Adventures in Grannysitting

Zohrbak: “So how’s your grandmother doing?”

Dorquemada: “Oh, she’s fine. She’s enjoying her time being spoiled. I’m just exhausted from sleeping with one eye open and jumping up every time I hear a bump at night.”

Zohrbak: “That’s cute. That’s parenthood in a nutshell, but ours lasts 18 #$%@ing years.”

Dorquemada: “Trust me, I thought about that. Yeesh.”

My grandmother tore her meniscus and had surgery last week. As per doctor’s orders, she has to keep her weight off her left knee for five more weeks. Until then, I’m in charge of all housekeeping details. So far, so good. The general state of cleanliness hasn’t slipped much. I’m nothing, if not a hygienic caveman.

Home security has actually improved. I perched boiling pots of tar atop our fence posts to deter marauding bands of Mongols, Huns, and door-to-door salesmen. I’ll occasionally patrol the premises and scream, “You barbarians can sack the rest of the neighborhood, but you’ll keep your perverted, pillaging paws off our property! And no one buys encyclopedias anymore, so buzz off!” Then I shake my fist angrily, lovingly kiss my tactical shotgun barrel, and shake my fist some more. I go back inside when I see my neighbor’s horrified faces.

No one’s been hospitalized with food poisoning. Yet. Actually, I’m a tad insulted when friends and family members express surprise over my culinary skills. For example, take today’s phone conversation with my dad, who lives in New Jersey. “I didn’t know you cooked,” he huffed suspiciously.

“Well yeah, Dad. I lived by myself for about 10 years after I got out of the service. I know how to fend for myself. Geez.”

“Well, I figured you can take care of yourself,” he said. “But I can’t cook. I never could. My food preparation isn’t much more than survival cooking.”

“Yeah, I remember those days. You didn’t eat much more than a bowl of boiled noodles. That’s why I learned how to cook. Because I would have hung myself if I ate like you every day.”

“That’s cute. You know what else you can do by yourself, right?!”

After the initial round of barbs was out of the way, we commiserated on our respective grannysitting ordeals. I’ve had a few struggles with my grandmother so far, but nothing major. She’s supposed to stay on her walker and not use her left leg at all. Nevertheless, there have been several instances where I’ve caught her bending over to dig in the pantry or haul stuff around the house.

My immediate response is to growl at her like Edward G. Robinson. “Meh, see?!? Look here, dollface! If I catch ya trying to stretch those stems, it’ll be curtains for ya! Curtains, ya see?!? Mehhh!”

She’ll just stare at me blankly. I’m used to it.

Then I’ll holler, “Cease and desist with the gymnastics, woman! And if I catch you trying to do another pirouette in front of the cupboard, I’m gonna brain you with this cast iron skillet!” To drive the point home, I‘ll wave the frying pan menacingly.

She complies 90% of the time. She’s relinquished all control over cooking, laundry, and housecleaning. If she has any complaints, she hasn’t expressed them…yet. She promises to behave when I leave the house for my morning workout, as well the occasional shopping trip or an evening visit with friends. So far, so good. But I have to stay alert for those moments when she gets bored or agitated and starts wandering around the house. And that’s when I brandish the skillet again.

Mercifully, our collective ordeal is temporary. My troubles aren’t nearly as arduous as Dad’s. His mother (my step-grandmother, for those you keeping score) is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, which means Dad has to keep her under constant surveillance. She already got lost driving, roamed outside in the middle of the night, obliviously walked away from a smoldering stove, etc.

So there’s that. Plus, he works nights. On average, he gets about 3 or 4 hours of sleep before she wakes up and putters around the house. The lack of sleep and constant worry has left him physically and emotionally exhausted. But he’s stubbornly clinging onto his hopes that he can ride this out until he retires next year, so what I can possibly say or do to change the situation?

Then there’s my friend Hot Lips. She told me she’s had her fair share of grannysitting mishaps. “My great aunt hates to drink liquids,” she sighed. “She ended up in the hospital several times due to dehydration, and I have to constantly remind her to take a couple of sips of water or cranberry juice. She crumples up her face as if I were making her take a nasty spoonful of medicine. I explain to her that our bodies need water to be healthy, and she’ll say ‘you sound like the rest of them!’”

“Holey moley!”

Hot Lips continued. “She also hates taking a bath. It makes her grumpy.”

“What’s up with that? Is she is a geriatric hippie?”

“Well, she was born in 1916 so I don’t think ‘hippie’ would apply. I think she is part of that ‘30s mindset that once a day is excessive. Also, she is French.”

