” (Shakes his head). Traditions, good times.”
Lyne, “Maybe we can start our own traditions.”
Michael, “I’m a middle age white guy. I don’t belong to a shared culture with ancient traditions and heroic struggles. Black guys have that whole slavery thing to bond over. And the Mexicans, well they invented taco’s. The Irish got their drunken pub songs, while drinking Genies and Jameson. I tried that “ancestory.com” thing in the hopes of finding my roots. I was hoping to discover a proud heritage, maybe I was a distant relative of President Lincoln. Fat chance, it turns out that my ancestors were potato farmers——-share croppers who lost everything in the great dust bowl. They were Okies, desperate dreamers who believed California would be their promised land.”
Lyne, “They must have been tough, a proud clan of hard workers.”
Michael, “I didn’t get the hard worker gene, I got their dreamer gene. I was thinking about last Christmas. I can’t even remember one gift I received. It’s kind of ridiculous. We run around in a mad frenzy buying gifts no-one needs, wants, or will even remember. I definitely think it’s a capitalist conspiracy. They, the man, the one percenters, they keep us working at jobs we hate so we have money to buy shiny distractions we don’t need. QVC, Amazon, consume, consume. What kind of tradition is that?”
Lyne, “We can start whatever tradition we like. We can bake fruitcakes, take turns making toasts at the dinner table, create unreasonable new years-eve resolutions.”
Michael, “I got to find my tribe, something to belong too.”
Lyne, “Well, we’re headed back to your hometown, you’ll be seeing old friends and family. That’s your tribe, your people——-right?”
Michael, “I have mixed feelings about going back home. I get this weird nostalgic feeling, a kind of dream like melancholy. It’s like visiting places and things I can never get back. When I drive by the old ballfields, the high school or a house I once lived in, it’s like visiting an old friend who’s now a stranger. It’s like I left little pieces of me in these once familiar placers. As I drive by these old haunts I pick up younger version of myself. I end up with a carload of ‘use to be’s’ and ‘what might have beens’.”
Lyne, “You’re sure being awfully depressing. Maybe you ought to see a therapist, get an antidepressant prescription. You can never enjoy yourself, you’re constantly over thinking stuff.”
Michael, “Nobody wants to be melancholy or sad, or sentimental anymore. They equate it as being weak and treat it as if it’s some kind of sickness, or an illness. Here, take a pill and feel better. I want to feel melancholy sometimes, even sad sometimes. I’m not depressed, I’m just old fashioned sad. Life can be sad and also happy, you can’t have one without the other. Yen and the Yang, sweet and sour. I hate phony smiles and all that ‘happy happy’ bullshit. (Sarcastic) ‘Have nice day’. I’ll have whatever kind of freakin day I want.”
Lyne, “You’re too sensitive. Get over it, move on with life.”
Michael, “Yeah right, fuck it. Sorry I told you how I feel. Why do you always have to say I’m sensitive and shit like that. I swear, after all these years, you don’t really know me.”
Lyne, (Uncomfortable silence). You don’t ‘get me’ either. Let’s just get through the holidays. It’s stressful enough as it is. (Spoken with an irritable tone) You’re driving awfully fast. And, did you turn down the heater before leaving the house? (She absent-mindfully rattles on) I should have made a hair appointment. Does my hair look okay? Don’t drink too much tonight at the party. You aren’t listening to me are you?”
Michael, “Yes I am. (Pause) I’m sorry, what did you say again?”
Lyne, (Takes a deep breath). “Whatever.” (Turns up ‘Silent Night’ playing on the radio).
Living room with eight people chatting while enjoying hors d’oeuvres and drinks. There is a knock at the door. Michael’s sister Matty answers the door.
Matty, “Hey, look who we have here. Come on in, let me take your coats. Get yourselves a drink and have something to eat.”
(Michael makes his way to the buffet table and fixes himself a drink. Shawn walks up behind Michael and pats him on the shoulder).
Shawn, “Look what the cat drug in.” ( They give each other a hug). “It’s been a few years. How the hell are you doing?”
Michael, “Doing good, doing just fine. How bout you?”
Shawn, “Yeah, life is good here too. Time is going by too fast.”
Michael, “I’m fixing a Jameson Ginger ale, can I make you one?”
Shawn, “Thanks but I had to give it up. Traded my garage beer fridge in for a treadmill and a set of weights.”
Michael, “Good for you. As for me, I’ve been drinking more but enjoying it less. If you don’t mind me asking, what made you decide to give it up?”
Shawn, “I use to drink as a kind of coping mechanism, but then it went from stress relief to a way to cover up all the shit building up inside me. I could only stuff my anger and frustration down so much before it started to back up and come out in unhealthy ways. Alcohol was only making things worse.”
Michael, “It’s easier to be mad rather than honest.”
Shawn, (Laughs) “Got to the age where I realized I wasn’t going to get that promotion I’d been waiting on and working for. I started getting passed over by younger guys. Me and the wife had lost any sense of intimacy. I kind of found myself in a dark place. All the things that once mattered or made me happy was gone. My life was getting harder to manage, and the hangovers seem to get worse. The pain out weighed the pleasure. It doesn’t hardly seem fair, you only got one life to get it right. When I was young I thought I had forever, but you start getting older and the options seem to close in on you.”
Michael, “Getting old is hard. You end up with fewer options, fewer folks you can hangout with or count on. You have more to lose but less it matters. I guess alcohol is like a lot of things, It works until it stops working. Fuck it! I’m gonna go out on the back deck and smoke a bowl. Do you still smoke a little weed?”
Shawn, “Well, not really, but I think tonight I can make an exception. Did you see Marlena? Man, she’s still hot. Didn’t you and her once have a thing?”
Michael, (Lights his pipe and takes a big hit) “Yeah, we did, a long time ago. It’s funny, When you’re younger you go chasing the next shiny thing. You always think you can do better. Then you wake up one day and you’re middle aged and realize that all the things you were running from were probably the best things you ever had. Yeah, it’s true, It don’t hardly seem fair. You only got one life to get it this shit right.”
Shawn, (Takes a hit off the pipe) “So much of life is boring details; minutia. You wake up one day and you’re old. Where the fuck did the time go. Did I make the right decisions, right choices? Maybe I should have stayed at that job teaching scuba diving at the resort. Can you imagine spending all day with hot chicks in skimpy bikinis——drinking beer and getting laid left and right. But, I went off to college and got my MBA and became a financial adviser. A fucking financial advisor. My job consists of making old fat white guys, richer and fatter. I should have stayed being a scuba instructor. I’m a tie dye guy wearing a suite and tie every day. And that neck tie gets a little bit tighter every day. (Hands the pipe to Michael) That’s some good shit. How are you and Lyne doing?”
Michael, (Takes a hit) “I guess fair. Probably as good as any couple who’ve been together for what feels like eternity. Marital bliss——-now that’s a fucking oxymoron. (Shakes his head). Sometimes before we hang up on the phone she’ll say ‘I love you’——- I swear it takes every once of strength to respond with ‘Love you too’.” I know that sounds shitty and pathetic, but I can’t help it. Marriage counseling, now that was a waste of time and money. Paying a stranger sixty bucks an hour to try and fix something that’s beyond repair. Her fault, my fault? It doesn’t matter. I swear, sometimes I can’t breathe.”
Shawn, “Hell, it’s a lot easier to un-love someone than it is to re-love them. All it takes is a small hole below the waterline to sink a luxury liner.”
Michael, “Do you think it’s ever too late to love someone again?”
Shawn, “It’s like this. This is my curdled milk theory. You wake up one morning and go to the fridge and pour yourself a glass of ice cold milk, right? You take a big swig and immediately spit it out cause it’s gone sour. The very next day you go back to the fridge and pour yourself another glass of milk——guess what, It’s still fucking sour. Maybe love has an expiration date. Some loves may last a month while another may last fifty years. But once that shit begins to curdle, well you better try churning it and hope it can be transformed into butter.” (Laughs) “Did you ever consider divorce?”
Michael, “Yeah, I did the math and it ain’t a pleasant scenario. We’d have to split up all of our shit, sell the house and cash in our 401k’s. She’d get half of my pension. I’d end up like one of those poor old fuckers having to go back to work. Probably end up swabbing down tables at Starbucks and taking coffee orders from spoiled-ass ‘twenty somethings’. Kids these days don’t even have the courtesy to look up and say ‘thank you’. Instead, they’re be incessantly scrolling through their goddamn cell phones or laptops. Then there’d be the proverbial pimply faced shift supervisor who’s prodding me to pick up the pace and smile more.” (Takes another hit). “Trade one hell for another hell.”
Shawn, “Yep, if I were your financial advisor I’d probably tell you to stay married, adopt a rescue dog for companionship and find a pro for sex, ya know, a skilled call girl. It’s cheaper than the alternative. Well, while we’re swopping confessions, I’ve been having my own struggles. Penny and I don’t really argue anymore, we avoid that, we share meals and a house but we kind of live like roommates. We’ve become courteous strangers, polite acquaintances. I never thought we’d end up like those old couples you see at restaurants eating entire meals without saying a word to one another. Everything that needs to be said, I suppose has already been said. We’ve learned to avoid pressing each others buttons—- it only lead to the same stupid arguments and hard feelings.”
Michael, “I suppose if it works, at least it’s better than arguing and saying mean shit you can’t take back. I mean, after all these years you still don’t want to hurt each other.”
Shawn, “Is anger deferred better than just being honest? (Snickers) Man, I’m getting some of those cool stoned thoughts.”
Michael, “I guess sometimes it’s easier to stay silently mad rather than come out and admit you’re wrong. Remember how when we were in high school and we’d get high and go down to the park at night and talk about life, dreams, god, girls and aliens . Anything and everything was on the table. As for girls, I still don’t understand them.” (Laughter).
Shawn, “I don’t have anyone to talk this shit over with anymore. Do you mind if I keep talking about love or lovelessness, cause another stoned weird thought just popped into my head?”
Michael, (Getting excited) Yeah, yeah—-tell me, go ahead man.”
Shawn, “There’s this chick at work who’s got this thing that I can’t explain. She’s in her early thirties, not what I’d call classically beautiful, but there’s something really hot and sexy about her. Just watching her put a scrunchy in her hair is sexy—-When she looks me directly in the eye I’m overcome with this uncontrollable magnetism. I feel electricity shooting through my body. I don’t know if it’s love or pure animalistic sexual arousal. Man, sometimes I just want to lean over and kiss her sweet mouth.”
Michael, “So, what are you going to do?”
Shawn, “Fuck, I don’t know, but at this stage of the game, this might be my last chance to have something special in my life. She has sex appeal and she knows how to use it. It’s dirty, it’s nasty, she can turn the mundane into magic.”
Michael, (Fires up the pipe). “Dude, you got it bad, but that’s good. Or, you got it good and that’s bad—-man I’m high. My advice, don’t marry a woman cause she’s pretty. Get a woman who knows how to flirt, knows how to be a freak in bed. Someone who’s fun, smart, has a good sense of humor. It’s all an illusion anyway. Only a few women know how to sustain the illusion, know how to make you do crazy shit. I’ve only been in love one time. I mean real love. The kind that makes you wanna do stupid shit, like write poetry, or hold her hand when walking down the street.”
