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20:07 - Saturday, Aug. 14, 2004
i can tell you a bunch of baloney
yesterday i went to visit my grandmother in the semi-hospital semi-old-folks home that she's been in since about a week ago when she broke her wrist. my intention was to interview her and be able to write a sort of biography, or, more accurately, a transcribed autobiography, since it would be in her words, about her life and travels and experiences. i just think it's about the coolest thing in the world if we can somehow make it so my grandchildren can read my grandmother's words.
but when i got there she was only semicoherent from all the pills they had put her on. even though it was just her wrist that was broken, her whole arm was in a cast, making her sleep lopsided and twisted. she looked exhausted. and depressed. my grandmother is fairly morbid at the best of times anyway, about her own death.... she feels that since she is 89 years old, she should have been dead a long time ago. she thinks that 89 is too old to be. taken as it is, i don't agree, but contextually, i do. if you've ever been to an old people's home, you know why the average human life expectancy is higher. it is not because of better diet, better life choices, or directed evolution. it is strictly prolonging. people still age at the same rate. left to their own devices, they would probably still die in their 50's and 60's.
you realize this the most strongly when your grandmother gets a new roommate while you're trying to interview her. a gray mop of hair followed by a twisted sprawl of bones is wheeled in on a stretcher with tubes up her nose connected to an oxygen tank rolling behind her. her mouth is open. in pain. she has no teeth. she takes ragged breaths, and every so often hacks and coughs violently, moaning in between. they must move her from stretcher to bed, and in order to do so, she must be supported. as she is sitting on the bed, having made it that far, she breathes roughly, 'please, please don't move my legs that way. i just had surgery and it hurts when i...'
they did it anyway. tucked her legs closer so they could swing her into a reclining position. with another moan, she lay down. her oxygen tank gurgled and clicked next to her as she tried to sleep. my grandmother said, as if she couldn't hear, 'well, SHE'S not very good company, is she?'
old people are pushed and wheeled down in the hallways, feebly playing bridge and bingo with other old people they pass. every hour, a nurse comes in for shots, blood pressure, and temperature. in the front room, there is a sign whose face is changed every day. it says:
today is: FRIDAY, AUGUST 13
the weather is: SUNNY, WARM
the next holiday is: LABOUR DAY
tonight's meal is: BOILED FISH and BROCCOLI
on fridays, they cook fish for all the catholic old people who haven't given up on catholicism yet. my grandmother has. she now admits what she never has: that when she went to church with her husband, the priest muttering latin sounded to her exactly like the auctioneer on the lucky strike commercials: 'mumble mumble mumble mumble SOOOOOLD america.'

her words of wisdom as she slowly came out from under the influence of sleep and medicine: 'my attitude has been, why not laugh. there's no use having a bunch of things in your mind that make you unhappy. or make anyone else unhappy.'

while we were talking, people kept coming in and asking her ridiculous questions. one such person introduced himself as the activities director. he had a pad of paper with a bunch of boxes waiting to be checked. he was not interested in her answer if it did not lead to his checking a box. if she began to talk too much, he would cut her off with a curt laugh and go on to the next question, or, if the appropriate box hadn't been checked, he would ask me to tell him the answer. for example:
guy: 'do you like to sew?'
grandma: 'well, in general i did like to sew, but i can't sew without a hand!'
guy: :checks 'past' under 'likes to sew'
guy: 'do you have any hobbies? like watching tv? or reading? or watching tv?'
grandma: 'do you call watching tv a hobby?'
guy: 'well, i do.' :checks 'yes' under 'watches tv'.

look, my grandmother is in the hospital for breaking her wrist. he asked her if she liked to play tennis. you know what she should have fucking said? 'yes! i do! would you like to play tomorrow at 1?!' he's not trying to make anything easier for her. after he was done, she was no less depressed, lonely, or bored than she was before. in fact, since he didn't bother to listen to her full answers or the implications thereof, being too busy checking boxes, i'm sure he made it worse. another nurse said to her in a mocking voice, as she complained about her bed being set to an uncomfortable angle, 'yes, everything's an inconvenience, isn't it, mary?! everything's an inconvenience to you!'

people wanted to know so many inconsequential things when all she wanted was some honest company. 'i should have a sign up by my bed,' she said, 'that has everything anyone would want to know! i'm 90... 89. i'm white. i can.. laugh. i can.. lie. i can tell you a bunch of baloney...'

14:31 - Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2004
the checkout lady
she knows your secrets. she knows your personal habits. she scans each packet of nair hair-removal gel, and she knows it doesn't work, because the next week she scans your sally hansen hair-removal cream. she knows you have a weakness for chili cheese fritos. she somehow knows you end up having to hide those condoms from your parents, because she always bags them separately. she knows that you are from another state because you have an out-of-state grocery discount card. she also knows which state that is. she knows that you prefer fuji apples and the more expensive champagne mangoes. she knows your hair type, because it's printed on the shampoo and conditioner. she knows what you smell like without sniffing, because the scent of your soap, and its ingredients, are always printed large.


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