Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Test

We've been hemming and hawing about getting The Happy Wanderer a cellphone for emergencies. Emergencies such as Ma locking Dad out of the house. Ma is afraid of being alone in the house. She's convinced that men are going to break in. It's an old hold over fear from the time some twenty years ago when the Weebles home was broken into when the Weebles had gone to church. The house is now armed with deadbolts and medieval gate locks. You know a giant piece of timber held in place by iron brackets. When Dad goes out, Ma goes into lockdown with a speed that would astonish Iron Mountain. Screen doors are locked. Dead bolts are slid home. And because she's as deaf as a fence post, she doesn't always hear him ringing the doorbell like Quosimodo ringing the church bells or pounding on the door like Fred Flintstone. Wilmaaa! WilMAAAA!

Trouble is technology and weebles don't always go hand in hand. I field enough phone calls because "they don't give him his email" or how to print, without taking on how to work the cellphone.

Himself and I had talked about getting Dad the Jitterbug phone. Large buttons and one model has to have calls put through by an operator. It sounded like a perfect solution. The downside is the phone is expensive and then there is the cost of the monthly plan.

We were watching television the other night when an ad came on about Safe Link Wireless, a free cell phone program in our state if you received food stamps or receive a social security check. Our ears perked up. Free is good. I went online to check it out. Looked good. The phone is a Tracfone. You've seen them. You can buy airtime cards at places like Target or Walmart. Himself and the girls each have a cellphone. The phones are small and lightweight. Fairly easy to use.

On Christmas Day, Himself drove to pick the Weebles up. Himself usually calls me to let me know they have left the launch pad. This gives me time to adjust the meal preparation time or a last minute tidy. As expected, the phone rang and caller ID flashed Himself's cellphone number.

"Hi, Kid!"

"Hello? Hello?"

"Hi Dad!"

"Hello?" and then faintly "Where do I talk? Hello?"

We spent a pleasant holiday. The Brother made a surprise visit. The Weebles were thrilled. It was a good day.

Christmas night we were relaxing in front of the television.

"So, your phone test was an epic fail," I said to Himself.

"It was awful. Poor guy was in the back seat and I'm trying to give him directions to turn the phone on and get the phone directory. 'Push the red button. The red button.' When I heard the happy chimes that the phone was on I told him to press the round button and then to scroll down. ''Use the down arrow button to scroll through the directory. The down arrow. In the center.' I think he called your friend Teague."

We laughed.

"I guess the Tracfone isn't the way to go."

"Definitely not. I'm not even sure the Jitterbug is a good solution."

Friday, December 26, 2008

Ms Pacman

The Mahket parking lot was crowded so I pulled into the fire lane by the front door to offload the Weebles. There's a ramp so it's easier for Ma to push her walker instead of trying to negotiate the sidewalk. I set the emergency flashers and ran around in my Chinese fire drill fashion to help Ma out of the car.

A few people stopped with their carriages to let Ma negotiate the ramp. Except one man. Another weeble not as old as my weebles, but a weeble.

"Perfect! She stops right in front of the ramp."

Now in two and nearly a half years of making this trip, we've never had a problem with making the maneuver. If people were annoyed, they never said anything within my earshot.

"She's crippled!" I said as I unfolded Ma's walker in front her. "Where do you think I should stop, Idiot." Oh I just love the holiday time of year. Brings out the best in people.

There were other words I wanted to say. Stronger words. Angry and more colorful words., but I had to remind myself Ma was with me. She would die of embarrassment.

The man slunk off and that was enough.

Ma kept apologizing to the people waiting to go down the ramp.

"Take your time. They can wait." I gave the group a menacing glare daring someone to make a remark.

With Ma safely toddling to the front door and Dad bringing a scooter for her, I moved the car and instantly found a handicap spot. A reward for restraining my tongue.

When I entered the store, Ma was just settling herself on the scooter. Dad was trying to figure out how to stow the walker. I took it from him, folded it, and sprinted out the door to stash the walker in the car. The last part of the fire drill maneuver.

When I returned, Ma was trying to make her way by the last check out aisle. A woman with a young child in the carriage was just about to load her groceries on the conveyer belt.

"Excuse, me. Could you let my mother by?"

The woman made way and Ma roared by.

"Thank you!" I cheerily called over my shoulder as I raced to keep up with Ma. She was heading for the produce department.

Dad had given her a list which she had retrieved from her pockabook. The list. The list makes me laugh. Two and almost a half years and she has picked the items she needs. The same items. Each and every visit to the Mahket. A package of Bosc pears with six pears, not five. A bag of McIntosh apples. Not the other kind even though Dad likes the other kind better. And not one glance at the list.

