Monday, December 29, 2014

New Year's with the Generalissimo: on the rocks, with a twist

     (dec. 30, 2012) Harris called me "flat ass." I took it as a compliment, even though it was intended as a playful insult. I was glad he didn't flirt with me. I wanted a father figure, and that's what he became.
    He was also a mystery. What, exactly, did he do in our office, anyway? He strode around in full military regalia, covered with ribbons and medals.What was up with that? Our young staff  regarded this middle-aged black man as a lovable, blustery eccentric who lived in a dream world. On New Year's Eve, I would discover just how neurotically grandiose he apparently was. And when he died, I would finally learn the real truth.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Darkness at "Sunrise": The $74,000 a year dementia warehouse

A mind is a terrible thing to neglect, deprecate or manipulate.

There are no hugs from staff (that's against policy) nor are there bright-eyed, stylish, healthy residents in the dementia wards.

    (12/14/14) When you step off the elevator onto the fourth floor of Sunrise Senior Living, and you enter the secure “Reminiscence” ward -- where dementia patients are housed -- you might well become overwhelmed with a sense of dread. The first thing you see is a large, semi-dark room – known as “the TV room” -- in which about 25 women sit virtually all day in theater-style rows, with their eyes closed and their heads either hanging down or thrown back. A couple of them gaze vacantly into the distance. There are no interactions between them, and the seating arrangement certainly isn’t conducive, even to eye contact. Is this what the website meant by "individually tailored care"?
    No one is watching “Let’s Make a Deal.” They ignored "The Price is Right" as well. It would be too bad if they were interested: The sound is turned off. These women look gray and dead. They seem unreal, as if they were in Madame Tussauds’ rendition of Zombieville.
    I am sick with grief and guilt as I confront the fact that my mother is moving into this $74,000 a year institution tomorrow.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Wasting away again in our Dementiavilles

This disease needs an extreme makeover of its image.
Dementia testing and dementia facilities need major overhauls as well.
It should be this.................
..................................not this

    I have spent several hours a day for the past six months with people confined in locked dementia wards. I realize that they have a progressive brain impairment, but I fear that we are giving up on them way too readily, which leads to their becoming exactly what we expect: dull, bored, confused, sleepy and complacent. I believe that it is the institutions -- which ignore the "real person" who is still inside that head -- as much as the disease itself, that account for the blank-faced, slack-jawed, sprawled out appearance of these dear people, who are being cruelly warehoused and neglected by multibillion-dollar conglomerates, which own hundreds of facilities in order to profit from "economies of scale."
    We are throwing our loved ones to the wolves. Every day in these dismal surroundings makes them die a little bit more. When you watch as they become helplessly institutionalized, it breaks your heart.
    When I "embedded" myself in Dementiaville, I found that beneath those masks of stupor, sullenness and indifference, there were bright, lively, charming people. Many if not most of them still have beautiful minds, if you just connect with them. In their faces, the sun rises again.
    These concentration camps must be regulated. We are losing thousands of precious human beings, who are plunging deeper and deeper into oblivion.They are prisoners. We need to hatch an escape plot.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Neon Neurochemistry of the Drama Queen

 Are you one of these babes?

    I can hear Gigi's shrill laughter all the way down a long hospital corridor. "You are such a cute doctor!" she cries. "A cute doctor for a cute patient -- that's only fair!"
    I don't want to visit this exhibitionistic, narcissistic drama queen, but I promised her father I would make an appearance every few days while he's out of town.
    "I refuse to eat the food here -- it's like being in Auchwitz or something," she is telling a group of nurses as I approach. "I have my meals delivered from 'The Good Earth.' Beautiful food on the inside makes you beautiful on the outside. Look at me!"
    That's Gigi's implied motto: Look at me.
    I have known a few drama queens over the years, but she is like a caricature of a caricature. As I approach her, I see that she has rejected the hospital gown and is instead wearing a sheer, shocking-pink peignoir set, trimmed with a feather boa, and a pair of pink stilettoes.
    "Sylvia, where have you been?" she cries irritably as I approach. "Did you bring me the brie and pears?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

If a tree falls in the forest: Rape vs. dementia

    If a tiny, 96-year-old woman with dementia -- who has lost the ability to form new memories -- tells a nighttime  aide that she has been raped, but has no recollection of it the next morning, should any "sound" be made about it? Should we care? She is eating her eggs and bacon and talking about her love of "smooth jazz." What's the problem, Sylvia? Why don't you back off, instead of making a big deal out of nothing?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Elderly Girl discovers that dressing as a man is tinglingly transformative