You have no idea how hard it was for me to bite my tongue and refrain from a barrage of French hygiene jokes. Then again, if you knew how achingly cute Hot Lips is, you’d understand. But there’s also a decent chance she’s plotting my doom after reading this post. Alas.

“So, she’s 95,” I muttered. “Wow. Well, maybe she’s one of those protohippies who hung out with Alice B. Toklas.”

“Doubt that. You’re so cheeky.”

“I am an incurable wiseass. But I’m sure you figured that out many moons ago.”

“Yup.”

“But alongside the bad girl things she does, there are 8000 cute, sweet things that make me love her.”

“Yup,” I nodded. “Same here.”


Doomsday Dress Rehearsals

“Panic on the streets of London. Panic on the streets of Birmingham.” The opening lines to my favorite Smiths song now describe a real-life crisis. Some legitimate gripes about a police shooting in Tottenham quickly gave way to opportunistic hooliganism. I doubt that most of these mobs burning, robbing, raping, and murdering care about social justice. But then again, I wonder how many of those people would remain law abiding if the global economy wasn’t in the toilet. If there wasn’t massive global unemployment and civil unrest. If governmental debt levels weren’t impossible to control or predict. If you already feel hopeless and it seems like a total collapse is just around the corner, maybe you would smash a window, enjoy your new 52” HDTV, and have a party before Big Brother turns the lights out for good.

(Yes, I just kicked off this post with moralistic waffling. God, I hate myself.)

You’ll have to excuse my distress. I always thought London was the bastion of civility. Well, the thin veneer on their social contract just cracked irreparably. The underwhelming governmental response did nothing to restore anyone’s confidence. David Cameron and the London mayor were both conspicuously absent. There were more police standing watch for William & Kate’s wedding than there were strapping on Kevlar, toting Captain America shields, and swinging Billy clubs at miscreants. How does one protect themselves and their family, since England is a supposedly gun-free nation? Well, aluminum baseball bat sales on the UK version of amazon.com shot up 50,000%. I hope they paid a few extra pence for overnight shipping. In the meantime, a cricket bat, which will drop a zombie with great efficiency, has questionable bludgeoning power against thugs tweaking on crank and bloodlust.  Just like Shaun, follow through with your swing and hope for the best.

Mercifully, the Limeys’ nihilistic orgy is cooling off. But I’m still worried. If all hell can break loose in London, when will it happen across the pond? Note I said the word when, not if. Because I have a sinking feeling that we’re a heartbeat away from similar outbreaks over here.  Everyone remembers the horror in New Orleans after Katrina. But I don’t know how many people knew about the wave of panic in Baton Rouge shortly thereafter. I saw people pulling up to gas stations, filling up 55 gallon drums full of gas for their generators, and driving off without paying. After that happened a few times, the stations’ proprietors switched over to pre-pay cash only transactions, and they occasionally enforced it by gunpoint. Non-perishables were gone from grocery store shelves in a matter of minutes. People got very pissy (myself included) because an extra 100,000 inhabitants overnight meant you couldn’t get a cell signal, you stewed in traffic for hours, you couldn’t find much to eat, and it was #$%@ing August. In retrospect, I’m amazed that the crap didn’t hit the fan even more drastically. Then again, times were good before the storm hit.

But that’s not the case anymore. If things don’t improve soon, we’re likely enter an era of forced austerity, meaning you will have no choice but to fend for yourself. Take a look at Detroit, which already has massive unemployment and several decades of urban decay. They recently implemented rolling electrical blackouts during a #$%@ing heat wave…. and they were largely confined to the poorest neighborhoods. I’m surprised there wasn’t a massive uprising by the affected locals. Then again, maybe they’re like frogs that are stuck in a slowly boiling pot. Maybe they don’t even know they’re getting screwed anymore.

But what about the rest of us? Congress gave the bankers a trillion dollars a couple of years ago. How well did that work out for you? It’s possible that you may not be able to get another loan in your lifetime. You probably won’t be able to get unemployment insurance soon, which is a frightening thought.  We’re approaching 10% unemployment. What if that jumps to 15 or 20% and the government’s relief coffers run bone dry?

And unless you have arable land, the day may come when you may have no option but to buy the $10 dollar loaf of bread. But how will you be able to do that when you get laid off and have to settle for a job that will almost assuredly be sketchy, erratic and low-paying?

And what if we’re afflicted with hyperinflation on par with the dying days of the Confederacy? Most people would rather crack some skulls than haul wheelbarrows of worthless currency to the grocery store. Or strippers might unionize and/or form a militia when the $1 tip becomes utterly worthless. Either that or they’ll start wearing gigantic bloomers onstage to store their fistfuls of gratuities. Lest modesty cripple our nudie dancing trade, let’s whip inflation now, America!

