Total Pageviews

Monday, September 05, 2011

A Board Grows in Queens

The last time I was in Jackson Heights Queens was when I visited my grandmother on 89th Street. I think Kennedy was president. I'm going back 50 years later to visit Nori, a sometimes student and always friend, and to notify the Eat Club restaurant of our impending invasion.

Eat Club is a roving group of NYC gluttons. We go to a different restaurant every month in alphabetical order by cuisine. A-Afghanistan, B-Belgian, etc. This month, for the fifth time around, we're doing C. Yelp recommends Pequeña Columbia in Jackson Heights.

It's long been my fantasy (one of many) to take a train to anywhere in Queens and just walk around. It's the most ethnically diverse place in America, with 138 languages spoken. (That's even more than I can toast a beer in!) Walk a block and visit another country. I should be able to pick up some cheap toilet paper. Can I beat the $4.50 for a 12-pack price in Chinatown Manhattan?

OK, I'm off the subway at 75th Street and Broadway. In the middle of Jackson Heights.


The first thing I see is a Chinese Restaurant, next to a Korean Restaurant.
A short walk away, is a grocery store. While I'm waiting for Nori I can browse. Outside is a fruitstand. Looks nice, but too heavy to walk around with. Still. I miss my adventurous chance when I don't buy one of these What the hell are they?

But I don't. Inside the store, I look for the few things I need besides toilet paper. An egg slicer-- not aluminum (causes Alzheimer’s), not plastic (causes cancer). It's also gotta be strong enough for my needs. I don't slice eggs. I use it for cheese and garlic. The store has none of these things, but it does have a ton of spices and some pretty scary stuff:

Registered trademark? Whose registered trademark?

I load up my goods and then do a brief check of the Albanian wallet in my pocket. Whoops. Running on empty. Leaving everything in the cart, I take off, looking for the ugliest yet ubiquitest sign in New York City.

On the way to meet Nori, the area changes from East to South Asian. People in the street dress more exotically that the boring assimilationists from the East Orient (a pleonasm?). 

I'm supposed to meet Nori at 74th and 37th., streets that do not cross in my Manhattan enclave. He said 7 minutes and the Japanese are pretty punctual. Here I am, but no Nori. The area looks Indian, I see a sign in what I guess is Hindi. 

My phone vibrates. It's a text message ARE YOU LOST?

I thumb back. NO, I'M AT 37TH AND 74TH LIKE YOU SAID.

The reply comes. 37TH STREET AND 74TH AVENUE?

I check the sign. 37TH ROAD. IS THERE A DIFFERENCE?


In a few minutes, Nori shows up, laughing.

“You're the New Yorker,” he says shaking his head. “I come from Japan and I have to tell you there's a difference between 37th Street and 37th Road?”

“I've spent more time in Mongolia than in Queens,” I tell him. “Let's go eat.”

We walk into an Indian fast food place. A glass counter with a nice choice of food, an aluminum (uh oh) pitcher of water on every table, and a row of microwave ovens to cook the food just like they did back home in Calcutta. I order a Kahta Roti (something I've never heard of before). Nori has something with a lot of Okra and Chili in it. The food is good, not spectacular. B+ on a scale of one to ten.

“It's not bad,” I tell Nori. “Not the best I ever had, but not bad.”

I should not have criticized it at all. It turns out to be much thinner skinned than it's roti exterior shows. By 9 PM tonight, it'll be reaping it's revenge... in spades! 

Back to the restaurant: It's a great mix of ethnicities, ages, races. Nori thinks the girls in the corner are Mongolian. To me they're not beautiful enough. The high point is the Indian guy wearing a soccer shirt with OSAKA emblazoned on the back. If you look closely, under the number 68 you'll see some more writing-- in CHINESE!

An Indian wearing an Osaka shirt with Chinese writing. Probably the shirt was made in Sri Lanka where they don't know Chinese from Japanese. Multi-ethnic, yeah!

After lunch we walk around Jackson Heights. Leaving India/Pakistan we go to Nepal and Tibet.

Then to Afghanistan:

Before leaving Asia, we again hit India, but, don't forget Polynesia! How about... Hawaii?
(Check out the DIVERSITY CENTER ad above the stores.)
Or how about a Japanese restaurant... next to a Polish meat market!! Happy Kitchen indeed. 

Here's a close-up of the Polish meatshop.
You thought we forgot Thailand? Come on, what were you thinking?

Not only does this place serve Thai Food, it serves ORIENTAL Thai Food. Much better, I'm sure!

