Candy Rant

"I killed a rat with a stick once."

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Mrs. Fossilfuel Wants Me to Move In

Or so it seems. She's asked the agency to find out if I'm available for "overnights" and three evenings from 6 to 10. I signed on for 2 of the evenings, but nothing overnight. I feel sorry for her because she needs someone with her, and wants to escape the spooky Sondra. And loneliness in general.

It is glaringly obvious to me that Mrs. Fossilfuel needs to be in a nursing home. Even though nursing homes can be their own den of terror, she is too frail to be alone.

I did consider for a moment what "overnights" would consist of with a 98-year-old woman. Probably not all that much talking about our boyfriends or doing each other's hair. One thing I forgot to mention about her: she wears a little brown wig that sits on her head cockeyed most of the time. When I go into her room to check on her in her half-sleep, the first thing she does is quickly straighten her wig.

She's on my mind frequently. I wonder what she's doing, what she's worried about, if she's OK. I knew this job would take up a lot of emotional space, but I didn't expect the inside of my head to be the new studio apartment for Mrs. Fossilfuel. At night a tiny little cot pulls out for her, right inside my skull, and she sleeps there, dreaming of the smell of fried potatoes.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

I Have Seen the Future, and It is Frail

Finally. I got the chance to meet Mrs. Fossilfuel.

I first met the overnight caregiver, Sondra. She's in her forties, pitch-black dyed hair, trying hard to look goth, not achieving it.

She was helping Mrs. F. to the bathroom alongside her walker. Mrs. F. looked up from her hunched-over stance and said "Candy, I'm grateful for you." I said "I'm grateful for you, too."

I had to start boarding up my tear ducts, because I don't do well with such frailty. When I used to go with my dad to visit nursing homes, I got headaches from gritting my teeth at all the blatant misery, and at all the feeble, incoherent bodies.

This woman is coherent. And very very particular about: Everything.

Sondra showed me around. She spoke a long, dizzying litany containing instructions like this:

"...and she HATES it if you leave this cabinet door open..."

"...and she HATES it if you have on the TV, even at a really really low volume..."

"...and you can only pee in THIS bathroom and she will ask you if you messed up the toilet bowl..."

"...and look, here is her silverware. See this spoon? This is her SON's spoon. It has a black floral design on the handle. Do. Not. Give. Her. This. Spoon. To. Eat. With. And see this? This is her son's knife."

And so on. Her son lives in Seattle. But is perhaps somehow gifted in the telepathic arts, and knows when Someone. Used. His. Spoon.

Sondra was about to clock out and showed me her pan of chopped potatoes on the stovetop. She said Mrs. F. finished "not lunch, but breakfast at noon. (Right then I thought, "Bitch, she's 98. She can eat whenever she f*cking feels like it.") She'll need dinner at some point, and you should fry these potatoes but do not get them mushy. And steam half a zucchini and a whole carrot and make sure they're springy. She only wants them springy. You will hear about it if they're not springy."

Piss. OK, first of all, I do not cook. Ever. I have never fried potatoes, and I've used a steamer maybe twice before in my life. So long ago that I couldn't even remember how it fits in the pan. I was going to get bitchslapped by Mrs. F. and I would be shamed into the next century.

Sondra made her sound like a persnickity she-beast. Since Mrs. F. was within earshot but out of sight, Sondra inserted sweeping arm-moves and sarcastic eye-rolling and even a snarky leg kick that easily translated into "Yeah. Get a load of the old hag." Sondra rubbed me the wrong way.

As the day progressed, I found out that she also rubs Mrs. F. the wrong way. When her son called, I of course eavesdropped. Partially to get a better read on her, partially because she's unsure how to work the phone. Oh, and also because I'm nosy. I was delighted to hear her say "Oh son, this new woman, I liked her immediately. Her name is Candy and I just like her looks. She's an older, married woman."

A 98-year-old called me an older woman.

She went on: "But this other girl, Sondra, she's just weird. She tells the most way-out tales you've ever heard. I'm afraid to be around her."

