Thursday, February 18, 2010

U.T.O.L.'s and the Horror House

It's almost two in the morning. Too early to get out of bed, but insomnia has become my alarm clock, and when it rings my night's sleep is over. Usually it has the decency to wait until after three, so I can just call it being a very early riser, but tonight it went off without so much as a bad dream to jar me awake. Benadryl doesn't work, xanax is useless, and even Ambien gives me all the relief of a strong cup of coffee, and a couple of bennies. Do they still call them bennies? I wonder if they even exist anymore. Probably not. Seconal is, no doubt, extinct as well- all gone the way of Dylocid, replaced by newer, "safer" products that may sorta' work, but have "lower potential for abuse", or some such thing. There is still alcohol, but I haven't had a drink in twenty years, and even a night's sleep isn't worth getting back on that ride.
And I just heard my mother get up... and make it to the bathroom and back. There's a straw of gratitude to grasp. She's been in and out of the hospital over these last ten days. Bronchitis, some unspecified infection- you never get to see the actual doctor, and it's hard to get a straight answer. Mostly, just sick with age, and twenty wasted years spent sitting, and staring at television. Monday afternoon the insurance schedule dictated that she be moved from the local hospital to a convalescent facility. Yesterday morning she demanded that they release her. I wanted her out of there too, and they had to comply. I don't blame her for wanting out.

Old John said it: "Those places are a horror house." And he was right.
The smell- Ozium masking leaked urine and death. The white breathing corpses- toothless mouths hanging open in that last long delirious sleep before the breathing stops. The woman doubled over in the wheel chair, face on her knees inching her way down the hall, and the obese double amputee, legs lost up to the thigh to diabetes, uneven stumps uncovered. But the woman in the bed next to my mother. That was the worst.

The sight of that unfortunate soul is going to give me nightmares for years to come. They wouldn't say what happened to her to put her there. My guess was an auto accident, or some sort of hideous brain trauma. There was obviously no consciousness left, but the body in the bed never stopped moving. Dead eyes blinking open and shut. Her jaw rotating in some grotesque imitation of a chewing motion while the shoulders hunched and unhunched, her left arm partly raising and dropping as if endlessly reliving the final flinch before taking a blow that should have killed her. There was nothing voluntary, nothing human in the motion. It repeated and repeated and repeated each blinkchewflinchshrug blinkchewflinchshrug identical, with the mechanical cadence of a busy signal, or a car alarm. Just an endless electrical discharge snapping through what was left of a nervous system. Hanging over the bed was a square plastic bottle filled with brown stuff that looked like liquid shit that dripped down a tube planted through an incision into her stomach. That kept the body alive to keep twitching, while another machine suctioned phlegm from the lungs, and still another gurgling pump collected the foamy waste product out of the intestine and dripped it into a jar that needed to be drained every hour or so. She couldn't have been more than thirty five or forty. The nurse told my mother she'd been like that for five years now.

So I had to get my mom out of there. But my mother really isn't able to do for herself. She needs help getting on and off the pot, and the toilet in the main bathroom now has one of those big white plastic things that raises the seat by ten inches or so. She can't stand up long enough to fix herself food. This is a U.T.O.L.- a universal task of life, caring for your aging parent, and it is my task at this stage in the game. And you don't have to tell me- I know. I know all too well that it could be much, much worse. You know- there is how you're "supposed" to feel when caring for loved ones: caring, compassionate, full of filial piety and all that. And then there is the real feeling that overwhelms everything: like I've just had a very short leash put on my life. A leash that get yanked several times an hour. Let's just say my well of charity is draining faster that it is being replenished.
I managed to get out for a while this afternoon, and went down to the corner for a cup of coffee. Luckily, Old John was there alone and we spent some time talking. He's taken to gathering discarded scratch off lottery tickets, and double checking them for winners. He's been on a lucky streak. Yesterday he found one worth three bucks, and he got a card in the mail from a famous book writer who sent him twenty dollars, which came in handy. I hung around long enough to get a refill before going home to cook dinner. Maybe I shouldn't have had coffee so late in the day.

An update, and a reflection.