Then we left Asia for South America. Where the posters and the ads were: 

In a few blocks they become:

First stop Argentina:
Then Equador:
You want some California with your Ecuadorian?
Need something to read during those long bathroom trips necessitated by Gandhi’s revenge? Take your choice of reading material. 
Walking down the street toward the subway, we see a long-time local-- maybe even born here. He's a rare bird in these parts. (46% of Queens residents are foreign-born. And foreign does NOT mean in another borough.) AND this guy's an artist. He works with his wife creating amazing, psychedelic art from nails and thread. If I had $30 to spare I wudda bought something. 
And with 9/11 TEN YEARS creeping up on us, an inevitable memory:
Last stop LONDON. Where? Can you get more gringo than LONDON? I donno, but I guess it counts as an ethnic group.

And in case you can't see, here's a close-up of the mannequins in the window. The proportions are a bit different from other London girls I've met. But maybe this is a special for Queens.

That's the trip! Said good-bye to my friend and tour guide Nori, got back on the train, went to the Peking Duck House for dinner, and the rest of the story has been flushed. I'd better hurry and get that toilet paper. Next stop: CHINATOWN MANHATTAN.


Note: I still have to blog my recent trip to Arizona and Mexico. I WILL get to it, but it may take awhile.


Sunday, May 08, 2011

DNR (Dad Died Last Week)

Mykel Board

I hate the telephone. It's a bearer of bad news, or at least annoyance. I shut off the ringer and just listen to my messages twice a day. Sometimes, even that doesn't work.


“Myke, it's me.” Me is my sister, Gayl. I recognize her voice immediately. “You've got to do something. Sunrise is bugging me to put Dad in hospice. I get a call from them every day. They won't leave me alone. We have to do something.”

Hospice is a service that takes care of dying people. Sometimes they have their own facilities. Sometimes they do it in the patient's home. Sunrise is the assisted-living facility where my father has been for more than 5 years. It's now his home. When Sunrise has a problem with Dad, the staff calls my sister. She answers her phone.

I call her back.

“They tried this a year ago,” I tell her. “Some Chaplain or Reverend called me up. She worked with the hospice. She told me the doctor said Dad was ready. I said he wasn't. He fooled them, huh?”

“I know all that,” she says. “But you have to do something about the calls. They keep bugging me.”

“Okay, I'll talk to them,” I tell her.

Two years ago, we'd let hospice take care of my mother at Sunrise. In two months, she was gone. I've been distrustful of the hospice mill ever since.

“It always happens,” said Celina (name changed), one of Dad's favorite attendants. “They go into hospice and then they die.”

Brenda is the manager of the Reminiscence (memory impaired) section of Sunrise. After Mom's funeral, I told her what Celina had said to me.

“She should never have told you that,” said Brenda. “That's completely irresponsible. We support hospice. I'll talk to her about that.”

“Don't shoot the messenger,” I didn't say... but should have.


I'd recognize that scream anywhere.

“Hi Dad,” I say walking into Reminiscence.

Dad has diabetes. It causes severe pain, especially in his legs. Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy it's called. He also has bedsores. Big festering sores. He gets up, eats, they put him back to bed. Then up for a few minutes, in a wheelchair. Then back to bed. You'd have bedsores too.

Dad is a brave guy. He lost an arm in World War II. More recently, he lost an eye to a detached retina. One leg's become useless due to diabetes and a stroke. He goes on. He moans, but doesn't complain. If he sees me upset with the staff, he'll ask me to calm down, to understand them. He's a diplomat.

Dad's never accepted Mom's death. Every time I visit, he asks, “have you said hello to your mother?” Every conversation includes “Did you tell you mother that?”

I see that Celina is with Dad now. I walk over to them both.

“I hear you don't want to put your father in hospice,” she tells me. “We just had a woman in hospice. She died five years later. Another, they took off hospice after two years. She got better.”

That's quite a different song from the one she sang when my mother went into hospice. I guess she's had her talking to.

As usual, Dad's happy to see me. I wheel him to the lunch table. We sit together. I talk about work. (I teach English.) He talks about his fantasy life which he can no longer separate from his real life.

“I just got off the plane from Washington DC,” he tells me. “They were having a big meeting. You know the topic of the meeting?”

I shake my head.

“Me!” he says, laughing.

Lunch is about to be served. They usually feed Dad some pulverized food mushed into unrecognizable scoops of various colors. An attendant mixes the piles together, then dumps the glop into Dad's mouth, like giving baby food to a child. They give him water or juice with some starch thickener in it.

“It's the only way he can swallow,” Celina tells me.