She also told her son that she doesn't need four people coming from that agency. And that those people are all "after the buck." Good God. If she knew what we make, she might rethink that. But then again, she may be calibrated financially to think that this particular hourly wage is big money.

The two most somber moments of the day:

1. Helping her urinate into her makeshift bedpan, a large cottage cheese container, as she stood next to her bed, me steadying her. She was too tired to make it to the bathroom. Her thighs, unbearably thin, shook uncontrollably as she waited a long, long time to produce any output.

2. Helping her change out of the slip she thought she had wet on (she hadn't), into a fresh one. It is a delicate affair. She does still have some modesty, even after the indignities she has endured. I put the new one over her head, wrestled gently with the straps, as she tried to shimmy the old one downward. I had not been told that she has very recently had a mastectomy. Inside my head I was on fire with grief for her. My inner voice was screaming at me: DO SOMETHING! DO SOMETHING FOR HER!!!

And this was the thing that got me through the cooking. I thought "Candy. Look what she's enduring. You can surely cook some damned vegetables. Buck up."

So I cooked, and I made her drink of choice: hot milk with half a teaspoon of instant decaf crystals mixed in. I was terrified she would find the food unacceptable. I prettied it up as much as I could.

"Oh, that tasted good!" she said. I cannot believe how happy that made me.

Take that, Sondra. She hates your cooking because you're weird.

When my relief got there at 6 in the form of Sherrie, the favorite, I found out just how weird Sondra is. She has told Mrs. F. that she can raise the dead. Bitch is crazy.

I go back next Friday. Until then, it's part time office work. There is much to learn from Mrs. F. Just thinking about the tiny things she demands control of shows how desperately we all want control of something. A dishtowel, a meal, a spoon never to be used, the way we live our lives, right up to the very end of a century, if we're wildly blessed with that kind of time. Though I can't decide if it's a blessing or not, to end up so frail, so alone. But she seems to be fighting for every day.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Adventures With Mrs. Fossilfuel

She died while I was there.

Just kidding.

First, my morning started with my usual happy, shimmering face that I reserve for getting up at 4:30 after 3 hours of sleep. This face brings to mind Nick Nolte's mug shot with a little Karl-Malden-in-urethral-distress thrown in.

Scott, being the astoundingly nice man he is, came out to the kitchen to see if I wanted company. When I looked at him and little evil, flaming mermaids blasted out of my eyes and shat up both his nostrils, he took the hint and went back to bed.

Probably the precise moment he had gotten back to sleep, I opened the refrigerator to take out my leftover Chinese food (for my lunch at Mrs. F-f's house) and out tumbled a huge plastic container of chocolate covered espresso beans. It exploded onto the kitchen floor, sending hundreds of little entities rolling in all directions like cockroaches under a 40,000 watt bulb.

It was at this moment that I cussed so hard that some of the shingles flew off our roof, and fell, sizzling, into the dark swimming pool. By the time Scott made it back to the kitchen to see what had happened, I was loudly questioning my belief in a loving God. I tend to overreact in the early morning.

Finally I was ready to go. Directions to Mrs. Fossilfuel's house in my bag, along with blazing noodles and tofu for lunch, yogurt and a banana for snacks, and attired in my sickeningly sky blue company polo shirt.

Several dark, lonely miles later, I get to her house. I've been told that the overnight care giver will be there to let me in. But the house is dark. I double-check the address, walk to the curb to see the house number again. This is the right address. I have to knock.

Knock knock knock.





Still nothing.

Meanwhile, I am freezing. Because not only does Phoenix actually get cold at night, but it is accentuated by not-quite-dry hair.

I have no choice. I have to call the agency and wake up Mavis, the human resources person who is on call.

Mavis:...mumble, mumble, mpthph...Mavis speaking.

Candy: Mavis, this is Candy. Mrs. Fossilfuel is not answering her door, and there's no overnight person here.

Mavis: Oh, she had to leave late last night...she had a death in the family.

Candy: So what should I do? What's the protocol here?

