Summer Time and the Senior Living's Easy

There's never a dull moment at Sunrise Senior Living. After you've either gotten over or come to terms with the fact that your loved one has entered this elder center as the eminent "final stop" in life, whether on or against his/her own accord, there are bountiful opportunities for the rest of us free people who visit the facility regularly to hunker down and laugh death square in the face. Once you've gotten all the weeping and pouring over family photos and nostalgia and reminiscing and boo-hoo-hooing out of your system, you really begin to appreciate how fleeting, and downright hilarious, life and its final moments can be. To be frank, if any of these people had the capacity to string together a coherent sentence, their advice to you and me would go a little something like this:

"My children, please, come close. Closer. Closer still. Ah, yes. There you are, your pretty faces. Children, it is in my final moment that I beg of you: do not take life too seriously, for you never know which day will be your last. Too many are the things we take for granted, such as the very clothes on our backs and modern orthodontics. Speaking of which, would you be a dear and fetch my dentures and personal effects from my cell? I want you to break me the hell out of here,
right now. I would rather die by the side of the road than rot in this prison."

The fact is that anyone who has ever frequented a nursing home of this caliber, let's say more than once a month, has witnessed and made mental note of enough absurd material to take a crack at penning a decent anthology about people who forget their own names, are spoon fed and sleep away the better part of an afternoon drooling on themselves. People who use a variety of wheeled contraptions to traverse carpeted hallways, and who poop their pants and hide the soiled trousers where they please. People who might smile one moment, and haul off and kick a resident or pet the next, for reasons that have long since escaped them.

Before she died, our grandma had a good stint at Sunrise, sleeping somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 hours a day in her "golden years." In addition to the unopened Christmas gifts and get-well cards and dusty picture frames and baggy, old clothes that no longer fit her scaled-down, 85-pound frame, she left behind grandpa, her husband, who still bides his time, albeit unknowingly, in the lower ward of Sunrise where they quarantine residents who have mentally checked out of life altogether. It's easier that way. For them. For the staff. For all of us. To sort of corral them into one area like that so they don't wander the halls and alarm virgin visitors who are not privy to the sedated, senile underbelly of Sunrise.

Out of sight, out of mind.

When grandpa was lucid, typically in the small window between a pill wearing off and before another had been administered in one of those small paper condiment cups, he became increasingly occupied with knowing the whereabouts of his "bride." We realized we had come to a crossroads. Should we tell the man the truth, which would surely devastate him? Or should we fabricate, "with good intentions," a soft story and quickly change the subject as we wait for the next pill to kick in? We pondered this for a while before realizing that no matter what we told him, no matter how accurate or far-fetched the tale, he would not be able to remember any of it.

For all he knew, grandma was on holiday in the Alps, taking to the black-diamond slopes in the morning and, later in the afternoon, carving up the moguls and half pipes. She was giving a series of award-winning seminars to prestigious universities across the country on the implications of global warming, and how we can all do our part to better the environment by reducing our carbon footprint. She was on tour with Coldplay. She was here just a second ago, and now must be in the adjacent room, or the garden, tending to that ol' rose bush that was in desperate need of pruning...

She was running for president.

Each of these seemed viable. More viable, in fact, than the harsh truth that grandma had passed away. So we ended up alternating our approaches, as if we were holding a recurring, redundant press conference where a lone, forgetful reporter asks the same question over and over and over again, with us family members huddled behind the microphone, covering it with our hands as we consult each other before giving a smattering of responses, sometimes building and playing off the assorted stories and plots and individual bursts of creativity we enacted.

As awful as this all might seem, it's a real quandary, and can only be fully understood when you've been in the situation yourself. And grandpa's case is just one man's example of the greater struggles being featured daily at Sunrise.

Take, for instance, the man confined to a dilapidated bed on wheels, who always screams for Henry. Nobody even knows who Henry is. There is no Henry. When he is not parked in the corner of the room by himself, screaming for Henry, he is stationed by the fireplace with his visiting family members, screaming out for Henry some more. Interrupted, his family jumps back at first because of the sheer loudness of his random outbursts, giving way to a slow shaking of their heads, as they've been duped like this millions of times before, yet, somehow, after all these years, still do not have a single clue or lead as to who the hell Henry is. Given the urgency of his cries ("HENRY!") and the mumblings surrounding them, it's become obvious to me that this is some sort of military flashback. The only other words I've heard him mutter are the seldom "DUCK!" and "INCOMING!" Granted, he has also been known to rip a huge fart and laugh hysterically after these signals.