Shawn, “I suppose that one time wasn’t with Lyne?”
Michael, “Nope. She’s practical. No nonsense. She still does’t appreciate my humor——she thinks anything other than missionary position is kinky. I need someone to turn my my mundane into magic.”
Shawn, “You ought to go say hello to Malena. Maybe there’s still a little magic hidden there.”
Michael, “What am I gonna say?”
Shawn, “What do I got to lose, that I haven’t already lost.”
Michael, (He heads back into the house. He stares directly at Melina. She responds with a flirtatious wink. He points to his drink and nods for her to meet him at the liquor table).
Melina, (They hug). “You smell good, you smell familiar.”
Michael, “Your hug feels familiar. Somethings I suppose never change. I was hoping you’d show up here.”
Malena, “Part of me wanted to not come, but something or someone drew me back.” (Offers a heartfelt smile). I see the whole gangs here.”
Michael, “I’m sorry to hear about Jesse. He was a great guy. He was a hell of a guitar player too. We use have a blast playing all those little bars and coffee houses.”
Melina, “He made a killing in the stock market, but I think he would have traded all the money, cars and fancy trips to just be a guy who played gigs at the pizza parlor. Happiness and success are hard things to measure. Circumstances may change, but at some level we are who we are. Jesse was unique, in a world where everyone is trying to follow trends and be the same, he was brave and unafraid to be different. I loved him for that.”
Michael, “Yeah, and if you try and be something you’re not, it will eat you alive. The best kind of friends are the ones that let you be yourself. Some people want to put you in a box and that is stifling.”
Melina, “I miss Jesse. What I really miss is the Jesse I knew when we were younger and not constrained by all the bullshit that comes with growing up. You trade little pieces of yourself away for security and possessions. Instead of you owning them, they end up owning you. You think you’re buying security, but what you’re really doing is bargaining away your passion, your freedom, your sense of wonder. I must sound like some old hippy chick.” (They both laugh).
Michael, “Here, let me get you a glass of chardonnay.” (Pours a glass of wine and hands it to Melina).
Melina, “Time goes by fast and it’s easy to lose the people and things that matter the most to you. (Pauses) When Jesse and I first met, travel was our thing. We’d be in a strange country and all we had was each other. It brought us together, made us closer. We went to Europe, China, Brazil, and it was exciting and fun. But something happened. I don’t even know how and or when it happened. Our traveling felt more like a search for something we lost, rather than sharing a new adventure. It was if we could find that special vacation place again, it would bring us back to that feeling of closeness. But it wasn’t the place or time, it was something dreadful that followed us wherever we traveled. We’d lost our connection. We became strangers in strange lands. And knowing what real love felt like, made it even harder when we tried to fake it or manufacture it.”
Michael, “I know that feeling. There’s no faking love. It’s either there or it’s not. And to watch it slowly slip away is excruciating. It’s hard to try and love someone——cause love isn’t a thing you have to try to do.”
Melina, “Jesse didn’t do anything wrong, it was (Pause) I don’t exactly know what it was. I think as he got older he became more cautious. Ironically, the thing that attracted me to him was his risk taking, his carefreeness. I think he regretted having to grow up and become a responsible adult, but his minister father ingrained in him that scarfing ones self is next to godliness. He started delaying gratification, putting money away in 401K’s, working long hours. It was like he was trying to earn his way into heaven, or at least please his folks. We were always making plans to go to Italy and rent a little house in Tuscany. I don’t know if once that feeling is gone if there’s anyway to rekindle it. Maybe that’s why we never went, maybe it wouldn’t turn out the way we hoped it would. Maybe it would confirm what we already knew. Maybe the chasm had grown too wide, the distance between us was too far to reach one another. And then after all the putting off of pleasure he gets cancer and fucking dies. Maybe cancer was only a symptom of a worse disease, losing faith, losing your self. Life can be fucking cruel”
Michael, “Yeah, a lasting love is illusive. Sorry about Jesse, (Pause) sorry about (Pause) the death of a love too.”
Melina, (Put her hand on Michaels shoulder) “Oh, wait. I almost forgot. I brought something special for you. It’s in my car, come on.”
Melina, (Melina is the the drivers seat and Michael in the passenger seat.) “Close your eyes.” (She reaches into the backseat). “Okay, open your eyes.” (She hands him a guitar).
Michael, “What the (Pause). This is Jesse’s Martin guitar. This was like a part of his body. I have so many great memories of him playing this guitar at parties, jam sessions and in dark living rooms On Sunday afternoons we’d hangout at San Brannon Park drinking Ripple and playing music. Are you sure you want to give me this? This is a huge part of his legacy.”
Melina, “He’d want you to have it. He wouldn’t want anyone else to play it but you. He always said that guitars were shaped like a woman’s body. And, that’s what made him want to hold his guitar in his arms and caress it. He was romantic that way. I use to keep it on a stand in my living room, but (Pause) but it was like holding on to something or someone that was never coming back. I finally put it in its case and slid it under my bed. It was like sleeping with a ghost. Go ahead and exercise those old ghosts, give it light, give it life again, hold it, love it——let it make beautiful music.”
Michael, “I was pissed at Jesse for a long time. I blamed him for taking you away from me.”
Melina, “He didn’t take me away from you. You left me to go to LA and become a rockstar. You said you had a record deal and you’d probably be going on the road and you needed some space so you could get your music career going.”
Michael, (Shakes his head as he reflexes on the past).“I never got a record deal. The Record company said I’d have to go on the road and build up a following before they’d risk putting money into me. I ended up doing gigs in shitty little bars from Southern California to nowheres-ville Arkansas. I thought touring would be glamorous and exciting. There’s nothing further from the truth. You can only play ‘Johnny Be Good’ so many times and put your heart and soul into it. The last gig I played was at a Veterans of Foreign War hall for a bunch of drunk bikers. A big fight broke out with some opposing biker club. I heard a gun go off so I picked up my gear and ran for the door. That was it, I was through with my rock and roll dream. After that, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was lost. I probably wrote you a dozen letters, but I couldn’t find the right words to say. I tried calling but I guess your number had changed. I messed up. And what hurt the most is knowing it was my ego that cost me my future with you.”
Melina, “I’ve often wondered what life would be like if things had turned out differently. But, I guess things worked out alright for you. You have Lyne and you have a good life.”
Michael, “Like I said, when I came back home I didn’t really know what to do with myself. I got a job framing houses for Lyne’s dad and he kind of took me under his wing. He introduced me to his daughter and we started dating. I got my contractors license and the next logical step was marriage. Love and logic are two opposing ways of approaching life. Logic is using your brain, love is following your heart. I think I should have followed my heart.”
Melina, “I wasn’t sure if I should give this back to you.” (She reaches back into the backseat). “You left this flannel shirt at my apartment a million years ago.”
Michael, “I use to call that my lucky shirt. I was wearing it when I first met you.”
Melina, “This is kind of weird to say, but when you first left, I use to wear it to bed. It was soft and warm and it smelled like you.”
Michael, “And what do I smell like?”
Melinda, “You smell like the woods, like a forest. It’s a scent of pine needles, a tad bit of desert sagebrush and fresh rain on earthy mud.”
Michael, “Hum, I smell like earthy mud? That doesn’t sound too appealing. I suppose it’s better than sweat and grime.” (Both laugh).
Melina, “Well having a piece of someones clothing is kind of an intimate thing. It’s holding something that was once against their skin. Their body movements leave wrinkles imprinted on the cloth, the fabric still carries their scent. Sorry if that sounds crazy to you.”
Michael, “It’s a funny thing, I came back home after all these years and everything and everyone seems strange and different. The only thing that feels familiar to me is you. (There’s a reflective pause) I think I’ve always loved you and alway will. You’ve had a hold on me. Through the years I’ve fantasized about you a thousand times. Sorry if that sounds weird or creepy.————.”
Melina, (Puts on a devilish smile). “I guess I’ll take that as a complement.”
Michael, “I suppose, once you distance yourself from a place, a time or a person you realize a lot of things. Sometimes the long way is the only way home.———(Silence) Do you have the case I can put the guitar in?” (They both reach back at the same time and their heads slightly bump into one another’s).
Melina, (They both laugh at the awkwardness of the situation. There’s an emotionally charged silence.) “You can touch me if you want.”
Michael, (Slowly leans into Melina to give her a kiss. Theres an abrupt tapping on the fogged window).
Lyne, “What are you guys doing out here? It’s freezing out here.”
Michael, (Shakes his head in frustration as he rolls down the window). “Melina and I were sharing some old memories. She wants to give me Jesse’s Martin.”
Lyne, “Why don’t you bring it in the house and everyone can jam.”
Michael, “Yeah, sure.”
They come back in the house. Michael sits down and starts to tune the guitar. Everyone is feeling buzzed. The guests begin to clammer, “Play something, come on, play something for us.”
Michael, (Smiles) “Shawn, give me a beat on that cajon.” (Shawn sits on the cajon and starts playing a medium groove. Michael starts playing the guitar and singing ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’. The guests sing along. Michael can feel Melina’s eyes on him. Song ends, everyone applauds while hooting and hollering).
Michael, “Let me get a drink and then we’ll do another one.” (Makes his way over to the liquor table where Shawn is standing).
Shawn, “Nice jam bro. Isn’t that Jesse’s old Martin?”
Michael, “ Yeah, Melina gave it to me. She said Jesse would have wanted it that way. It’s almost like I can feel him when I play it. There’s worn marks on the fretboard where his fingers once played. It has a few nicks and scratches, but don’t all old things have a few scars.”
Shawn, “For sure.”
Michael, “You won’t believe what almost happened. Melina took me out to her car to get the guitar and we started talking and stuff. Something just happened. It wasn’t planned or like some kind of drunken hookup. I felt this thing I haven’t felt for a long time. I haven’t felt it sense I was with Melina all those years ago. It a feeling I forgot even exists. We were almost gonna kiss and Lyne came wrapping on the car window. It’s as if she knew something was up. I swear she has some kind of radar that tracks my every freakin move.”
Shawn, (Smiles and shakes his head). “Dude, that kind of soulmate energy permeates a room. Everyone’s buzzed and having a good time, no ones gonna say anything. But, I think everyone can kind of pick up on that thing between you two; even Lyne.”
Michael, “Man, I’m so sick of pretending and doing without. It’s fucking exhausting. I just want to feel that feeling again. I want to fucking feel alive again, to feel understood, loved——-to have real sex with someone who enjoys it. Is that fucking asking too much?”
Shawn, “I don’t know man. I think most of the dudes I know would love to have a ‘do over’. Life without compromises is a young man’s game. Ya gotta ask yourself, when does the hug become a choke hold.”
Lyne, (Approaches Shawn and Michael). “We need to leave soon, I have a nail appointment first thing in the morning.”
Michael, “Hey, we’re having some fun for once. Let’s just hangout for a little while longer.”
