completely in keeping with the plot so far
Thursday, December 10 2020
The phone rang early this afternoon and it was a call from the 540 area code, which includes my childhood home. The number was unfamiliar, but I figured it had something to do with my mother or my brother, so I answered it. From the very first sound I heard, I could tell that it was indeed my brother Don on the other end of the line. Don paused a moment and asked if he could please talk to Gus (because Gretchen had already answered on another handset). I told him I was there on line and he responded with the long, open-mouthed "AAAEEE" sound that he makes when he is mentally assembling a sentence and then proceeded to tell about our mother, Hoagie. He said he was worried that she was in the process of losing her mind, that she was seeing people who weren't there and even calling the police on them. In one case I hadn't heard about, she'd been so insistent that some man was on their couch that she and Don got in an argument about it. Then Don said he was afraid what would happen with the bills and all of that. Don is probably the worst listener I know, so it was hard to ask questions, but it didn't seem he was particularly concerned about Hoagie's driving. Don then launched into a skeletal story about some sort of romance he'd apparently had that had been thwarted in some way, something he described as having been a possible way out of his predicament. He even compared it to my relationship to Gretchen, as if I had married her mostly to escape my dysfunctional family. The upshot of all of this, which Gretchen wanted me to get from Don as directly as possible, was that conditions at the childhood home have declined to the point where he wants out. The decline had been years in the making, but evidently it was happening so quickly now that the frog wanted to jump out of the frying pan. Don specifically mentioned bills needing to be paid as the sort of thing he has no idea how to do.
I told Don that it was great that he'd called and that he should feel free to call any time he wanted to. He replied that this was difficult, since the phone at the house was "on the fritz." The phone he was talking to me now was one loaned to him by someone he knows at a book store. I asked if Don would use a cellphone if we sent him one. He said he would, but then spewed some nonsense about cellphones causing brain cancer. Following Gretchen's lead, I assured Don that the brain cancer problem with cell phones had been fixed in newer models and that the one we would be sending him would leave his brain cancer-free.
I asked if that woman Sarah was still living in the small house in the small parcel completely surrounded by Mueller properties. Sarah had been friendly with Hoagie and, if she were still there, might be able to occasionally lend a hand. But no, Sarah had moved out. That house is now home to a (and at this point Don's voice fell to a hushed, conspiratorial tone) man with a history of sex offenses against children. Somehow that seemed completely in keeping with the plot so far.
At this point Don was eager to get off the phone, so that was pretty much it. Don hadn't really told us anything about Hoagie we hadn't already heard from Piper, my aunt, and my cousin. But the fact that he wants out was news. This led Gretchen to call Karen, our social-worker contact in Virginia, and this was how we got referred to someone else named Meghan, who is apparently on the case. When we talked to her, she was particularly concerned about firearms, which was a concern I think we'd neglected to mention to Karen. In any case, none of these matters are at the point where we can't wait a couple weeks to deal with them. In the meantime, Gretchen ordered a flip-phone (the kind targeting the elderly demographic) for us to give to Don so he can keep in closer contact. We'll have to bring it with us to Virginia to show him how to use it, as it's different enough from a landline phone to completely confound him.
This evening I made yet another trip out to the Brewster Street house. There I applied the last layer of drywall joint compound and then turned my attention to electrical issues. I quickly installed a new pullstring ceiling lamp in place of one that had failed in one of the bedrooms upstairs, and then I turned my attention to the 240 volt dryer outlet in the basement, which was missing its plastic covering and presented a serious risk of shock. I went through all the bother of replacing it with a new one with three conductor blades set 120 degrees apart only to find that the one I needed required a socket with a ground pin having an L-shaped cross-section instead of a line-segment-shaped cross-section. I was so desperate at that point that I considered cutting the L-shaped pin and hammering it flat, but I didn't have a hammer, and neither (amazingly enough) did the tenant. So I had to tear the installation apart and revert to the old, dangerous outlet with exposed 240-volt conductors.
On the way home, I stopped at the branch of our bank on Hurley Avenue to deposit two checks given to Gretchen and me for Chanukah. (One had also been given to Powerful.) The checks were big, though I won't say how big. The point is that the memo said "Happy Chanukah!" I used the bank's remote-teller kiosk to do the deposit, meaning that I was on a video link with my teller and had to feed the checks through a motorized slot. Usually tellers say nothing about the nature of my deposits or withdrawals no matter what, since (presumably) they see all kinds of such things and there's probably a policy of not drawing attention to large numbers. But the teller nevertheless said, "Nice Chanukah present!" I agreed, saying, "Yeah, I have rich in-laws." "Can't beat that," she said.
Back at the house, Powerful had driven up to Hudson to get takeout Thai food, which was for his online vegan cooking course in the section "get food from a cuisine you've never had before." At this point it was cold, but there was plenty left for me to eat.
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