Dad hates it.

I ask Marie, an attendant who really seems to care for dad, to give him a sandwich. At least put the puree between two slices of white bread. Like real food.

“We'll do it because you're here,” she says. “Otherwise, we're not allowed.”

“He's lost fifty pounds,” I tell her. “He spits out his food. When I'm here he eats. He drinks... real water with nothing in it.”

“That's because you're here,” she says.

I get the sandwich and instead of feeding Dad, hand it to him. He eats it, chewing greedily.

I'm ready to eat, too. Institutional food, but at least it's not ground mush. The chicken looks like chicken, sort of.

A woman comes over to me. She's about my age, maybe a few years younger. She's shorter than I am, and she looks so much like my cousin Shirley, it's disconcerting.

“Mykel?” she asks.

“That's him,” says Dad.

I just smile, a half eaten chunk of chicken stuck in my mouth.

“I'm Nancy from Life Source Hospice,” she says. “I'd like to talk to you about your father.”

“Can I just finish lunch first?” I ask.

“Of course,” she says. “I'll come back.”

In ten minutes, she's back. I swallow what's in my mouth.

“I understand you don't want to put your father in hospice,” she says. “I don't want to pressure you. It's a difficult decision and you have to make it. But do you really want to see him in the hospital with tubes in his arms and a feeding tube down his throat, kept alive like a living vegetable. Is that what you want?”

“Ummm,” I say. “My father is right here. Don't you think we should ask him?”

“Is he capable of making such a decision?” she asks.

“We can ask,” I say.

By this time, Dad has finished the sandwich. He coughs a bit, then stops. “That's the most he's eaten in days,” says Marie.

“It's that baby food,” I say. “He hates it. Give him a sandwich and he'll eat.”

“Now we take him to his room,” Nancy says.

We wheel my father to his room. Nancy comes with us.

I talk to Dad.

“Dad,” I say, “this woman is from hospice. They want you to go into hospice. What that means is that when you get really sick, they won't put you in the hospital. They'll let you kick off here.”

Nancy looks at me with a frown.

She walks to the wheelchair and takes Dad's hand, petting it like it's a pet gerbil. She looks into his eyes.

“What we are,” she tells him, “is a way for you to live peacefully. At home. You don't want to go to the hospital again, do you? You don't want all those tubes sticking in you. You don't want all those x-rays and tests. Then more tubes. And you'll be on a feeding tube, kept alive like a vegetable.”

Again with the feeding tube! I never heard of a vegetable with a feeding tube, but seems to be the preferred image. Everyone who goes to the hospital ends up on a feeding tube.

Dad's not answering. Not saying yes or no. I don't know if he understands, but he certainly knows Nancy and me do not see eye to feeding tube on this. Dad, ever the diplomat, says nothing. He just smiles and looks in Nancy's eyes.

“Good-bye Dad,” I say, kissing him on the forehead.

Nancy and I leave the room and continue talking.

“He's in pain,” says Nancy. “With hospice we can take care of that.”

“I don't get it,” I tell her. “That's the choice? Pain or death? Why can't he get enough medicine for his pain without going on death row?”

“The pain is managed towards different ends outside of hospice,” she says. “We have different aims from doctors.”

“I am not Doctor Kavorkian,” she continues. “I'm not Doctor Death.”

“At least people who contacted Dr. Kavorkian wanted to die,” I tell her. “They asked him. You're here pushing this on me.”

“I don't want to push anything,” she says. “Let me give you the papers and you decide if you want to sign them or not. Take my card too.”

I look at the business card. It says, When days cannot be added to life, add life to every day. I read it out loud. “But what if days CAN be added to life?” I ask-- but only in my head. 

“My sister has power of attorney,” I tell her. “I don't.”

“It doesn't matter,” says Nancy. “You are next of kin. You can sign the papers.”

Then, she shakes my hand and leaves the room,. I have a headache and a folder full of homework. I'm ready to leave.

Leave? Not yet. Brenda pulls me aside.

“Mykel,” she says, “we're really worried about Dad. He's not eating. He's always in pain. We think hospice would be the best thing. We know you don't want it, but it really would be the best. His doctor recommends it.”
“Your father's roommate, Sal, is on hospice,” she continues. “An aid comes in every day. It would be easy to have her visit your dad too.”

“It's not because he's too loud and annoys the other residents, is it?” I ask. “Hospice would keep him quieter.”

“Of course it's not that,” answers Brenda, obviously offended. “We only want what's best for your father.”
“OWWW OWWW OWWWW OWWWW!” I hear Dad again, as if on cue. A very brief I- told-you-so look comes over Brenda's face.

