Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Two old ladies

As the school year has progressed in tandem with my relationship with Dreamy, it has become increasingly difficult to squeeze in visits to the nursing home where 97-year-old Celine, the Hospice patient I volunteer to spend time with, is living out her last days. Still, her bright smile, silly phrases ("Here comes my big doll! You're a doll, but not a crocodoll!"), and warm personality have motivated me to continue to find time for her, albeit not as much as I spent with her last summer when I had little else to do.

A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from my Hospice coordinator asking if I would be interested in taking on Celine's roommate, Midge, as well. I accepted reluctantly. Midge is, amazingly, even older than Celine, and will soon celebrate her 103rd birthday. Like Celine, she has Alzheimer's, but unlike Celine it has had a negative impact on her personality. She often yells at me, or bossily instructs the nurses to kick me out when I visit Celine. When she is in a kinder mood toward me, she beckons me to come over and warns me about other people who she is suspicious of. While I am sure she was once a lovely person, it is, frankly, enough to give one nightmares.

Still, I felt that I should accept because she and Celine are best friends, and because logistically it makes sense since they are together constantly. They have spent the past 13 years together, sharing a tiny room with parallel single beds, eating every meal together, and spending 90% (if not more) of every day together.

So it was with a bit of nervousness that I set off last Sunday to the nursing home, steeling myself for unpleasantness from Midge (most recently I was warned to keep my hair away from her as she has begun to grab hair) but looking forward to seeing Celine. When I arrived, I checked their usual hangout spots -- their bedroom, a small sitting room, and the dining room -- to no avail before heading to the front desk to inquire for their whereabouts. The woman at the desk looked stricken when I said their names, and informed me that Celine had passed away the prior evening.

I realize it's a bit ridiculous, but I was shocked. Yes, she's in a Hospice program, and yes, she wasn't able to keep down food the last time I saw her, two and a half weeks before (not to mention that she's 97 years old!). But I thought it was just the stomach flu. Over the summer, each time I went to visit I half-expected her to have passed, but eventually I began to think she might last a couple more years. Clearly, she was ready to go; she had little more to look forward to in life. Still, the way she managed to remain positive under such difficult circumstances was truly inspirational, and I felt her loss tremendously.

Midge, it turned out, was on another floor at a Christmas concert, so I headed down while wiping the tears from my eyes. Most of me wanted to turn around and leave, but I certainly didn't want to have to come back the following weekend, so I decided to stay for a little while and spend time with Midge. When I got there, she was hunched over a cold slice of pizza while a cheesy singer sang Christmas classics like "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire" and "White Christmas."

"Let's get out of here," growled Midge when I asked if she was enjoying the concert, "QUICK." I hesitated, unsure what to do, then pulled Midge's wheelchair out and headed back to the 4th floor.

"Do you want to sit and chat?" I asked when we arrived at the sitting room, thinking nostalgically of my many long chats with Celine that mostly consisted of her telling me how happy she was that I had dropped by. "No!" she barked back, "Take me that way." She lifted a knobby hand and indicated a long hallway. Obediently, I started wheeling her down.

At the end, we came to a right hand turn. "Go left," Midge instructed. "L-E-F-T! Left!" she barked more insistently as she felt me turning her wheelchair the only direction I could go. "There is no left turn!" I replied as cheerily as possible. We walked by some people who were standing and chatting. "Get out of the way!" she shouted, and I smiled apologetically and waved.

After our fruitless walk around the building, a half hour had passed since my arrival. Usually I stay longer, but at that point I was done. I bid Midge goodbye, telling her I was sorry for the loss of her friend. I'm not sure she understands that Celine has died, but perhaps on some level she was sad. And, in the end, my loss is really nothing compared to hers.

Even if I weren't insanely busy it would be hard to face such unpleasantness. Given how full my calendar is, I'm not sure how much longer I can keep this up -- unless, of course, Midge moves on to a better place soon and I inherit a new Hospice patient!

Then again, I should probably just be grateful she didn't get ahold of my hair.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

In which Dreamy develops a taste for bird excrement

Dreamy and I have been spending a lot of time together. When we're at my house, that means that Dreamy also spends a lot of time with my pet lovebird, Persil, since wherever I am is usually where Persil likes to be (and the same could be said of Dreamy). Luckily for me, they've taken a shine to each other. Dreamy doesn't mind the occasional bite, and has taken to calling Persil a variety of nicknames, including P-dawg, P-money, and Perster. When he arrives at my place, his first stop after kissing me hello is Persil's cage, where he stops to pat him and inquire how he's doing.