Mavis: Hold on, and I will call Mrs. Fossilfuel to tell her you're outside.

I hear the phone ring inside, so at least I know I'm at the right house.

I listen to Mavis's end of the conversation:

"Mrs. Fossilfuel? MRS. FOSSILFUEL??......yes, your care giver is outside your front door--"

Mrs. Fossilfuel apparently hangs up on Mavis.

Then my call to Mavis is dropped.

I call Mavis again. She tries to call Mrs. F. again. The line is busy. Phone is off the hook maybe? She's gone back to bed?

Mavis: Candy, walk around to the back of Mrs. Fossilfuel's house and bang on her bedroom window.


Mavis: Candy?

Candy: Um, you want me to go bang on the bedroom window of a 98-year-old woman?

Mavis: It's OK. That's what she told us to do.

I stumble in the dark to the back of the house. There is not only no way of telling which window might be the correct one, but there is also no way of telling which episode of "Cops" I'll be appearing on. I should've worn mascara.

Candy: Yeah. This isn't going to work.

Mavis: Let me try to call her again.

Again I listen to her side.

"Mrs. Fossilfuel? Yes. YES, this is MAVIS. Your care giver is waiting outside for you to open the door. (pause) No. She's OUTSIDE. (pause) This is when she was SUPPOSED to arrive. (longer pause) No. Sherrie doesn't come back until tonight. (pause) All right, Mrs. Fossilfuel, but you will still have to pay for this..."

Mavis: Candy, Mrs. Fossilfuel says she needs to rest today and she doesn't want anyone to come. So you'll get paid for the whole day anyway.

Candy: Well. This is bizarre.

Mavis: Yes, but she does this sometimes, and usually on Saturdays.

Candy: Good to know.

Thus ends my false start with one Mrs. Fossilfuel of Phoenix, Arizona. Although it was nice to begin my (what will probably be short) tenure with elder care with a paid day off, I felt very sorry for her. Awakened in the middle of the night to be abandoned by her apparent favorite, Sherrie, then struggling with her walker to the phone a few hours later. To talk to Mavis. Who is black, and noticeably so, even on the phone. Mrs. Fossilfuel ain't no fan of the blackies.

I am signed up for another shift with her tomorrow, Sunday, from 1-6 p.m. At this point the whole thing is slightly Hitchcockian. As though there is no Mrs. Fossilfuel. I was lured to "her" house under false pretense, for unsavory reasons. Like a middle-of-the-night Mary Kay makeover party with a forced minimum purchase of $100, or a group reading of Rod McKuen poems. I will get to the bottom of this.



But I will tell you that while I stood outside her door waiting, I was very quiet. And motherly.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

She's HOW Old?

My first assignment at the Senior Care agency is a 12-hour shift this coming Saturday, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Yes. Let that soak in for a moment. It's me, Candy, who believes that getting up before noon is deep, sticky blasphemy. And didn't I just suffer through a semester of unbearably early teaching, leaving home before the sun came up?

Now, add on these details: The woman, who I will call Mrs. Fossilfuel, is 98 years old. She has recently taken a fall and cut her head open, and thus her son, a dentist in Seattle, now demands that she have 24/7 care. According to the briefing I got, (along with my high-quality company polo shirt, tote-bag and nametag), she is "very difficult to please" and has told three of the five care givers that have shown up at her home not to come back. About 2 of them, she told the agency "She's a very nice girl. It just wasn't a good match." I wasn't told what her reaction was to the third. But I was told that she said "I don't ever want any black people in my house."

I am curious to see how I do with her. It's hard to imagine that I will be her "good match," since she requested a "quiet, motherly type." The fact that I am being sent in next is a sign that the agency is running out of options. I'm the next in a long line of annoying jesters to approach the ill-humored queen, who has already thrown a dozen into the lion pit along with their punctured whoopie cushions.

Although I think of old age and mortality a lot, possibly more than I should, I cannot imagine how much it would suck to be 98 years old, my only son living what might as well be four galaxies away, and at the mercy of a gaggle of strangers shooting through a revolving door each day. I want to make her happy. But she may hate me. If she does hate me, I will have to accept it, then go back and steal all her pots and pans.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Update on a Life Stuck in Neutral

Well. Here we are again.

