“Two generations of dementia are enough!” Robert Glickman declares in his quest to die with dignity and the likelihood he will be next. To that end, he uses his grandson’s sixth grade quiz book, a locked away metal box, and a secret weapon that eventually comes back to haunt him.
In the meantime, he is embroiled in the lives of other residents: his neurotic sister, Essie who plots to steal his secret weapon for herself; beautiful Christina Abernathy, a retired psychotherapist he instantly falls in love with; Hester, a young server at the Fountain who suffers from progressive mutism; Boyle, a man of mystery with a questionable past for good or evil (Glickman isn’t sure which); and Boyle’s grandson, Santini, a troubled young man caught between the dope dealers he runs with and the FBI wanting to use him.
Will Glickman and Essie beat dementia? Can he win over Christina? And what about Hester, Boyle, and Boyle’s grandson?
|Publisher:||The Wild Rose Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.62(d)|
Read an Excerpt
When I was around twelve I remember sitting with my younger brother Joey in the backseat of our two-tone 1952 Buick. It was Sunday. My sister Essie hadn't joined the living yet. She was a wonderful mistake, my mother would always say. I didn't agree. Not about the mistake part. How would I have known that? I mean about Essie being wonderful, and I didn't realize how much of a pain in the ass she would become until she was much older. Joey on the other hand didn't make it past his twenty-first birthday. To this day I miss him.
The Buick Joey and I were riding in was light blue on top, midnight blue across its midsection, and light blue across its underside. Every Sunday after Father read the New York Times, he would wash the car. Twice a year he would wax it with Simonize paste resulting in a thin layer of white scum that Joey and I buffed out for fifty cents each.
On that particular Sunday, we were returning from a visit to our grandmother, Mama Bloom, at the old folk's home. You have to be old enough to remember the old folk's homes back then were nothing like the facilities of today. Death and Decay! That's right. They were defined by death and decay. The odor made you look for the bathroom or fresh air. The wrinkled blue-gray hands shriveled to the bone made you look the other way. The indifference that spoke volumes in the eyes of many of the caregivers, more like careless-givers, made it clear this would not happen to you. After we left Mama to fend for herself, none of us were in the mood for Dairy Queen, the treat our father promised us if we behaved. Of course we were never allowed to eat in the car, especially those vanilla cones covered in chocolate shells that began melting before leaving the counter.
As always, Joey and I were bickering about who was taking up more room or who got to read the most recent Captain Marvel comic book, or whatever, when I happened to hear my mother make a comment to my father, although it was out of context since I hadn't paid attention to what they were saying before that. "I hope I am the one to choose the time, not God," she said quite clearly, as I recall. At the time I hadn't connected that comment to our visit to Mama's just minutes earlier. However, it seemed as if she repeated the same thing with every subsequent visit, each of which I remember vividly. The thick haze of old age knocked your socks off. All the old people, really old in my mind's eye, spent much of their days in the lobby greeting visitors, much as they do at the Fountain where I am now, some sixty plus years later. However, if I remember correctly, the lobby there was on the nursing floor, similar to our hell way down on Lower Level 2. Most of the residents, like Mama, were either in wheelchairs or hanging by a thread to the railings that were everywhere for that very purpose, or they were tied to their beds by more tubes than you could count. I don't believe they had an assisted living floor and certainly not one for independent living, not in those days.
I remember one time Mama introduced me to her friend Charlotte. "Robbie," she said proudly, "I want you should say hello to your Aunt Charlotte."
Being a twelve year old with little knowledge of social graces, I barked back at my grandmother. "Mama, she's not my aunt."
"She is," Mama insisted.
"No, she's not."
My grandmother dug the heels of her bare feet into the soiled linoleum insisting she was right. The more I tried to correct her, the madder she got. At the time I didn't know she suffered from dementia, Lewy Body dementia to be specific. At the time I hadn't heard of either term. Mama died on my thirteenth birthday, more belligerent than ever; a human transformation so devastating and ugly it made it difficult for me to swim back through the murk of my memory to the days she and I played gin rummy together and laughed in the movie theater on Saturday afternoons.
During those bad days, my mother commented often that she wished to pick the time if it came to that. Again, I didn't know what she meant. It was only later when Aunt Charlotte, who as I said wasn't really my aunt, developed brain cancer and wanted to die that I understood. Like Pomerantz's wife, who I will talk more about later, the Catholic hospital where Charlotte was dying would not help her out of the misery such a disease inflicts, and there was no son-in-law Gerald or me to fight for her, as we did for Mrs. Pomerantz. So now, at my age, my mother's comment "I hope I am the one to choose the time, not God" is always at the forefront of my thoughts. Of course I don't believe in God ... but one can wish for things they don't believe in just to be sure.
