Wednesday, May 31 2023
location: unit #4, 201 North Madison Street, Staunton, Virginia
At noon today I drove out to Creekside mostly just to retrieve my father's old K&E pocket transit, a nicely-machined piece of pre-electronic navigational (and surveying) equipment. Don appeared while I was digging through piles of valueless paper and immediately began complaining about his new smartphone, which is different enough that he misses some of the features of the old phone. One of these was the loudness of its speaker, which was sufficient for him to hear music from across the room. The new phone's speaker is noticeably quieter. I thought this problem would be an easy one to fix by simply setting up a set of computer speakers. Don has an old desktop computer I set up for him back in the first decade of this millennium. I'd intended for him to watch old video clips and listen to music on it, but I don't know if he used it even once. In any case, it had a nice set of speakers complete with a separate woofer. But when I went to hook it up, I found that 1/8 inch audio plug was damaged; it's end (an entire conductor) had been sheared off. This sent me across the road to the Shaque, where I salvaged a set of computer speakers from the Windows PC in the workstation area under the bunk (the place where I used to hack old Macintosh software to bypass anti-piracy measures). As I did this, I felt a little like I was in a post-apocalyptic world salvaging the decript remains of a once-vibrant society now reduced to cob-web-covered piles of debris. Unfortunately, that speaker didn't work either. It had probably been at least fifteen years since anyone had tried to make it do anything.
I returned to the AirBnB in Staunton to spend the rest of my workday, the highlight of which was the discovery that NPM compilation is case-sensitive for file names even on a Windows computer. As some point I toasted myself a tray of tostads to which I added refried beans, guacamole, red onions, lettuce, and habañero hot sauce.
At the end of the workday, I drove out to the Staunton Walmart and immediately began recharging the car at an ElectrifyAmerica charger (since it had been depleted by the drive to Charlottesville and back). I then went into the Walmart to buy a solution to combat toenail fungus, a large bottle of white wine, and a small bluetooth speaker that also accepted 1/8 inch stereo plugs. That last item was for my brother Don, and once I was back at Creekside, I configured his phone to communicate with it over bluetooth, though I also showed Don how to hook up the audio cable when the bluetooth inevitably fails. (For people like Don, such technology should be as reliable as a toaster. But it's often frustrating even to people with my level of technical skills. And the phone itself, though it runs the Android OS, is chock-full of anti-intuitive features that differ from those on other releases of Android.)
I then drove with Don and Maple the Dog out to Fishersville to again visit our mother Hoagie at The Retreat. This time when we were walking through the halls with the dog, some woman said we needed to have the dog's paperwork regarding shots with us. She let us in without them this time, though it's unlikely we'll be bringing the dog back again because I am certain Hoagie has not kept up with Maple's vaccinations.
When we got back to Hoagie's room, she let us in and then told us she'd just been on the phone with our cousin Carol. Initially I thought she was confabulating, but she had her phone nearby with a written-out list of phone numbers, including both my number and Carol's number. Most of the rest of the conversation featured me trying to figure out how bad Hoagie's dementia was. She was never clear at all about where it was she now found herself, and even after I'd tell her, she go back to saying that we were either in one of her houses or in a house that she thought was hers but wasn't based on any actual house. She also claimed there were horses out through the window in an undeveloped (but surely soon-to-be-developed) swath of Fishersville landscape. She seemed to recall old facts easily, such as when she was born and my birthday (and, with a little more effort, Don's birthday). But she couldn't recall what year our father had been born or what year (or season) it was now. She did, however, know that Joe Biden is the current president. When I told her it was 2023, she reacted a little like Rip Van Winkle, like she had been unexpectedly jolted into the future. I then told her that the man she'd been married to had been born in 1923 and, if he were alive still, he'd be turning one hundred on November 2nd. That kind of blew her mind, though I don't know how much she retained of it. I was impressed that she remembered something I'd said on my last visit, which indicates she is still forming and retaining new memories.
At some point I went out to the car to retrieve our phones (which we hadn't brought in for some reason). Evidently our aunt Barbara had given Hoagie a photo album containing some old photos that I definitely wanted copies of.
While we're on the topic of Hoagie's suite in The Retreat, I should mention something about the few things within it. I've mentioned my mother's art which someone hung on the walls, that, in such a well-curated form, actually looks good. But there were two other things as well that I'd been looking for in the clutter of my childhood home. There had never been much of value in there, but it had contained two things that I'd been on the lookout for: a bronze chariot statue that my grandfather had received as a first prize for one of his seven winnings of the Boston Marathon. The other was a small wooden table made from native black walnut (my father had given a furniture maker a nice big piece of walnut and the table made from a small part of it was what the furniture maker paid for it). I'd looked under the piles of mail and old catalogs but couldn't find these things. All along, it turned out, they'd been here at The Retreat. And today my mother said something about giving the bronze statue to someone whom I don't even know when she finally dies.