Or how about the stalker woman who cameos as a kleptomaniac? She's rather speedy for a gal her age, as none of us can ever seem to shake her. She's also ubiquitous, and has that entire lower ward down like the back of her veiny, little, thieving hand. She particularly enjoys spending time with our family, too, which is another harrowing concept I've yet to elaborate on: the simple fact that these lonely people crave attention and interaction with young, warm blood so much that they'll satisfy their urges with just about anyone, regardless of who that person may or may
not be. So we see a quite a bit of her, usually when she's rifling through mom's purse directly in front of her. And this also awkward. How do you politely tell this woman not to steal from you? She's smiling the entire time she's doing it, by the way. Ear to ear. What does a person do here? Slap her wrist? No. Grab her arm and push it back toward her torso? Probably not. Quickly retract your purse? Sure. But then she looks so damn disappointed. You almost have to let this woman steal from you, and then track down the lifted items at a later time. They're not going very far anyway, and there certainly isn't a black market in the lower ward where hot objects can be pawned for dime bags. Colostomy bags, maybe.

But the piano savant is quite possibly our family's favorite. A real diamond in the rough. For knowing not what she does, she does it pretty well. We discovered this person, or rather she discovered us, last Christmas when she found us on the couches helping grandma and grandpa unwrap their gifts. The savant helped, too, which was weird, waxing on in Mad Lib form where blanks are populated with randomly selected words from the dictionary and sentences turn into one big chunk of undecipherable code. Once she was through with us, she took to the piano bench. Before we had a chance to brace ourselves for the careless clunking of keys, she launched into a chilling holiday ballad that took us all by surprise. By the time she reached the chorus, we sat with our jaws dropped, in agreement that this woman was on fire. All of this coming from someone who blinked a lot, whose hands trembled and shook with a force that would make for an excellent drummer rather than a pianist. But somehow, someway, this woman was a sage on the baby grand. Her fingers fluttered past black and white keys, her feet in Darco medical shoes steadily working the pedals. Surely the biggest surprise of 2007.

That same day, we were warmly introduced to the overly affectionate woman, who gave my dad gifts in the rare forms of hugs, kisses, shoulder massages, physical gestures and sweet-nothings whispered directly into his ear. Such unique presents. Aw, poor dad. We could tell it tickled, mostly because she is a heavy breather, and having someone breathe a hot, heavy breath into your ear is, um, tickly-ish. And straight-up creepy. From what we gathered, he somewhat resembled her deceased husband in his prime, which made bidding her adieu practically impossible. She wasn't going anywhere, and we didn't want that kind of guilt hanging over our heads on baby Jesus' birthday. So she just kind of hung out and we had ourselves a little senior mixer of sorts, trying our best to mitigate her passionate advances on my father.

Somewhere amid all the calamity, you will find at Sunrise the youngest life-form by 80 some-odd years: a lone feline named Smokey. Smokey is an overfed, overstuffed cat - gray, chunky, mean and lazy. I'm not kidding when I say she could very well be the infamous I Can Has Cheeseburger cat. Or a miniature bear with cat-ear transplants. Smokey bulked up to her plump size not by hitting the weights or raiding the medication room late at night for steroids, but by eating all the food that these poor people are unable to get into their mouths that ends up on the floor at three different points during the day. You'd think there were regular food fights considering some of the unruly residents, and vivid scenes of seniors up-ending tables and hiding behind trays and wheelchairs as they chuck handfuls of mashed potatoes and sandwiches fill every guest's head. Sadly, it's not that exciting. It's simply a case of coordination, or the lack thereof. It's also a dirty job, and some organism's got to do it. Sunrise doesn't even need a vacuum cleaner this way. They have the Smokey 5,000, and Smokey 5,000 has Sunrise. Meow.