My mother was still young when Mama died and it never occurred to me that she would face the same affliction. It didn't seem that many years later that my mother's comment came crashing down. Sometimes I would enter the house quietly and catch her pacing and muttering to herself. "I will pick the time. I will pick the time," she repeated, although by then I'm not sure she knew what that meant.
I don't remember exactly how it started. First she couldn't remember where she hid the booze that was becoming a favorite pastime, then she couldn't remember where the remote for the TV was. Once she had it in her hand, she just stared at it, not entirely sure what it was. Later she began setting the table at 4 o'clock in the afternoon even though we always ate well after six when Dad got home. One time I came in and found the kitchen table elaborately set, again at four o'clock. I asked why we weren't eating in the dining room. "We never eat in the dining room," she said. "It's too dark in there."
My mother, like her mother, died a death without dignity and now it's my turn to scream to the heavens, "I will choose the time. I will choose the time. Not God or any power outside my control!" And I am doing everything possible to make sure that happens now that I'm older than my mother was when she began forgetting; now that I'm in the Fountain of Youth and have nothing better to do but think about it.
I have one of the better apartments in North Hall, near the elevator and lobby, and a view of the pond from my living room. Through cracks in the ice caked on the window pane behind my favorite chair, a deep brown leather Lazy Boy, I can see my thermometer weighted down by icicles creating competing rainbows from deep purple to bright red. Minus two degrees! I shiver even though the thermostat between the living room and kitchen registers a comfortable seventy-eight and I have a thick woolen sweater on, the same gray striped sweater I wear every day. My Gracie crocheted it for me way back when. It's Sunday morning. There's much to do: my journal, my test, Pomerantz's memorial service.
My journal first, lots to say before it's frittered away by dying brain cells, something I didn't concern myself with in the old days when I could remember the stories I created weeks after being away from the computer, or before that the various blood vessels in the brains I operated on. Now I will put pretty much everything in it, the actual details of the day as well as the important thoughts that run through my head. That way when I donate my body to the medical school I will also donate my journal and if the poor student who is stuck with me wants to read about the cadaver he or she's dissecting, the journal will be there in all its splendor and glory.
I was just told that Mrs. Greenblatt informs everyone I saunter into the lobby like an old fox. She's particularly interested in the small key hanging from my neck, a key she claims I'm constantly holding onto with my knobby-knurled fingers. Those were her words. She should only look in the mirror to see all the knobby-knurled parts she is blessed with.
I do occasionally touch the key, but mostly it hangs under my shirt where I can feel it against my chest, and where it can't be seen by them ... my fellow inmates who litter the lobby like last century furniture reupholstered in heavy eyeshadow and who wear oversized hearing aids that crackle like an electrical short. Mostly they stare at one another in the halls and the lobby hoping to get a nodded acknowledgment of their presence on this planet. Even mere eye contact will do. With or without a nod, few words are ever spoken. What could possibly be said that would interest the speaker or those spoken to enough to exert such energy ... except possibly gossip like their fetish over the key hanging from my neck?
Youth Fountain Senior Living Facility, the "Fountain of Youth" as some of the more deluded residents consider it, is built into a hill. The lobby including visitor check-in and a guard station, actually a simple podium, is located adjacent to the main entrance on the floor for independent living, my floor, which happens to be at ground level in the front. A beige couch with green leaves and gold trim faces the front entrance that automatically slides open in the presence of old age. Rufus, an African-American who used to be a Negro in years past, stands six feet tall, although he's often bent over as a result of scoliosis not discovered until high school. By then it was too late or so he was told by the doctors at the free clinic. Rufus sits on a bar stool behind the podium seven days a week serving as both a concierge for the residents and a sentry making sure that certain residents don't inadvertently escape. He has a laugh that's contagious and never complains when the sliding doors constantly open and close, even in the winter when Mr. Raffey and Mr. Goldring, among others, are forever approaching the doors hoping to peek out and see who might be coming to visit them. Ruth, another African American, is usually at the check-in desk by eight a.m. and is the go-to-girl when anyone has a beef. She's sweet mostly, but sometimes can be grouchy, especially after dealing with Mrs. Cantor who is constantly complaining about the flickering fluorescent lights up in the ceilings. They make her dizzy or so she claims. According to others, it's her personality, not flickering lights that makes her dizzy.
The lobby couch is always occupied in the morning, left-center-right, by the same centenarian and two octogenarians, the early rising Three Musketeers, Mrs. Rudman, Mr. Feldman, and Mrs. Frank, acting as if the couch cushions under them are synagogue seats bearing their names in plated bronze. The bronze plates change in the afternoon. Three new Musketeers take their place as resident exemplars seen and often heard by visitors and residents alike. There have been challenges to this arrangement from time to time. I've even witnessed one or two. In the end Mrs. Frank's foul mouth and Mr. Feldman's carbon graphite cane reign supreme. Mrs. Rudman always remains stoic during such battles, and never takes sides unless it's to her advantage. At the same time she is the first to give her opinion on a matter like who has ownership rights in the couch whether she's asked or not. After all she was a judge for forty years. She is cool to everyone whether she likes them or not. The afternoon couch potatoes are a bit more docile than those in the morning given that most residents take naps after lunch.
