Candy Rant

"I killed a rat with a stick once."

Friday, April 25, 2008

Jumping the Fence

Now that I've had two days alone with Scott, (which, with our work schedules translates into roughly 4 hours awake together), it's time for me to go back to Indiana. My suitcase is never unpacked. I so thoroughly detest the job of unpacking that I tend to pull out what I need in between trips and ignore the rest. I've wondered what it would be like to be one of those people who empties her suitcase and puts everything away the very evening she comes home.

What I'm noticing is that, in the past year, I've approached a very obvious fence. On one side, my side, there is a pasture dotted with hopeful little flowers. Each radiates a well-meaning message of what might be possible one day.

"Candy, you can learn to unpack your suitcase within a reasonable amount of time. Keep trying!"


"One day you'll have enough discipline not to leave empty water bottles on the floorboard of your car."


"Someday you won't even be tempted to respond to road rage. You won't follow a guy in a truck, pull into a parking lot beside him and ask him if he feels more like a big man now that he's flipped you off. You'll have the good sense to let it go."

On this side of the fence, where I've always lived, I'm trying to find a way to jump it. Leaving behind the vocal little flowers. Because not only are their rapid-fire messages oddly unhelpful, but frankly I'm not in love with their tone. It's a steady broadcast of "You're not good enough now, but you might be a little less despicable if you do this: ________." A thousand tiny A.M. radio stations trying to push their late night end-of-the-world theories, in between commercials for herb supplements and powerful emergency flashlights. I'm tired of it.

Almost immediately after I began taking care of very old people, my perspective changed for the better. I naively thought it was a permanent, glorious thing, this thankfulness just to be able to walk across the room, eat spicy food, get in and out of the bathtub, breathe without a tank of oxygen. I was determined to fully recognize life as the big delicious Cinnabon that it is, and to savor every last gooey morsel. And to stop freaking out with anxiety.

But the perspective gradually recalibrated, and here I am, the same fretting shithead I've always been. I'm just as petty, just as short-tempered, just as fearful (even more so after seeing all the frailties that old age brings if you're lucky enough to march in that parade), and find it just as difficult to be kind to people who irritate me. And my shitheadedness is made worse by the weariness that accumulates from listening to my Inner Weasel chew my ass nonstop.

I just want a different take on things. To see what the plants over the fence have to say, and to hear messages from big robust tulips like "You don't have to make that bed. You're just getting back into it anyway."

Isn't middle age the time to find a little self-acceptance? To at least reduce the list called "Things I Detest About Myself?"

I'd like to know: What have you started to accept about yourself? And did it just fall away subtly or did you somehow tear it off fast like a Band-Aid? What are you more satisfied with than you used to be?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Free at last, free at last!!!

Disclaimer: My in-laws are wonderful people. Kind, funny, sweet, generous. A lot like Scott.

We all understand that, right?

But two weeks of having to somewhat behave in your own house? Enough to cross your eyes and turn your synapses into tens of thousands of fleas inside your head, every one of them snapping their little torsos to and fro, hands on hips, like bad-permed women at a Kenny Chesney concert.

And I didn't even behave all that much. I still dropped the occasional f-bomb, still picked physical, pinching, shoving fights with Scott every single day (only now he could actually yell "MOM!!!") ((just before he took my wrists and bent me like a pipe cleaner)) and I still lamented about all the people I hate in the world, and what I would like to do to them.

The stifled areas of frustration showed up one by one. For instance, I had not realized just how much of the time I am either fully or most of the way disrobed in our house. I'm not some nudie hippie perv girl or anything. I don't rub myself against trees or full-moon-howl at my own menstrual blood. I just like to cool off after a hot bath, for instance, by checking my email naked while combing out my hair. Also, when I get ready for work in the morning, I run frantically from bedroom to extra bedroom to laundry room to find just the right bra, jeans, and so on. Putting all your clothes on while confined to one room is just a stupid, pointless way of living. It's like being in prison. Here I am, back here in the bedroom, getting fully dressed! Go ahead and slide my lunch plate through the slot in the door. Oh new cellmate Wanda tells me I have different lunch plans.