That Big Harry Potter Scar, and How it Got on My Forehead in the First Place

If my hair is short enough (or parted by the wind in some unfavorable way); or if my face is red enough (which it usually is, regardless of season or embarrassment level); or if the lighting is right; or if you get close enough to the maritime vessel that is my gigantic, empty head; you will notice a big, vertical scar running down the middle of my forehead - an authentic marking with unauthentic intentions, as it all too closely imitates the one Harry Potter sports and treats like some accessory or piece of personal branding or business card. Trust me, it's not that glamorous. But how did it get there in the first place? My scar, dummy, not the boy wizard's. I have no idea or interest in knowing how his got there, though I'm sure many of you do, including the riveting ins and outs of which spell or sorcerer he contended with to come out so scathed. No, this is a selfish post, dammit, and I intend to stick to the agenda here: explaining the unsightly brain-scar that is giving me an eternal hug between the eyes. Geeze.

Fifth grade. Winter time. Recess.

Gearing up in the coat room, us boys struggled by our cubbies with our snow suits for the second time that day, the difference being that this time our mothers were not present to help us hoist and shimmy and pour our pudgy little figures into the insulated torture device. Or maybe that was just me. My grapefruit-sized calves never seemed to fit into my snow boots properly, and by the end of March they always ended up looking like salt-stained wind socks or tarps.

We were already choosing teams for football before we even reached the field. One of my closest friends, Tom, also one of the smartest people I knew at the time, selected me. I always thought Tom was particularly bright - a prodigy even - not because he could multiply double-digit numbers, do long division, give exact change when working the school cafeteria (contrasted with the many times I erred in assuming there were 60 cents in a dollar and gave change thusly, for in my head there were 60 minutes in an hour, which, after all, were the two elements the world valued most - time and money - so they must operate on the same metric system for good measure), pass physical fitness tests with flying colors, return library books on time, or talk to girls without stuttering or tripping over his own two feet and hating every inch of himself for it... but because he always seemed to pick me first or second for football games, and this ranked him pretty high in my book. Tom saw through my doughy, girthy exterior to note my true athletic prowess on the miniature field.

Truth be told, it was because of Tom that my social and athletic standings (often directly correlated, often the exact same thing) went up at an alarming, exponential rate. Dave was picked first?! That means something right there. I don't know what it means, exactly. But there's something there. But it is also because of Tom that I now walk the streets at 25 looking like I'm in between classes at Hogwarts (I don't read the books, really, this is just what people tell me).

At the peak of the game we were up big. So big, in fact, that we tried showboating a bit to impress the couple of girls who had strayed from the larger pack of girls who were busy doing girly things during recess, like being cold or not playing in the snow, much too occupied to watch us champions in snow suits on the grid iron.

Tom called a huddle. We were going long. I was going long. A Hail Mary. The sweet, saccharine stuff dreams are made of in fifth grade (though now I know some guys grow up and never relinquish this fantasy). I had barely heard him yell "hike" before I was running haphazardly down the snow-covered field, flailing my arms as if I had no control over them. Then the pig skin was in the air, and I was sprinting straight ahead, past my ADD-riddled opponent, toward the end zone, with my head turned back over my shoulder to look for the ball.

I caught it. I freaking caught it! Mom would've been proud. But in the short seconds between making that catch and turning forward in my stride, I ran face-first into the goal post. My forehead met the corner of the wooden beam, and I stuck there for a moment with it wedged in me. It cracked me open the way a fresh cantaloupe would look if someone took an ax to it. I fell backward, onto the snow, blacked out and came to only to find faces looking down on me as it started to rain. For as far gone as I was, I could tell something wasn't quite right about the rain: it was thick and clouded my eyes and tasted weird and the only place it seemed to be raining was on my face. Then I rolled over to feel what felt like a garden hose protruding from my forehead, squirting my livelihood all over the snow like some cruel holiday arts-and-crafts session gone horribly wrong, where you're only provided cotton balls and red glue and told to "make something beautiful for your mother." Next came a lot of high-pitched screaming. I guess the girls had decided to brave the snow after all.

