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Of consciences and kings

The topic today is the moral sense, and the lack thereof. On Sunday I heard more tales of small-town corruption, which surprise me not at all. What surprises me, constantly, is how I managed to be imbued with a sense of honesty and morality and the inability to steal from or cheat people. I really wish I could cheat people, because then I could be like John Edward and charge $350 an hour to pretend that I'm talking to their dead relatives.

John Edward is a fraud. (Click here, here, and here for more than my opinion.) He is a liar and a thief who takes advantage of the gullibility of people who desperately want proof that there is something beyond this life. It can't just end, can it? We can't go poof like a blown-out candle, can we? Of course not, he tells them, and for $350 an hour John Edward will prove it to you. Uh-huh. If you're that lacking in critical thinking skills.

Well, I don't know if we go poof like a candle. What I do know is that if I had the moral sense of a John Edward, I'd be a millionaire today. Because I know what people want to hear, and I'd be charging them a lot more than $350 an hour. Edward is a cheapskate compared with what I could pull off.

Mark Twain, writing as Huckleberry Finn, didn't think much of the human conscience. Huck said that if he had a dog that had no more sense than a conscience, he'd poison it. In The Mysterious Stranger, Twain goes on and on about how the moral sense is what keeps humans from being as noble as animals. Animals, he points out, don't murder each other, abuse their spouses and children, rape, pillage, make war… No, they don't. There are some extremely minor exceptions, but for the most part, only humans wage war on their own kind; only humans rape, beat, abuse, burn, murder, imprison, cheat, starve, steal from, lie to, and commit thousands of daily indignities and horrors. All of which Twain blames on the moral sense, which, he says, we got from God. It's one of the reasons Twain was an atheist.

I'm not an atheist. I have a different view as to whether or not God is running our lives (I think not, or God would be the hypocrite that Twain always shows him to be), but I do agree with Twain in his perception of humanity.

We accept corruption from the local levels of government as a given. When my uncle wanted to extend his shop space, he was refused a permit for as long as it took him to find the right person to bribe. When I brought my car to the muffler shop on the main drag in my town, I was struck by the fact that you couldn't enter and exit off the traffic-filled street, but there was only a parking lot out back. "Why don't you just build a door in the back of the building?" I asked. I was told that they were trying to find the right person to bribe to get the permit, and that they think they finally found the one and would be building that new entrance soon. When my friend's sister, who was at that time an undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, attacked me, and we tried to bring the matter to court so we could get her committed to an institution, the court clerk took one look at the name on my complaint (not mine, the sister's) and the next thing we knew a judge was out talking to us. My friend's father was the ex-mayor of the town and still on the town council. The judge effectively told us that the complaint would disappear no matter what we did unless the ex-mayor himself said something. So her sister remained untreated for a while longer, thanks to the corruption of small-town justice.

Everyone knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who can grease the wheels a little, or wants to find someone to fill that bill. That's why we allow the corruption. If it benefits us, then it isn't corruption, it's doing a favor for a friend. It's pulling strings. It's getting work thrown our way by doing a little something extra for the customer who's on the town council. No, it's not dishonest, not at all. I used my influence with the president of the college I went to to get my younger brother an interview with the dean of his school to prevent him from being thrown out. I thought nothing of it. Was it dishonest? In a completely moral sense, yes. My brother was failing out of school, and he had no one to blame but himself. The dean of his school was a busy man--my brother could have seen one of his underlings instead. But when he told me that he was failing out of school and the dean wouldn't see him, I called in my chits to at least get him a hearing.

And it's this sort of thing that multiplies, until you get scandals like Bob Torricelli and the Clinton Pardons and Reagan's first speaking tour in Japan ($2 million for one speech--ONE speech). Until you get things like the oil companies writing bills that affect offshore drilling, or the insurance companies writing the bills about whether or not we can sue HMOs. A politician is in some organization's pocket? No! Someone call the newspapers! Oh, wait--they already know.

How much do you think AOL-Time Warner contributed to political campaigns? Whatever it was, it was obviously enough for the government to decide that the antitrust laws don't apply to media conglomerates. I particularly like the new FCC decision that it's okay for one company to own more than one station in the same market. We can look forward to seeing Fox and UPN sharing news resources, I'm sure. And how long will it be before the rule is changed again, so that one super media conglomerate owns all of them?