She had stopped by the bananas. I picked up a hand with three large bananas in it.

"Get three more."

I found another hand with three large bananas and proceeded to rape the package to remove the three large ones in that package. From the first bag, I removed the three smaller and added the second grouping of three. I'm always uncomfortable with the procedure but Ma is quite satisfied. Takes pick your own to a new level.

"Get me a pound of beans."

Ma scoots down the aisle.

"And pick them one at a time," I mouth. Everything looks like it has been left out a day too long. I know there are people who swear by this store. They love the freshness of the produce and the prices can't be beat. I can't see it.

I picked the beans as best I could while thinking frozen beans are just as good as fresh. I headed to the other end of the produce department to weigh the bag. A huge produce department and only one scale. I'm shy the necessary beans to make a pound.

As I picked the rest of the beans, I became aware of conversation at the other end of the aisle.

"This is soft. You don't really want this one. This one isn't much better."

As I turned, I saw Ma with another woman who is offering broccoli candidates to Ma for inspection.

"I wanted broccoli," said Ma as I came alongside.

"I can see that, and if you wait half a minute, I will help you. I'm using all my arms and all my legs and dancing as fast as I can."

I thanked the woman for her help. She giggled as she went about her business.

We turned our attention to the broccoli. First this one. Limp. That one. Grey.

"These are all rotted. Everything is rotted," I shouted at Ma so she could hear.

A few aisles over was the produce manager and he was glaring at me. Guess he heard my remark. I gave him a nod and smile. I hoped it looked like have a nice day.

We finished with produce, zipped down the frozen food aisle and headed to meat. All in record time. Out of curiosity, I glanced at the list. We had everything except oil. The olive oil is a sore spot with me. See, that item comes from the aisles and should be Dad's territory as the gallon can will take up three quarters of the basket on Ma's scooter.

We stopped at the deli. Ma wanted Italian roast beef and provolone cheese. I took a ticket. My number was up next. I felt as if I had won one of Auntie Rose's lotteries.

Ma had decided she wanted some mozzarella cheese like I buy. Technically I don't buy. Himself buys shredded mozzarella in a package. Kraft, Sargento, store brand whatever looks good to him.

"That's at the other end of the dairy." And we headed off picking up a box of bread crumbs along the way.

"I'll get the oil and then we're done with our list except for one item and I need Dad to translate for me."
"Make sure it's Italian olive oil!" I mouthed as Ma shouted after me. I've often wondered if there's a difference between the cans of oil labeled Greek olive oil and olive oil. And if there is supposed to be a difference why aren't the other cans labeled Italian olive oil?

Ma parked along side a bin with snack items on special.

"Stay here. I'll go find Dad."

Holding the oil can like a small infant, I walk towards produce took a peek down each aisle. The store is not that large and through our entire expedition, I haven't caught sight of Dad. Not once. As I made my way across the front of the store, I felt like Ms. Pacman hunting the power pill through the maze. Beep. Beep. Beep.

"Get some Italian bread!" Ma shouted after me.

I raised my hand to acknowledge the command.

I finally found Dad looking at boxes of salt. The store brand and national brand are the same price. Three boxes for $5.

Dad was frowning.

"What's the matter?" I asked him.

"I don't know which one to get. They're both the same price. But which is better?"

I wondered how long he had been in the aisle contemplating the merits of store brand versus national brand.

I took a quick glance.

"Get the national brand. It's iodized and the store brand isn't."

Dad gave me a questioning look.

"We need iodine in our diet and salt is about the only way to get it."

I quickly retrieved three boxes of salt from the bottom shelf and we put them in his carriage. I noted there wasn't much in his carriage for the amount of time we had spent in the grocery store.

"Ma's done with her list except for this item. I'm not sure what you mean by it." I held the list so he could read his writing.

Macaroni cheese.

That made me worry. I know they are living social security check to check and are pinching pennies.

"You're not eating macaroni and cheese from the blue boxes?

He laughed. "No. Macaroni cheese. You know what you sprinkle on macaroni and soup?"

"You mean grated cheese?"

"Yeah. In the shaker."

Guess Romano cheese got expensive. Ma used to buy a great hunk of the hard cheese and grate it herself.

Ms Pacman raced for the macaroni cheese.

When I got back, they were done and found an open check out register. Usually I leave them while I take a few minutes in the car to decompress. As I was leaving, I turned and watched the tableau.