When I managed to bring myself to my knees, the crowd's reaction can only be compared to that of people witnessing mauled bodies come to life again as they take to the streets as zombies of the living dead. None of them were willing to help me, and they all stared and shrieked as if I were about to hunt them down and snack on them and turn them into zombies, too. To this day, I have not seen a pack of people disperse quite like that. Pandemic pandemonium. Though I wasn't a zombie (yet), I sure sauntered and staggered around the playground like one. My only goal was to find one of the lunch ladies who supervised recess. Upon finding two of them, they gasped and shouted even louder than the little girls had. Ha-... Halp?! My head. It's. My head is. Ahh! Somehow they got the picture.

What happened next was, and still is, confusing and irritating. I started to lose control of my legs, I'm guessing because I had lost the liter equivalent of a couple 7-11 Big Gulps of blood, or maybe because zombies need to rest a lot because they have such stiff legs and never seem to bend their knees. You know, people can faint that way. Anyhow, with my limp body semi walking, semi being dragged by their arms, I started to give way and turn gray (even more zombie-like!). This was simply unacceptable to one of the women, who insisted I "stand up straight and stop getting blood all over the clean halls." Oh, right, 'cause I can do that. Thanks a lot, lady. Die in a fire.

I had never heard our principal swear before, but I got to that day. With the three of us barreling into the front office and me fading in and out of consciousness, I stuck around long enough to hear her say, "Oh, holy SHIT! What in the... Just what in the hell is going on here?!" It must have been a sight. Then the ambulances came and they strapped me to a wooden board, which I thought was used for unruly patients, which confused me because I surely wouldn't be putting up much of a fight, but I soon found out it served the purpose of keeping my body on the board and off of the parking lot floor. They shined bright lights in my eyes and asked me questions like, "Who is the president of the United States?" and "What is our state's capitol?" and "What is 10 times 10?" and posed challenges like, "Recite every other letter of the alphabet" and "Count by odd numbers," which annoyed me because I never got any of those things right on tests anyway. I needed Tom. But I gave it my best shot, with whatever part of my brain that was still in tact and not stuck like gum to the wooden goal post. Apparently these were ridiculously easy questions, and served as some sort of barometer to escalate the severity of patients' cases if they got X number of questions wrong. I think I passed, or failed, depending on the way you look at it, with flying colors. I went to the front of the line and got right into the emergency room.

The next thing I remember, I was being told that the 45 stitches in my face would come out in due time, and that the crimson, lightning-bolt scar of raw flesh would mend and turn out to "not look that bad." Well there's a vague diagnosis. My mom was pretty strict back then, so you know what she did? After scolding me in the car for playing in the snow so carelessly, we passed the very road we lived on. Where could we possibly be going? I needed to go home. I needed to rest and curl up in blankets and eat Popsicles and chicken noodle soup like all the other kids who smashed their faces in. I needed to learn our state's capitol and what odd numbers meant other than the fact that certain ones were funny or confusing to me. Maybe we were going out for ice cream and Novocaine? Yes, of course! Why didn't I think of this earlier?! We were going for ice cream and Novocaine. To my dismay, we pulled back into the crime scene. Beneath the flag pole, my mom dropped me off at school where I had busted myself open no more than four hours earlier. "Now. You go in and get the homework you missed," she said.

My dad was a little more lax. After being assured that his first son was not dead, the next words out of his mouth were: "Well, did he catch the ball at least?"

P4K, Briefly

Well, this year's Pitchfork Music Festival owned. Was there ever any doubt? Probably not. So, rather than crafting inane amateur accounts of musical highlights and lowlights, I thought I'd offer up some of the stranger sights from the last three days:

Running into Bon Iver and King Khan. What did these two dudes have in common? They put on two of my favorite performances, and I saw them both at the festival's record fair. But, more importantly, what did they not have in common? Quite simple: Bon Iver was fully clothed when I saw him, whereas King Khan was wearing only a Speedo, a cape, and a helmet. Obviously.

saying something along the lines of "Rush sucks." And then seeing a pissed off guy in a Rush shirt head for the beer line. Boy, do I ever hate when that happens.