However, there is one aspect of Persil's personality that Dreamy is not a fan of, and it is Persil's fondness for pooping. "Boy, you sure do love to poop!" he exclaims each time a new little green slime appears, in a voice that strains to be cheerful. Or: "Whoa, I just put my arm around you and got Persil poop all over my fingers!" (After my computer, Persil's favorite spot to poop is on my shoulder.) Lovebirds poop on average once every 15 minutes; I haven't timed him on a regular enough basis to say for sure, but my unscientific estimate is that Persil poops 3 times more than the average lovebird. Dreamy tries to be nice about it, but he's clearly a bit amazed at how blase I am about all the poop.

I know, it does sound gross, and sometimes it is. But bear in mind that lovebird poops are less gross than almost any other animal. They aren't brown, they're a pretty combination of green and white. They don't smell at all. They're tiny. They're easily cleaned up. And, the pee is included so you only have to deal with one bodily emission!

A couple of weeks ago, I gave Dreamy a French press since he was in need of a new coffee maker. Because he's a bit clueless in the kitchen, he decided to give it a test run at my house while I was there to give him instructions. I was showering and getting dressed as this was happening, and every 30 seconds or so he'd call out a question: "How much coffee should I put in?" "Is this enough?" "Should I pack it down?" "How long should I let it sit for?"

Finally, the coffee was done, after he had let it sit for 20 minutes just to be on the safe side. I was about to come out to try a test sip when I heard a strange noise, like a groan. I had never heard a noise like that from Dreamy, so I immediately stuck my head out of the bedroom door. "What's wrong?"

"Persil pooped in the coffee," Dreamy replied, failing for once to maintain his cheerfulness. He pointed: there, perfectly situated in the center of the pour lip, was a glistening, coiled poop.

"It didn't go IN the coffee," I said, trying to salvage the situation. "Let's take the lid off, clean it really well, and put it back on."

"But it might have dripped down," Dreamy replied. It didn't look to me like it had, but realizing I was in danger of getting a reputation for being gross, I acquiesced, dumped the coffee out, and put Persil in his cafe for a time out while Dreamy made more.

The next morning, a bit to my amazement, when Dreamy woke up he proposed cooking breakfast for me. "Do you have eggs?" he asked, "I'll scramble them." To which I replied, dubiously, "Do you know how to scramble eggs?" Well, it turns out he does.

I warned him about not heating the nonstick pan too much, since it can emit fumes that are fatal to birds, but apparently I forgot to instruct him to put Persil away in his cage. Dreamy was happily scrambling the eggs up with a wooden spoon, Persil perched on his elbow, when it occurred to my little feathered baby that it would be interesting to go for a swim in the warm yellow liquid below. He took off and landed squarely in the eggs, face first. Dreamy yelled, reached into the hot eggs, and pulled him out before a second had passed. He handed him to me as though we had been rehearsing the move, while I stayed calm, turned the tap on, and put Persil's oily, egg-covered body under lukewarm water. When most of the egg was gone, I returned him, much subdued, to his cage, where he recovered on his heated perch.

Dreamy and I then turned our attention to our suspended breakfast. He pulled out a feather and what could have been a little piece of herb, or a poop. I told him to trash the eggs and offered to go buy more. Dreamy looked disheartened and uncertain. The, he squared his shoulders. "No," he said, "let's just eat it."

So that's what we did. We ate every bite of it, bird poop and all. And it was delicious.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Dreamy's boyfriend

This afternoon, I received the following e-mail, addressed to me as well as Dreamy's boss/good friend:

From: Dreamy
To: Heathen and Brian
Subject: Christmas concert Sunday

Hey guys,

Sunday at 8 pm is the Glee Club Christmas Concert. Want to come? I'm working on getting tickets!


