Monday, May 28, 2012

The innocence of the crone

My daughter has been indulging in a weeklong binge of watching the complete Dawson’s Creek. Never having seen it, I had assumed it was a kids’ show, and I couldn’t figure out why it would appeal to a 21-year-old. I joined her for an episode. One character tells another that she can’t be friends with him if he doesn’t tell her how often he walks the dog and at what time of day. Perplexed, I asked my daughter what that meant. “Walking the dog is masturbation, Mom,” like, What planet were you born on that you don’t know that? 

On the planet I was born on, I didn’t hear the word masturbation until I was 16 and, in a whispered conversation, my best friend told me, and we both shrieked “Ew!” I didn’t have a male friend I was close enough that I could possibly ask about the frequency and timing of his dogwalking. In fact, I still don’t.

Needless to say, the single episode of Girls I’ve watched was an education and a half!

Sidewalk art

You know those tarry black blobs that dot the sidewalks in every town big and small? My mom swears they are expectorated gum. And maybe she’s right. Still, hard to imagine the size of the child’s mouth that chewed this six-inch-long gob, then spit it out and somehow achieved that suggestive sausage-shaped appurtenance. Or the clean-minded artist who, resisting the obvious, turned the whole business into a cat.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

One pill makes you panic

I got a little nervous my last night in San Francisco. There were four besides me at dinner, none of them in 100% perfect health: my 89-year-old father, who takes many medications for a bad heart valve; my 86-year-old mother, who’s had several strokes and takes a variety of drugs to prevent another one; an 85-year-old friend who’s dying of pulmonary fibrosis and takes lots of pills and carries an oxygen tank wherever he goes; and a 65-year-old friend whose leg was in a cast.

Plastic pill cases are as much a part of the table setting as napkins at gatherings like this. And the pills they hold aren’t just vitamins.

As everyone got up to leave and I began to clear the table, all eyes fastened on a lozenge-shaped tablet dissolving into a wet spot on the table cloth. After several moments of consternation, they all shook their heads.

It was my last night. I was desperate to go home and resume my own life. I lost a lot of sleep worrying about that pale pink caplet. But everyone made it through the night, and I boarded my plane on time.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The horror

One of the projects I’ve undertaken this week is to help my dad clear out some of the clipping clutter that has taken over the house. Yellowing newsprint fills plastic storage bins and festoons couches and chairs and floors. Some of it flutters freely; some of it is carefully filed in meticulously labeled manila folders—hundreds of them. Here is a small sampling of the headings:

Natural Disasters: Earth General
Natural Disasters: Air Cyclone
Natural Disasters: Water Glacial Melt
Human Disasters: Test Lack
Human Disasters: Material Aging
Human Disasters: Operation Failure
Human Disasters: Records Lack
Oil: General
Oil: Depletion Rates
Oiled Wildlife
Search for Meaning: Facts/Long term, Short term, Factoids
Search for Meaning: Truth/Evanaescent, Enduring, Open v. Closed
Search for Meaning: Barriers to Truth/Linguistic, Environment, Faith v. Reality
Doubt & Uncertainty

My dad has resigned himself to relinquishing this vast library of error and catastrophe and despair because he is planning to narrow his attention to a single focus: PTSD. 

Rebellious geezers

When I’m at my parents’ house minding their business—running errands, meeting with their financial adviser and the like—I start out being supersensitive to their feelings. But by midweek, I’ve shed all delicacy as I try to root out mildew in the bathrooms, toss out moldy food in the fridge, swab down the kitchen cupboards. As if they were children and spoke a different language, I enunciate slowly and loudly, carefully explaining the health hazards I’m righteously eliminating. No matter how nice I try to be, my voice rasps with exasperation. I realized I’d gone too far the other day when my father said a bit pathetically, “But I like sour milk.”

Anybody got a weenie?

Something’s not quite right in my dad’s tile-floored shower, so we got a guy out to look at it, and the guy said we should plug the drain with a “weenie” device, which he described as an inflatable stopper, and fill the shower floor with an inch of water and watch over the next 24 hours to see if the water level went down.

So I went to the hardware store and asked for a weenie. The first clerk I spoke with didn’t know what I was talking about. “Are you sure he said ‘weenie’?” she asked. Then she radioed another clerk: “I’ve got a lady here who wants a weenie.” That clerk didn’t know what a weenie was either. Soon there were about four employees discussing the weenie situation. By the time I left—without a weenie—I was beginning to suspect that the shower guy had set me up.

But when I told my dad the story, he reminded me that hardware stores are rife with sexual references. Many electrical and mechanical supplies have “mating” “male” and “female parts.

He said he went in to the same hardware store a while ago to ask for a stud finder, and the woman behind the counter quipped, “I’d like one of those too!”