Lyne, (Looks over towards Melina). Yeah ‘we’re’——- or should I say you, are having a lot of fun. In a half hour I’m leaving. If you don’t want to come home, then get a ride with one of your (Spoken with sarcasm) friends.” (She turns and walks away).
Michael, “Goddamn ultimatums. It’s taking every single fiber of my being to not just say fuck it, fine——I’m going home with Melina.”
Shawn, “Loves a powerful drug bro. It’s done in many a good man. Like you said, It’s really not fair that you only get one chance to get this life right. What are you gonna do?”
Michael, “I don’t know man. But I know one thing, true love never dies. It’s a hard thing to explain. There’s something about the way she talks——the tone of her voice sets me at ease. I could listen to her voice for hours. I would never be afraid to tell her anything, cause I know she’d understand. There’s something familiar in her laugh. I like how her body moves through space. Graceful, like a dancer who needs no music.”
Shawn, “Regrets a hard thing to have to live with. Lookout bro, here she comes.”
Melina, “I’m gonna be leaving. It was really great to see you again. (She gives Michael a hug). “Oh, I left the guitar case in the back bedroom where they put everyone’s coats. I miss you.”
Michael, “I miss you too.”
Lyne, (She’s wearing a stern look on her face). “Get our coats and let’s go. I’m cold, I’m tired and I’ve got a headache.”
Michael, “You’re always cold, tired and have a headache.”
(He heads to the back bedroom. He opens the guitar case to put up the guitar. He picks up a note that was left in the case). ‘Michael, I left you a little something to remember me by. Something that’s been close to my body and against my skin. I hope I smell like the things I know you love, peppermint ice cream, Jameson Irish whiskey and second chances. P.S. Damn, it’s gonna be a bit cold driving home commando style, Ha Ha.”
(Michael retrieves a pair of red panties from the guitar case. He puts them to his face and inhales deeply. He shakes his head in disbelief and starts to laugh. He then says out loud). “Second Chances?”
The song “In Spite Of Ourselves” by John Prine begins to play.
These times are strange, no they’re a mess. There’s this constant background hum coming up from my backside. I don’t know if it’s coming from inside my head or is it a demon creating this lingering static in the ether. There’s always been horrors, but today it grinds on and on through social media, newscasts and radio talkshows. People are angry, living on the edge. We’ve become victims of a constant bombardment of bad news filtering into our psyche. People on the street wear the mask of emotional fatigue on their drawn faces. Where do we go from here? Everyone’s looking for a way to turn down the static.
This is what pushed the pioneers west, the thought that somewhere,, somehow, someplace—-things have got to be better than this—-All the same, we tote our clutter and emotional baggage along with us. No matter where we go——there we are. There’s no escaping this house of mirrors. There’s no out running our shadow, but we can always change the stories we tell ourselves. We’re the star of our own life, why not make it a comedy rather than a tragedy. There’s no better time than now, no better place than here. The static grows louder. I swiftly turn around, but there’s no one there——-“Huuuuummmmmmm——“
You’d think that after all the laws, politic’s and religion we’d be more civil and kinder to one another——-fat chance. We have no choice but to seek solace in one another. We’re awful, deceitful, jealous and——-mean vermin. But at the end of the day, it’s too hard to go it alone. It’s only through tolerance and acceptance that we keep our companionships alive. We’re all uniquely the same——in irony there is truth.
One time strangers become our friends and lovers, but then they slip away becoming strangers once again. The longer we know someone the harder it is to see them anew. The rags of our past distorts “what was” with “what is”.
I miss the peace that comes with silence. It feels as though this static is growing louder——do you hear it too? “HUUUUMMMMMM——”
Turn the dial, change your frequency, adjust the station, fine tune your antenna away from the static——–and find your music.
I can’t go back in time so I keep moving. My movement isn’t always forward, sometimes it’s backwards, sometimes in a circle. Movement offers me a false sense of progress. This life seldom dispenses second chances, it offers up lessons. I keep moving, I keep reaching out.
It’s a lonely quest, scavenging through life in search of purpose, love and someone to relate to. To be understood is to be loved. To expect to be understood is “crazy”. If you want to be loved in spite of all your weird idiosyncrasies and foibles, adopt a rescue dog. If you want to be exploited and abused, allow a cat to adopt you…Relationships are built on such subtle differences. Friends will change without telling you, others may ghost you for unknown reasons and some pass away never to be seen again———at least not in this life.
I worry, “Did I let everyone I love know how much I appreciate them in my life (Note to self, tell everyone I appreciate them in my life, excluding those occasional assholes). I fret over the thought that perhaps I never let my parents know how much I respected and loved them. We become so accustom to our parents unconditional love, that it’s easy to take this gift for granted. My parents stuck by me, in-spite all my stupid life decisions. Time goes by quickly, words are free, don’t hold back——let those you care for, know how much you love them.
These days I lack a meaningful connections with others,…….Maybe I could better define this malady as a disassociation syndrome. In other words, so many things no longer fit together—My “Why’s” far out weigh my “How’s”……..The veneer of this thing called reality is wearing thin. Everything seems so unreal and strange to me. I stumble about thinking, “Is this the way things are supposed to be?” “Is this the way I supposed to be?” We all have our own brand of craziness, we just become comfortable by wrapping it in our own private shiny distractions. If you don’t know how the trick is done, then it’s magic——misdirection, sleight of hand, illusion, Love?? Life??
It’s mid October, the season that gives way to the beauty that comes with the death of a fading summer. Leaves turn golden, red and purple before being swept away in the autumn winds. Outside its dark and cold, the sun surrenders its dominion over the sky earlier and earlier, this relieves me of the guilt of fixing myself a drink too early, but as we all know, there’s always an excuse for drinking. I hear the faint fizz of carbonation over ice cubes——my oh my, Jameson and Ginger-ale in my favorite tumbler.
It’s the season of tangled sheets, as ghosts whisper under beds and the hellhounds bay up at an angry moon. I swear I hear the footsteps of shadowy specters moving across the creaking hardwood floor. The doorknob to my closet appears to be slowly turning. I foolishly decide to step deeper into this nocturnal quicksand. There’s something bittersweet about allowing my darker angels to run loose. I flip through my playlists and click on “Sade”. God almighty, her music always takes me there. It’s got that hypnotic groove that’s made for soul searching, lovemaking——it’s drenched in unrepentant sensuality. The beat pulls me into a grinding pocket. I feel like having a cigarette, but I had to give that up over a decade ago, it’s always the hardest thing to give up on something that you know you’ll remorselessly love forever——and she taught me——forever is a long time!
Some woman know they have it from an early age and they carry it with them through old age. She has it, she knows how to use it——-she exudes a steamy erotic energy. It affords her an unfair advantage. “It” has nothing to do with beauty or flash, it’’s in the way her body moves through space, it’s that certain look in her hungry eyes. Her heated body radiates the fragrance of lust. When her hand nonchalantly brushes up against my skin, it’s as if a million volts of electricity convulses through my body. All those other bland pretty girls have no lightening in their soul; they leave no ache in those empty places, no burn in ones darkness.
The prisons and insane asylums are filled with men who’ve let this black magic rule them, clouding their better judgement and making them do the bad things they never thought they were capable of doing. I search through a junk drawer and find a single crippled cigarette, I rip off the bent filter and take a deep drag and then slowly exhale the blue smoke. It hangs in the air, mysteriously taking the shape of a maligned dragon. I feel myself going back on things I swore I’d never do. I scroll through my phone contacts and wonder if her number is still the same. The thought of her warm damp voice invades my nervous system with a shot of adrenaline, causing my hands to tremble. I hesitate with my finger hovering over the green call button. “King Of Sorrow” begins to play on my mix.
This play/story depicts the struggles a son faces as his father begins to show signs of Alzheimer’s and dementia. He must decide to either place his farther in an assisted living facility or to have him continue to live at home with him and his wife.
He feels guilty at the prospect of placing his father in an assisted living facility, but also feels he and his wife may no longer be capable of providing the care he requires. Baby Boomers are reaching the age where they must face the dilemma of what to do when their folks can no longer live independently. The topic of aging can at times be morbid and sad, but in this story there’s also room for calamity and humor. Sometimes there are no easy answers or good decisions.
(Harry enters the kitchen using his walker. He’s dressed in a tank top, jockey shorts and two miss matched socks. He’s unshaven and his hair is a mess.)
Harry, “Where the hell is my wristwatch. Someones been in my bedroom again messing with my stuff. Martin, can’t you at least wait until I’m dead and buried before you start taking my shit?”
Martin, “Dad, we aren’t messing with your stuff. Maybe you misplaced it. Wait a minute. Isn’t that your watch on your right hand?”
Harry, “What the hell? I always wear my watch on my left hand. This damn world’s gone topsy turvy on me. Are you playing tricks on me. I know what you’re all saying behind my back. Saying I’ve got old timers.”
(Martin shakes his head as he looks over at his wife Erin).
Martin, ‘Dad, it’s called Alzheimer’s not old timers. We aren’t talking behind your back. We all get a little bit forgetful, don’t worry about it. Here let me help you put your watch on your left hand.”
Harry, (pulls back his hand) “Ya see this ring? It’s my wedding ring. She may be dead now, god rest her soul, but I’ll never take it off. This world may take on new ways, but somethings will always remain the same. Call me old fashion, call me an old timer, but I still believe promises made, are promises kept.”
Martin, “Dad, your wristwatch is two hours slow.”
Harry, “Maybe the worlds two hours too fast. Ya ever consider that one? What’s it all matter to me anyhow, I have nowhere to go and no place to be. Hell, I don’t know the time, the date or what year it is half the damn time. I got no where to go or any reasons to keep track of such things. I do wish I still had somewhere to go or something to do. I wish I still had someone who depended on me, needed me.”
Martin, “Dad, why don’t ya take a shower and when you get out I’ll give ya a shave.”
Harry, “Ah bullshit. I took a shower just the other day. (holds out his shaking hand) As for a shave, I’m steady as a rock, I doin’t need no one to shave me. I’m gonna get dressed and do some chores around here. That garden needs some tending. (He turns his walker around and heads out of the kitchen).
Erin, “You’ve been putting it off, but you’re gonna have to have that talk with him. We can’t keep an eye on him twenty four hours a day. I’m just afraid he’s gonna fall down and hurt himself or wander off and get lost. He could walk right out into traffic and get run over. Besides, what are we going to do with him when we go to Hawaii?”
Martin, “He doesn’t want to go to a what he calls an old folks home. He’s made it abundantly clear that he doesn’t want to live with a bunch of old and feeble minded people. I can’t look him straight in the eye and tell him that I’m gonna leave him at a nursing home. He’s still in his right mind——most of the time. His short term memory has faded a bit, but that’s to be expected at his age.”
(From off stage Harry hollers). “If anyone finds my watch, let me know.”
Martin, Dad, “I just put it on your left wrist for you. (Sighs in frustration).”
Erin, (Shakes her head) “You see what I’m saying. He’s already forgotten about you helping him with his watch. You know I found his dentures in the refrigerator the other day. Every time we leave him alone I’m afraid he’s gonna fall down the stairs or leave the stove on and burn the house down.”