Supremely intoxicated bikini girl. With throngs of thousands abound, what were the odds I would run into this same person multiple times a day, two days in a row? Apparently pretty high. She was loaded on Sparks, which is where you probably encountered her, too - waiting not-so-patiently in the drink line to fade one shade closer to complete blackness. (Have you ever had Sparks? Just one of 'em? My lord. They make you crazy. She must have had a dozen cups of the alcohol-infused, orange energy elixir each day, and behaved accordingly.) The only things she seemed to savor more than Sparks were, not the artists, but rather her own body, her flesh-toned bikinis, bumblebee antennas and lots of... body glitter? And her blue JanSport backpack, which seemed to contain nothing. She deliberately rubbed up against anyone, male or female, who looked her way, her lone motive to acquire more drink tickets. Or cigarettes. And then a lighter. In that order. (I know this to be true from first-hand experience.)

Guy with "Straight Edge" tattooed across his back. Question: what made this noteworthy? Answer: he was smoking a cigarette. (Please see Wikipedia entry if punch line is not inferred.)

Thousands upon thousands of nerdy white hipsters (falsely) feeling funky-fresh, getting down to the bombastic beats and revolutionary rhymes of Public Enemy. (Needs no further explanation.)

Mud fights. I mean, honestly, what's cooler than hoards of strangers rolling around in a mud pit together? This always makes me feel warm on the inside, and little less dirty than I actually am on the outside.

Look, Ma! No Cards!

I recently read "Bringing Down The House" (which is rather amazing, not because of the way it is written, but because of the utter amazingness of the real events that transpire), and it dawned on me that this particular tale - one of cards, gambling and basic strategy - could not be more foreign to me (and there is a possibility that this is why I found the book to be so good).

Growing up, the only types of cards guaranteed to be found in our household were (maxed-out) credit cards. And perhaps the seasonal greeting card or occasional - occasional - Uno deck. But even that was a stretch. So where am I going with this? Ah yes: I never learned how to play a single card game. Not one. (Some might argue Uno to be a real card game, but when you are approaching 25 and the only quasi card game you are able to play somewhat proficiently with small and large groups of people involves brightly colored cards with enormous letters and numbers and a recommended age of "5 and up" printed on a Mattel box... you have officially proven your loserdom to both yourself and society.)

From the wholly inane (Go Fish) to the common-man's game (Euchre) to lucrative, strategic puzzles (Blackjack), I hadn't a clue. Ignorance is bliss, and I was pretty damn blissful all throughout my youth. While this provided me with ample time to engage myself in other activities (like painting plaster statues of dragons, for example), the number of social interactions and camaraderie I missed out on is a number with even more digits than pi itself.

Yes, for a long while I rode the social bench, so to speak, watching from the sidelines as friends and significant others engaged in the games. It was a lonely time. In the early stages I struggled with math problems in grade nine that involved probability and what-if scenarios where we had to calculate the odds of drawing a certain card from a shortening deck. It was nuclear physics to me. I recall labeling one of these scenarios as "impossible" on a test, in frustrated capital letters and pencil-lead smudges, and I had to stay after class because the teacher thought I was mocking him. Afraid not, sir. On the other end of the spectrum, I even contended in college with drinking games that involved the very presence of a deck of cards, which is torment no one should have to endure.

So as my friends continue to settle down and get married and have kids and further disappear from my life, it is with great conviction that I recommend the following to you bastards: keep decks of cards in your homes. Lots of them. Keep them everywhere. Hide them, even. Help your kids. Help them understand. Full-blown 10-deck Las Vegas style blackjack shoes, books and literature on card counting, clay poker chips, automatic shuffling machines. Cover your kitchen table in green felt, I don't care. Just please: do whatever it takes to set your child up for success with the values, mores, personality and general knowledge of card games that he or she deserves. They will love you for it down the road.

As for me, I guess the skill just wasn't in my cards.

So I Had a Bad Temper

The whole basketball thing got me thinking: I had a really bad temper when I was a kid. Like, really, really bad. Before we launch into this, allow me to offer my deepest apologies to those I offended, wronged and injured along the way.