I used to think that Rollerball, the 1970s science fiction movie with James Caan, was a great movie, but would never happen. Now I just wonder WHEN the corporations will be completing their takeover.--MAY


The silence is deafening

So that silence thing is hitting me again, and it's the time of night that makes me think. It was about something I said on the phone tonight to a friend in Connecticut, when she asked me to come up and visit next month and bring any of my friends that would like to come. "I don't really seem to have any friends here in New Jersey," I said. I had friends until a few months ago. I can't really say what happened exactly, only that they stopped calling and inviting me over, unless you count being flagged down on the street as I'm driving by.

I've got a friend who used to live in NJ who now lives in Connecticut who has stayed in touch with me even though she's moving progressively further north--it used to take about an hour to see her, then an hour-fifteen, now it's about two and a half hours to visit.

I've got a friend in Virginia that I speak to several times a week, regardless of how big our phone bills get, and who I visit as often as possible.

I've got a friend in Seattle who went from NJ to Boston to Seattle since I've known her, and we speak frequently and email even more frequently.

I've got a friend in Florida who makes sure she keeps in touch with me, even though she's got a brand-new baby.

But all of my friends who are within a short driving distance seem to have decided that they have more important things in their lives than keeping a relationship with me going. And it is a complete mystery to me as to why.

I know it started unraveling around New Year's. I know I started feeling like I had less and less in common with my friends. I know I started feeling like I was the one who was always inviting myself over, and started to feel like I was intruding. So I stopped inviting myself over. I guess I really was intruding, because I stopped being invited over. And I stopped receiving phone calls.

The real kicker was the weekend I was brushing my teeth and spit up blood with my toothpaste. And it wasn't from my gums. There is nothing scarier than being an ex-smoker and hearing the doctor say in a worried voice that he wants to get a chest X-Ray. I got the X-Ray on Friday. By the time I thought of a lot of questions to ask, the doctor had already gone home for the day.

That Saturday was a party for a friend's little boy. I tried to get in touch with the doctor all day to ask him some more questions about my X-ray. But I thought it wouldn't be right to ruin a birthday party with my bad news, so I said nothing to anyone at the party or afterward. I was told later the real reason I said nothing was because if I didn't talk about it, it seemed less real to me. The next day, I stopped over another friend's for some reason and told her about it. Told her I'd get the call from the radiologist by Tuesday. She said she'd call me to find out what happened.

She forgot.

The one other person who swore she'd call me every day until I got the news from the doctor didn't call, either.

It's kind of an important thing to forget about. It kind of makes me feel like they don't really care about me. It's kind of one of the reasons I stopped calling them. It's kind of the reason the silence yells at me around this time of night, and makes me wonder what I did to make all of my friends stop liking me.

It's kind of the reason I want to move to Virginia now, job situation or no job situation. It's a lot easier to make new friends by starting with, "Hi, I'm new in town!"--MAY



Happy anniversary to me

Today is the third anniversary of my becoming a nonsmoker. In honor of that occasion, I'm going to go out and buy a pack of cigarettes.

Not really.

If I were to calculate how much money I've saved... let's see. Cigarettes were about $20-25 a carton when I was smoking, I smoked about a carton a week. They're up to $35-40 a carton now--let's be generous and average out at $30 a carton for 156 weeks--that's $4,680. Hm. I bought new living room and kitchen sets last year. Throw in the lamp and Chuck (my new Money God, remember), and even the new kitty condo/scratching post I bought when I moved in, and that still leaves enough left over for about three car payments. Not too shabby.

Okay, I admit it. I'm writing this blog in the morning, attempting to postpone that run. I have all the excuses down: I'm tired. I have to wait for Net Access to call me back about my web stats. (Can you believe I had to ASK them to set up the server for stats, and now I have no idea how many of you are actually reading this thing?) The salesman at my old job might call me back with that job offer. Ooh, ooh, and my agent in Richmond might call me with a new job offer! Ooh, and my cat might cough up a hairball! (Okay, he'd do that with or without me here, and takes special pleasure in not coughing it up on the newspaper that I try to place in the trajectory path when I hear him start the process.) And then there are the tomatoes. I have to replant them. I have to mix the old dirt with new dirt. I have to--I have to get dressed! There, that about does it.

