The Beauty, the Beast, and the Tragic Horror
Early in the morning, giving ourselves more than the usual two hours to check into our flight, we drove to the airport. The plan we had negotiated the evening prior was that I would drive Ron to the airport, leave him and the luggage there and return the car. When I returned on the rental car shuttle, we could check in and still have time for a leisurely cup of java before having to board the plane. When we arrived at the Frontier area, there was curbside check-in. This was not only convenient, but allowed us extra time without any strain. Since I have never used curbside check-in, I tipped the counter person well having heard horror stories of bags that reappear anywhere but where you happen to be landing or they never appear anywhere and are sold to the big “Lost” Luggage Store in Arkansas.
There was more than sufficient time to return the car and shuttle back to the airport, but when the car was turned in to the rental agent, they stated we were minus one tire rim. I never knew it was missing and not one antelope in Wyoming made a sound to alert us to the fact that we were leaving a souvenir behind. The jury is still out on the outcome of that.
In the terminal we found our coffee and rest spot, then arrived at Frontier’s gate 30 minutes early. The flight not only boarded in a timely manner, it took off and landed in La Guardia on time. Bravo Frontier! Our entire set of luggage arrived along with us and off we were to the rental car company to pick up our car for the next two weeks. Our timing was not the best in this regard as we hit rush hour. It took one hour and 56 minutes to travel 15 miles. The Verrazanno Bridge signs looked very inviting, but it always seemed to be just a teaser. Verrazanno Bridge 10 miles, but 10 miles later or so it seemed the next sign posted was Verrazanno Bridge 8 miles. As we approached the bridge for sure, I said to Ron, “Look at the New York skyline. Isn’t it something?” I then asked him if he had ever been to the WorldTrade Center with the thought that if we were bored one day, we could take the train for the short trip to New York City. The last time we had been there was in ’94 to visit Ron’s niece who was teaching special education for the City of New York schools. There was not enough time then to do all of the touristy things with Ron that I had done so many times in the past.
When we reached the New Jersey turnpike after fighting the mobs of commuters struggling to reach their havens of home fires, it was after 7:00 pm. Two hours and thirty minutes to travel 26 miles. We stopped at the rest area to call my Dad and tell him we were going to be later than we thought. By the grace of the java god, there was a Starbucks at the rest area. When I reached my father, he was more than surprised to learn that we were at the turnpike. He had forgotten we were coming so early. I heard little voices in the background and was told he had company. We took longer with our coffee than intended, since my first inclination was to return to the airport to fly anywhere. My instincts were correct.
Dad has a thirty-three year old woman and her two children living with him. Since he was not expecting us until after midnight, he had not planned dinner. How he misunderstood our arrival by six hours only became apparent as the week progressed. The shock came when we walked in the door. The house was in the worst condition I had ever seen. If the “houseguests” did not make me want to check into a hotel, the condition of the house did. My father was the primary cleaner when my mother was alive, so this was incongruent with his history.
The children living here are kindergarten and first grade ages. They are of Jamaican heritage on their father’s side and Irish-Italian on mother Michelle’s side. The children could be models for little fashion shows. Christopher, the elder of the two has wavy brown hair with enough Irish red highlights to make his head sparkle. Alexis has darker and curlier hair. Both children have big brown cow eyes that are shielded by the longest eyelashes. Their manners are impeccable, but they still need parenting by at least one parent. Michelle, the mom is working at the local bookstore in the mall. She works irregularly and flexible hours, however, she does not own a car. She uses my father Lincoln Town car for her daily needs often stranding him willingly.
When she arrived home, I was on the phone with my sister-in-law. Michelle came into the dining room and looked in on me. I overheard her say to my Dad that I was not what she had expected and how different I was from my brother. She had no idea!
For those of you that need the background set out, my father and mother were volunteers for the St. Vincent de Paul Society, a charitable organization within their Catholic church. They assist those who have unmet needs in paying their rent, utilities, food, etc. during times of financial crisis. This is meant only as a respite measure and to assist the person to regain their financial balance to be self-sufficient. When my mother passed away, my father continued his volunteer work with this agency. Some people do not learn the lessons that are intended when they receive limited assistance and are refused on-going aid. My father took it upon himself to have a “private clientele” of all women who were able to receive assistance in the form of no interest loans. Unfortunately, my father is far from being financially well off and cannot afford to being the Rich Uncle to a number of women. Also unfortunately, it turns out he did not want to be that distant of a rich relative. This is the second woman he has had living with him. They want his assistance financially, but nothing, absolutely nothing more. When they use him up, they move out.