So it’s scary out there. And if God decides to mix any of these problems with another catastrophic natural disaster, technological hiccup, or a “wabbit season or duck season” debate gone awry, things could get out of control really quick. At least that’s my perspective. Most people inherently suck, and they’re even nastier when they’re inconvenienced. Our disaster relief agencies were slow and lumbering when times were good. I shudder to think how they efficient they are now that our country is broke. So if we’re handed a new crisis…..well, good luck.

And if the Dow keeps tanking, I’m going to pull out all of my money, go to the horse track, and bet everything on the horse that takes the biggest dump before they line up at the gate. My odds of success with that strategy are better than relying on the panicky sorcerers on Wall St. And I really wish I had bought/stole/hoarded a few pounds of gold about six years ago. I have a sinking feeling that bullion, booze, and bullets will be our standard currency in a few years.

Yes, I know I sound like a paranoid tinfoil hatter right now. Deal with it. Enjoy these ramblings until a gigantic EMP turns all of our laptops into doorstops.


Striving for the absolute worst

I’m a solitary creature. That nature is especially pronounced when it comes to the creative process. When I was a kid, I used to lock myself in my room and draw for hours. I didn’t emerge until my little comic book was done.

Years later, I was the principal songwriter in one of my bands. I rarely collaborated with the rest of the guys. We didn’t have productive jam sessions, for the most part. I would hand them complete demos that I recorded in my bedroom: vocals, guitar, bass, drums, explosions, etc. My friend Chad and I co-wrote a handful of songs together, but those partnerships were infrequent and the end product was usually very silly. Anyone who ever had the (mis)fortune to hear our magnus opus “Rock Woman, Send Me to Hell Tonight” can vouch for that. It was the first and only time I alternated between soothing falsetto harmonies and death metal growls within the same tune. It was an artistic triumph heard by hundreds, enjoyed by dozens, and remembered by a handful.

My hermitdom also extends to my writing. Of course, no one needs to assist me with this dumb blog. I can embarrass myself all by my lonesome, thank you very much. My war journal (which I will eventually get around to rewriting one day) is a solitary pursuit, save the invaluable critiques I got from those who read my first draft. And I have a few fictional pieces that are range from outlines to completed first drafts, but I’m not sure when I’ll unleash those projects. I imagine most of them will stay confined to my hard drive.

But I do have one story that has some promise. While I was in Iraq, I had everything plotted out save the ending…which is an unforgivable concept when it comes to storytelling. I sat down and occasionally flipped through a stack of index cards chockfull of plot points, but I couldn’t come up with a conclusion that satisfied me. So I mothballed the whole concept.

A recent conversation with one of my friends rekindled my interest in that story. To protect his anonymity, I’ll dub him Fancypants because he usually wears a three piece suit to work, and this moniker will assuredly annoy him. And nothing pleases me more than an opportunity to aggravate or horrify Fancypants. And he rarely reads my blog anyway, so we’ll see if he’s paying attention. Fancypants, Fancypants, Fancypants. There.

ANYWAY, Fancypants and I are lifelong friends, and we are world class cutups whenever we’re together. Our friends always told us that we should team up on a project, but life just kept getting in the way. And then there were times that I’d try to light a fire under Fancypants’ butt, which would inspire him towards forming a tag team of literary awfulness. But he would just tell me to put the blowtorch away. Then he would beat me upside the head, neck, shoulders for brandishing an open flame so close to his nether regions. That Fancypants can be downright ornery.

ANYWAY, back to last month’s tête-à-tête with Fancypants. As usual, our conversation quickly deteriorated to an exchange of heinous barbs and insults, most of which are unfit for publication. But this time, Fancypants said, “Why don’t we write some of this stuff down instead of wasting it on each other?”

“Well, what do you have in mind, Fancypants? I’ve been trying to join forces with you for ages now.”

“I dunno. Something. Anything. We have friends in Hollywood. Let’s write a screenplay together.”

“Sounds like a great idea,” I said. “Now, we clearly don’t want to write anything serious or dramatic. Do you have any suggestions for a topic?”

“Naw, man,” he sighed. “I come up with some crazy stuff, but I can’t be bothered with structure. You can do that.”

“Got it. I’m the brains and the looks of this operation. You’re the wild card. Never forget that. And I think I have a story idea that we can play with. Let me email it to you. You tell me what you think.”

