Home Sweet Home: The Ugly
My parents live in a small town. Though the town is getting more big chain stores (Chili's, Walgreen's, Arby's, CVS Pharmacy, etc.), it's still primarily made up of two kinds of people: The hard-working Everyman and whitetrash. Naturally, my mom sees the new "Super" Wal-Mart as a great thing: "Have you ever seen such a huge Wal-Mart? And it's so nice inside." Wal-Mart Supercenters: the new rural landscape. Shoot me. In the face.
Then there's the roads. They still resemble the surface of the moon and are about as smooth. Fifteen years and they still look like shit. WTF is the mayor getting paid for? And don't even get me started on the empty/abandoned buildings that are being left behind in droves, while newer, shinier building are being built (and abandoned) in their wake. WTF? Then there's the clusters of whitetrash yards: weeds...dirt lawns...assorted sun-bleached toys...yards doing double duty as parking lots... *sigh*
We eat lunch at a local drive-in, where my parents know the owner and we run into some people from church that I haven't seen since 1989. We make small talk. They're still nice as ever, just older, grayer, more hunched. Bittersweet reunion.
Then there's the new generation of Podunkvillains. Directly in the booth behind my mom are Mr. and Mrs. Whitetrash and son. The mom, wearing a light purple tank top, upper arm tattoo (tasty), halfway hanging off the booth seat because sitting next to her, her hefty hero of a husband, wearing a stained white T-shirt with something car-related on it, giant-lensed eyeglasses, balding, yet still maintaining that Riff Raff look that's so popular these days. He smacks and reaches across the table. He's a keeper. Then, here comes the biggest mystery of them all: their son. His back is facing me. I assume he's Hispanic because he's so friggin' dark. As it turns out, he's just REALLY tan. White features. He must work outside or like most of the hillbillies in the area, go sans shirt a lot. He's wearing a sideways-cocked baseball cap, gray wifebeater and two little dangling loop earrings in each ear. So, here's the kicker: He's beautiful! Seriously. He has a face that could adorn magazine covers. It makes me sad. As "negative" as it may sound, I know how it's all going to play out: He'll stay there, get a job in a garage, fall under the spell of poon, father a litter and be there (or a neighboring town) for the rest of his life. Very depressing. What a waste. Such Potential.
My father works at a "retirement" home. It's a relatively new job for him (6 months or so) and he really seems to enjoy it. I can tell. It's all he talks about. I'm happy he's happy. He's always been one of those people that always has to be doing something. Having owned his own business for 35 years, he's a people person. He's currently the 'activity coordinator' (i.e. he drives the old folks around in a van) for the retirement home. We meet him for lunch at his workplace the next day.
We arrive around 11:30 and enter the building. The building is actually very interesting and has an interesting history. The original building was built in the early 1900's, burned in the early 1920's and was reopened as a hotel in 1927. The 7-story building is (allegedly) currently being remodeled. I thought the building had a creepy feel to it. Not getting all crystal-rubbing/windchimey or anything, but it just feels depressing. The lobby reminded me of the hotel in The Shining. There's plenty of interesting architectural elements, but again, it just depressed me. Lunch was good, if a little on the bland side, but then it's retirement home food for people with a retirement home palate, so I doubt spices are top priority.
Looking around at all the elderly people, hunched over, in T-shirts, wheelchairs, walkers, etc. was disheartening. I realize we all get old, but retirement homes seem like the kind of places where people go who've been abandoned. While we go about our lives of cable TV, restaurants, friends, etc., they're left to shuffle around, reading the newspaper, the large-print edition of Reader's Digest, assembling insanely complicated jigsaw puzzles (trust me, I LOVE puzzles, but these puzzles would leave Stephen Hawking going 'fuck this shit!') and looking forward to trips to the Dollar Store, train rides and other assorted 'activities.' Like when I see mentally-retarded people, I often wonder "Are they happy?" I had a cousin, Janice, who was mentally-challenged and paralyzed. Contorted and bedridden from early childhood (victim of a surgical procedure gone wrong), I remember visiting her when I was growing up. She couldn't say many words, but because of her love of dolls, I could always make out the words "baby, doll and yeah." You could joke with her or be silly and she would laugh. I was heartbroken all over again everytime I visited her. Even then, I often wondered "What kind of life is this? Is she happy? Does she know what's happened or is it like being trapped and not being able to escape?" I can only hope that she's in a better place now. Maybe my assumptions are wrong. Maybe these people are happy or content at least.
The visit to my Dad's workplace culminates with him taking us upstairs to meet a friend of his who's staying there. As it turns out, he is in the process of leaving. He owns an RV and travels a lot. His apartment wreaks of smoke. He's giving all his belongings away. He says he has no use for any of it and that he has nowhere to store it. Chair/Ottoman, loveseat, assorted tables, lamps, nightstand, etc. All must go. He offers for us to take whatever we want. I feel conflicted because A) I don't even know this person to be TAKING his stuff from him (re: guilt) and B) I'm strangely enticed to look.
I kind of keep my distance, smiling politely and standing in the doorway. My dad calls me to the bathroom, I go and he points out a painting. It's actually pretty groovy. It borders on Renaissance festival, but on the other hand, it's also very kitschtacular. He asks me if I want it. I dunno...I still feel weird taking this stuff. I say "I dunno. It is cool." He takes it off the wall and says 'Here, take it.' I take it and emerge from the bathroom feeling like I just stole something. The man keeps offering various things, the Chinese screen, the coffee table, the plant. I actually would like the plant, so I say "okay" to that and my mom goes to get it out of the windowsill, while I stand in the doorway, holding this huge painting of a mermaid. I tell him 'thank you' and we leave like thieves in the night while the man calls after us, reminding us that he has to get rid of all this stuff if we want to come back later and get anything else.
So...I get home and my Dad calls to see how the car is handling. I tell him all systems are go and then he informs me that...he went back and got everything. E-v-er-y-t-h-i-n-g. I wanted to die and kill him at the same time. Let me explain: My parents and I lead very different lives. Their house drives me IN-SANE. It's cluttered and dusty and unorganized. They never throw anything away and spend their money on stupid shit instead of common sense things. They don't listen to me, so I've given up offering to help them get it under control or get organized. My dad wants to throw everything away, while my mom thinks everything is a potential Antiques Road Show contender. In other words, I'll be left to weed through all the shit when they're both dead. SO much of it is going in the dumpster. It makes me sad because it's SUCH a waste of space. I just want them to live in a nice home with multiple living spaces, not confined to 1 of three rooms in an eight room home. I've finally washed my hands of the situation, but it's still a source of stress for me. Maybe I haven't really washed my hands of it.
So, when he tells me that he took ALL the furniture, my first thought was "It's official. He's insane." He needs all that shit like he needs another lawnmower (don't even ask). They have no room for it. He's been bitching about the house for over a decade now, and then he goes and does something like this? I just don't understand it. We have 2 warehouses, one of which is loaded with shit they keep claiming they are gonna sell. Yeah, right. That shit will celebrate it's 11-year anniversary this June. Now this. Cuz Lord knows we need an apartment full of furniture that's absorbed God only knows how much cigarette smoke. What a treasure trove. Jesus Christ. I could live to be 100 and never understand my parents.