I walk back over to Dad.

“What's the matter?” I ask. “Is it your legs?”

“I'm sliding down,” he says. “I need some help to sit up straight. I need some help. OWWW OWWW OWWWW OWWWW!”

Celina comes over and helps me straighten him in the wheelchair.

Hmmm, maybe he's using too many resources. If he's on hospice, he gets an attendant. They fix the wheelchair posture... and feed him... and do I don't know how much else. Celina always complains about short staffing. About how residents demand to be fed, taken to the bathroom, brought water, have the TV on, the TV off, louder, softer. There are not enough people to take care of all those needs. Staff cut-backs, fewer people doing more work. An extra hospice hand wouldn't be bad for Sunrise.

As I leave, Celina pulls me over to the side.

“This morning your father was screaming, I want to die. I want to die. I told him You can't die yet. Mykel needs you. That's what I told him.”

“Yeah, right,” I tell her.

She certainly had a talking to.

When I get home, I let the papers sit for a long time. Days. I look through them. I note the pen-marked X's where I'm supposed to sign, giving my permission for this and that.
It's mainly the DO NOT RECESSITATE that bothers me. I can even sign the DO NOT HOSPITALIZE agreement... but what happens if he inhales a piece of chicken? Will the Heimlich go unmaneuvered because I signed the paper? If he gets an infection, will he die of some bacteria that a bottle of peroxide and a band-aid would have prevented?

Eventually, I sign everything except the DNR. I need to wait for more explanation on that. Shouldn't DO NOT HOSPITALIZE take care all the problems?

I'm getting a headache. Since Dad's aneurism and following strokes, every headache for me brings on thoughts of a stroke and my own future time in assisted living.

I take a break from the papers. I need some rest. I'll check my phone messages and then take a nap. I press the speakerphone button. The dialtone beeps instead of buzzes. I have a message.

It's my sister.

“Myke,” says the message. “I'm over here at Sunrise. They say I'm the only one who can sign the papers, but they also say you have the papers. They won't let me alone!”

“Please,” she pleads, “they're driving me crazy.”

I call Sunrise. Transfer to Brenda.

“Your sister is here,” she says.

“I know that,” I tell her. “She called me.”

“She said you had the hospice papers.... Here, I'll put her on the phone”

I hear the transfer.

“Myke,” says my sister. “I don't know what's going on. They called me and said I had to come in to sign the hospice papers. I have a teenage son to take care of. They said it couldn't wait. I had to sign the papers NOW. I was the only one who could do it, because I have power of attorney. You told me YOU had the papers. This is killing me. They just won't leave me alone.”

“I do have the papers,” I tell her. “Power of attorney is not an issue. I'll sign what I can and bring them in. Let me speak to Brenda.”

“I have the papers,” I tell Brenda, feeling my blood pressure rise way past the safe level. “I'll bring them in when I come to see Dad next week.”

“I just wanted to make sure,” she says. “I thought your sister had to sign them because she has power of attorney.”

“No,” I answer, “Nancy said any next of kin can sign. Didn't you talk with her? She gave me the papers.”

“I was just making sure,” says Brenda. “We're just concerned about your dad.”

I can hear an apology in the background. I speak to my sister once more and assure her I'll be there the following Monday with the paperwork. She tells me she can't do anything on Monday because she has to work until 5, then take her son to a school wrestling match. I tell her I can handle it.

 My head is pounding.
Monday, I arrive at Sunrise just in time for lunch. I sit with Dad so we can eat together. Usually, his roommate Sal sits with us at the table. Today, he isn't here.
Where's Sal?” I ask Celina.

“Oh,” she tells me, “he passed away last Tuesday. Quietly, in his sleep.”

Dad takes the first bite of his sandwich. I sense a presence. I can't say lurking over me, because it's a petite, someone matronly presence. It's Nurse Nancy from the hospice.

“I see you're eating now,” she says. “I'll let you finish.”

I nod.

In ten minutes, she's back.

“Ok,” I say. “Let's talk about this. “

We go into Brenda's office and sit down at Brenda's desk, next to one another. Brenda is not there.

“I signed everything except the DO NOT RECESITATE,” I tell her. “I'm worried about that. Something minor could happen and be easily fixed. What happens if he chokes? Do you refuse the Heimlich? What about an infection? No antibiotics? A heart attack? Maybe you can do it with a defibrillator. I don't know...”