Our dining room, exclusively for those in independent living, sits directly adjacent the lobby and next to it is a beautiful billiard room housing a professional pool table. Only the grandchildren of the residents seem to use the room for its intended purpose. Because the dining room does not open for dinner seating until five, more often than not the billiard room serves as a waiting area for residents who arrive early. Indeed most arrive by four. Fortunately, behind the beige couch with green leaves and gold trim there is a large rec area for concerts and movies and the like. By half past four that area is also crowded with those anxiously waiting to feed their bellies.
I never arrive before six, if I arrive at all, and one time I asked my next-door neighbor, Brownsher, why he and everyone else show up so early. "Where else would we go? To In-N-Out Burger?" he growled. I guess I deserved that. And so, as a late afternoon ritual, the lobby, billiard room, and rec area fill up with perfume and cologne as well as every kind of walker imaginable. And yet the only sounds other than the sliding front entrance are squeaky wheels and the constant clearing of throats caused by sinuses trying to fight off old age.
Three long halls containing independent living apartments across from one another, North Hall, East Hall, and South Hall, spill into the lobby and mimic the traffic outside. Evening rush hour starts at four o'clock and clears out by six-thirty when most residents retire. I understand there is a similar traffic jam in the morning, although I must admit I've seldom made it up at the right time to see for myself. Each apartment includes a ledge next to the door. Most of the ledges support plastic plants or other such chachkis selected by the occupants. I choose to leave mine without any ornament so the newspaper can be placed there. Otherwise, Marcus, the man who delivers the paper, insists on knocking on the door and waking me since leaving it on the carpet at the foot of my door is against Fountain rules. The rumor is that someone slipped on a newspaper trying to peep into another resident's apartment. That makes sense. Better to outlaw newspapers on the carpet than peeping Toms.
The next floor down, Lower Level 1, is where those in Assisted Living reside. It strikes fear in all us folks upstairs, partially because it's an easy ride down, and partially because we know how many of our friends had to suddenly make the trip. You see them step into the elevator with their belongings, sometimes never to be seen again, like the good-guys gobbled up in quicksand in Halloween I and Halloween II, those horror movies that young people are addicted to. The bottom floor, Lower Lever 2, the "nursing" floor, is where you catch the ferry on the river Styx as you journey with Charon to Hades. No amount of curiosity will get me to step foot on that boat. I have other plans when the time comes.
Until the other day, I had never been down to hell. It was late in the morning. I had been cycling in the fitness room on Lower Level 1, assisted living, and was waiting to go back up on the elevator when Mrs. Slaug, the Youth Fountain director, followed me into the elevator and pushed the down button before I had a chance to push up. Mrs. Slaug, in her late forties I'm guessing, always smells like a bouquet of wilted roses and wears heavy makeup. She does, however, have a great figure with breasts that seem to sway from side to side when she walks. She stepped into the elevator with a woman around forty visiting the facility and didn't bother to introduce me. Instead, she merely nodded as if to say, I'm not planning to introduce you so please be seen and not heard. And so I stood in the back corner of the elevator as it descended toward hell trying not to wheeze. At the same time I watched the visitor fiddle with the keys to her car, a Lexus.
"We always start at the top, dearie, but we do insist you see the lower levels in case your father requires more help later," Mrs. Slaug explained to the woman with the Lexus as the elevator doors opened and the stench of fire and brimstone caught me off guard. I was a doctor for over forty years, but Hell is Hell regardless of your background ... as is old age.
So this is the end of the line? Linoleum on the floors, the cheap cobblestone-look from the fifties. A number of residents were lined up in wheelchairs, one seemingly more feeble than the next. Some stared at us blankly with bloodshot eyes and complexions ranging from white to translucent; others hung their heads down and clearly didn't admit to our presence; some were surrounded by tubes; others had the shakes. A man in the final stages of dementia and Parkinson's shuffled past us with the aid of a walker and a nurse's helper in a black and gold pin stripe apron.
"Hello," the man said, addressing Mrs. Slaug.
"Hello, Roger. Are you having a good day?"
"I'm going to see the Cardinals play today. Stan Musial is going to hit his three thousandth hit."
"Good for you." Mrs. Slaug looked at her visitor and shrugged. I, on the other hand, smiled. I remembered when Stan Musial hit the big one. It was in Chicago against the Cubs, May 13, 1958, my birthday. I was eighteen years old and a diehard Cardinal fan: Musial, Kenny Boyer, Alvin Dark, Vinegar Bend Mizell, and Lindy McDaniel.
Excerpted from "The Fountain of Youth"
Copyright © 2017 Steve Shear.
Excerpted by permission of The Wild Rose Press, Inc..
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