Sigh. Okay. I'm going. In a minute, Mom…

11:30 a.m.

I hate you all. You made me run this morning. Okay, maybe I don't really hate you. And okay, I made me run this morning. But that's only because I promised you that I would, and I keep my word. 

Well, I ran the full mile, plus a little over. Funny how I was hungry before I ran and now I'm not so hungry. Maybe I'll just skip breakfast and go right into lunch instead. My lunch that will not include potato chips. Sigh. New SAT question: Meryl is to potato chips as Homer is to donuts. 

I think my friend's advice on how to deal with a charging dog finally settled into my subconscious. There's a house right next to my apartments. The owners have several dogs, including a German Shepherd and some little yip dog that doesn't shut up. As I turned down the sidewalk to go to my apartment, the Shepherd came charging out of his yard, barking and growling. I stopped. It barked some more, its owner yelled at it, I didn't move except for the fact that I was standing there, sides heaving, panting, sweating heavily and wondering if I had the strength to do anything if the dog tried to bite me. It barked once more then went back into its yard, and I turned and went back into my yard. It didn't occur to me to bark back. Maybe tomorrow. 

The deal with a charging dog is this: If you run, they consider you to be prey, and will chase you. If you don't run, they'll generally bark and growl and leave you be. This, of course, will not always work. A bad dog is a bad dog, and it's gonna bite you no matter what you do. But a normal dog will not. So if you stand still, it will bluster and yell and then go away. 

All of which is making you think, "Gee, she's so calm, cool, and collected in the face of danger. I probably would have just run or screamed or something." Well, it could be that. 

It could also be the fact that I was too exhausted to move, and decided being chased by a dog would be a good time to take a break. You never know.--MAY



The Money God arrives

The Saturday before last, I was on my way home around dinner time and completely unenthusiastic about cooking dinner. So since I was near my favorite nonkosher Chinese restaurant, I decided to stop in and get dinner then instead of waiting the two more hours it would take before the kosher Chinese restaurant would be open. Except I parked on the wrong block, and after passing about three stores, I started wondering why all the stores looked different. Since I am, after all, a college graduate, I finally figured it out. Oops, wrong block. Except the very pleasant surprise that hit me was The China House Gift Shop, as in Chinese art and artifacts, not dinnerware. I've been looking for a Chinese painting or a print for my living room wall that would leap out and grab me by the throat and demand that I buy it. That's the only way I've found I can decorate lately--if I'm not completely happy with a piece, I won't buy it. Well, except for my new lamp. I settled. Instead of the $800 George Kovacs lamp that I really want, I picked up a contemporary lamp at Fortunoff's for about a hundred bucks. Don't have the budget for $800 lamps just yet. Give me a little more time. Er, and a new job.

So wandering around The China House, I see a painting of the Chinese Money God. It's a reverse painting, which means it's painted on the glass, not canvas. If that isn't difficult enough, consider this: it's got to be painted backwards in order for us to view it normally. But that isn't what drew me to it, Philistine that I am. What I cared most about was that I like the look of the Money God, and the colors in the painting, and the size of the painting and, best of all, it fits my décor. The proprietor showed me a couple of reverse paintings of various Chinese emperors, but they both looked incredibly grumpy and far too stern for my living room. This Money God is quite the cheerful guy. If I remember my Chinese New Year facts correctly, he's supposed to bring good fortune in the New Year, and you're supposed to hang him up in your kitchen. And if you have more than one Money God, that's even more good fortune.

So I guess the fact that I decided to buy him today is the reason I found a quarter on my run this morning. See, the good fortune and money are starting to pour in already! Oh, yeah--and she threw in a free vase, too, which fits perfectly on the second shelf on my new lamp. Quarters, freebies--I'm just swimming in the dough today. I should buy a lottery ticket.

I think I'm going to name him Chuck. The Money God. Heidi says it's too familiar, and he probably should be called Charles. We'll just have to see.

The runner doesn't stumble

New trend--I'm going to keep on using and abusing book, film, and song titles. In fact, we used to do that as a matter of course at The Montclarion. It's endemic in the media, as I'm sure you have all noticed.