What most surprised me about this message was not that Dreamy was inviting both me and Brian on a date, but that he was inviting both of us simultaneously. Usually his messages are more along the lines of, "Hey Heathen, Brian and I are going to a concert on Friday. Interested in coming along?" Last week Dreamy sent an invitation to a movie to about ten people; only Brian was cc'ed, since the two of them had already bought their tickets. Over the weekend Dreamy joined Brian for services at his Catholic church. I also received this gem recently: "When are you going to be in Tuscany again? Brian and I have to go to Europe for work, and he has friends who are getting married in Tuscany so we were thinking of going to the wedding. Maybe we'll be there at the same time!"

So sometimes it feels like Brian is Dreamy's boyfriend. However, I'm not complaining. I get plenty of alone time with Dreamy, and besides, it's nice to have a boyfriend who is independent. Dreamy and Brian help each other; Dreamy advises Brian on his musical choices, since Brian has terrible taste in music, and Brian tells Dreamy when he makes unfortunate choices in his attire. Neither one ever hesitates to tell the other what they're thinking. A couple of weeks ago, the three of us were watching Glee at Brian's house the evening after I got a tetanus shot. In an ill-advised attempt to make it feel better, Dreamy reached out and started rubbing my shoulder. Before I could even flinch, Brian shrieked: "Stop it, Dreamy! That hurts her! Jesus, for a smart guy you can be really clueless sometimes." Chastened, Dreamy quickly stopped and apologized.

I'm looking forward to being the third wheel on lots more Brian/Dreamy dates in the future. And who knows, maybe one of these days we'll even find a real boyfriend for Brian and he can tag along, too.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Murse shopping

The holidays are fast approaching. Despite living a religion-free existence, I seem to be hopelessly Christmas-centric, so it's hard for me to keep track of the fact that the holidays are actually already here for some of us, such as Dreamy.

Yesterday I asked my students who celebrate Channukah to tell us about it. Little Jack raised his hand. "Well, it's mostly about presents. We open a few presents every day." "Oh really?" I asked. "And how many days does Channukah last?" "Five," he answered without the slightest hint of uncertainty. "Um, I think it's actually 8, Jack," I replied. "Do you do anything with candles for Channukah?" "Maybe," he replied, "I really don't remember. Mostly it's about the presents." Later, Cooper -- who struggles with language -- told us all about his sister's Channukah party, except that sometimes he used the word Channukah and sometimes he used the word harmonica. I'm about 95% sure that Cooper's sister is not in fact Jewish, and that she once had a birthday party that involved harmonicas. Overall my attempt to educate my students about Judaism was, at best, spotty.

However, I learned something important from the conversation, which is that presents are an integral part of Channukah and, as such, I should probably be shopping for Dreamy. At the beginning of a relationship, it can be hard to figure out what to buy and how much to spend on your new beau. That's why it's good when a birthday comes first, so only one person is setting the precedent for how much to spend and there's no chance of an awkward discrepancy. I want to be generous -- I enjoy being generous -- but I worry that it might make Dreamy feel bad if I spend more than he does. So, for the past few days I've been trying to think of gifts I could buy that would strike a good balance. Small, plentiful, thoughtful gifts might be the way to go.

Of course, one obvious gift option is a murse. I've been encouraging Dreamy to start using one for some time, in the hopes that it will help him to be more organized. (I'm happy to report that he has been MUCH better since I came close to calling things off last month when he flaked on me two weekends in a row. In fact, he hasn't even flaked once since then.) Still, I think a murse would be helpful in myriad small ways, like not wasting time looking for his wallet, car keys, etc.

For murse ideas, I turned to the man who practically invented the murse: my father. Dad collects bags like Imelda Marcos collected shoes. He collects all kinds: luggage, briefcases, backpacks, murses. I noticed over Thanksgiving weekend that he was sporting a manly-looking Jack Spade creation. Unfortunately, when I looked it up the price tag was $200 -- unsurprisingly, since Dad doesn't skimp on his murses. That's more than I was prepared to spend.

So I think I'll start out small and keep my out for murses for a later occasion. The other day Dreamy mentioned to me that Channukah is kind of a made-up holiday, with no strong music or other traditions associated with it. To which I countered: "What about Erran Baron Cohen?" It's been two years since my all-time favorite Channukah CD came out, and many people have forgotten about it in the meantime. But not me. I think I'll send Dreamy a little iTunes gift to get the Channukah season started. His version of "Dreidel" is not to be missed.