Martin, “He’s not ready for that big of a change yet.”
Erin, “Maybe it’s you that’s not ready for that big of a change—yet. I don’t want to push you and I don’t want to be the bad guy. But, you need to start thinking about what’s gonna be best for him. I’m still not sure what we are going to do with him when we go on our trip to Hawaii. We need to start enjoying are golden years too.”
Martin, “It’s just that dad has always been so independent. When I was a kid I always admired the way he handled himself. There was an honesty and directness in the way he expressed himself. He saw things for what they are. He use to say ‘I call a spade a spade’. You knew where you stood with him. (Laughs). Funny thing, animals and kids alway gravitated to him, it’s as if they could pick up on his authenticity, his goodness.”
Erin, “I remember when our daughter started pre-school and you’d drop her off at the school and she’d cry and scream for you not leave her. You felt so guilty that you’d go back on your breaks and lunch hour to check on her. The teacher pleaded with you to please not come back until the end of the day because you were just making the situation worse. But you still kept coming back until one day our she told you she was okay and didn’t need you to come back until school was out. I think you were disturbing her playtime with her friends and probably embarrassing her. Honey, it’s one of those circle of life things. One of these days you’re gonna have to drop dad off at a nursing home. It’ll take time, but he’ll adjust, just like our daughter did with pre-school.”
Martin, “I don’t know about your comparisons between preschool and nursing homes. The circle of life is cruel. One day I’ll be the one being dropped off to live with a bunch of strangers. He may not act it, but dad is sensitive. I’m afraid if we force him to move into an assisted living facility that he might get depressed and just give up on living all together.”
Erin, (Puts her arms around Martin) “Honey, you’re so sweet and sensitive, and that’s why I love you. But sometimes you have to be a bit more practical.”
Martin, “Do me a favor, don’t tell my buddies that I’m a softy. They already think I’m a wuss because I drove a Yugo when I was in college, and I once attended a Yanni concert. I won the tickets on the radio. I guess buying a Yanni T-shirt was a bit over the top. I’m not sensitive, I’m compassionate.”
Erin, “God, you’re a goofball. But you’re my goofball.”
(Harry sitting in a chair in his living room, looking out the front room window.)
Martin, “Dad, are you awake?”
Harry, “Why the hell would I be sleeping? It’s 6:00 am. The best part of the day. A brand new day, anything and everything is possible. Hell, I might even have a good bowel movement today.”
Harry, “I’m watching the birds. It’s spring, my favorite season. Everything is green and alive. Remember when you were in the Boy Scouts and we built that birdhouse? God, I think I was more proud of it than you. When we were done you got your merit badge and I was ready to hang it on our big Elm tree in the backyard. But you said,” ‘Dad I want to donate it to the scout fair.’ “I said what for? And you said,” ‘The money they raise is going to help the less fortunate in the community.’ “I remember it as if it were yesterday when you said,” ‘Dad there’s folks out there that don’t have a home and family like we do.’
Martin, “I remember that I came home from school and the damn birdhouse was hanging on the Elm tree in the backyard. You said you went to the Scout Fair and bought the freaking thing. You said,” ‘You see, you can have your cake and eat it too. The poor got their money, and I got to keep our birdhouse.’
Harry, “Yeah, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.”
Martin, “Hey I stopped at the old Chinese store on the way home today. I swear, they can pack more merchandise in a 2,000 square foot store than an entire Walmart. If Lee Wong’s store doesn’t have it, then you probably don’t need it. Look what I found?” (hands over a package of BBQ corn nuts). “Remember these?”
Harry, “Oh yeah, I haven’t seen these things in years. If I could only find my dentures I’d eat them.”
Martin, “Erin said she found them in the refrigerator.”
Harry, “What! What kind of fool would do something like that?”
Martin, “Huh, I don’t know, who do you suppose might do something like that? The Tooth-fairy maybe? She put your dentures by the sink in your bathroom. And by the way, try and remember too flush after ya go. Okay?”
Harry, “Don’t lecture me about my bathroom habits. You might have forgotten sonny boy, I’m the one who use to change your diapers and toilet trained you. And you weren’t the fastest one in family to learn how to use a toilet.”
Martin, “Okay, okay. Enough with the fond bathroom memories. When I saw those corn nuts I swear I had a flash back of you wearing your company shirt with those corn nuts in your breast pocket. I remember how on rainy days I’d walk out in front of the school and there you’d be in your work truck waiting to give me and my sisters a ride home. You’d hustle us into the cab of the truck. You’d have us skootch all together on the floor board so that no one could see you giving us a ride in the company truck.”
Harry, “I’d loose my job if I got caught giving rides in the company truck. It was a strict policy. I’d drive twenty or thirty miles from my work route to pick you kids up and drop you at home. You kids would be laughing and giggling, thinking it was a funny game of hide and seek.”
Martin, “I never did thank you for doing that. Why didn’t you just have us walk home in the rain?”
Harry, “That wouldn’t be right. My family has always come first. That’s the way it’s alway been. That was my job, still is my job. My kids are alway my kids. I’m here to protect and take care of you three kids, and mom too. And that’s not just putting a roof over your head and putting food on the table, but to teach you right from wrong. We had ourselves some good times. I sit sometimes and just think back on those days. I can run them in my head just like a movie. A movie of my life and I get to be the hero and the handsome leading man”. (Laughs).
Martin, “It’s funny how a little thing like corn nuts can bring back some old forgotten memories. Why don’t ya let me help you get down the backstairs and we can go sit on back porch. Get ourselves some fresh air and watch the birds.”
Harry, “One of these days I’m gonna put on some work clothes and rake those leaves. I’ll get them in a big pile and burn them like I use to at our old house. I like the smell of burning leaves, it smells like the end of winter. I’m ready for another spring. Son, I wanna thank you and Erin for letting me live here. I wish I could do more to earn my keep.”
Martin, “Dad, no thanks necessary. You made a lot of sacrifices for me.”
Harry, “Where there’s love, there are no sacrifices.” (Nods his head in appreciation of his comment) “Gee, I should have a job writing fortune cookies” (Laughs).
Martin, “I’m gonna go get your teeth and we can share this bag of corn nuts.”
(A bedstead lamp switches on in Martin and Erin’s bedroom.)
Erin, “Do you hear that? There’s someone walking around in the Front room.”
Martin, “I think it might be dad again. He gets a bit confused at night. I’ll go and check on him.”
(Harry is wearing a baseball hat, his robe and a pair of cowboy boots. He has a flashlight attached to his walker.).
Harry, “Martin, where’d you put my hunting rifle? There’s someone outside my window. I can hear them walking in the leaves and banging against the house.”
Martin, “You don’t need your rifle. It’s just the wind rustling the leaves. There’s a branch that sometimes bangs against the house when it gets windy. Come on, let me help you back to bed.”
Harry, “Bullshit. Get me my goddamn gun. I gonna run off who’s ever trying to get in here.”
Martin, “Dad, it’s just your imagination playing tricks on you.”
Harry, “Listen——Listen——-Don’t you hear it. You wait here boy, I’m gonna go out there and chase them off. Stay in here with Erin.”
Martin, “Dad——settle down.” (He puts one hand on Harry’s shoulder and the other hand on his walker. “There’s no one out there. You aren’t thinking straight.”
Harry, “I’m the head of this family and I’m not gonna let anyone fuck with us.”
Martin, “Okay dad. How bout this. You give me the flashlight and I’ll go in the backyard and check to see if there’s anyone out there. Go back in your bedroom and look out your window. I’ll tap on the window to let you know that the coast is clear.”
Harry, “You make sure and take my deer rifle with you. If I hear gunshots instead of you tapping on my window, then I’m coming out there too.” (He turns to go peers out the window).
Martin, “Sure, thanks dad. (A few minutes later you can hear tapping on the window and Martin hollering ‘Coast is clear pop’).
Martin, (Martin enters Harry’s bedroom). “We’re all good now, right? There’s no one out there. Come on, let me help you get back in bed.”
Harry, “We make a pretty good team. Remember we use to have that pair of boxing gloves? Do you remember what I use to tell ya?”
Martin, “I sure do. Keep my chin up and my eyes forward on my advisory. Be prepared for anything. Don’t take a butter knife to a gun fight. Never put myself in a position to get sucker punched. Don’t go looking for trouble, but if it finds me, kick its ass. You say ‘You may not get the first punch, but you damn sure better get in the last one.”
Harry, “Keep that advice in mind.” (Harry puts his hand on Martins cheek). “You’re a good boy Martin. I know we had our up’s and down’s when you were growing up. I was old fashioned and hard on you at times. That’s the only way I knew how to prepare you for this world and how to teach you to be a man. My father was from the old country and didn’t speak english worth a damn. He was a man of few words. He’d say in Spanish, ‘Obras son amores y no buenas razones.’ “The translation is something like” ‘Acts are love and good reasons aren’t’. “In other words ‘Actions speak louder than words.’ “I hope my actions set a good example for you. When I’m gone you’re the only legacy that matters to me.”
Martin, “I didn’t always understand your ways when growing up. But now that I’m older and raised children of my own, I see things different. You were always a good father and good provider. You’ve gotten softer as you’ve gotten older, maybe time does that for a reason. I love you dad. I hope to be half the man you are. You taught by example. Always a hard worker, honest and a man of his word.”
Erin, (Fixing Breakfast). “How’d it go with dad last night?”
Martin, “He was fine. He get’s a little confused at night. His dreams and reality get mixed up. One minute he can be so aware and normal. And the next moment he can be almost like a child again. No one teaches you how to get old. It’s a solitary journey.”
Erin, “If he’s in a nursing home, at least he’d be around people his age. He’d have people to visit with and play games and do activities.”
Martin, “Dad doesn’t like old people. He says they’re slow in the head. He doesn’t see himself as old. He wants to do yard work. He’s still pissed that I didn’t let him renew his drivers license. If he had a way to get downtown, he’d be at his favorite tavern shaking dice for beers. It’s not fair how age makes us give up the things that once defined us.”
Erin, “Getting old isn’t for sissies? We’re all gonna get older, but it’s not easy to do gracefully. He’s gonna have to face it. It’s a battle you can’t win.”
Martin, “I think Dylan Thomas had it right.”
‘Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’
“My eighth grade english teacher Mrs Cummings had the whole class memorize that poem. I always thought it was kind of morbid to have a thirteen year old memorize a poem about growing old and dying. Maybe Mrs Cummings knew that this Dylan Thomas poem would come in handy someday.”
“I’ll tell ya what, ole dad is going down swinging. You gotta admire that. He’s not one to sit around and watch daytime TV or play bingo.”
Harry, (Enters the kitchen wearing his pajamas. The shirt buttons are buttoned incorrectly. His pajama pants are inside out “Did anyone feed Whiskers this morning?”
Martin, (Erin glances over at Martin). “Dad, Whiskers passed away ten years ago. Remember?”
Harry, “What are you talking about? He sleeps on the foot of my bed every night. I feel him jump on the bed, I can hear him purring and moving about.”
Martin, “I’m sure he does.”