Nice weather we're having. Blobbity blobbity blip.

Here's what's going on at the Candy House. Stupid stuff. January stuff.

On the job taking care of the elderly: The training for CPR got postponed until tomorrow. Because last week when the class was supposed to happen, the CPR woman had an emergency. You have to wonder what that was about.

On the first day of training, there were supposed to be 7 "trainees." 4 showed up, and 1 left immediately after the drug test. She disappeared. Just like she'd dropped through a trap door. No, it wasn't me.

I got my first assignment last week, without CPR training. It was supposed to be a 2-hour-per-day "shift" watching a woman who had recently fallen. But the shift was cancelled. No word as to why.

Meanwhile, waiting for another assignment, I've started working part time, temporarily answering phones and such at a very cool business in Phoenix. Partially responsible for its cool factor is that Scott also works there. The regular administrative person is out because of major surgery and I'm filling in for a couple weeks. I cannot tell you how odd it feels:

1. To be working in an office, nowhere near teaching. Doing things like sorting mail. I don't hate it. It gives me time to think. I'm just all akimbo in the brain pan.

2. To be leaving the house again. Since December 13th, I've been a stay-at-home, uh, recluse. Seeing people was simply out of the question. Aside from the 5 days with my family, I avoided humans altogether. I've done this a lot in my life. During the summers before I married Scott, I would go 4 or 5 days without leaving my house. No contact with people, except for email. I love doing this. I don't care if it's unhealthy. It's not like I was writing a manifesto. At least not more than the first draft.

3. And it's 1,000 miles beyond weird to be working in the same place with Scott. We're on different floors, but he frequently pops upstairs to blatantly sexually harrass me, which makes the day go faster, indeed. This may be hard to find in my next job.

January is, overall, going to be remembered by me as a rather annoying month, a month of limbo, and a month of feeling like I'm separated from the world by many layers of gauze. Most of my friends are having a kind of pissy month, too. Strange detours, money problems, restless minds, tired bodies, existential questions, general malaise. Why is that? Why is January such a fat, ugly, pimply bridesmaid in a lime green satin dress? And what will it take to get her to remove her ill-fitting pointy high heels from our necks?

May she catch the bouquet. And may it be made of the egg sacs of spiders.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Big-Ass Oranges

19 cents a pound. I bought 4 of them. So I could watch them rot while I eat Doritos.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Siesta Time at the Candy-Spa

When my family (parents, sister, niece) visited after Christmas, we packed an enormous amount of stuff into 5 days. Scott went above and beyond the call of the son-in-law's duty. He drove us all to Sedona on New Year's Day to see some of the most beautiful scenery on the entire planet.

It was truly amazing to get to experience this with my mom and dad. (Even though it was freezing and we had to buy my dad a sweatshirt to put under his jacket, just to be able to exit the car. I was too stupid to remember that we would be going NORTH for 2 hours.) We traveled those treacherous drop-off roads through the mountains that are so scary and gorgeous that you are torn between oohing and aahing and shitting your pants and crying for your momma. Luckily, mine was in the car.

This photo is from one afternoon when my sister and niece took my car to go explore the seedy side of Phoenix (the malls), and I set my parents up with their own little private vacation spot by the pool, in lounge chairs, and equipped my mother, whose eyes are still recovering from cataract surgery, with a big floppy hat. She looked like an aloof movie star, poo-pooing the photographers on the other side of the pool. They relished bathing in the sun instead of suffering back home in the 19 degree weather.

I've never, ever had a family member visit me at my house and spend the night. For some of the family I was always close enough for them to drive home at the end of the day. (The rest of the family never visited.) This time I got to pamper them. I fixed up their bedrooms and laid out their towels and turned down their beds and bought four kinds of bubble bath.