So I had to dig out a robe. I own somewhere around 8 robes, none of them purchased by me. Most are from my sister, who has a habit of giving robes as gifts to people who never wear them. Mostly to me, and to her daughter Michele. Part of the Christmas tradition in our family is to watch Michele open her gift and say "Oh look! Another robe I'll never wear!"

Finally the robes came in handy. The only thing I'd used them for before my in-laws moved in, was forming a little nest back in the corner of my closet when Hankie was sick and needed a place to curl up and hide. Hankie especially cherishes the incredibly thick, thick as a down sleeping bag, thick as your tongue after a night of drinking like Colin Ferrell, unbearably, oppressively thick red-flowered full-length robe. I tried wearing that one the first night I had to cover my Jezebel self for the in-laws, and before I could answer one email I had sweat dripping off me like R. Kelly at a Double Dutch competition. I opted for the less "Ice Station Zebra" design, a blue cotton robe, and begrudgingly got used to it like a house arrest ankle bracelet.

Did I mention that one should always throw that robe on before heading down the hall in the wee hours to go wee? Because there is the chance that your father-in-law's tall body with its bladder synchronized with your bladder, will meet you in the hallway and scare you so badly you nearly slop your dripper.

I'm too tired to say any more. The delicious silence in the house is wrapping around me like a sparkling opium cloud, and I must walk into it and find my animal soul.


There were some good things about the visit. Like the night we got into a big discussion about rats, and Scott's mom said "Oh great, now I'm going to go dream about rats." And I had already put this in her bed. Her scream was so loud and gutteral that I thought she was giving birth. To a rat. In her bed.

Friday, April 11, 2008


In-laws visiting.
Will be here for thirteen days.
Play cuckoo sound now.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

How I Landed Among the Elderly

The first time I "worked" with an elderly person was 3 years ago. I was feeling like a pile of rotten dogshit after a failed 4-month relationship with a putz with lots of money and expensive suits, on whom I spent way too much emotional energy before running for the hills. I was trying to navigate back to some kind of selfhood, and so I signed on with a volunteer organization called Faith in Action. You may have seen their public service announcements. Della Reese is their spokesperson. She packs an extra heavenly oomph after her years on "Touched By An Angel."

You volunteer to do things like taking people to doctor's appointments, helping them clean their house, grocery shop, etc. It's not a service exclusively for the elderly, but most who call FIA are.

My first assignment involved taking a very, very large 40-ish man with a wooden leg to Aldi's. After pushing the passenger seat in my car as far back as it would go, his stomach was still touching the dashboard. I took him back to his apartment and put his groceries away while his mildly retarded girlfriend watched from the couch with a big spearmint gum smile on her face. Especially when she saw the four boxes of chocolate chip ice cream and the six half-gallon jugs of sugary grape drink.

The next assignment was one I kept for over two years. There was a house-bound 77-year-old woman, Helen, who lived with her son, and who really wanted someone to come once a week to play Scrabble with her. So I went. I like Scrabble. Helen was on 24-hour oxygen, used a walker, was about 4-foot-nine, and had the roundest, most moonpie face I've ever seen. And very ready-to-laugh eyes.

Her son Don, 45, lived with her and took care of her around the clock. He did a little freelance graphic design here and there, but his mother was his job, social life, delight, and worry. Helen was a "brittle" diabetic and her blood sugar lowered into treacherous places a few times a week. Don managed her medicine and the very exact doses of peanut butter, apple juice and crackers that would cushion her numerical plummets.