Our first full day here, Ron and I dug out the pails, the scrubbers, and the various cleaning products and tackled the kitchen. It took the best part of the day to make it a room that I would cook in. Alexis, the youngest, eagerly took a scrubber and had lower cabinet door detail. She is quite a talker and really loveable. Michelle decided to emerge from her cocoon at 2:00 pm to announce that she needed to take Dad’s car at 3:00pm for work. As she was departing, she said she was sorry there was not enough time for her to assist. I responded with the fact that we were just scraping the surface so there would be plenty for her to jump in on in the next few days. The next day, I did remember that the microwave had been overlooked, so she could have a contribution to the kitchen sanitation.
When I went to use my Dad’s computer, I discovered that the reason I had not had an e-mail from him in months was because cable modem was not working. He had not called the cable company for fear of not understanding what they told him to do. Asking my brother did not seem to be an option for him since he believes my brother is too busy to bother. The printer, a brand new Epson Color Stylus was not working either. He had it for six months and has not done anything about it. I tried uninstalling and reinstalling the software, but I seem to think there is something wrong with the USB port. More money that would have been more functional if it had been set on fire. The child has to return to the roost to parent the parent. Scenes from “It’s a Wonderful Life” flash through my mind. Jimmy Stewart is ready to catch the train for the adventures he could only read and dream about since childhood only to be thwarted by his father’s heart attack and he has to stay and pick up the pieces.
My father also is on a “program” called Radiant Health, something he saw on an infomercial at three in the morning one day and ordered the videos, then the program. It seems like the Dr. Adkins diet and he eats bacon and eggs every morning for breakfast and shuns carbohydrates. Reminding him that his Dad did the same thing and died of a heart attack at 64 years old and he himself had a quadruple by-pass did not dissuade him from this gastronomic cult of fats and proteins.
Saturday, the 8th we all went to my brother Kevin’s for his birthday dinner. I am happiest when I am around my nephews and the eldest of 13 years is almost as tall as I am. He is the one that scored over 1100 on his SAT exam while in 7th grade. He was upset that a friend scored higher, but I assured him he beat me out when I was a junior. Both of the nephews are in Boy Scouts and have diverse interests. My brother is a good father and the Scout Master of their troop. The goal of both boys was to coerce both Uncle Bub and Uncle Ron onto their new trampoline, but we were successful in postponing that activity. Their new Golden Lab puppy Shana was the bridge to much of our conversation and sharing for the evening with the nephews.
On Sunday, we were able to arrange a later brunch with my very special friend Daphnee and her partner Ellie, in Ocean Grove. Daphnee and I met when we were both returning students in undergraduate school. She has been by my side through many trials and celebrations and flew out to California for my doctoral graduation. There has never been a time when Daphnee has not been there for me and I hope that is true in reverse also. Her partner Ellie is also very special, loving and generous.
Ocean Grove was a mystical place when I was a child and through my twenties. It is separated from Asbury Park (Bruce Springsteen territory) by a lake. There is only one entrance to Ocean Grove and it is gated. The Methodist Church owns the whole property. On the surface, it was a normal seaside resort town with private homes, restaurants, hotels and the usual things you would find in any town. At a closer inspection, one would realize there were no gas stations and only one church, the Methodist church. Also, although you could purchase a home in the community, you never own the property it sits on. It remains the property of the Methodist community that owns it. The greatest difference was, but is not true now is that on Saturday night all residents that wanted use of their cars on Sunday would have to park them in Asbury Park and walk over the bridge back to Ocean Grove. Ocean Grove did not allow cars on the street on Sunday for any reason and the gate to the town was closed and locked from 12:00 midnight on Sunday morning and stayed locked until 12:00 midnight Monday morning. This continued for years until the local newspaper, The Asbury Park Press sued for Sunday access to deliver their papers to subscribers. They won in court and the community has lost its Sunday moratorium and charm ever since.
