Candy Rant

"I killed a rat with a stick once."

Friday, March 21, 2008

Farewell, Mrs. Fossilfuel

It is hard to believe I will never see her again.

No, no, my friends. Old Mrs. F. did not die.

She fired my ass.

Let us go back to mid-February for a recap:

Mrs. Fossilfuel's precious, worthless, moneygrubbing 65-year-old son came to call from Seattle. In order to safeguard some more of his coveted inheritence, he cancelled most of the caregiver hours for the three weeks he was in town. I didn't care, since I welcomed the time to work in Scottsdale for the incredibly nice couple instead. But one of the regulars on the Fossilfuel team, Sherrie, a single mom who worked 4 overnights a week at the crypt, pretty much had her job wiped out. She had to take on a whole different client from the agency.

My 4 days a week were reduced to Fridays only. On one Friday, things were Fossilfuel as usual. Her son was at his Mysterious Herbal Shindig way across town, trying to find out how to stay alive long enough to outlive his mother. That was the day I had to leave him the note about the "protein smoothie" ingredient that had expired in 2001.

The following Friday, I finally met him in person. Oy vey. Try as I might, I could not draw any personality out of him. He radiates all the warmth of a silverware tray. And his presence in the house had brought about some changes. Since his mother adamantly refused protein shakes, he was sneaking various potent voodoo powders into her oatmeal, scrambled eggs, etc. As a result, her strength improved. Which is a good thing, right? Unless of course, it restores her to her original personality: rotten nasty bitch-corpse.

I was an odd accessory in the house on those final two Fridays. Instead of taking Mrs. Fossilfuel to her radiation treatment, I stayed behind as a sort of maid while her son took her. I was fine with that. He should take her. He should make his sorry ass useful. The twisty part came when she started to insist that he take her both today and tomorrow. Tomorrow being Saturday. When there is actually no treatment because the doctor's office is closed. When he explained that to her, she shouted "John! Don't you dare let me down, John! You will take me to that treatment, John! It's the most important one!!! Don't you even think about letting me down, John!" (She repeats his name ad nauseum, and I began to suspect that this relationship dynamic has been in place for at least half a century. She berates him; he snivels.)

He and I locked eyes for about two seconds, and I thought perhaps there might be the glimmer of a human connection between us. A mutual frustration with the hostile senility floating through the room like stale cigar smoke. But no. He was blank.

I took care of his mother's personal needs, dressing, bathroom, etc. and got her ready for her appointment. When he brought her home, I got her changed back into her sleepwear, put the rigor mortised possum of a wig onto its stand, and busied myself with any detail that would keep me from interacting with John and his dead gray eyes.

The whole thing was creepy.

On my last Friday there, when I arrived, Mrs. Fossilfuel was in rare form. Everything pissed her off. Today was to be her final radiation treatment, then she and the fruit of her loins were to go to the bank to fondle some money together. There were forms to fill out, accounts to adjust and notarize. I didn't know the whole story, but it seems that she and Johnny were extra antagonistic with one another. I was like an awkward marmoset watching two warthogs kick turds at each other.

During one little scene, John hid back in the guest bedroom while I was left alone with the newly strengthened beast. I noticed that she still had the giant birthday cupcake brought in my her next door neighbor two weeks earlier.

"Shall we throw this away now, Mrs. Fossilfuel?"

Wrong thing to ask.

"NO we will NOT throw that away. I would die of embarrassment if my neighbor came to visit and that cupcake was gone."

It was right then I realized she had turned a corner into a reason-free zone.

"Honey, bring me some scissors. We need to trim these dead blooms off." The dead blooms she spoke of were formerly 18 glorious pink cut roses, given to her by the oncology nurses on her 99th birthday. Trimming them would be pointless. But I played along.

"Where are your scissors?" I asked her.

"They're in THERE in the DRAWER."


She jabs her crooked finger toward the bathroom. Fine. I go look in the bathroom drawer. No scissors.

"Mrs. Fossilfuel, there are no scissors in that drawer," I dare to utter.

"Oh HONEY, yes there ARE."

"No. There aren't."

By this time she is in a full snarl. "You just help me get up and I'll. Get. Them. Myself."

At this point I wanted to say "Oh yeah? Well what if I don't help you up?"

But I locked arms with her and began to escort her as though she was the Twilight Zone gremlin walking in from the wing of the airplane. She doesn't go toward the bathroom. She goes to the family room. To her desk. And she sits down and pulls open the desk drawer and takes out a pair of scissors and SLAMS them down on the desk and turns to me slowly and has the ugliest glare I've ever seen. You know how they say that people look so much younger when they smile? Well, take a 99-year-old hag and make her glare like that, and her head implodes into a chunk of bituminous coal. I glared back and I hoped she could read my mind, which was carefully enunciating "I'm going to put those scissors into your throat now, Mrs. Fossilfuel. Say your prayers, bitch."