Harry, “Funny thing. I wake up in the middle of the night and sometimes I could swear I feel your mother next to me. You sleep with someone next to you for over fifty years, you get use to the rhythm of their breathing. Sometimes I could swear I smell the faint scent of the perfume she use to wear. You might think I’ve gone crazy in my head, but I wonder if maybe she’s visiting me and still checking in on her family.”
Martin, “I don’t think you’re crazy dad. I’ll take care of the cat. Why don’t you go and get dressed. Put on a new shirt, you’ve worn the same one for the past three days. You have five or six new shirts in your dresser you’ve never worn, they still have the price tags still on them.”
Harry, “I haven’t worked in this shirt or even broke a sweat when I’ve worn it. It’s still clean. I’m saving those new shirts until I need them. People these days got way too much crap. Folks don’t know what it’s like to do without. Waste, so much waste. I bet Erin has enough clothes in her closet to outfit an army. Hell, me and my two brothers shared a bedroom that was smaller than her walk-in closet.”
Erin, “Well if you like, we can move you into my closet. (Laughs). Do you want some eggs or your usual oatmeal?”
Harry, “Well maybe a little oatmeal and a couple of eggs over-easy, two strips of bacon and toast——-with butter and jam.”
Erin, “Do you want me to break out the good silverware? I swear you’ve got the appetite of three men. I’ll make you a deal. I’ll cook your breakfast, but you let Martin help you put on a fresh shirt.”
Harry, “Fine, whatever you say sergeant. Has anybody seen my suspenders?”
Erin, (Sighs) When I was cleaning I found them in the China Cabinet. I put them back in the top drawer of your dresser. I swear, getting you dressed is like participating in a scavenger hunt.”
Harry, “Who the hell put them there?”
Erin, “Oh I don’t know. Maybe it was the clothes fairy?”
(Martin and Erin eating breakfast).
Harry, (Harry hollering from the other room). “Oh Jesus, help me. Martin, help me.”
(Martin runs to the Harry’s bedroom. Harry has fallen and is on the ground. Martin is bending over him).
Martin, “What the hell happened?”
Harry, “I don’t know. I was making my bed and all of a sudden I lost my balance and fell down. Do you see my glasses?”
Martin, (Helps put his fathers glasses back on). “You don’t have to make your bed. We can do that for you. You’re gonna break a hip or an arm or bust your head open. Are you alright?”
Harry, “Me and mom always make our bed. She just went to the store. She’ll be back any time now. She’ll be worried if she finds out I fell down. I don’t think I can get up. Can you help me to my feet. She can’t see me like this. What’s wrong with me?” (Harry stares into space). “Get the hell away from me. I ain’t going with you yet. Tell them to leave me alone Martin.Tell them it’s not my time.” (Harry is waving his arms as if warding off an invisible adversary).
Martin, “Don’t be afraid dad, I’m here. There’s nothing to be afraid of, I’m here with you.”
Harry, “They’re saying they have mom and they want me now. Can’t you hear their voices. Oh god, these demons disguised as angels. Get the fuck away from me. Don’t you see them?”
Martin, (stares into the darkness and yells) “Leave him alone you son of a bitches.” (Puts his arms around his dad. Harry hold on to his son). “Look, you’ve cut your head, it’s bleeding. Come over here, have a seat on the bed. I can help you bandage up your head.” (Harry is mentally out of it). (Martin stammers out loud to himself). “I don’t know what to do with you dad. I don’t know what to do anymore. You were the one who always had all the answers and knew what to do. If I had a bad day, or if I had a problem at work, or if I needed a loan or someone to believe in me——-you were always there. You always knew the right words to say. I sure could use some of those words of wisdom right about now.” (Martin hollers). “Erin, quick bring me a wet rag, a band-aide and some Neosporin.”
Erin, (Enters the room with a startled look on her face). “Oh my god, what happened?”
Martin, “Dad had a little accident. He fell down and it made his head bleed.”
Erin, “Dad, you know we can make your bed for you. We can help you get out of your pajamas and into your shirt and pants. You need to let us help you.”
Harry, “What’s next, are you guys going to wipe my ass for me. I’m not old enough to die, but too old to do shit for myself. I wish I’d just not wake up one morning. I’m no good to myself or anyone else. I’m getting to be nothing but a goddamn burden.”
Martin, “Here, let’s get you back in bed for a little while. You aren’t a burden, but god you can sure be a stubborn pain in the ass sometimes. You just have to slow down a bit. You’re gonna have to accept that there are some things you can’t do for yourself. We’re gonna have to consider some other options.”
Harry, “Look here, I might be old, but it’s still me inside this bag of old bones. It’s still me, don’t you see me? I can still fix things. Set me down with a hammer and a bag of walnuts and I can crack and shell them for you guys. Give me a screw driver and some WD-40 and I can oil all the door hinges and make sure that they’re hung square. I ain’t dead yet, so don’t put me in a goddamn home.”
Martin, “I still see you dad. You still got a lot of life left in you. I just want to do what’s best for you. Erin and I can’t be around twenty four hours a day. What if you fell down and we weren’t here, it wouldn’t be good. I’ve been meaning to tell you that for our thirtieth anniversary Erin and I are taking a trip to Hawaii and we can’t leave you here on your own. We may need to temporarily have you stay at an assisted living facility while we’re gone.”
Harry, “Hell no and that’s final. I’ll stay right here and look after things. You ain’t putting me out to pasture like some old bull. You mess with this old bull and you’re gonna get the horns.”
Martin, “Like it or not, you’re gonna have to prepare yourself for a temporary change in your living arrangements. Please don’t ruin our trip by making us worry about you. You might even like the change.”
Martin, (Changes the subject).“Maybe tomorrow we can work on those doors together. There’s nothing more aggravating than a door that sicks when you’re trying to open it. You know what a squeaky door gets, don’t ya?”
Harry, “You can keep your smart remarks to yourself.”
Martin, “Do you remember when we built that tree fort in the backyard? Me and my buddies would have sleep overs up there. I got my first kiss in that treehouse.”
Erin, “Hey, you never invited me to come up to your treehouse.”
Martin, “If I’d of known you back then, I’d of invited you up and even taught you our secret hand shake.”
Harry, “I’m getting a little bit tired, I think I’ll take a quick nap.”
(Martin tucks Harry into bed and then he and Erin head back into the kitchen. They pour coffee and then have a seat at the kitchen table).
Erin, “Is he going to be okay?”
Martin, “I don’t know anymore. I never thought it’d come to this.”
Erin, “What did he say about falling down?”
Martin, “He said he fell down making the bed. When I went to see what was wrong, he was already on the floor. He was really confused. He saw the grim reaper coming to take him away. He thought there were demons disguised as angels flying around him. He said mom had gone to store and he didn’t want her to know he fell. He had this look on his face that I’d never seen before.”
Erin, “What do you mean?”
Martin, “I’ve seen my dad’s face when he’s had a belly laugh. I’ve seen his face when he was pissed off. I’ve seen his face serious and stern. I’ve even seen his face once cry when we had to put our family dog to sleep. But I’d never seen this look on his face before, never!”
Erin, “What was the look he had on his face?”
Martin, (Shakes his head). It was fear. He had the look of terror on his face. It scared me too. He’s always been so strong, quick minded and in charge of himself and the head of our family.” (Wipes a tear from his eye). “He’s beginning to realize that he’s losing control of his body, his mind, his life. What kind of cruel trick is this that god plays on us? I look at him sometimes and I think to myself, who’s that stooped over old man wearing my fathers face. He should be driving a golf cart with a cigar in his mouth and a beer in his hand. That can’t be him stumbling around behind a walker. I remember what mom use to say,” ‘If you have your health and your family, then you have everything’ “She sure got that right.”
(Harry starts creeping with his walker towards the kitchen. He stays out of sight and stands by eavesdropping on their conversation).
Erin, “Honey, you’re gonna have to sit him down and really make him understand that he’ll have to stay at an assisted living facility when we’re on vacation and maybe remain there permanently. He’s getting to where he needs more care than we can provide.”
Martin, “I know, I know. It’s just that I can’t imagine him not being with us. I can’t bare the thought of dropping him off with strangers.”
Erin, “He’ll probably be happier there. He’ll be around people his own age. They have activities, games, get togethers. They can help him shower and get dressed. They’ll make sure he takes his med’s.”
(Harry continues to spy on the conversation).
Martin, “I don’t think he’ll go. I know my dad, he’s stubborn. He’d turn that rest home into ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s nest’. (Laughs) He’ll be banging some of those old ladies and taking money from the old men playing poker. He’ll be selling shots of Jameson out of his room.”
Erin, “My friend Anna put her mother in a nice nursing home and she loves it. Well, maybe she doesn’t love it, but she’s acclimated now. They have good meals, a recreation room and exercise programs. I think they also have a pool table. There’s all kinds of things to do to fill their day. Maybe we could set up a walk thru at one of these places and see what he thinks.”
Martin, “I don’t know. He’ gonna think that we’re deserting him.”
Erin, “It’s just getting too hard to take care of him. He doesn’t shower or change his clothes. He’s unsteady on his feet. I’m afraid he’s gonna hurt himself. He’s become so absent minded. A couple of times he accidentally left the stove on. We have to keep the thermostat at seventy five degrees’s because his circulation is so poor. It’s just one of those sad facts of life, he needs more care than we can give him. I know it isn’t easy, but it’s for the best.”
(Harry turns around and heads back towards his bedroom).
(Phone rings. Martin answers the phone).
Martin, “Yes, Uh-huh my fathers name is Harry. He’s where? He said he’s going home? No, he lives here with me and my wife. No, we weren’t plotting against him. He’s old and gets a little bit confused at times. No, no, we didn’t hide his dentures or steal his suspenders. Yeah I know he has a bandage on his head. He fell down and bumped his head. No, you don’t have to call Adult Protective Services. We love dad, he’s just a bit forgetful. He’s no longer steady on his feet. Can I come and pick him up? Okay, I’ll be right over. Thanks for looking after him.” (Stage goes dark).
(Lights come on. They enter the front door and are back home again. Harry’s dressed in an old suite with a fedora hat. Martin is carrying Harry’s battered suite case).
Martin, “Jesus Christ dad, why the hell did you run away from home? And then you tell the police that we’re not treating you well. That’s bullshit. They were about ready to arrest me for elder abuse.”
Harry, “When you thought I was in bed the other day, I was spying on you and Erin. I heard you guys saying how you were gonna lock me up in an old folks home. I told you before, I doin’t have old timers.”
Martin, “Shit, it’s not called old timers it’s called Alzheimers’s.”
Harry, “Bullshit is right. I say bullshit on you and your secret plan to have me put away. I’m not like some old car that you can put in a car crusher and sale as scrap metal.”
Martin, “Dad, we aren’t shipping you off to a junkyard, we’re just trying to find a situation where you would be comfortable, safe and happy.”
Harry, “A situation? Is that what you’re calling it. If that makes you feel better than fine. Go off to Hawaii and ship me off to the trash heap. I’m tired of this life. I wish I’d just die and be done with it.”