Scott cooked like crazy. When they arrived, late in the evening on the 30th, he had two kinds of homemade soup waiting for them on the stove: ham and bean, and smoked turkey and barley. He made frittatas for breakfast one day and "Dutch babies" (not actual infants from Holland) the next. Salmon cooked on the grill for dinner, surrounded by lemon-halves and about a thousand kinds of veggies. Once we finally finished that main course, he carried out six separate little chocolate cakes he had baked for us and sprinkled them with powdered sugar. My mother cannot get over her wonderment at how *I* got a guy like this one. Neither can I.

We took my parents to see their old friend Bob, 91, who served with my dad in World War II. Bob, who has been too frail to travel to the annual army reunions in Cincinnati for the last few years, lives in an assisted living residency 45 minutes from here. He was thrilled with the visit and marveled that he had never had this big a crowd in his apartment before. He has an astounding singing voice. It still booms from that fragile wisp of a body, and he sung a couple of hymns for us. I recorded it all on video.

Very few things in my life will ever rank up there with those 5 days. I know it will never happen again. We pushed our luck with having my dad endure a 4 hour flight. Prayers were mercifully answered and he did OK both ways, with the only snag happening in airport security, both ways, because of his expired driver's license. He got examined more than a Playboy in a junior high boys' locker room. Yeah. Check that guy out. He's got Al-Quaida written all over him. Quick, get him out of that wheelchair so we can wrestle him to the ground.

He asked constantly "Where are we?" and my sister wrote on a little notebook "We are in Phoenix, Arizona. We are here to visit Scott and Candy." He held it on his lap. I sat next to him in the van we rented, and on the way to Sedona he looked down at it dozens of times. Still unsatisfied, every few minutes he'd ask "Where are we?" I'd say "We're in Arizona, Dad."

His answer, every time: "What the hell are we doing here?" It became our catch-phrase for the trip, which amused him.

As we expected, when he got home to Indiana he did not remember coming to Arizona. He did not remember seeing Sedona, even an hour after we'd left there. This broke my heart into little splinters which flew around my chest like dust. But I am so grateful he got to come here at all. And I will never forget.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Life Without Teaching

This is the first time in ten years that I'm not preparing for the new semester.

Normally I'd be slamming together my class syllabi, making trips to campus for copying, checking my online rosters to look for students I know, relocating my other-than-pajama-like clothing, and commiserating with my colleagues in disbelief over how instantly our "break" disappeared. Oh God no, we say, the students are coming back. Run for your lives.

Living life on semesters becomes a significant pattern, a little ditch that the monkey of your brain jumps into for 16 weeks, and then back out of for semester break or for summer. And then you stop teaching altogether and the pattern is gone and the monkey stands baffled, scratching his itchy monkey butt, trying to find a ditch to jump into. Ditch gone. Monkey lost.

So what am I doing now that I'm no longer teaching? Mostly flailing in a beastly, frothing sea of uncertainty, and scratching my monkey butt. It is, to say the least, a challenge.

If you were reading this blog when I was sick and tired of being sick and tired of my students and of the drudgery of trying to force the rotten little scum-sucking bast--, um, trying to persuade the slacking 90% of them to do any work, then you may be thinking "Bitch, are you ever happy?"


OK, yes. I have moments of happy. Lots of them. But there are of course pros and cons to every job, and one of the pros is the familiarity. Or wait. Is that a con?

It's both. Two mints in one! (Are you old enough to know that reference?)

I admit it, I already miss being in the classroom. It's in my blood, as they say. It helped turn me into a person. But I truly do need a break. Especially after that ridiculous intro semester at the community college, which felt like the hazing at the gates of Hell. "Here you are, Candy! First, just put on this nice jumpsuit we made for you. Oooh! It fits perfectly! What? Why yes! It is made of agent orange! Now stand over there by Mohammed Atta while we gather up the leeches..."

The things I miss most are back at the Big Giant University. And that has to do with the people there. The colleagues as well as the, dare I say it, higher quality of students. I do not miss the sororities or the fraternities.