Well, I did run this morning. I managed about three-quarters of a mile, and probably could have gone the full mile, but as I loathe running I convinced myself not to strain myself. I'm a pushover when it comes to not running. Tomorrow I'll run the full mile. Besides, I was feeling a shinsplint, and my hamstrings are sooooo tight, and I could barely breathe, and--see? I told you I'm a pushover.

Let me tell you, that little bit of a run this morning reminded me how hard it is. My knee was hurting, I got abdominal cramps after it was over, and did I remember to tell you how much I hate to run? Why, you may be wondering, do you do it then? Why not just do something else? Why, indeed. Blame it on two people: My brother Dave, and my friend Heidi. Dave's been running since high school, and he's the one that got me in a run when I had barely quit smoking--a 5k "fun run" at the Bronx Zoo. The run wasn't fun, but the zoo was. Heidi is the one who runs two miles a day to keep in shape, so when I visit, if I don't join in the run, I feel, well, left out. Of course, I've never yet managed to do an entire run with her. It's a goal of mine. It would upset Worf a lot less, we think, if I stayed for the whole run. Someday, with her permission, I'll describe a typical "dog day" afternoon run. Here's a hint: Worf is a 95-pound, very agressive male Rhodesian Ridgeback. And her neighborhood abounds with dogs.

I'd forgotten that I get abdominal cramps when I run. Do men get abdominal cramps when they run? I'll bet not. And if they do, it can't be the same kind, as our abdominal cramps are generally from the uterus. I was thinking about that this morning as I was lying supine on the living room floor after the run (sitting on the leather chair was absolutely not satisfactory at all) and Tig was purring in my ear (no matter where or what time of day, he is always ready to join me in a nap, brave cat that he is), and it led me to believe that I've figured out why (sweeping generalization alert!) men are such babies when it comes to pain and women generally aren't. The vast majority of women have to deal with abdominal cramps every 21 to 28 days, give or take. Twelve or thirteen times a year, in varying degrees of severity, it just plain hurts down there. Nearly every woman, from the time she hits puberty until menopause is complete, will deal with that pain month in, month out, year in, year out. I never stopped to figure it out, so I'll do the math now.

Ouch. Something like 400 times since I hit puberty. Only once, however, was I ever incapacitated by cramps. Couldn't get out of bed for two days. It hurt to take the goddamned ibuprofen.

And we're not even taking into account childbirth, which, I'm told, is like experiencing the worst cramps you've ever had multiplied by a hundred or so.

Football injuries. Ha! Tennis elbow. It is to laugh. Boys, quitcherbitchin. Take your pain like a woman!

Odds and ends

I meant to write about this during the blog on the nursing home. The morning after the ambulance situation, I went out on the balcony and saw some guys power-washing all of the wheelchairs. A couple of hours later, there were two rows of six wheelchairs upside down in the parking lot, drying in the sun. This is not a scene you see every day. I found myself wishing I had a camera, but alas, I had none. It's something you never really think about, but damn, it must be hard keeping those wheelchairs clean.

I started my second Experiment in Growing Plants on the Balcony. Bought two cherry tomato plants today, more dirt-type stuff (they have TONER for plants?), and will attempt to plant green beans this year. Last year I killed one tomato plant by overwatering it. No, actually, that's probably why both of them died. This year, I'll see if I can't not water them enough so they live, if you understand my drift.--MAY



Tuesday is my night for T'ai Chi. For the past eight weeks, I've been rushing home from work, eating a quick dinner, donning my sweats and heading over to the high school for the T'ai Chi offering of the Adult School. It was my first-ever Adult School course, and I was astonished to find hundreds of students at the high school the first night of the spring semester.

I like T'ai Chi very much. It's exercise and relaxation, which to our Western minds seems to be a contradiction in terms. But the breathing exercises practically put me to sleep, and the form movements as well as the regular exercises stretch and work nearly every muscle that I have. I even went to the doctor's a month and a half ago because I had unfamiliar abdominal pains and was worried that there was something seriously wrong. I forgot to tell the doctor I was starting T'ai Chi. She couldn't find anything, and a week or so later, the pains went away and I realized they were probably muscle aches. I think I won't be telling the doc anytime soon.