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Little Help From My Father

From jwm's world famous blog

I went down to Dennison's Schwinn Saturday to pick up the wheels for the Jaguar and the B-6. I mentioned before that whoever owned the B-6 before me had plundered it for parts- no doubt to use on another restoration project, and the painted wheels on the bike had surely come from some less expensive bicycle. So I took the chrome rims from the Starlet, and had the three-wing Bendix brake laced into the rear. The Jaguar wheels were out of true, and needed to be straightened up a little.
Bill Blake over at Dennison's runs what is probably the last true old-school bicycle shop in Los Angeles. I have three good bike shops within walking distance of my house, but I drive ten miles into East LA to take my business to Dennison's. Here's why. I paid up front for the re-lacing, and the true & tighten, plus tires, rim strips, and tubes for the B-6. When I got there he brought out the Jaguar wheels, and the newly re-done B-6 wheels. The new wheels didn't have tires on them, yet.
"What kind of tires do you want for these?" Bill asked.
I said that I wanted a good set of whitewalls- something as close as possible to what the bike came with.
"Something like these?" He pointed out a brand new Schwinn cruiser on the showroom. The new cruisers come with a retro-reproduction of the original Schwinn Typhoon Cord whitewalls like they used back in the day.
"Something like that would be just all kinds of cool," I said. Before I could say another word, Bill had his mechanic pop the wheels off the brand new bike, take those awesome Typhoon Cord whitewalls, and put them on my 60 year old rims. That's why I drive ten miles out of my way to take my business to Dennison's.
But as I said in The Jaguar Project I've always seemed to have this almost supernatural good fortune when it comes to my old Schwinns.

What I hadn't mentioned was how often my father has stepped in to lend a hand with this stuff. This month it will be seventeen years since I got that phone call in the morning:

John. I think I'm having a heart attack...

He called me before he called 911. I got over to his house just as the paramedics were wheeling him out the front door. I stood there in the street. He turned on the gurney, saw me, and he waved. The ambulance drove off. I stood there for a minute, and went to get some breakfast before going over to the hospital. My grandfather had had two or three heart attacks, and he always pulled through fine. He died at eighty nine, of old age. When I got to the hospital emergency room they took me straight to the chaplain's office. Dad was sixty six.

Like most fathers and sons my dad and I quarreled, and were often at odds. We had our communion, though, in project work. My dad was an inveterate tinkerer, and a world class mickey-mouse engineer. He loved ripping into lawnmowers, bicycles, anything mechanical, and I inherited that trait deep in my genes. Often I'd let him 'help' when I was working on the Harley, or any of the other motorcycles, and bicycles that passed through my hands, and just as often I'd really need his input, and sense of how to get things done. The garage, while neat, held enough junk, and crap to fix damn near anything that could break.

My dad's wife was an insufferable bitch, and I do have the potential to be a world class bastard. I got seriously aggressive with her and her parasitic offspring when it came to the stuff in that garage. I knew that her dick head son would pilfer what he could, and to this day, I'm sure he did. Dad used to have an ancient set of woodworking tools that had belonged to his grandfather. I didn't get to those in time. But I rented a big truck and I took, along with my dad's huge tool collection, every rusty, worn out, seemingly useless piece of junk that was in there, and crammed it into the garage at my mother's.

That stuff has served me well.
I can't tell you how many times I've need a doodad, or a whatchamacallit, or just the right sized screw, or a piece of rubber just so big by this wide, and found it in one of the drawers in the blue dresser that I had in my room as a kid, and that served for the main workbench in Dad's garage.
And I hadn't remembered, until starting the Jaguar Project just how much old Schwinn stuff that my dad had saved for me. There was a ton of it that I had completely forgotten about.
The bearing races on those old painted wheels were shattered. Try finding a pair of original Schwinn races. Dad saved me a pair. They're now on the front axle of the Starlet awaiting the final rebuild. Just like the two shattered top headset bearings in the B-6. Or the front axle lock washers for the Jaguar. And the locking clip for the master link in the chain, or the perfect rubber washer to shim up the shifter.
But this last find just sort of takes the cake.
From jwm's world famous blog

It doesn't look like much, does it? A steel ring three and five eighths inch diameter, and a quarter of an inch thick with three holes drilled. I have no idea what it was originally. A scrap of two millimeter thick aluminum plate. What the hell use could that stuff possibly have?
It is exactly what I need to mount this:
From jwm's world famous blog

on this.
From jwm's world famous blog

The Spoiler is an awesome bike, but it's big, heavy, and has only one gear. The stick shift is to a special extra- wide three speed chopper hub that will fit into the Spoiler frame. The hub fits, but there is no way to mount that shifter without resorting to machine shop fabrication. I had secured the assistance of a guy from the local Starbucks gang. He has a hot rod/ auto restoration business, and was going to fab up a bracket for me. I was happy to get the help, but...
I wanted to do it myself. This was my bike, my project, and I wanted it done my way. Yesterday I opened the garage, stood there for a moment, and the thought came winging into my head:
You know I'll bet- I just know I have something here... And I started fishing around in the tobacco cans full of nuts, bolts, and miscellaneous bits of hardware.
It's my bike, my project, and it will be done my way. I'll do it myself, with a little help from my dad.

Thank you Father.