Martin, “Dad, don’t talk like that. It’s just that I’m worried about you. I want what’s best for you. Erin and I can’t watch you twenty four hours a day. We have to go to work and leave you here alone. I call to check on you three or four times a day. If you don’t hear the phone or for whatever reason don’t answer , then I have to run home and see if you’re okay. I can’t keep doing that. At least be willing to check it out when we go on our trip.”
Harry, “Sometimes I forget to put my hearing aids in and I can’t hear shit without them. I don’t like getting old. It’s the shits. I’m nothing but a pain to everyone. I’ve laid in bed and tried to will my heart to stop. But the goddamn thing just keeps beating like a big bass drum. I’m ready to go—-I swear. I’m too young to die and too old to be of any use. I get turned around sometimes and can’t hardly recognize myself in the bathroom mirror. I bang myself on something and I end up with these blue and purple goddamn bruise marks up and down my arms. (Takes off his glasses and rubs his forehead). “How did this happen. When did I become so old and useless.”
Martin,”The days must get long here. I’m sure you get bored. You hate TV and it’s hard for you to read with your poor eye sight.”
Harry, “Sometimes it feels like this world has gone to shit. I use to watch the news and read the paper, but I don’t bother these days. Nothing but bad news repeating itself. I wish I could do yard work the way I use to. I like to work, it makes me feel like I’m contributing. I’d give a million dollars if I could go hunting or fishing one more time. Remember how we use to duck hunt?”
Martin, “Yeah, every October and November. we’d get up when it was still dark. God, it would be cold and foggy. There’s a certain smell in the morning when the fog and dew clings to the cattails, smells earthy, like damp dirt. We’d be silent, and then suddenly out of the fog we’d hear the sound of those mallards heading our direction. You’d always give me the first shot, and if I missed sure as shit you’d always get them before they got out of range. You were always a better shot than me.”
Harry, “Mom would make us a thermos of coffee and when she wasn’t watching I’d top her off with a little brandy. A little something to take the chill off.” (Laughs). “I don’t talk about it, but I miss mom everyday. It always feels like there’s somethings missing. Sometimes I even forget she’s gone and then suddenly it will hit me that she’s not here anymore. I’ll hear that one of the grandkids accomplished something and I catch myself wanting to run to her and share the good news. Things have never been the same sense she passed on. You live with someone over fifty years and you get to know each other in a way young couples can’t yet understand. Ever wonder why old couples are sometimes so quiet?”
Martin, (Laughs). “I thought they’d already said everything that needs to be said, or they’re just sick and tired of one another. They’ve probably heard all the stories one to many times.”
Harry, “Don’t get smart. No, they’re quiet because they already know how the other person feels—-thinks. They can see it in one another’s face, in their eyes. Now that’s a rare and beautiful thing. She knew me, I knew her. To know someone that way, well, that’s love. I miss that comfortable feeling.”
Martin, “I’ll make you a deal. If I take you fishing, you’ll agree to check out that assisted living facility.(Silence) Come on, what’s the harm. Maybe you’ll catch your limit.”
Harry, “Okay, I’ll go, but you’re not dropping me off if I don’t like it there. And, if it checks out, I’m only agreeing to stay on a trial basis, just while you’re on vacation.”
Martin, “Okay, let’s shake on it.”(Extends his hand and they shake). Why don’t you go and change your clothes and will have some lunch. Put on one of those new shirts, please.”
(Martin walks into the kitchen.)
Erin, “I know this is really hard for you, but we’ve got to do something. He’s becoming more and more difficult to take care of. If he runs away from home again and gets hurt, we’d feel guilty.”
Martin, “I made a deal with dad. If I take him fishing, he agreed to stay at the assisted living facility while we’re on vacation—-for a limited time on a trial basis.”
Erin, “What! Are you freaking nuts. Men, I’ll never understand them.You guys never grow up. What did you guys do, make a pinky promise?”
Martin, “Don’t be ridiculous, we made a man to man handshake on it. This is progress.”
Erin, “He could trip and fall in the river and drown.”
Martin, “Ah baloney. You can make us sandwiches and a thermos of coffee and we’ll have a great father son day.”
Erin, “Yeah right. Are you gonna pour some brandy in it? Don’t you think I knew what you guys were up to back then. Drinking brandy and handling guns. Now if that’s not a recipe for a disaster, I don’t know what is.”
Martin, “You knew about our little secret? It was strictly for medicinal purposes, something to improve blood flow and increase body temperature.”
Erin, “God all mighty, men are nothing but big children. You guys go fishing, but only if you promise to be sober.” (She extends her pinky). “Pinky promise?” (They join pinkies).
Martin, “Well here’s his suitcase. Do you wanna see what a grown man takes with him when he runs away from home?”
Erin, “Sure, probably only the necessities, booze and a Swiss Army knife.”
(Martin sets the suitcase on the kitchen table and opens it.)
Martin, “Okay, let’s see what we got here. (Opens the suitcase and starts taking out its contents.) “Bottle of Jameson and a Swiss Army knife. Wow, looks like you nailed it.”
Erin, “Men, they’re so predictable and so basic.”
Martin, “Okay, what else do we have here? Wedding photograph, a picture of him with his hunting buddies.” (Stops to stare at the photo). “If that doesn’t resemble a drunk gang of fools, I doin’t know what does. A guitar pick, his wings from his pilot days in the air-force. A roll of twenty dollar bills with a note on top stating ‘Three hundred and sixty dollars’. Here’s the watch they gave him when he retired and his prized piece of memorabilia, a baseball signed by Joe DiMaggio. One change of clothes, trousers, shirt, underwear, socks, three ham and cheese sandwiches. A key to the front door of our old house, a key to his 1966 Ford step-side pickup. Cheap cigars, Brill Cream and Old Spice after shave.” (Martin smells the old spice). “If there is a scent that reminds me of dad it’s the peculiar mixture of tobacco, Brill Cream and Old Spice. That’s what the cab of his old truck smelled like. It’s a funny thing. You can take what comprises an entire lifetime and stuff it into a single suitcase. I think dad was packed and ready to go. Everything a man would need for a long journey. I guess all we take with us is a suitcase containing our memories.” (Martin shakes his head) “What am I going to do with you dad?”
(Martin and Harry sitting in canvas camp chairs with their fishing poles cast into the river).
Martin, “Look what I found? (Pulls out a couple cigars and two tallboy beers). Swisher Sweet cigars, your favorite and an ice cold beer. I promised Erin that we’d stay sober. One beer isn’t going to get us drunk.” (Martin grimaces and holds his thumb.) “Damn I stuck myself with that freaking hook again. How do you tie that stupid fisherman’s
Harry, “Here, give me that. Even when you were a kid you’d get in a big hurry and get things all tangled up. Fishings all about taking your time and relaxing. Life goes by fast enough without rushing through it like someone chasing the wind. Here, now bait the damn thing and throw it out there and see what happens. Ain’t that just like life.” (Lights his cigar and casts his line).
Martin, “Dad, I think I got a big one tugging on my line. (Martin stands up and Harry gets out his fish net. After several minutes of excitement he brings his catch up from the water). “Geeez, nothing but a stinking piece of driftwood. Yeah, ain’t that just like life, a bunch of meaningless excitement leading to inevitable let downs.”
Harry, “That’s no way to talk about fishing or life. Sometimes ya catch your limit and other times ya get skunked. You’ve got a good life Martin. A woman who loves you, a good job, a nice home, a family and your health. What the hell else is there? The trouble with the world today is that everyone wants peaches and cream. Well it ain’t all peaches and cream. Me and mom had our share of hard times, but it only brought us closer together. We lost our home in the 55 flood and had no flood insurance. Nothing left but mud up to my ass, chickens in the tree’s and dead animals scattered in the yard. We spent three years in a little three room shack while we cleaned things up and were finally able to get back into our home again. I Got laid off my jobs a couple of times. I had to damn near beg the banks to give me a thirty year loan at a 15% interest rate. Goddamn highway robbery. Banks and Insurance Companies take advantage of people in desperate situations. Mom had to have surgery and that wasn’t cheap either. We found a way to send all three of you kids to college though. But non of that shit mattered cause we’re family and we stick together. If it weren’t for your mother I’d of been penniless and out on my ass. She was always positive, seeing the good in everything and everyone. Once that goddamn cancer got a hold of her, I didn’t know what to do. I’d of sold my soul to devil if it meant I could have fought that battle for her. It took her slow and it was miserable. I just sat in a chair next to her bed and watch her waste away, She never once complained, always worried about me and you kids. At the end it got into her bones and she was drinking that morphine like soda pop. There are no guarantee’s or promises in this life. You got to take each day as it comes and find ways to love what ya got and not worry about what ya don’t have.(Silence) You’ve got a good life now and don’t forget it. I’ve had a good life too.”
Martin, “Yes sir, you got it right. You made a lot of sacrifices for your family and we may not say it all the time, but we appreciate all you’ve done for us. I hope to someday be half the man you are dad.”
Harry, “I use to say to you kids, I didn’t want you to be as good as me, I wanted you to be better. I’ve always wanted you to have the things you wanted. You’ve done well, and I’m proud of you son. But you sure can be a pain in the ass sometimes.” (Laughs).
(Harry’s line begins to bend and shake) “I’ve got something, by god I’ve got one on my line. (Martin tries to take the pole from Harry).
Martin, “Here, let me help you.”
Harry, “Get you goddamn hands off my rod. I got this. This ones a fighter alright.”
Martin, “For gods sake, don’t let him get away. (Martin reaches down and helps scoop the fish into his net).
Martin, “That’s one big ass German Brown. I know what Erin’s gonna be cooking us for dinner. You landed him dad. That’s a keeper for sure. What do you say, ready to pack it in and call it a day?”
Harry, “Oh hell no. Evening is when they start to bite. You got another beer in that ice chest. I never made no dumb ass promise about sobriety. Grab one for yourself, I won’t snitch on ya.”
Martin, “Okay, but here’s the deal. Next week we’re gonna sign you into that assisted living joint for a trial period. Erin and I’ve been planning our trip to Hawaii for a long time and we can’t leave you on your own for that long. They require a minimum one month stays. Consider it a test drive. You may even come to like it.”
Harry, “Yeah sure, if it makes you happy. If it makes you happy locking your father away in a home for old timers. But I’m not staying unless they have a jukebox, free beers and lap dances.”
Martin, “You gotta keep an open mind. These places are just like living in a fancy apartment. They have good food and all kinds of activities. They have a recreation room with a pool table, movie nights, popcorn, the whole works.”
“Harry, “I don’t need movies or popcorn. Those places are nothing but big waiting rooms.”
Martin, “What do you mean a big waiting room?”
Harry, “Old people are abandoned in these places, while their relatives are waiting for them to kick off. I know three of my buddies who got put in one of these places and they were dead within six months. Probably better off that way. Ya know what I realized the other day, I’m the last one alive from my hunting group. All dead, all of them. I miss them all everyday too. Good times, now just memories. Sometimes when I’m day dreaming, I see them as if they’re right there in front of me, young and full of life. I play back those memories as if they were a movie. I look at their faces and listen closely to the sound of their voices, remembering the way they laughed. That’s all I got left of them. I don’t want to forget those things. One thing they don’t tell you about getting old, is that it gets to be lonely.”