The high school has a brook running through its grounds. The brook runs right in the middle of an amphitheatre that looks like it was built as a WPA project in the 1930s. The second week of class I discovered the amphitheatre, which has a pretty walkway running through it, with a bridge over the brook. It's the way I walk to class each week. I like running water. It's almost been a theme throughout my life. I've lived next to or right near water for nearly half my life. I used to fall asleep to the sound of the brook next to our house in Maplewood. It was nice.

So tonight, I did the usual--take the bridge to class; walk around it on the way home (faster route, and I'm generally wiped by the end of class). On the way home tonight, it's about 80 degrees out, it's gorgeous, I'm admiring the brook, and as I'm walking past it I hear a rustling in the leaves right near me. Oh, I think, it's some cute little woodland animal, probably a squirrel. I stop to look. It is an enormous skunk. I cross the street faster than I have ever crossed a street before. And I now have a new aphorism: You cannot commune with Nature when Nature happens to be a skunk.

Workers of the world, unite!

I just realized it's May Day. Actually, I'm writing this as the clock is ticking towards May 2nd, but what the hey.

I'm on strike today. Yes, I know I was laid off on Friday, but I'm still on strike today. I refused to go to work. Okay, I did go to the Post Office to get stamps, but that's not work. And I did send out my May First bills, but that's not work. Oh, and while I was at the Post Office, the clerk tried to give me those LOVE LOVE LOVE stamps. I asked her to please give me anything but those, as I didn't want the people collecting my bills to think I was proposing marriage or something.

Those stamps make me ill. Most of the cutesy Post Office stamps make me ill. She gave me Apples and Oranges instead. I kid you not--there are stamps that feature apples and oranges. And you have to figure that somewhere in this land, someone is walking around feeling really clever about having thought that one up. "Hey, Joe, which ones should we use?" "Eh, apples and oranges, Bob--they're all the same. Hey--waitaminnit!"

Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.

I like the stamps that have the flag on them, or Lady Liberty, or something simple. Actually, I think they should make a stamp with a smiley-face frowning and sticking its tongue out. I'd use that one for all my bills. Or one giving the bird. That would be a fun one. You wouldn't even have to open up a letter to figure out what the person is trying to tell you. Well, most of us wouldn't, anyway. There's no accounting for stupidity.

While I'm thinking about it…

I watched Ally McBeal last night. I think Calista Flockhart is scary enough to look at, did they have to show us her naked back with all those bones sticking out? Ugh. She's the one who needs to go to rehab, not Robert Downey Jr. SOMEONE MAKE HER EAT SOMETHING!!!! Christ. I quit smoking and gain 20 pounds. I think I found out where the rest of her body weight went.

Thursday will be my third anniversary as a nonsmoker. Happy anniversary to me! Now I'm officially dieting, and tomorrow night, I'll let you know if I actually did as I'm intending to do, which is to attempt to run a mile tomorrow morning before breakfast. I need to. I hate all this extra weight. Even more than that, I hate the fact that there is almost no junk food in my entire apartment. No chocolate. No potato chips. No potato chips. No chocolate. NO POTATO CHIPS!!!!!

I'd better stop. I think I'm going through potato chip withdrawal.--MAY



Unemployed, again.

And the first day of unemployment ends. I gotta tell you, I don't care how nice the weather is or what time of year it is, having to look for a job a third time since last June really sucks. I mean it really sucks. Just in case you don't get it: This really sucks.

The problem is I've never been able to just up and decide: This is it. Time to go out and marry a rich old man and get a sugar daddy. I wish I could. Or at least get a goddamned roommate so layoffs don't affect me quite so quickly.

For a while there I was thinking my phone was broken. No calls from half a dozen people who promised to call me on Monday or follow up on a call from a previous day. I used to love silence. Now I think I hate it.

One of my relationships in college ended rather abruptly, and I was big-time pissed off at my ex. As we both worked for the college paper, it was really easy to let him know this. Mostly I ignored him, making a great show of saying hello to everyone else in the room but not him (what can I say? I was, what, 20?). Finally, I got a letter from him wherein he begged my forgiveness. I've never forgotten what he wrote about my not speaking to him: "The silence is deafening." Silence, indeed, can be deafening.