You're perhaps wondering where my compassion for her has gone. Well, it was ground off of my heart after about 15 little episodes like this one. And the fact that she had sweet, oh-I-just-appreciate-you-so-much-Candy moments in between only made it worse. Suddenly I was in an after-school special and I could never bring kids home to visit because we didn't know if Mom had been in her special sleepy medicine.

I get it. She's old, she's feeble, and she's unhappy and she's losing cognitive skills. She is to be pitied. But I needed to start pitying her from afar.

When she and her son were at the bank, I got on the horn to the agency and told them that her son was going back to Seattle (he was) and that he had asked me to start coming 4 days a week again (he had). But that for the sake of my own sanity, I would only come one day a week. She was getting too pissy for me. OK, they said. One day a week.

Twice during the bank appointment, they had to come back to the house to retrieve some official document or other. John came running into the house, frantic, his big lanky body turning corners like a startled ostrich. Run run run! Find the right paper! Momma and her powerful signature are in the car seething! I watched all I could take, which wasn't much, since I have a low, low tolerance for a man who acts like such an extreme pussy, and then I walked outside to visit the matriarch in the car.

"I just can't get that John to do anything right, honey. Not one thing. He fouls everything up."

When finally they took off again, I sat on the floor of the laundry room and pondered it all. They were the perfect pair: two little magnetic dolls of resentment.

Skip ahead a few days. The agency calls me and desperately needs me to take care of Mrs. F. on Friday AND Saturday. Please. Just this once.

OK, I say. And then Fridays only.

Half an hour later, the agency calls back. Mrs. Fossilfuel doesn't want me to ever come back. "I don't like Candy," she told them. "She is bossy. And my son doesn't like her either." WHAT?! The very last time I saw her, she was hugging me and telling me how much I meant to her.

BOSSY? Oh yes, I can be bossy. Even agressive. But never in the 7 week tenure of my adventure with Mrs. Fossilfuel did I ever once let myself snap at her or be anything other than gentle. I barely even knew how I was managing it. Had I been bossy, I'd have held her down and poured the rest of the bottle of castor oil into her old gullet, and watched her innards jettison from her like Roman candles.

Had I been bossy, I'd have beaten her to death after this particular exchange:

"Should I change my pad, Candy? How does this one look?"

Imploring my gag reflex to hang in there long enough for me to critique her "Poise" urine leakage pad, I said "I think you should change it, Mrs. Fossilfuel."

"Oh, I think it's still good," she says. (Then why did you ask me, you shriveled mole rat.)

"Well, OK. Whatever you think. I just think doctor's are more willing to cure you if you don't stink."

Silence. She pulls the old pad off of her underwear, in all its disgusting glory and opens the bathroom closet and puts it on a shelf inside. "We might want to use it around the house." Oh yes, by all means, let's polish the tea set with it.

Bossy, my ass. Oh, and as for what your son thinks of me, Mrs. Fossilfuel? He barely thinks at all. He's too busy looking forlornly at the tiny scrapbook where he keeps his testicles. Those ones you chewed off for him the first time he displayed a rebellious side. Like "I would rather not have gravy on my roast beef." They're on the page right next to his spine.

And don't worry. It would never occur to me to dress up as the Grim Reaper tonight and stand outside your bedroom window with my scythe saying "Soooooon..., soooooooooooon."

Monday, March 17, 2008


Bleh. A bad-ass flu. Given that I was at a hospital on 5 separate days last week (with the elderly couple I'm working for...the husband was a patient), I can only imagine what mutant germs I picked up.

So tell me. I know I'm not the only one to have gotten this bitchslapping flu lately. Any hints on how to battle it? I've had a high fever for three days nonstop, super-bloodshot eyes, headache, etc. Aspirin hasn't touched the fever, so Scott called his sister, a nurse, and she told me to slam down massive amounts of Ibuprofin. Which still hasn't helped. I have eaten six popsicles today. Only while eating those do I feel one speck better.

I haven't been this sick and miserable since I got chicken pox. When I was 20.

Back to my supply. Grape, orange, cherry.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

February 1980

Behold the egg and the sperm, played by my soon-to-be-boyfriend, (then husband, then ex-husband) and me.

These photos were in our campus newspaper. And as you know, I never throw anything away.