Harry, (Points out at the river). “See there. The flies are starting to land on the surface of the water. That’ll draw the fish to the surface to feed. Timing, it’s all about timing. You don’t come to them, you wait for them to come to you. I love this place. The smell of the river, a breeze from up stream, the sun falling behind those peaks. Hear them crickets? God isn’t it just beautiful. You got to promise to bring me back here again when you get back from your trip. You can have your Hawaii, but as for me, I’ll take Valhalla Cove any day. Do you know what Valhalla means?”
Martin, “No, I sure don’t.”
Harry, “It’s where the Vikings went when they died. It was their version of heaven. That’s sure the right name for this place. It’s a little slice of heaven on earth. When my time comes you can bury me right here on this river bank. Valhalla, yep that way I can go fishing anytime I like.”
(Martin and Harry walk into the assisted living facility).
Harry, “I don’t like the smell of this place.””
Martin, “Why do you say that?”
Harry, “It smells of death. They probably have people passing away so often around here that they have the corner on speed dial. Don’t forget our agreement, one month, you promised. Then I can come back home. What’s the name of this place?”
Martin, “Sunny Homestead.”
Harry, “They always give these places such rosy ass names. Names like ‘Golden Years Rancho’, ‘Happy acres’ . Why don’t they call them what they really are. How about ‘Deaths Door Hacienda’, or ‘One Foot In The Grave Manner’ Why sugar coat it.”
Martin, “Don’’t be so damn morbid.”
(Facility representative greets them).
Maria, “Good morning gentleman. My name is Maria and I’m the activity director. We are so glad to have Mr McGill living here with us.”
Harry, “No, I’m not living here. You’re just babysitting me until my son gets back from his trip. I don’t plan on living here with you and all these old people. I still have my faculties about me. I’m not some drooling idiot, shitting his pants. At least not yet.”
Maria, “Why of course not. There’s so many fun things for you to do here that you’ll just love it and will never want to leave. I have my handy dandy monthly activity calendar right here. We have arts and crafts, movie night, chair exercise——workouts you do while seated. We have bingo, singalong Fridays. Everyone enjoys our ice cream socials on Sundays. We even have square dancing for those who are ambulatory. You look more like one of those hip fellas who might enjoy our yoga chair class. We have several of the church groups that make site visits. What do you think of that?”
Harry, “I suppose you don’t have a bar in this joint or free lap dances.”
Martin, “Dad, don’t be rude. He has an interesting sense of humor.”
Maria, “We do have Mexican Dinner Night and we serve virgin margarita’s to the more ruckus among us.”
Harry, “What if I wanna go uptown and watch a ballgame or something.”
Maria, “Oh no, that’s frowned upon. Residents are only allowed out of the facility if they are checked out and checked back in by family members or approved visitors.”
Harry, “I told you Martin. This place is a fucking prison sentence. I wanna go home. They’re gonna treat me like a goddamn criminal. The only crime I’ve committed is getting old.” (He starts to stubble back towards the front door.)”
Maria, (she gives a silent signal to one of the male staff members to intervene). Mr McGill please give us a chance to show you how nice it is here.”
Harry, “Call your goon off me. I’ll stay for one month, but it’s only because my son has begged me too.”
Maria, “We do take field trips in our mini bus to town. We go to the mall, to the Rose Gardens and one time we even attended a play at the community playhouse. That group of actors are so very talented.” (A shameless plug for community playhouses).
Harry, “I don’t like plays, I don’t like malls and I hate Rose Gardens. Have them drop me off at the Indian casino. I once hit a royal flush there for fifteen hundred bucks. I bought the whole bar a round of drinks.”
Maria, “No we don’t take trips to the casino. We do have pinochle Tuesdays. We also have Monaco Night where residents can win tickets and then cash them in for fun gifts. It’s a real hoot.”
Harry, “Yeah it sounds like a real barn burner.”
Maria, “Well let me show you around a bit. There’s the recreation room that the men love. They can get a bit rowdy in here at times. There’s the big screen TV room that’s great for sporting events. There’s the cafe, the coffee shop, the beauty parlor and the patio. We have cookouts on the patio in the summer. We have a piano here that some of the women like to play hymns on. Then of course we have your room all ready for you.”
Harry, “I suppose you have bars on the windows. That’s the only kind of bar you’re gonna have in here.”
Martin, “Dad, that’s enough. You’re embarrassing me. You’ll like playing the piano.”
Maria, “We even have a Kazoo band that puts on performances. They’re really quite good. Do you know how to play a Kazoo?”
Martin, “No, but maybe that pretty nurse over there can show me how to play my Kazoo.” (Makes a gesture grabbing his crotch, then hakes his head in disgust). “Oh lord, this is going to be a long month.”
(Martin and Erin dressed in Hawaiian outfits).
Martin, “Thirty years of martial bliss, we’ve made it baby. We finally made it to your dream vacation——A toast to the ocean, to love, to us.”
Erin, “Thirty years——time sure has flown by. Do you realize that this will be the first time in a long time that it’s just you and me? Right about the time the kids left home your dad moved in.”
Martin, “Yeah, time has flown by fast. We’ve gone from changing baby diapers to hopefully not changing dad’s.” (Laughs).
Erin, “Now that’s not funny. I think your dad is going to like the assisted living facility.”
Martin, “Why do they call it a facility? It sounds so cold, sterile and depressing. There has to be a better marketing term. Why not something like ‘New Horizons’ or ‘The End Of The Rainbow.’ No, that one sounds too final.”
Erin, “Your dad’s gonna be just fine. He’ll acclimate and end op liking it there. They’ll be things for him to do. He can reminisce with other residents. We’d both rather have him at home with us, but that’s just not realistic anymore.”
Martin, “Ya know, in twenty years I could be in the same situation as dad. I wouldn’t want to be a burden to our kids. If it got to that point, I think I’d take matters into my own hands. Make me a promise. If I get old, feeble and can’t live on my own, do me like an old dog.”
Erin, “What, take you to the Vet and have them de-flea ya, give ya an enema and vaccinate you for rabbles.” (Holds him close and gives him a kiss). If they ever put you away, they’d have to move me in right there next to you. We’ll always be inseparable. Let’s just enjoy each day as if it were our last. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Look at that beautiful sunset.”
Martin, “We’ve got something special. Mahalo my love.”
(Cell phone rings).
Martin, “Hello. What? Dad, what’s wrong? Slow down, slow down. They what? They confiscated your pocket knife? (Pause) The orderly stole your Jameson? (Pause) Jesus freaks visit and try and scare you into joining their religion? (Pause) You wanna come home? (Pause) They only let you play poker for penny candies? Now you’re stuck with twenty dollars of worthless Jolly Roger candies? Okay, okay. Just relax. We’re coming home from Hawaii in five days. We’ll be home for a couple of days and then we’re going to Lake Tahoe for a week. I’ll meet with Maria before we leave for Tahoe and straighten things out. Just hang in there. I’ll see ya in five days.”
Erin, “What’s wrong?”
Martin, “I was afraid of this. He wants to come home. He scared, he’s pissed off, he’s homesick.”
Erin, “It just takes time for him to get use to his new surroundings.”
Martin, “He’s slowly having to give up his freedom. His body has betrayed him, his mind is failing him——he’s doing his best to fight off all this aging bullshit. He doesn’t want to admit that he has to depend on other people to help him, especially having to depend on strangers. He has a lot of pride. He doesn’t want to appear weak or soft. That activity director Maria, she doesn’t seem to understand that you can’t treat dad like a child. His self respect is all he has left. You rob him of that, then you might as well put him out of his misery.”
Erin, “We’ll, when we get back have a meeting with Maria and explain to her how she needs to be sensitive to dad’s mental state.”
Martin, “Maybe they’ll allow me to take him out for the day.”
(Martin meeting with Maria in her office).
Martin, “I got a call from dad and he was a bit panicked. He said he had his pocket knife taken and that one of the staff members stole his bottle of Jameson.”
Maria, “I’m sorry, but for the residents safety, we don’t allow knifes or any kind of item that may be a danger to them or others. As for the alcohol, that’s strictly against our facility policy. Alcohol can affect the med’s they may be taking, plus it can may lead to negative and inappropriate behaviors.”
Martin, “Dad would never hurt another resident. He’s always carried a pocket knife. He uses it to fix things or too clean under his fingernails. And the Jameson, well he sometimes has a shot if his arthritis flares up or if he needs it to help him fall asleep.”
Maria, “I’m sorry, but those are our polices. We create a dynamic and fun environment here, but for the good of all the residents we also maintain a very controlled atmosphere.”
Martin, “Yeah, I guess you can’t have the patience running the insane asylum. Sorry, that kind of slipped out. I have some of my dad’s sarcastic humor. Other than those issues, how’s he doing?”
Maria, “He caused some issues at first but he’s gradually becoming acclimated. He tried to leave a few times but we keep him monitored closely. He was taking money from some of the other gentleman at the pool table, so we had to ground him from playing. He use to play the piano and the women really enjoyed it. He sure knows how to play that boogie-woogie style. A couple of the women seemed to have had a crush on him. But he made it very clear that he’s only had one love and that’s all he’ll ever have or need. Lately he doesn’t come out of his room very often. He just sits in his chair staring out the window. He says he’s watching old movies——whatever that means? He doesn’t eat much. He keeps insisting that you’re coming soon to pick him up and take him fishing. Boy, he thinks the world of you. Brags on and on about you. He tells everyone that you have a big job and a beautiful home. Says you’re smart, clever, but can’t tie a fisherman’s knot to save your life.”
Martin, “Which reminds me, do you mind if I take dad out for a few hours today?”
Maria, “Oh no, that would take us back several steps in his acclimation process. It would be very bad. He wouldn’t want to come back and it would be emotionally overwhelming for him. He’ll be here with us for a month, in let me see? (Thumbs through Harry’s file). Nine days. And by then he should be stable enough to go for an outing.”
Martin, “I’m sorry, but I’m taking him for an outing today. He needs to know that I haven’t abandoned him.” (Stands up and heads for the door).
Martin, (Enters Harry’s bedroom. Harry’s back is to the door, he’s staring out the window. He hears someones footsteps entering his room).
Harry, “No, I don’t want lunch. I don’t want to sit in the TV room, or do Yoga. I don’t want to square dance or string beads. I don’t want to attend a fucking painting class unless theirs a hot nude model. Just leave me alone.”
Martin, “Well, I see you haven’t lost your snide sense of humor.”
Harry, (Turns around abruptly). “Martin, Jesus Christ, I knew you’d come back for me.”
Martin, “What would I do without my favorite fishing buddy. I want to spend the afternoon with you dad. Let’s get out of here.”
(Seated in Martin’s car).
Martin,”I have our fishing gear in the trunk. How about we head out to the river and see if we can catch our limit?”
Harry, “That sounds like fun, but what I’d really like to do is go home.”