There's the silence that surrounds you when you turn off the electronics and the world is asleep or at work, and the phone doesn't ring, and there's no one to talk to. The only sounds are the sounds of your thoughts, and I don't know about you, but sometimes I just can't bear the sounds of my thoughts. Those would be the times I plug in a video or DVD.

Thank goodness my town library has a great selection of videos. Expect movie reviews in the weeks to come. Here's a short one: Finally saw Johnny Depp in Ed Wood. He was, as always, wonderful. The movie was so-so.

I sent email to my agent in Richmond. Maybe it's time I give up on New Jersey altogether. My life has gotten increasingly simple when it comes to breaking ties. For reasons I haven't been able to fathom, most of my current friendships are unraveling. I've long since broken off ties with the most high-maintenance of my friends, and some have broken off ties with me, although they never did tell me why. I know I decided I wasn't going to keep any more one-way relationships, no matter who it was. If a friend can't be bothered to return my phone calls or call me up once in a while, instead of making me do all the work, then that person isn't exactly what I consider a friend. I get the usual excuses--it's the job, it's the kids, it's the job and the kids, it's the social requirements--but they just don't cut it. No one is that busy. No one.

I lost my track again. Oh, yeah--so, since my life has gotten that much less complicated, I'm thinking it may be time to get to Richmond. Start all over again. I think it will be a lot easier to make new friends if I'm new in town. "Hi, I just moved here, how y'all doin'?"

Gotta get that y'all down. That, and the ma'am and sir. It's only 350 miles south, but people don't say "yes" and "no" down there. It's "yes ma'am" and "no ma'am", and you're considered rude if you don't do the same. Actually, I like the courtesy. There are a lot of things I like about Richmond. My best friend lives there, for one. It's below the snow line, for another--meaning that Richmond generally only gets hit with the big snowstorms, and when it snows here in NJ, it rains down in Richmond. And it's a beautiful city, and Virginia has about the same population as New Jersey, but I don't think I need to tell you how much bigger the state is. Room to breathe. The sound you're going to hear when I finally move there is going to be the biggest, longest sigh of relief uttered in the history of the world.

You think I'm exaggerating? The county I want to move to has one-tenth the population density of the county in which I currently live. There are 6000 people per square mile here, and that's from the 1990 census. I'm afraid to check the 2000 census.

So maybe now, on my third job search in less than a year, I'm going to wind up in the area I've been spending all of my spare time for the last four years. I think I'd like that.--MAY


Well, it's been an interesting week. Got laid off yesterday--I actually got the news on Thursday, which I found rather bizarre, but had to go in on Friday. Which wasn't really a bad thing, as I had to leave early on Thursday to catch the bus into NYC to go to my first Webgrrls meeting. It was a speech given by Patricia Clark. The topic: Where are all the hot jobs? Serendipitous, wouldn't you say?

I enjoyed the meeting immensely. An entire meeting room filled with women in the New Media and IT industries, ages ranging from the younger side of twenty to the older side of--never mind. Multicultural, multi-country-al (I just made that word up, do you like it?) [There were women from France there. Or maybe they were from Sweden and had French accents. But I think it was France.]

So I met a lot of neat women, and one of them is going to help me design this site. Major yay time.

Of ambulances, old-age homes, and dying in bed

So late last night, somewhere around midnight, I hear sirens--the soft whoop-whoop-whoop kind that make you think a cop's pulling someone over nearby and doesn't want to wake the neighborhood. After a minute or two, I looked out my back window to see if I could see what was going on, because I'm just as curious as the next person as long as there isn't blood involved. There were ambulances and emergency vehicles at the nursing home behind my apartment. I found myself wondering if it was one of those "Grandma didn't make it" situations, and trying to decide to wish the person would make it or not make it. Sometimes, death is a blessing.

My father didn't want to die in a nursing home. He was diagnosed with ALS in February of 1999. At that time, I hadn't been speaking to him for three years. We had a fight that culminated in my telling him to go fuck off and slamming the door behind me. That was after he threatened to disown me if I left after I told him I didn't want to stay and fight with him. So then for the next three years, every few months, I'd call Dad up and this would be the conversation:

Me: Do you want to talk?
Dad: Are you going to apologize?
Me: I have nothing to apologize for.
Dad: Then I have nothing to say to you.