If I find that I'm pining away for teaching, I'll go back. Already I'm scheduled to teach a creative writing class this summer. I said yes because it was a fluke of an opportunity, given the way the system works here, even if it does pay the equivalent of a cold pile of horseshit.

Scott is watching all this Candy-tilt from a unique perspective. When he left the rock 'n' roll world 4 years ago and moved from L.A. to Phoenix, he also felt lost in the fog. 18 years in the music business suddenly came to a screeching halt, all because he was brave enough to make a change, and walk away from something that had become wearisome. The process he went through to recalibrate was an arduous one, with flailing and baffled ditch-monkeys of his own, and hope and confusion and pain and the ever-present blazing desert sun. We are very different people, but I find it helpful that he's on the sidelines rooting for me.

Today I went in a completely different direction from teaching college students. I applied to work at a place that provides help for the elderly in their homes. Whatever they need to remain independent. There are people who know me who will do a lot of WTF-ing about this. I'm a little weirded out myself. But at the very least, I wanted to do something that felt worthwhile. Dammit. Did I just turn into a Miss Teen USA contestant? Let me tell you what I hope for in the way of world peace. As soon as I adjust my swimsuit and smear Vaseline on my teeth.

In my mostly-vicious heart, I've got a soft spot for old people. Which, hopefully, on Judgment Day, will balance out how much I generally despise children. At least when they're unleashed.

Next week I go for "training." Guess what's up first? CPR.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Choice Words

My good friend EB has selected her word for the year for 2008. What is a "word for the year?" It's a guiding word. Sort of the rudder on the ship of your entire next fifty-two weeks. Or, put into English teacher jargon, it's the thesis statement of your 2008 essay, which will be titled "My Life." (Please double space it. Use 12-point font and 1-inch margins.)

When I read her post, I started thinking about what my word would be. I couldn't decide. The first word that came to mind was "focus." Because it seems that 80% of my problems are a result of my not being able to keep my mind on something in particular.

I try, for example, to finish an essay I've been working on for months. I sit down and look at it. I write a sentence. I change a couple of words. I go check the clothes in the dryer. I get a glass of water. I come back to the screen. I check my email. I look on yahoo for the latest celebrity bullshit and to see if anyone has died. I go back to the essay. I'm bored. I wonder what there is to snack on. I wonder what other people are doing.

It makes me feel like a chipmunk that's had hot sauce and Drano poured on its ass and is frantically running up and down a tree trying to escape it.

"Focus" would also be useful in my lukewarm spiritual/prayer life. More focus might actually transform my prayers from the drive-by shootings that they are, to something fully thought out that might possibly transform me. God must get annoyed by this:

"Yeah, it's me again. So. Things are sucking right now. I know that you know that I know you're in charge of things. But could you just fix (insert topic of highest anxiety here)? Or at least help me stop chewing on it like a gerbil with a frozen waffle?"

My prayers are like the irritating friend who calls only when she needs a ride to the airport. After you help her move.

I'm also considering "bagworm" for my word. In case you've never seen one, they're plant eating larva that wrap themselves in these silky, icky, dead-grass little bags about the size of a Brazil nut and then hang onto shrubbery and do nothing. No, wait. They eat. They hang there in those bags and eat and contribute nothing of use to the world except being exceedingly gross because there they are, all these tiny bags and you know there's a worm inside each one. Like a slimy Barbara Eden inside her genie bottle. When I was a kid, my mother would pay me a penny for each bagworm that I picked off the shrubs and threw into a paper grocery bag. Yes. Bagworms in a bag. She would do anything to get me away from the TV.

"Bagworm" would be a cautionary word. It would be saying "Candy, don't just hang around eating and doing nothing while your bulbous ass gets bigger. Get on that elliptical. Wake up. Live in the moment. String some shiny beads. Make something of yourself."

I could go warm and fuzzy and make "Love" my word. But as is always the case when I try to go warm and fuzzy and nice, it would backfire. I would last about 4 minutes in the "I will be a nice person and spread love to all those around me" mode. Then I would stab someone in the thigh with a javelin.

What will your word be?