Let's start with that same sport. There was this one specific game that, close to halftime, showcased me in all my b-ball glory. A career argued by some to be headed straight for the pros. There was even talk - murmurs in the bleachers, rather - of me forgoing college to enter straight into the NBA draft. And all of this at 16! It was a lot for a 5-foot-8-inch nerdy white kid to handle, what with my ability to dribble skillfully with my right hand, and poorly with my left. (It was fine, I just stuck to right side of the court and, voila: problem solved!) Who
wouldn't have wanted to scoop up such hot, budding talent?

Before the half, I guess I fouled another player "egregiously." I think I elbowed him. But then a weird thing happened. In the way Bruce Banner busts through his clothes to become the one, the only Incredible Hulk, a rage wave overcame me. The ref called for the basketball, and instead of obeying him I turned in the opposite direction, lifted up the smooth, orange ball, dropped it and punted it down the court. It hit the gymnasium's ceiling, all eyes following its ascent, closely watching it ricochet like a pinball among the rafters until it finally landed in the upper rows of the opposing team's stands.

That poor ref. Those poor
people. Everyone! Aww. What in the hell was I thinking?! The gall! The ref didn't even know what to do. Guy probably had a steady day job, refereed on the side because he loved the game that much and had now spent several years supervising uncoordinated suburbanites as they launched three pointers and drew nothing but backboard. And now this little punk has done drop kicked the ball the entire length of the gym? You've got to be kidding...

Amid incessant boos from the entire gym - opponents, opponents' parents, teammates, teammates' parents and, obviously, my own parents - both refs decided, rightfully, to eject me from the game. This was a town/city/district first (hence the confusion regarding the punishment). I couldn't play in the next handful of games, and they were a bit reticent to let me play again at all, the first reinstatement game of which we had the exact same ref.

I was humiliated.


Many years before the famous b-ball-punting crisis, my parents tried to get me to take up golf. People who know the current version of me are probably already laughing at this. I know I am! Well, early one summer morning I attended my first golf match. The grass was still freshly dewed as us pre-teens lugged our heavy bags around the links. Before hole nine I decided I greatly disliked a certain player in our group. He was a big bragger, and made it a point to verbally coach each shot he took, squeezing in even more boasting in between our own shots. He was actually pretty good, which only further pissed us off since the rest of us were pretty pitiful players.

Again, I reached that point, that crux where people gasp at what you're about to do or do do. Said kid hit an ego streak, and as he stood there jabbering no more than 20 feet away I instinctively grabbed my driver from my bag and hurled it boomerang style toward his head. He ducked, but the implications of what I had just done were not lost on anyone. I even scared a Canadian goose away, and those things are pretty nasty! By this point we were in view of parents, who all came running over to scold me. This was supposed to be a gentleman's game, for crying out loud! Awwwwww. No gentleman here.

Needless to say, I walked over and picked up my weapon, putting it back into my bag for the last time ever.



Soccer! Well this was bound to happen, if not based off of statistics alone. I've played more soccer games than any other sport, and I wasn't half terrible at it either, which sorta made it more enjoyable! This anecdote might be the most embarrassing of the three since I was the oldest at this point in time. I think I can introduce these quicker now: heated game, opposing player I didn't like (either very talented or a big talker) and me being really ignorant. That's the recipe.

There we were, but
this time it was worse because I physically did something to someone. Ugh. The guy was very small - he could have been a walking stuffed animal. Very compact in every which way. After a verbal assault on my playing, I approached the boy and picked him up. I picked him up! He didn't stop me from doing this, which surprised me. I had no real plan in mind after this, as I hadn't expected to get close enough to him to cause harm!

I had him in the air, his stomach sort of by my face and him yelling at me to put him down, put him down, etc., so I threw him to the side, sort of like forest adventurers throw brush over their shoulders while safariing. I tossed him up and he fell down, down, down to the ground and hit it kinda hard. He said, "Ow!" and by that point the whole game had stopped and I was labeled an ass (yes, rightfully so) and removed from the field at once. Awwwwwwwww.

Don't you learn, boy?! Geeze. What was wrong with me? I remember listening to a lot of Wu-Tang Clan back then, reciting popular hooks like, "Cash Rules Everything Around Me/CREAM, get the money/Dollar dollar bill, y'all," so maybe that contributed? But I am better now, so no worries.