Then we'd both hang up.

So one day a little over two years ago, my brother calls me at work to tell me that my father is going to be calling me soon. He tells me further that Dad's been diagnosed with ALS. Which is one hell of a thing to throw at someone while she's trying to work. So I wound up leaving early because it was just too much to absorb--my father's going to reestablish contact, but only because he's dying.

So, yeah, I was a good daughter. I became part of my father's life, and helped my brothers figure out how to take care of him. I was astonished to find that the only part of our fight he remembered was my stalking out of the apartment and swearing. I did ultimately tell him the entire story from my point of view, wherein he did admit remembering it, and even said, "I must've been some kind of jerkoff or something," which, for him, was basically an admission of guilt and translated means, "I wish I hadn't been so stupid as to bar you from my life for the last three years."

Yeah, well.

So. At first, Dad decided he would only go to a veteran's hospital. Well, Dad's a WWII vet, but he didn't stay in the service, so it would have cost us $800 a day to keep him in one of those. We passed. Then he decided he could live at Daughters of Israel, the nursing home where his brother spent the last years of his life after suffering a stroke, and where my grandfather spent his last year. So we pulled some strings there and got Dad fast-tracked to be admitted for about $800 a week, a huge improvement over the previous hospital. But then Dad decided he wanted to die in his own bed.

By this time, it was the end of April and I was laid off from my job at Lucent. Now that I had all that free time on my hands, I got to be the point woman to find healthcare for Dad. We'd already hired a home healthcare worker to stay with him during the day, and my brothers were taking turns staying overnight. Dad's ALS got progressively worse incredibly fast, because while we were researching all the various ways to keep dad alive longer, he'd already decided that he "didn't want to live life a cripple". And a bout of food poisoning or the flu changed him literally overnight from being fairly independent to needing round-the-clock care.

So we finally found a live-in healthcare aide sometime in May. He lasted less than two weeks, as his version of taking care of my father was not to do the things we asked him to do and treat the whole thing like some kind of vacation where he had to cook food for some old guy three times a day and help him walk to the bathroom. We dumped him and got a woman who had to be made to understand that it didn't matter how good a vitamin shake was for him, my father was going to eat Oreo cookies for breakfast and potato chips for lunch if he felt like it. The first few days, I admit I took a guilty pleasure in knowing that my father, the ultimate control freak, was under the control of a Polish woman whose last patient thrived under her intense (and intrusive) ministrations, including body massage. Then after Dad started complaining too much, I sat her down and explained to her that if he wanted ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, she was to give it to him. That he didn't like to be touched. That he didn't like to be spoken to like he was a child or a pet. I made her realize that not only was he dying, but that he did not want to live, and therefore wasn't going to eat healthfully to prolong his life. And finally, when I was sure things were going all right, I headed down to Richmond, Virginia for the weekend and for a job interview on the following Tuesday.

Tuesday morning, as I was getting ready to go to the interview, I got a call from my younger brother. Dad had become unmanageable in the middle of the night and began hallucinating. He thought his nurse was trying to kill him. She called my older brother, who got there in time to hear Dad's paranoid assertions that the doctors and nurses were all in league to steal his money, and who managed to convince Dad to stop trying to kill our helper. The reason all this was happening was that Dad's lungs were failing, and the lack of oxygen was causing him to hallucinate. He ultimately fell into a coma and died later that night.

Sad. His last hours on earth were filled with paranoid delusions that people were trying to steal his money. Dad was born in 1923, and he remembers having no money and little food during the Great Depression. It affected him for the rest of his life. He hoarded his money and almost never bought expensive items--store-brand toilet paper was a staple that my brothers and I complained about for years. Dad lent so much importance to money that it took precedence over a lot of things--including helping his children. And it made his death that much more horrible.

But he died in his own bed.

Which bring us full circle, and makes me realize why I even started thinking about all of this. Almost exactly two years ago, I was laid off from my job at Lucent. The more things change...

I wonder if the person who needed the ambulance made it through the night?--MAY