Dad was carefully placing one item at a time on the conveyer. The woman at the cash register was slowly running the item across the scanner and the bag man was becoming one with the bag and slowly place the item in the bag.

"No wonder it takes a half an hour to get through the check out line!" I said and began grabbing several items at a time from Dad's carriage and juggling them onto the conveyer. The cashier was still slow, but now she had more to be slow with. The bagger had four bags ready in the carriage. I pushed Dad's empty carriage to the bagger and grabbed the four bagger.

"I'll run this out to the car and come back for the rest."

Hopefully, by the time I got back the cashier and the bagman would have finally reached Nirvana.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Leaf Lady

Another character in my pantheon of weebles is the woman who lives next door known as The Leaf Lady. When we first moved here, she spent nearly every part of her waking day raking leaves. I had taken The Eldest then 3 yrs old trick or treating to The Leaf Lady's house. This was in 1991 and the day after the No Name Hurricane (aka Perfect Storm). The Leaf Lady was furious with me because all my leaves had blown into her yard. She knew they were my leaves because I had use gold thread to embroider our monogram on all the leaves. After heated words, I left her house with The Eldest in tow. The Leaf Lady has not spoken to me since that time. The Eldest is now 20 yrs. old. The Leaf Lady shuns me. If she is outside and I go across the street to get the mail, she turns her back to me so she won't see me. Sometimes she scrambles so quickly into her home, I'm surprised she hasn't broken an ankle.

Sunday, Himself and I returned to our home to inspect the aftermath of an ice storm. A tree had fallen down in the corner of the backyard into The Leaf Lady's yard. We discovered to our great joy we had electricity. The day before with the help of the generator, Himself had gotten the sump pump and a couple of other smaller pumps up and running, happily gurgling out the five inches of water from the basement. The water had come up to the furnace and we were concerned the furnace would need to be replaced. While waiting for a call from our oil man, we were cleaning out things that had gotten damaged in the flood. Note to self: Even though items are stored in plastic bins and boxes, plastic bins and boxes float and upend in water. Add bricks to weight things down.

We had cleaned as much as we could. Hadn't heard from the oil man who was probably out straight. We were heading back to Himself's brother's home. Himself had gone out to start up the car. I heard his name called by The Leaf Lady. Her voice is loud, and irksome. (Yes, she irks me) She would have made a great fishmonger's wife. From the front porch, I could see Himself speaking to The Leaf Lady and her husband. I fought the urge to go shrieking out the front door like a banshee. A few minutes later Himself came in.

"What the hell did she want? I suppose she was griping about the tree in the backyard."

"Yes. I explained to them we knew about it, would take care of it, but were dealing with a wet basement. They were vey nice. The conversation was quite pleasant."

Himself is too kind. I would have questioned her mental faculties in tongues. She didn't so much as ask if we were alright, needed anything. Just had to control the situation and point out the tree had fallen. OPD at its finest.

Parts of the state were devastated with downed trees and power lines. Many towns still have no electricity and crews are working round the clock clearing downed trees and reconnecting wires. Does she honestly think we're going to call a tree service company to come out and take care of a tree that is lying in her back half acre? The tree is not on her walkway, not through her house, on her car or in an area where people need access and egress. No one will be available this week. Next week is Christmas and the following week New Year's. If she wants the tree removed quickly, perhaps I should call Jason to come take care of her.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Scam Warning

The gas station was busy when I pulled in, but a bay with the pump on the side I needed opened up. Gas was $1.75 per gallon and seemed like a real bargain. Exiting the gas station back to the highway was easy as if traffic stopped just so I could get on my way. The traffic was very light on the Pike. I was in a good mood. Not the I'm ecstatic to be going to the Mahket mood, but not dreading the journey either. These were all premonitions, but I missed the signs.

I yelled my familiar "I'm here!" as I barged into the Weebles house. Ma was in the kitchen cleaning up her breakfast dishes.

"Don't take your coat off," Ma said. "I'm ready."

Heard that a thousand times before and knew it would be another fifteen or twenty minutes before we left.

Dad greeted me with a very deep, depressive sigh. Lately, he's turned into Eeyore.

"How's it going?" I asked cheerfully.

He shook his head.

"I have big problems."

I thought don't we all.

"I need to talk to you."

"G'head," I said sitting down making myself comfortable. I didn't take off my jacket.

"Upstairs?" He motioned his head to the stairs leading to his office.