I am posting these only because I no longer try to have any dignity, and because we're fairly unrecognizable in our make-up. And no, we were not mimes.

The sperms sang "I Am Going to Fertilize Her" to the tune of the theme from "Laverne & Shirley" and where the normal lyric was "never heard the word impossible" the sperms sang "never heard the word vasectomy."

The eggs around me sang "She is Egg" to the tune of the 1970s Helen Reddy feminist anthem "I Am Woman." Instead of the regular lyrics "I am woman, hear me roar, in numbers too big to ignore" they sang "She is egg, watch her grow, in 9 months she'll have to go."

Yes. I know.

To visually indicate that I was the "Super Egg" who would be fertilized, I was at the top of a very tall ladder, mostly trying not to piss my pants from my fear of falling.

We won the competition, and one of the reasons we were so thrilled was that we'd beaten the living shit out of the usual winners, a hoity fraternity/sorority combo with about a billion dollars in their budget for fancy costumes, vocal coaches, etc.
Our budget was about 80 bucks, and we made the sperm costumes out of foam rubber and felt. (Insert your own jokes.) And we were almost always drunk while constructing them.

The caption under the bottom photo read:

"Candy laments her spermless condition."

My parents were thrilled.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

To My Ex-Husband

I'm an avid googler.

When I can't sleep I make a sport of it, and look up all kinds of people from my past. Most often it's old classmates from college. And you, of course, are one of those.

Last night I googled your name. You, the first of my two ex-husbands. My college sweetheart. How ridiculous that it all started between us with the musical production where you played a sperm and I was the egg.

We jumped into marriage fresh out of college, like so many of our equally misguided friends. It was only natural, right? College degree, marriage license. A no-brainer.

The baggage we carried into the marriage from our two families was more than just baggage. It was two separate 18-wheelers filled with boxes of toxic sludge, broken scissors, and Ziploc bags stuffed with quivering rattlesnake eggs itching to hatch.

Six weeks after the big festive wedding, things began to disintegrate. A year in, we separated. Then a few months later we reconciled. Then another separation. Then another getting back together. My mother must have been going insane watching this, never having liked you in the first place. Outdoing her in that department was your mother, who hated me from the start. Because I was female, and you had chosen me. Remember when your mom asked me what she could get me for Christmas? I said to her: "Well, I'm allergic to wool and I have way too much black stuff. Other than that, I love everything." She got me a pair of black wool pants. Yeah. Merry Christmas, rotten stealer of my boy.

My parents wouldn't speak to me when I came home with an engagement ring. They saw what a hideous match we were. But what do parents know?

Starting early in the marriage, in fact, back at that six-week mark, you starting slapping me in the face. I didn't blame you. When we fought, I had a vicious mouth.

Things ramped up. Lots of shoving, lots of me finding myself on the floor. Pots and pans flying through the air at my head, which caused me even at those moments to become that much more determined and pointed in my insults of you. I refused to run from you. For a long time. Until just before that third and final separation when you were tossing me over the couch or down the stairs of our apartment or grinding my face into the carpet. I started to catch on. I started to see that the combination of our anger was going to get one of us killed, and it probably wasn't going to be the rugby player.

One of our main conflicts was about children. I'd told you before we ever married that I would never have kids. That was OK with you. No problem. All we need is us, right? Fast forward to the day you were screaming at me while driving, and you ran us into a stop sign while yelling "Is one god-damned baby too much to ask for?!"

Somewhere in there, I met someone else. I sneaked around and started seeing him because I was the kind of weak, despicable woman who was too afraid to be on my own. I had to have the next trapeze to leap to clearly in my sight before I let go of the first one. I always had to have a man in the wings, just in case. A very healthy way to run a life, indeed.

After I left you for good, you demanded your old high school class ring back, (you had dug it out of a box and given it to me in a tender moment in college), and your favorite kitchen glasses. I was to bring them to you at your hotel security job. I brought the new guy with me. He stayed in the car. But you followed me outside and wanted to beat him up too. You backed down only when, with a slight push of his accelerator, he had you pinned between his car and the one in front of it, just like a big angry bug. I remember sitting in the passenger seat saying "What the fuck is wrong with my life?"

Ah, but that new guy was my hero. He protected me from you.

Your second marriage was a success. Your new wife even came with a two-year-old! Then you fathered two kids of your own. That's about all I knew about your post-Candy life, except for the fact that you were a "full time homemaker" which just about made me puke. Especially when I realized how happy it probably made you. Your potential happiness was on my shit list for a long time.