On the drive back to Creekside, Don tried to convince me to stop somewhere so I could buy him oranges (he had no money of his own). I told him no, that there was lots of rotting food in his trailer, and he'd have to do some work cleaning things up before I'd be buying him any more groceries.
When I returned to my AirBnB, my landlord-for-the-week Joffrey was cheerfully tinkering with a downstairs apartment (as he's been doing) and he mentioned that Josh Furr would be coming by and maybe visiting me. Wait, did he know Josh Furr? He said he did, though not well. I said Josh is one of my old friends, but then asked how he knew I was here. (Clearly he reads this; that's the only explanation.) Joffrey had no idea.
About 20 minutes later I could hear Josh's familiar voice down at the bottom of the stairs. He had a handtruck and was either bringing or taking something. (Josh works in the salvage industry, and he says commodity prices are especially good right now.) Eventually he came up the stairs bringing a box full of vegan goodies for me that nobody takes when they're offered at the food bank, where evidently also does salvage; but I'm just one person so all I took were the sprouts and Tofurky, the latter of which had been impossible to find. He was wearing a covid-era face mask that he never took off as we sat around chatting, mostly about my brother Don. Josh is part of Don's very small support network. Every week he brings Don (and Maple the Dog) some sort of care package, and if weren't for Josh, Don would somehow be even more marginal than he already is. I said that Don staying at Creekside didn't seem sustainable, and that he'd probably end up at a group home eventually. Josh expressed a little concern about what might happen in such a place, especially if Don started chatting too much with someone's "old lady." He then reminded me of Don's inappropriate interest in Donna Myrtle, one of the hot cheerleaders back in high school. He would supposedly stand a little too close to her and weird her out, though I don't remember any of this.
After Josh left, I called Gretchen to talk about a conversation she'd had earlier with Don's social worker. In discussing Don's future with the social worker, she'd been reminded that the biggest obstacle to getting Don services is his lack of an ID or birth certificate, both consequences of the insane hoarding perpetuated over many decades by Hoagie. We'd failed to get Illinois to send us a replacement birth certificate, and Don's social worker had failed too. But if we looked at the rejection letter Illinois had sent, that might help us make a successful request. Gretchen also mentioned that perhaps I should take over responsibility for Don's Supplemental Security Income disbursement. Doing that was relatively easy; I'd need some paperwork from The Retreat saying that Don's current disburser is in a dementia ward, but I wouldn't need much else.
This conversation put a renewed fire in my belly to go look through the hoard in my childhood home in hopes of finding paperwork related to Don. So I drove out there, parked as quietly as I could at Creekside (as as not to draw attention from Don) and then spent something like an hour going through all the drawers that would've had that stuff in excruciating detail. I'd been through those drawers before, but I'd always been in a hurry, worried I'd be interrupted by my mother, who most definitely didn't want me going through her private stuff. As I worked, I flung what I wasn't looking for onto a glacier of existing crap in the general vicinity of the bed that my parents had shared. In among the paperwork was a fair amount of underwear and other intimate clothing (some of it surprisingly sexy), much of it chewed into fibers to line the nests of whatever rodents had been living in there. I found some envelopes addressing Don, some of which I took to help prove Don's legitimacy. Also found a fascinating form entitled "Security Investigation Data For Sensitive Position" that my father had evidently filled out as a condition for being hired by NASA. On the form, he gave his complete work and employment history as well as the names of his closest relatives. Interestingly, he had no idea when his father had been born, though he did know where.
It turned out Don was still up and was having trouble figuring out how to turn on his bluetooth speaker. He was hanging out in his sour-smelling living room listening to the radio, though there was evidence that he'd actually done a little cleaning up.
All the dust I'd encountered rifling through the drawers in my abandoned childhood home had given me a few whole-body coughing fits, one of which pulled something in my asshole and left me with my first hemorrhoid in years.
My now-abandoned childhood home, swallowed by vines. Viewed from the northeast.
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Hoagie with Maple the Dog in the sitting area of her suite in The Retreat's memory-care ward.
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An old photo of the family dating to the 1970s. From left: Don, me, Hoagie, my father (Robert), and Wilbur the Dog.
This photo was one of several in a photo album recently given to Hoagie at The Retreat by someone, probably her twin sister Barbara (either she or her husband George likely took the photos).
My mother as a much younger woman (abotu 40 years old) making Wilbur the Dog perform tricks.
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My father, me, and my mother, and Wilbur the Dog in the 1970s.
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A photo of my youngish mother with her first Virginia horse, Natchez.
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My father with the small garden he made in the front yard, probably from the 1980s. Click to enlarge.
A security clearance form my father filled out prior to getting his job at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
Found in the chaos in my abandoned childhood home this evening.
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