And I did just that. I fired off a 3 page outline that night. Fancypants was excited about the storyline (good) and he told me that he already had some ideas (even better). We spent a couple of days hanging out shortly thereafter. The first thing we did was construct an utterly ridiculous ending that made us howl with laughter. Once we knew how this tale would conclude, we sketched out characters and plot points on dozens of index cards. Then I went home, sifted through those notes, and sent him a 13 page synopsis of the plot, the major characters, and some snippets of dialogue that we’ve already composed.

Then Fancypants called me. “Okay, everything looks cool. I’m inspired, and I’m still laughing,” he said. “What do we do now?”

“It’s time to write for us to start writing a screenplay. But let’s never lose sight of our intention – to tell the funniest, sickest story we can imagine. We’re striving for the absolute worst here. Never forget that.”

“Yeah, whatever. Start writing.”

Then I called my Hollywood screenwriter friend for some additional input. He directed me towards some free Adobe software (as opposed to the $180 Final Draft program), and he gave me some advice. “Just get that first draft done. It will suck, but finish it. And then keep rewriting it until it doesn’t suck anymore. And DO NOT send it to me until it’s under 100 pages.”

So now it’s time to get cracking. I don’t want to spoil much, but it’s a zombie comedy.

And it may or may not have voodoo.

There will most certainly be plenty of chicks with guns.

Ahem. Babes with guns.

We’ll probably have gratuitous midget tossing.

And carnies. God, they’re creepy.

And if at all possible, the lead protagonist will be a baby monkey riding a pig.

Alright. Enough palaver. Time to write this thing.


Job hunting sucks

The longer that I go without work, the harder it is to preserve my self-confidence. Longstanding doubts about my educational choices and work history multiply. Maybe I should have been an accountant after all. Or maybe I should have conquered my squeamishness with blood and other bodily fluids (as well as my narcoleptic spells during Biology class) and gone into the medical field. I say that because most of the vacancies I see these days are for bean counters and health care providers. But then I remember that I’ve only met a handful of likeable accountants with a lick of personality, and I hate hospitals.

I see plenty of sales jobs, but most of those adverts are a) internet scams, b) part-time and/or minimum wage positions, or c) demand that you work an insane number of hours moving a phenomenal amount of product in order to get a taste of the illusory commission rate. In most cases, the type of wage slavery in Category C is an even bigger lie than the identity theft/marketing traps that comprise Category A.  And I won’t break my neck hustling wares that I don’t believe in. I just won’t.

I’ve had several interviews. I’ve followed all of the recommended steps from the stacks from the articles I clipped from the Wall Street Journal. Get a haircut the day before. Wear a black suit, conservative tie, and polished shoes. Show up 15 minutes early. Don’t ogle the secretary, no matter how miniscule her ensemble is. Once I’m in front of the hiring authority, don’t slouch. Take copious notes and ask plenty of questions. Don’t trash your previous employers, no matter how despicable they might be. Don’t be the first one to ask about money. Don’t openly laugh or spit when the initial salary offer is a sliver of your old paycheck (I don’t need a lot of money – just enough to cover living expenses, workout supplements, guitar strings, the occasional book or DVD, and ammunition. For the most part, I just want to work my 40 years and pursue my boring hobbies. But they don’t need to know that, because I’ll never voluntarily disclose my utter lack of ambition during a job interview). And I try not to be overly pushy, but I am direct: how do I stack up against the other candidates, do I meet the requirements for the job description, and what do I need to do to get the job?

Inevitably, I get the phone call or email a few days later that goes “oh, you were great. But you’re overqualified/made too much money at your last two jobs/we found someone even more desperate than you, blah, blah, blah. But we’re sure that someone else will snap you up real quick, blah,blah, blah, because you were a wonderful candidate, blah, blah, blah. Now kindly go jump in a lake.” A pat on the back isn’t going to feed me, you #$%!!!

So the local job market is terrible, but it seems to be pretty horrid everywhere. Most of my fellow jobless friends around the country tell me their prospects are equally grim. That’s certainly not reassuring. As matter of fact, it’s a damning indictment that this economy is in even worse shape than advertised, and it will probably get worse before it gets any better. I even broke down and applied for contracting jobs in Afghanistan yesterday. Trust me, I got my fair share of excitement in Iraq…and then some. But no one else seems to be hiring, and KBR, Fluor, and Dynocorp always have vacancies. And not to be utterly fatalistic, but the only times I’ve made decent money are when I’ve had to relocate and expose myself to a fair amount of physical danger. Maybe I was never meant to work a halfway fulfilling job that’s 40 hours a week, with weekends and holidays off. Perhaps it’s just time to accept my fate.

I’ll keep plugging away. I mean, what other choice is there? I’d make for a hideous streetwalker.