Later that evening, Michelle had disappeared just before dinner was to be served. This left my Dad, Ron and I to parent her kids yet again. Earlier that day, she had moaned about not having the time to spend quality time with her children, yet she only works less than 30 hours a week and sleeps in past 11:00 am when she is home. At dinner that night, we had a nice roast with backed potatoes, brussel sprouts and salad. The children had never had a baked potato before, but were willing to try it. Each liked it and ate a whole one. They do have healthy appetites as well as charming personalities; however, my anger was building toward the continual responsibilities that are erroneously given to my aged father. Christopher, stated that Halloween was his favorite holiday during dinner conversation. He continued to say that his mother was going to dress up this year also. Then he asked Ron to guess what she would be. He asked for a clue and Christopher offered that it is something that sucks blood. I popped out with “a leech”, but that was the wrong answer. I was determined to speak with Michelle the next day.
September 10th, I was sprawled across the kitchen with my laptop. One cord from the left of the computer went to the power outlet and the phone cord was in the other direction so I could access the internet. My laptop was on a tray table as there is no other table in the kitchen. I was trying to research the Rail Passes we would need in Europe and get them ordered from Rick Steves, since they need to be purchased in the States. Finally, I had to call and they were not able to assure me of getting them in time from Washington to New Jersey in time for our departure, so they suggested I call the Rail Pass Company in New York. Michelle sauntered into the kitchen at 9:00 am after I had already accommodated both her children who had come downstairs shortly after I had at 6:30. I explained to her that my father was getting too elderly to be caring for her and her children all day long. Although Christopher goes to school, Alexis still needs immunizations that have not been given and cannot enroll until she completes them. My father has her all day long whether Michelle is there or not, by default. He was taking Christopher to the bus stop via the car and picking him up everyday, until I pointed out that was her responsibility. Each night she works, he fixes their dinner and gets them ready for bed. I told her it was time to seriously think about moving. Since she contributes nothing to the economic well being of the household budget, my father could no longer continue to support her and her children. The next morning she went to the county social services and found an apartment that will be hers on November 15th. This is not the date that I wanted to hear, but if it is the truth, I will compromise. My father will never cry Uncle and say he cannot do it any longer. He is very lonely and he is very needy in terms of being needed, but he projects it in unhealthy ways. There are many layers to this onion which I do not want to uncover in this note, which I say here since many of you are in the arena of offering advise. Let me assure you there is much more to this would be a major embarrassment to share at this point in time.
I did consider hiring a private Elder Case Manager just to monitor my father’s behavior and his finances. I had since found out that he is in default on some of his own bills and responsibilities since his ego needs to help youngish damsels in distress. The case manager wanted $200.00 just to speak with me and I had no confidence that my father would cooperate, so decided not to partake.
The truck arrived at 4:00 pm today, September 10th. My brother came over with four Boy Scouts to assist in unpacking our worldly goods into a small spare room in my father’s home. After seeing all of the traffic of strangers in and out of the house, plus the fact that none of the back or side doors now lock, I insisted on being able to install a deadbolt on the door. The most precious items will go to a storage unit. When we had about a third of the truck unpacked, all of us soaked from the heat and the humidity, the sky provided a light show with lightning and then the rainstorm came. It was perfect timing to force us to take refuge inside and decide on dinner plans. Ron and I took the gang to the local pizzeria, one of my favorites from childhood that is still owned by the original owner. This was a great time to bond with my older nephew and my brother, but unfortunately, the younger nephew had homework not completed and went home with his mom.
September 11, 2001 Time 8:30 am and I place a call to the Rail Europe Company only to get the message that they don’t open until 9:00 am. I become a clock-watcher for fear of forgetting to make this call and not get our tickets in time. It is 9:03 am and I get connected to Peter, the Customer Service Rep. at the rail pass company. He takes my order, collects my credit card information and then asks for my mailing address. When he hears New Jersey, he asks me how close we are to New York City and asks if it is visible from here. I chuckled and said “No, why?” He explained that he had just heard on the radio that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center Tower about 15 minutes ago. I was alarmed and immediately assumed that it was a commercial flight that ran into technical problems. Peter ended the call with the fact that the tickets would be sent Airborne Express. When I finished the call, we immediately turned on the television. The second plane crashed into the second tower the exact minute I was making the call that alerted me to the first crash. We were glued to the television the entire day. The tears started to come. When we had to break away, we did not miss having a radio available. We have friends in New York City plus family of friends and many strangers that will eventually find a place in our hearts.
In spite of the sadness, Ron and I had to secure a storage unit. I thought it would be healing to have all of the family stay for dinner after they came over and they helped us unpack again. Ron and I went out to buy the ingredients for tomato sauce and meatballs and I cooked a sauce from scratch. It was healing to be all together. During all of this chaos on television, the truck being unpacked and me chopping onions, the cable company cometh to fix the internet connection.