My second marriage? A huge mistake. A twelve year mistake. I used to actually wish he would beat me physically instead of the other ways he punched. Another terrible match.

And here I am, finally with the right person. And you are, too.

But when I googled your name last night, I also found out that you have Stage 4 melanoma. It was in an online church bulletin. I thought it had to be the wrong guy. I kept searching. Then I found the Facebook group your 15-year-old daughter started in order to solicit prayers for you.

Suddenly, after not talking to you for twenty years, all I wanted to do was to tell you I'm sorry. To tell you that I could see us both more clearly now. And to tell you that even with all the shitstorms we caused and endured together, I still care about you. I value every day of that impossible, exhausting trip.

I called your house and got your machine. You were upbeat and sounded healthy when you said "We just got this cool new phone for Christmas, and I actually read the instructions to figure out how to record this message." Christmas. Almost three months ago. Were you still alive?

I called your sister. Out of the blue of twenty years, she hears me say "This is your former sister-in-law, Candy." "Oh," she said.

I had to know how you were. She said your surgeon was very agressive, very determined to keep cutting things out of you as they became attacked by the cancer. He had even cut some out of your brain. But now he had to stop. He couldn't cut any more.

I told her I wanted to call and talk to you. "I don't think I'd do that," she said. "This is the toughest part emotionally for them."

You were going to leave the planet without knowing how much you'd meant in my life, and that I had forgiven us both for the mess we made.

I spent all afternoon reading every word of my journal from 1980, the year we met. I was all the way back there, reliving the Big College Romance and the drama and the technicolored tempest of being 20 years old with you.

I cried uncontrollably. I deliberated. I asked two people that I trust what I should do. Both said: call him. Leave a message on his machine if that's all you can do. Tell him what's in your heart.

I couldn't decide if that was too selfish. But I knew I couldn't live with the regret of not calling.

So I called. Dialing the phone was ridiculously hard. I was shaking and trying to get my shit together and failing. I left two messages because I was so nervous I left things out the first time. I had no idea if you were in the hospital or still at home or if someone would erase the messages before you heard them:

"This is a message for W. This is Candy. I accidentally found out on Facebook last night that you are ill. I talked to your sister today. I just wanted to tell you that I'm praying for you and your wife and your kids. And also I wanted to thank you for the time we spent together. It was a big deal. I'm glad you found the love of your life. I knew you would."

Second message: "Sorry for another message. I didn't actually find out accidentally. Something told me to google your name last night and that's how I found out. I also want to say I'm sorry for the way things ended with us, and for being so rude when we last spoke, 20 years ago. I hope this call doesn't offend anyone in your house. Bye."

Two hours later, you called me back. I was completely stunned. We talked for half an hour and it was really valuable for us both, I think. Your wife and my husband are very understanding people, and knew we needed closure. Your oldest kid is going to college in the fall and you're worried about it. But you also know you won't live that long.

"Yep, pretty surreal here," you said. "I feel good right now, which is what makes it all so weird. But things are going to get pretty crazy in the next few weeks."

Pretty crazy? Pretty crazy is when you have too much to do and your garbage disposal breaks and you forget to pay the power bill and the dog pisses on the rug. You are looking right down both barrels of death. And still understating everything.

We talked about God and our spouses and the many old college friends we never talk to anymore.

I didn't want to push my luck, but I gave you my email address. You said you'd write. You probably won't, but I'm so thankful that you called back, and that we got to linger in the mercy we'd found for each other, that I will try to make that enough.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Longing for the Homeland

And how could you not long for a utopian land like this one?

This is my favorite page from one of my all time favorite books, Boring Postcards. It's filled with horrible postcards like this one, the kind you used to get for free at chintzy motels along the interstates of America's heartland. I would write on postcards like this and send them to kids I went to grade school with, bearing messages like "We may never come home." and "We stayed at this motel. Its milk is weird." And I would get home and see them at school before they even got their bent-up postcards in the mail.

My friends who work at the bookstore that I used to addictively go to back home, before I got even more woefully addicted to Amazon, would often know exactly which new arrival on the shelf was going to float my boat. Treasures I never would've found if not for their willingness to keep an eye out for such things. Thank you, Mr. Bill, and Norma, and Tanya. Because of you, I now live in a nice cardboard box. Lined with many books.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

What (Vast Amounts of) Money Can Buy You in Old Age

Last week I started helping an elderly couple in their home, a few hours a day, four days a week. (This is in addition to seeing Mrs. Fossilfuel.) I probably won't be writing about them here, for various reasons. However, I must write about the place where they live.

