I visited a struggling family member today. He still has trouble walking. Has to hold onto things as he goes. Trouble seeing, too. You never know what he can see or not see in front of him. At least he was much less scary/out-of-it today.
His ex-wife later told me the doctors had changed his meds, which helped tremendously. For those who don't know, he was diagnosed with brain cancer a year ago. The surgeons removed the cancer, and part of his brain, but he has been doing fairly well since then. He has been undergoing treatment and dealing with balance and vision problems but, all things considered, he's doing okay.
For this story — because we're in the Nashville area — we'll call the family member and his ex-wife Garth and Shania. I'm not entirely sure of their marital status, to be honest, and afraid to ask. They haven't lived together for years, but are clearly still in each other's lives. Shania asked a few weeks ago if I could help out on Sundays. She was exhausted from her daily visits, and needed a break. “Just one day a week,” she said.
The way she asked was disturbing. I had just gotten into bed and turned on my laptop to read, write, email, update the website, whatever, before going to sleep. There was an email from Shania with the subject line: "Bill, call me as soon as you see this." The message itself was, "I've lost your phone number." I was thinking "uh-oh" as I got out of bed and back into the living room to retrieve my phone. I generally keep that thing as far away from me as possible whenever I can. My wife was on the couch, as usual for this time of night, alternating between watching TV and doing whatever she does on her phone. Our sleep schedules are almost never in sync.
I visited Garth a couple Sundays back and took him to lunch at Popeye's Louisiana Kitchen. Nothing but the finest dining for us! I skipped last Sunday because he called and told me not to come over. It wasn't until after talking to him that I noticed Shania's text asking that I not let him talk me out of going over there. Oops. Anyway, to make up for that, I suggested I might mow and trim his lawn this time. I was bringing my own trimmer because it's the first one I've ever owned that I don't hate. Shania called just as I was leaving my house to say Garth would need help with his television. It wasn't working, and all he has the energy for these days is to watch TV. It's a Roku TV so he can watch YouTube, too. Shania's not sure he even reads emails anymore.
At his house, he came out wearing ripped jeans that needed to be replaced. He also needed batteries for his TV remote to make sure the problem wasn't just dead batteries. TVs now have no physical on/off button, they require a remote, which we both find annoying. I saw a few pairs of jeans hanging in his closet and a large pack of new AAA batteries in his house later, but had no idea at the time.
He wanted to go to Walmart. That would not have been my first choice, but that's what he wanted, so that's where we went. Not the one closest to him, either, the one closer to Shania's house. It's much smaller but in a better neighborhood. He wanted a Presto "outlet extender" that supposedly makes it easier to plug things in. He'd been seeing ads. After looking it up just now, I see it's basically just an AC power strip made to look like a wall outlet, with USB ports. Entering the store, Garth asked the "greeter ladies" where it was, and one of them led us to the "As Seen On TV" section near the checkouts. It wasn't there, so we headed toward Electronics and/or Hardware, but reached Men's Clothing first. I had meant to find a new pair of deck shoes for myself while there, but completely forgot.
Garth found a pair of Wranglers his size and tried them on in the fitting room… after we got a woman to unlock it. He was in there quite a while. I had to ask if he was okay, but he eventually came out wearing the new pair, with the old ones in his hands. The woman said he was not allowed to walk around the store in the pants. He had to pay for them first. Garth was clearly aggravated, so he asked, "So, where do I pay for them?" I pointed at the cash register three feet away and asked, "Can we pay here?" The woman snorted as if that was a crazy idea and said the cashiers were up front. Garth would have to return to the dressing room, she said, put his old pants back on, and take the new pair to a cashier. We wandered toward the cashiers, but once out of sight of that woman, I said, "Screw her. We'll just finish shopping and the cashier can scan the new pants while you wear them." He had left all the tags and stickers on them, and that was exactly what the checkout girl did when the time came.
In the Hardware department, we found extension cords, etc., but not that Presto thingy. I found another employee and asked him about it. I also asked if we could pay for it at the cash register there in his department. He said no, and went in search of someone who might be able to answer our questions. That's what he said, anyway. We never saw him again, but I guess Walmart doesn't use the registers within the various departments anymore.
In the checkout line, it was taking forever and I said, "We clearly chose the wrong line." The older man behind me with his wife overheard and said, "Aldi's has automated self checkout now. You just breeze right through." I was impressed and admitted I'm just now getting used to simply tapping my credit/debit card against the reader instead of inserting it. This older couple, Garth and I all agreed technology these days was amazing. Younger people around us probably rolled their eyes, but I love the line from the Berlin Station show when the station chief says to a young agent, "My generation invented all this stuff. Yours just plays with it."
Walking slowly through the parking lot to my car, I asked where Garth wanted to have lunch. He said Home Depot. I thought he was confused so I said, "We can't have lunch at Home Depot." As usual, he proved me wrong and said, "There's a taco truck there that I like." We found the truck, but it was closed today, Sunday, so we went to Hugh-Baby's Burgers nearby and sat at the counter. We agreed the burgers were good. I got the mushroom/Swiss and he got the veggie.
Toward the end of our meal, Garth complained the root beer was too sweet. Standing up to leave, he felt the need to tell the manager/barker that their root beer was the worst he'd ever had. I call the man a barker because he was the guy shouting out everyone's order as they came up ready, at which point you were expected to pick it up off the counter.
"Okay," I laughed and began to say to Garth, "you don't need to…" Then I dropped it and led the way out the door. When I told Shania about this later, she laughed and said, "Yeah, he's lost his filter. Scared the crap out of a woman and her fidgety kid in line behind us the other day, asking the woman, 'What's wrong with your kid?'" The woman wrapped her arms around her son and slowly backed away.
Back at Garth's house, he and I spent quite a while trying to get his TV working again, but it was weird. The overhead room lights were working, so it took a while before I realized only the wall outlets were dead. At least on that side of the house. Usually, a house's electrical circuits are divided by room, but his place apparently has the wall outlets on a separate circuit. Oh, and the breaker box is outside. Who puts the breaker box outside? Maybe that was normal back in the 1950s or '60s when his house was built. I don't know.
We eventually figured it all out and he's able to watch TV again. I had to just leave the pile of extension cords and power strips for him to sort out. They would be a fire hazard except that hardly any of them are plugged into power. Still, that's probably what caused the breakers to shut off, and I told him — and Shania later — to keep an eye on it.
I never did get around to mowing his lawn, but Shania said not to worry. She was going to find someone to do it for him every week or two.