How our tender sweetheart civilized the
 "giant hole of putrefaction" that was 1890s Paris.
"Do join us in Paris, for a life of glittering ease and colorful divertissement!"
    Have you ladies ever considered dressing as a man, just to see how it feels? Elderly Girl cannot overstate the magic that will flood through you. Please ransack some guy's closet, and disappear into your boudoir to give it a try.
    During the Civil War, Elderly Girl -- who has been alive practically forever (but remains luscious) -- had bound her breasts, chopped off her wild, wavy tresses, and donned a Union uniform so she could fight heroically to free her beloved black people from slavery. Until she had this experience of wearing pants (what a vulgar word), she would never have imagined the exhilaration of striding about as the male of the species. She expected that she would have to "play a role," but it wasn't necessary: Once she was "in disguise," she instantly felt more comfortable and confident than she ever had in her whole life. She felt like a cattle rustler. She felt like Da Bomb. She felt like a Swat Team of one. She was cruisin' for a bruisin'. She was ready to rumble, baby! Everything changed. She stood erect! She breathed more deeply and felt a glorious competence in her hands and mind. She was engorged with a sense of possibility. It's so much more interesting to be formidable than beautiful, ladies -- we've been kept in the dark! The world was her oyster! Or -- puke -- let's try that again: She felt like "He-Man, Master of the Universe."  Elderly Girl became aggressive, rash, restless, and terribly sexy. This is a shameful thing to say, but she felt like fucking. She felt like hauling some young farm girl into a barn and just doing it! 
    It was confusing, to say the least. Please don't judge her too harshly. dear friends. She was more appalled than you must be. And no farm girls were harmed in the making of this blog post.
    She was so exhausted by the war and its aftermath, and so disgusted by the bestial horniness of all those rednecks down South, that she succumbed to the promise of a refined life in Paris. But she was shocked beyond measure when she got there. It was, as she would soon discover, 'a giant hole of putrefaction." Her work was cut out for her: Civilize Paris.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Turkish Coffee and Rosewater Custard with a "Gay Mantilist"

Don't you just love these crazy kids of today?
     I had an hour to kill before my appointment, so I decided to take a walk, instead of waiting in the orthopedic surgeon's office. I did my best not to limp, as I ambled along Third South, because people give you looks of distress and compassion if they think you're in pain. It makes me feel guilty.
    The fragrance of Turkish coffee hit me like a full-fledged flashback to my 1970s afternoons at Uncle Toonoose restaurant in New York. The owner had always stopped by my table to "read" my coffee grounds (the ancient art of tasseography). He predicted fabulous events in my life, most of which came true.
    I followed the scent down a side street to "Mists of Persia," a tiny cafe that had four tables. Just one patron was there, a young man with a mohawk haircut, plinking away at his laptop. He grinned at me as I made my way to the counter, and said, "You should sit with me. Let's not be lonely." What a charming comment, from this tattooed dude with his bod mods and e-cig.
    "Are you writing the Great American novel?" I asked in passing.
    "I wish! It's a Power Point presentation," he sighed. "I'm a Gay Mantilist. I thought this gig would be pure fun, but the 'suits' are turning it into a drag. They are relentlessly 'data-driven'."
     Gay Mantilism? Oh my god, that sounded cool. My blood and brain began at once to sparkle. I love being exposed to new ideas and theories and fields of study. It almost makes me wish I were still young.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Stayin' Alive: Hospice feasts on a terminally stupid Medicare fee system

Please, for god's sake, don't die! Hospice needs all the clients it can get!
The stockholders set some almost impossible 'benchmarks' at the last meeting! "

    (Nov 1, 2014) The young lady in the Hospice for Utah shirt was giddy and shameless. She and her fellow employees were in the process of buying the "death with dignity" hospice business from the charismatic and energetic founder, Cathryn "Kit" Jackson, for $10 million. Pretty soon this lucrative operation would be all theirs, and the sky would be the limit, she told me two months ago.
    I was having breakfast with a friend at an Assisted Living facility. The hospice aide was there to bathe and dress a client and escort her to the dining room. This in itself was absurd, since the client was already paying to be bathed and dressed by facility employees. But when hospice moves into your end-of-life drama, they take center stage,  and Medicare pays for it.
     "Where are you getting the funds to buy the company?" I asked the pleasant-faced Hospice girl.
    "That's what's so great," she said. "Every quarter, we get to split up the left-over money. You know: the allotment that Medicare sends us to take care of each client. We get that, plus our salaries! If we didn't keep the leftovers for ourselves, we'd have to send it all back to the government.  Kit's already rich, and now we've got a shot too." Kit, who is an admirable, enlightened person in many ways, is now content to bake cookies with her grandkids or ski the Alps, her website says.
    Even though I knew from my previous investigations that the vast majority of hospice firms are for-profit, it had never occurred to me that the profit they make consists of money disbursed  for patient care that is not spent for patient care. That should have been obvious, but I still find it shocking. The incentive to spend as little as possible on patient care is built into the system. More stupidity! Can't the government get anything right? 
    This is the story of how a compassionate, progressive concept morphed into one of the most fraudulent  (and painfully disappointing) (and profitable) enterprises in our economy.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The rambunctiously rich rewards of the "Thrift Shop" lifestyle

The thrill of the hunt is part of the Thrift Shop experience.
Macklemore bagged a luxurious beauty, if you don't mind animal slaughter.
    Watching the video for the Grammy-winning "Thrift Shop" was like viewing a rousing, witty tribute to my 95-year-old mother, and to the values she instilled in me in the 1950s. I have been plowing through stuff that others have discarded all my life. I have found countless treasures amid the trash. I left plenty for you.
    In today's frantic, acquisitive consumer culture, my Mama's motto is more relevant than ever: Living well, on almost no money, is the best revenge. Looking hip and strikingly original in an outfit that you "curated," using items that cost you between 49 cents and five dollars, is very rewarding.
    Just as the Grammys were being handed out, New York was gearing up for Fashion Week. Did anyone else notice how many of those designer geniuses flagrantly plagiarized Thrift Shop chic in their collections?