Martin, “Dad, I can’t take you home today. Erin and I still have reservations for our trip to Tahoe. We’ll be back in ten days and once we get back we can talk about if this assisted living faculty is the right place for you.”
Harry, “I don’t want to go fishing, I want to go home. I’m talking about the home where your were raised. Sometimes I feel like an old kerosene lamp that’s running out of fuel. My memories start to go dim and then they flicker in and out of focus. Certain places take me back and refresh my memories. I was thinking about our old house the other day and I actually couldn’t remember what color it was. Isn’t that funny? I remember the three birch trees in the front yard and the four steps leading to the front door. I remember coming home from work and the smell of pot roast greeting me when I opened the front door. Mom sure could cook pot roast. She’d have those potatoes and carrots in the same pot soaking up the delicious juices—-crispy on the outside, soft on the inside. I miss her cooking. Oh my god, and her baking of cakes and pies.
Martin, “Stop, stop. I’m gonna drool on myself.”
Harry, “I can still see that big ole walnut tree in the backyard. I just can’t remember the exact color of the our house.”
Martin, “I haven’t driven by the old house in a long time. Let’s take a ride over there. I remember that one summer you and I painted the house. I got mad because I wanted you to pay me for helping. You said families members don’t get paid for helping one another. Families look after one another. But, when we were all done you gave me a hundred dollar bill. I’d never seen a hundred dollar bill before. I thought I was rich. But even more valuable than that hundred dollars, you taught me a good life lessen.”
Harry, (Points at the house). “Yellow with white trim. I should have remembered that. Yellow was always mom’s favorite color.”
Harry, “It looks smaller than I remember.”
Harry, “It was even smeller before I finished the attic and added those two dormer windows. Man, if I could go back in time, this is where I’d go. So many Christmas and Thanksgiving get togethers celebrated right here. I’d give a thousand dollars to mow that lawn again on a hot July afternoon. Then have myself a cold beer while barbecuing some New York steaks. It’s funny how some memories are attached to certain places. It’s like being haunted by old ghosts of days gone by. We sure had a good life right here——as perfect as a Norman Rockwell painting.”
Martin, “I remember you telling me once that the best complement you could give another man is to say that he raised a good family. Well, dad, you raised a good family.”
Harry, “Thanks. Want to know something? Even back then, I always knew I had it good. It was the best time of my life and I loved everyday of it. Thanks for letting me see our old home one more time——ghosts and all. You can take me back now. I can now come back here again anytime in mind when I need a fond daydream.”
Martin, “I’ll be back in ten days and I promise, we’ll come up with a better living arrangement together. There’s got to be a something better than this. We’ll put our heads together and come up with a game plan.”
Harry, “Yeah sure. The place I’m at has too many goddamn rules. I know I can’t do a lot of things I use to do, but I still need a reason to wake up in the morning. Have you ever heard of the French saying——-raison d’être?’
Martin, “No, what’s it mean, what’s the translation?”
Harry, “In French it means, ‘Reason for Being’ That’s what I feel like I’m missing. Ya get older and it’s easy to lose reasons to carry on. The kids are grown and moved on. I no longer have a job to report too. All of my good friends have passed on. My dear wife has gone on ahead of me. It’s hard to find a reason to get out of bed. I stare up at the ceiling and ask myself what am I going to do today what am I going on for?”
Martin, “Come on. You’re still good at stirring things up. You have that activity director not knowing if she should shit or go blind. That’s reason enough to get out of bed.”
Harry, “The day I stop stirring shit up———well——-do me a favor.”
Martin, “Sure, what dad.”
Harry, “You’ve got my deer rifle, right?”
Martin, “Don’t talk like that.”
Harry, “Would you want to keep living if you’re drooling, shitting your pants and not able to recognize your own family members? If I get to be like that, well, just take me on a field trip to the river and bring the rifle. Leave me there on the bank and I’ll take care of the necessary business. You’ve got to promise me that.”
Martin, “I would never do that.”
Harry, “If our roles were reversed, I’d do the same for you. Please. I’ll rest a lot easier if you promise me this.”
Martin, “Who the hell knows what tomorrow may bring. But I promise that I’ll honor your wishes, whatever they may be.”
Harry, “Know this, I’ve always been proud of you and I love you more than you’ll ever know. You’re my boy.” (Put his hand on Martin cheek).
(Five days have elapsed. Martin is at the nursing facility to pick up Harry. He’s at the reception desk).
Martin, “I’m here to pick up my dad, Harry McGill.”
Receptionist, “Let me call Maria. She’s been trying to get a hold of you.”
Martin, “Oh yeah, I lost my phone when I was skiing in Tahoe. White phone, white snow, that suckers gone until the spring melt off.”
Maria, (Waves Martin over to her office. Reception buzzes him in). “We have an emergency on our hands. Your father has made an escape and has taken eleven residents with him.”
Martin, “What? This place is a locked facility. How the hell could he escape. He’s not Houdini, he’s an old man using a walker.”
Maria, “Well, apparently he bribed the night watch staff person to leave the back door unlocked. One of the residents who backed out at the last moment said he bribed the night staff person with three hundred and sixty dollars. He must have stolen the mini bus keys while he was flirting with the CNA.”
Martin, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Maria, “We might have a real situation on our hands. I called 911 and there’s an all points bulletin broadcasted to the police and sheriff departments. He’s been really depressed lately and telling some of the residents that being trapped here was making life not worth living. The resident who stayed behind said the group was talking about going to place called Valhalla. Apparently, it’s a place where the Vikings went to die. They made some kind of pact. I’m afraid he may have convinced some of his fellow residents to perform a mass suicide. Do you know what that means for our marketing? We’d forever be the facility known for allowing its residents to run off with a madman and kill themselves.”
Martin, “Madman? Who the hell wouldn’t go nuts imprisoned at your concentration camp. You’re worried about marketing! Who gives a shit about Marketing, this is about saving the lives of my father and eleven other human beings.”
Maria, “Do you have any idea where he may have taken them?”
Harry, “I have a good idea where they may have gone. I’m heading out to find them.”
Maria, “I’m coming with you.”
(They arrive at Valhalla Cove).
Maria, “I hope we’re not too late. I will be pressing charges against your father. He belongs in a jail or an insane asylum and not an assisted living facility.”
(They arrive at Valhalla Cove.The river bank is lined with residents sitting in canvas chairs holding fishing rods).
Martin, “Dad, what’s going on. Is everyone alright? Are you alright?”
(Harry is wearing a fishing vest and using a cane, not his walker. He’s wearing a fishing hat with fly hooks attached).
Harry, “Of course we’re alright, in fact we’re better than alright, we’re great.”
Maria, “How can you be alright? You’ve kidnapped eleven people and selfishly talked them into a mass suicide. You’re like some kind of Jim Jones cult leader. The police are on their way and buddy boy you’re going to be arrested.”
Harry, “You’re the crazy one. Everyone came here by there own choice.”
Maria, “I was told that you made these people make some kind of pact with you to go to heaven——-to go to Valhalla like the Vikings did when they died.”
Harry, “Yeah, we made a pact to go to Valhalla, known as a place the Vikings went to die, also know as heaven. This place right here is called Valhalla Cove and it’s as close as you’ll ever get to heaven on earth. They made a pact to give me fifty dollars to cover the cost of fishing rod rentals, snacks, beer and to pay our bus driver. George over there had his grandson come and chauffeur us in the mini van. I would have driven, but my eyes have gone to shit, although I can still tie a pretty good Parachute Adam fly.”
Martin, “Why didn’t you get permission.”
Harry, “We don’t need permission from her or need a hall pass. We’re all living on borrowed time, so why not do what we want. We’re all here today, gone tomorrow. Carpe Diem. We are seizing the day. For the amount of money they charge us to stay in that prison, they should be providing trips to Disneyland and weekly fishing trips. I feel younger just being out here in god’s country.”
Martin, “For someone can’t remember what day of the week it is, you sure can remember a lot of fancy words———Carpe Diem———raison d’être.”
Harry, “Words are sacred to me, they sustain my memories——they define my day dreams. It’s a shame more people don’t know how to use words properly. Without an appreciation for words how the hell are ya gonna tell a good fish sorry.”
Martin, “Speaking of fish stories, are they biting today?”
Harry, “Why hell yes. I told all the these old farts to bring an extra pair of Depends, cause if they get a whopper on the line, they’re likely to shit their pants.”
Martin, “I see you got the barbecue going.”
Harry, “Get a plate and fix yourselves some lunch. But if you’re gonna stay and fish, you’ll have to pony up fifty bucks, just like the rest of us. Go on over to the ice chest and grab yourselves a couple of beers. Oh Yeah, George’s grandson runs a fishing charter outfit and said he’d be glad to take me out fishing whenever I wanted. He said he was looking for someone who could teach his customers how to tie flies. If you behave Martin, I might even allow you to tag along.”
Martin, (Lifts up his beer to make a toast). “Everybody, raise your beer, a toast” ‘To raison d’être, carpe diem and Valhalla Cove———a little slice of heaven on on this spinning blue ball.’
(“Fire and Rain” plays as the actors take their bows). Old
If ya wanna know a man,
Watch how he treats an abandoned, angry, scared, flea-bitten, sad-eyed, mangy mutt.
Feel free to substitute any living thing in place of the word mutt, then extrapolate what becomes of those who’ve been hurt, abandoned and mistreated. Anger is the child of hurt. To be disconnected and made to feel invisible leads to a masked rage. It may erupt at anytime, at anyone, for seemingly no reason——-but there are reasons!
He sits there, motionless on a bench in the deserted park, late January——the cruelest of months nestled within the dark soul of winter. Head stooped, glassy eyed, staring into the nothingness of an empty playground at 3:13am——there are reasons he sits here.
The courts, madhouses, homeless shelters, and prisons are full of those who’ve been denied love. Technology has given us more ways to communicate, but the best we can do is send silly faced emoji’s to communicate our feelings.
When he cried no one came to hold him. When he was hungry no one came to feed him. No one comforted him when he was frightened—– or showed up to chase away the boogie man hiding beneath the bed. There were no whispers in his ear telling him that everything is gonna be alright. The technical term for this malady is “failure to thrive”. What a stark definition——for someone left loveless. Without love all living things wither, curl up and cease to breathe. Love is the only nutrition to sustain ones soul.
Why are the ones most starved for love, the last ones to receive it? To have never known love is to be emotionally orphaned. Those that have never received love, will never know how to show love. We become the product of our environment. The surest way to kill a living thing is to treat it with Indifference. Neglect is worse than hate, it reduces living things to inanimate objects—As if broken people can be replaced, or dismissed as irredeemable, locked up and kept out of sight. We’ve become a disposable culture, with a throw away mentality. Our society will be judged by the way we’ve treated our old, our young and those most vulnerable.
The swings squeak in the chilly breeze, a raven lands on the monkey bars, frost clings to the silent blades of grass, clouds of steam rise from the duck pond. All is in waiting for the rising of a better sun.
If you have a love surplus, spread it around. You can’t keep it, unless you give it away.
Love is a holy thing.