Helen loved to watch the wild animals out the back window of her small house, so Don poured ungodly amounts of feed onto the back lawn. Huge bags of it. There was a ten foot square where no grass was visible at all. It was Party Central for the birds and squirrels and the occasional possum at all hours of the day and night. The neighbors were not amused by the fecal-bombing birds approaching the neighborhood in a cartoon "V" just to show up at the par-tay to see and be seen. And to eat and shit. It was as though P. Diddy had turned into a pigeon and bought the whole block.

Their favorite animal out back was a squirrel Helen and Don named Pearl. She was only inches away from eating cashews out of Don's hand. He and his mother were in agony when Pearl disappeared. And delighted when she returned five weeks later, apparently knocked up.

After I moved to Phoenix, I got this email from Helen:

"Pearl gave birth awhile back. She took two weeks maternity leave. She came back recently for cashews but hasn't been around much. I understand squirrel babies are weaned at around 40 days. I imagine she has circled the date on her calendar."

Helen and I played Scrabble almost every Saturday afternoon. She and Don played sometimes, but she got itchy for a new opponent. A new face to talk to. Also, she could beat me. Don was one of those guys who had the entire Scrabble dictionary memorized, and could regularly manage to use all his letters in one turn, and land at least two of them on some big-ass "triple word" squares. There were many things about him that made me want to bludgeon him. For instance, when Helen and I were playing and having a nice relaxed conversation, here would come Don, spewing some lengthy opinions about the current political situation. And they just happened to be in direct and violent opposition to all of my own political stances. I never spoke up because my time in that house was about Helen and Scrabble and knocked up squirrels. It was not about listening to the idealogical outpourings of Don, while stray hairs escaped from his long wavy ponytail. Dude.

But it was a love/hate thing with him. Because he knew every word of every episode of "Family Guy," and that kept me from killing him. I would pretend to try to remember a particular scene, and instantly he would begin to recite it. Dance monkey dance!

When Helen's turn at Scrabble came, and she got stuck, that shit-head Don would come up and help her. Hey, he'd say, look at this space and look at this "Y"! Now who the hell would be so socially and boardgame-inept that he would come up and do that? Helen would politely tell him to stop helping, and I would put away the knife I had just pulled from my purse. He would then lumber off to the living room to sit next to the birdcage which housed Ozzie, their yellow cockatiel. At least I think it was a cockatiel. I'm not bird literate. Bright yellow, with perfectly round, dark pink "rouge" spots on his cheeks. Ozzie looked like a drag queen trying to make up as Betty Davis, the Final Years. Fine, I thought. You sit in there and talk to that bird and stop horning in and cheating. And anyway, Ozzie craved company. He had gotten blind in his old age and fell off his perch at least once a day and needed to be reassured that the world/living room was still in its place.

It is hard, though, to think poorly of a man who takes such good care of his mother, politically malformed or not. They watched every season of "Dancing with the Stars" together. Helen loved that show. "It just really gives you something to live for," she told me.

She and I emailed only a few times after I moved west. She wasn't a big emailer and I am not a big phone-caller or letter-writer, with the exception of calling my mom every day.

Don emailed me in February to tell me his mother had died. And then he emailed a couple weeks later, subject line "It keeps coming":

"Tuesday I was having lunch with Ozzie when he suddenly collapsed and died. When he was hospitalized last year the vet told me he had an enlarged heart. I suspect it finally gave out. Two months ago, Ma, Ozzie and I were perfectly happy and now there's only me."

He's doing better now, is slowly coping with his grief and has adopted an abandoned bird named Bob.

I meant for this post to be mostly about Scrabble.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Things He Repeats

In the throes of Alzheimers, details from the past swim their way to the surface and become newly fresh. They're like aging stars from a long ago closed-down Broadway play who have all been waiting backstage in the dark, for decades, hoping to be summoned for a revival.

My dad's family owned four horses and a pony when he was a boy. One of the things he repeats at random times is a list of their names:

"Prince, Rex, Hallie, and Ruby. And a pony named Nancy."

He rode the pony to school, tied her to a post outside all day, then rode her home. This sounded mean to me, but I guess it was normal back then.