As I climbed the stairs, I was thinking this was our version of Maxwell Smart's Cone of Silence. We would be able to have a secret conversation away from Ma's ears. We could have had this conversation in the living room as Ma is as deaf as a haddock. I sat in the chair behind Dad's desk leaving him to sit in the subordinate position.

"What's up?"

"I got a phone call last night."

My mind raced through the handful of elderly relatives. I didn't recall hearing that an aunt or uncle was very ill.

"From Toronto," Dad continued. He was visibly upset.

How odd that Auntie Rose would leave the warm climate of the Islands to move her operation to freeze her assets off in Toronto. Then my heart froze. Instantly, I knew what he was going to tell me. Supposedly, the Grandson called saying he was in trouble in Toronto and needed money. I follow an Eldercare blog and read about this scam a month or two ago. Didn't give it much thought at the time. The it won't happen to us mentality.

"This is a scam. It's not him!"

"I don't know how to help him. I don't have the money."

"It's not him! It's a scammer!

He kept going on and on about how helpless he felt. How he was up sick all night worrying for The Boy and no way to help.

I wanted to shake Dad and slap him silly.

"You didn't give them any information? You didn't give him your bank account number?"


I breathed a sigh of relief that Dad's generation operated on a strict cash basis. They didn't believe in credit. Everything except their home was paid with cash on the barrel head.

I pulled out my cellphone.

"What are you doing?" Dad's voice rose in panic

"I'm calling Uncle Ted [Kennedy, Massachusetts Senior Senator] to see if he can get the State Department working on this. Who the hell do you think I'm calling? I'm calling The Brother."

"No! He said not to call his father!"

"It's not him!" Third base in the Abbott and Costello routine.

The phone rang a few times and the Brother picked up.

I asked if his son was traveling in Canada knowing what the answer was going to be. I explained why I was calling and hoped I sounded sane. When problems of this nature occur, one tends to get sucked into the OPD. You can't help it. It's a miasma that you breathe in and then it spreads through your body until you're the one acting like a weeble. I know nothin' 'bout birthin' babies! I just remember I kept repeating that I couldn't convince Dad this was a scam and had nothing to do with his Grandson.

"Put him on."

I passed my tiny phone to Dad. Dad once told me he felt as if the world was passing him by with all the changes in technology, he couldn't keep up. He kept moving the phone from his ear to his mouth to talk into it like a microphone.

"Just keep it next to your ear. He'll [The Brother] be able to hear you!"

Thank God for The Brother as he was able to convince Dad it was all a cruel hoax. Poor old guy felt pretty foolish. I told him it was very easy to get taken in especially where a loved one was concerned.

"Should it happen again, the first thing you need to do is call Your Son or me to verify."

He nodded his head.

Later after our trip to the Mahket, I told Ma about scammers calling posing as grandchildren. Because if Dad was vulnerable, Ma would be giving out state secrets.

As I was talking to her the phone rang and she answered. She seemed put out by the call.

"Who's on the phone?" I asked.

"Some man. I can hardly hear him. He's stupid."

"Then hang up!"

She obeyed and less than six second later the phone rang again.

I answered the phone and demanded the caller identify himself. All I could hear was a foreign speaker. The scammer alarm went off.

"Don't call this number again." I hung up.

Again the phone rang. I picked it up and immediately slammed the receiver home.

"Ma, if any of the grandchildren are in trouble, they aren't going to call here for help."

She acknowledged that fact.

So, a plea to all you out there reading this to alert your elders to scams such as the call from Toronto. Callers pose as a family member and not necessarily by name. Just this is your grandson or granddaughter. That's enough to panic anyone into not thinking straight especially if the call comes late at night. Or not asking the caller to identify him or herself. Or asking a question that only a family member would know. Like what happened at an event. Something an outsider couldn't possibly know. Remind your elders to never, ever give out personal information such as social security numbers, credit card or bank numbers. And not to give out family information such as addresses and phone numbers. Most important, to verify the phone call with their children.

I try to look at the humorous side of OPD only to keep myself from going off the deep end. It's frightening and sad to see once savvy parents become unable to see through some of the situations.

First thing tomorrow morning I'll be calling the telephone company on Dad's behalf to see if his phone service has caller ID. If not, I told him I was going to add it so his phone bill would be going up a few dollars more each month. He balked at first. Worried about the expense. I told him this was serious and if he couldn't afford the few dollars, I'd spring for it. As well as a phone with caller ID.

I'll have to prepare a telephone lesson. The old don't talk to strangers. If the call is from anonymous, unavailable, or they don't recognize the name or phone number, they aren't to answer the phone.

Help me, Lord.