First, you should know they're in Scottsdale. Those who are familiar with that city know it to be filled to the brim with retirees. Many thousands of Americans, especially those from the East Coast, amass their wealth, then retire to the sunshiney elderland of Scottsdale. Thus, Scottsdale is filled to near-bursting with two things:

1. "Senior" communities
2. Medical facilities

I'm still not used to saying "senior" when I mean "senior citizen" or "retiree" or "old person." I cannot keep up with political correctness, nor do I ever plan to try. (For instance, I will never, ever use the phrase "undocumented residents" to describe illegal immigrants. It's too much like calling a cancerous tumor a "naughty little mass of cells.")

However, "senior" is OK with me. It sounds more dignified and less somber than "senior citizen." Remember in high school how proud you were to be a senior? Seniors rule! Outta the way, juniors! We are bad-ass. We. Have. Arrived. There was a swagger that came along with the status. Hey! Look at me! Watch me be cool before I graduate and walk through the doors to Real Life and get my naive ass handed to me on a flimsy paper plate at least once a week.

"Senior" takes on, of course, a different meaning with the retirees. I've had the habit, until now, of clumping all very old people together into one personality. Because of the way I hurt for them when I see them struggling to get around, I've brainwashed myself into believing they are all nice, kind, mannerly, sweet, forgiving, wise, warm, friendly, even noble human beings. I was doing them a disservice by believing this, since I was methodically removing their individual personalities and replacing each one with a generic model: Kind Old Person.

I knew I had a missing cog in my thinking when I would see an elderly Nazi war criminal on the news, standing in a courtroom facing charges, and I felt sorry for him. If I'd come at the sympathy from another direction, say the "Look at this poor, flawed, misguided, miserable bastard" or "Maybe he was terrified and trying to save his own family" directions, the sympathy would be more reasonable. But it was only because of his age. I was clumping all old people together like ants in an ant farm: a many-bodied machine with one common brain. Damn. Now I'm stereotyping ants.

The couple I work for live in a fancy, ultra-expensive "independent living" condo. These places have a spectrum of choices. In independent living, you can still pretty much take care of yourself, but you have at your disposal a large community of other (wealthy) retired people, an unending list of reindeer games to join in on, and a big chandeliered dining room where dinner is served each night. So, if you have the energy, you can spend the day attending a jigsaw puzzle get-together, a Bible study covering the Psalms, a choir practice, a trip to the mall, and a dance lesson, then join your pals for a fine dinner of veal medallions and baked squash and cherry cobbler.

When you get too frail to be independent, you can move to the "assisted living" section of the building. This includes nurses on call, help getting dressed, showered, meals in your room, etc.

Finally, some places have that third and bottom rung in the stepladder of decline: the nursing home section.

I'm just learning about all this, but I've been in and out of the independent living part enough to realize that it has the social personality of a big high school. From my brief spying on the gathering room at the center of the building, I can see that there are the popular residents, the quiet ones, the loud ones, the (former) jocks, the desperately trying to be pretty ones, the overdressed ones, and a woman I will simply call The One Who Shimmies. She is there, often, and she is off by herself in that "look at me over here" way, shimmying.

Apparently, there is an unpleasant side to some of the elderly rich people. I heard a woman being interviewed for a job at this place. The director asked her "So, how are you with seniors?" and she went on for awhile about the jobs she'd had working with them, how she gets along well with them, etc. The director then said, with a definite sinister tone, "But how are you with Scottsdale seniors?"

Luckily the people I work for are gracious and funny and warm and the kind of people you ache to be able to help more than you possibly can. They met when he was 60 and she was 50, after both had lost their spouses, and have been married 35 years. And they hold hands and blatantly adore one another and I wish they could've been friends with my parents when all four of them were robustly healthy and fully present. I wish they could've played cards.

I think I've been choreographed into a place where I can now indulge this lifelong fascination with the elderly in a more reality-based way. Just what I've learned so far feels more meaningful and multi-layered than my time in the community college classroom. It's a quieter lesson. Like bits of wisdom trickling down to me instead of bile spewing outward from 18-year-olds. (Although the stuff that shot out of Mrs. Fossilfuel was neither quiet nor particularly educational.)

The biggest difference I've seen so far between the elderly and the college crowd? The old people, even with their ailments and their accumulating worries, are trying so hard to live their lives. They seem to see the significance of each day. Many of the college students are sitting in their jaded healthy bodies saying "whatEVER." I know this is generalizing; there are exceptions.

Anyway, here I am in midlife and there are things I need to learn. I'm not going to be 18 again. But if I'm lucky, I'll be old one day, and I want to know how to do it well if I get the chance.