His joke about Rex is this: "When I used to ask Rex if he wanted some more oats he said 'a f-e-w-w-w-w-w-w'" (this part is an airy fart sound).

Other things on his list of recitations:

His serial number from World War II

His social security number

The parts of Australia he visited during the war

The length of time he served (3 years, 4 months, 16 days)

The names of his four aunts: Minnie, Idie, Frankie, and Annie.

And the Most Frequently Repeated two questions to me when I'm visiting:

"Candy, where do you call home?"

I tell him "Phoenix."

"Oh? Do you live in Phoenix?"


"Do you like it there?"


"How come?"

And then I tell him one of my usual answers, such as, it's too hot, too far away, or too much like Mexico.

And then he asks that question so very many more times that sometimes when he gets to "Do you like it there?" I say "Love it. Living a dream." or "If I loved it any more, I would shit myself." This makes my mom laugh. Which is why I do it. That and being afraid my head will explode if I repeat the same answer one more time.

Mom gets exasperated, and gets afraid that he will drive me insane. And she says "Freddie, stop asking her that!"

"OK," he says. "No further questions."

Ten seconds pass.

"Candy, where do you call home?"

When I get out of bed when I'm staying with them, I drag myself like a zombie across the kitchen to the coffeemaker. I am so tired it feels as though parts of me are falling off with each step. By the time I get to the coffee, I'm only a torso and a head. This makes it difficult to hold a cup. My eyes are squinty and burning. My dad is seated at the kitchen counter, in his pajamas, waiting for Mom to put his breakfast in front of him. His hair is sticking up in Einstein directions. He sees me.

"Candy, where do you call home?"

I use my newly developed answer, which is looking at him, cocking my head, and raising one eyebrow.

"Phoenix?" he says.


"Do you like it there?"


"How come?"

(He got the "how come" from one of my nieces, who used to "how come" you to death about everything when she was little. It is now something stuck on the edges of Dad's sense of humor like a sponge on a fish hook. He doesn't know why it's there, but it's there.)

Mom gets out his breakfast, always the same breakfast, Shredded Wheat with fruit on top. He calls these his bales of hay.

Before he gets the first spoonful into his mouth, question number two is asked:

"Candy, weren't you the valedictorian?"


"How come?"

My answers have varied: Because I got A's. Because I had a smart mom and dad. Because I slept with the principal. Because there was only one in my class. Because they couldn't find anyone else. Because I wanted to make you happy.

Because I wanted to make you happy.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

When Your Head is Made of Wood

A head made of wood makes it difficult to move through your days.

I can remember in my wooden brain that I used to be a fully functioning person.

At the moment, I can only let the wood turn back into flesh for a few minutes at a time. Because when I do, I lose the numbness that has become my new pal.

This stuff, like a cartoon anvil, seemed to land all at once.

I went back to Indiana to see Mom and Dad. I knew that Dad had "gone downhill" as they say. And then I saw him in person.

[See what I've written so far? That took a very long time. Because I've gone all log-headed again and that takes my verbal skills down to the level of a Mississippi SAT score.]

I'll try again.

My dad can now barely get around, even with a walker. He is very, very feeble. My mom and sister and I watch him struggle from the living room to the bedroom. One of us helps him hold onto his walker, and the other two watch him as though we are witnessing a murder. We cannot believe this is happening right in front of us.

When he and my mom are in their double recliner, they hold hands and she looks at him in a way that I am not talented enough to describe. But I can tell you that it slices me up.

We have to put him in a nursing home. Sometime in the next couple of weeks. There is heartbreak all around.

I couldn't decide whether or not to blog about this. But there is nothing else I can write about right now. I'm not completely sure I can write about this.

So be warned. If you come here regularly, Candy Rant may turn into something you would rather not read. It's OK. My only motive is to write to stay afloat. And to see if I can tell the hardest truths. A little at a time.