“He'll get the Heimlich if he needs it,” she tells me. “And oral antibiotics. If he gets CPR, I can tell you, in his condition he'll crack some ribs. Then they'll bring him to the hospital. He'll go on IVs. Then they'll have him on feeding tubes....”

“What's with the feeding tubes?” I ask. “He gets an ingrown toenail and you have him on feeding tubes.”

“That's what could happen,” she says.

“But I signed the DO NOT HOSPITALIZE form. Sunrise doesn't have feeding tubes.”

She shakes her head like she's speaking to a child.

“You just don't understand, do you?” she says. “DNR means NO CPR.”

“Then what does DO NOT HOSPITALIZE mean?” I ask.

“It's all part of the same thing,” she says.

“If we're so worried about rib damage, can I change the contract to read: NO CPR?”

“It's the same thing,” she says again, struggling to keep her temper.

“If it's the same thing,” I say, “you won't mind changing it.”

She calls her boss. I can only hear Nancy's end of the conversation:

“I have Mr. Board's son here. He wants to change the contract to read NO CPR instead of DO NOT RECESITATE. Can we do that?”


“I know it's the same thing. But he doesn't understand that. Can we just cross out DNR and put NO CPR?”


“Okay. We'll see if that works, bye.”

She hangs up.

She takes the form and crosses out DO NOT RECESITATE, and writes next to it NO CPR.

I sign it.

“Now, there's one more form,” she says. “This one is in case someone calls EMS. We post it so they don't bring your father to the hospital.”

I look at the form DO NOT RECESITATE it says in big letters.

“Can we change this one too?” I ask.

“I'm sorry we can't,” she says. “This is a legal document.”

“You mean the other one wasn't?” I ask.

No answer.

“I'm sorry,” I tell her, “I'm not going to sign something like that. I already signed DO NOT HOSPITALIZE, so if EMS comes, they'll either save him on the spot or they won't.”

“I don't know why you can't understand,” Nancy says and reaches for the phone.
I figure she's calling her boss again. I figure wrong.

“Hello, Gayl?” she says.


“I'm sorry,” she says. “I'll try not to keep you very long. I know you have to work.”


“The problem is your brother,” she says. “He doesn't understand. We just want to do what's best for your father.”


“I understand,” she says. “I can send you the papers. All you have to do is sign them and bring them back. It's easy. I just need your address.”

Cradling the phone between her ear and shoulder, she writes it down.

“Okay,” she says. “I'll send them right out to you. Sorry to bother you.”

She hangs up.

“You don't have to sign any more,” Nancy says to me, signing in relief. “Your sister will sign.”

I nod, not feeling the least bit relieved.

“Okay Mykel,” she says, “here's my card. If you have any questions, call me. We want you to feel comfortable about this.”

“Comfortable? Are you kidding?” I don't say. “I just signed a form killing my father and you want me to feel comfortable?”

I nod and take the card. She leaves. I walk over and kiss Dad good bye.

“See you next week,” I tell him. “It's almost your birthday we need to plan something.”
Next week's visit is for Dad's birthday. We're a few days early, but it's the only day both my sister and I can get away. I come ahead of time to eat with him and buy supplies: baby wipes, bed protector sheets, and diapers as the staff calls the incontinence briefs. When I walk into his room, a man I never saw before sits on Sal's bed. I walk over to him.

“Hi,” I say, “my name is Mykel. I'm Fred Board's son.”

“Hi,” he says, “I'm Dean.”

We shake hands. Then I leave him to see Dad.

Dad's in his wheelchair, pillows around his body. Next to him, a husky woman sits on a stool watching television.

I look at my father, lying almost horizontally in the wheelchair... without his dentures or glasses. Asleep? I can't tell. The woman is engrossed in the TV show. It's a Western.

“Gayl's coming for your birthday, dad! Time to get up and ready for lunch and cake,” I say.

He seems a bit groggy, but he understands what I'm telling him.

“All right,” he says. “Don't forget to tell your mother.”
TWO WEEKS LATER: Dad isn't dead yet, but it won't be long. When I visit him today, he hasn't been out of bed since I was there last week. His bones show through his loose skin. I'm afraid if I touch him, I'll break him. He's alone in his room-- no attendant at all. An oxygen tube around his face. I put on my cheeriest voice, but it's hard.

Dad breaks into a phlegmy cough. I can hear the juices rattle from his lungs.

“Hi Dad,” I say, repeating one of his usual jokes. “You want me to get your glasses for you? Otherwise you can't hear anything.”

I look for someone to find out what happened and why Dad isn't out of bed. I find an attendant I haven't seen before. She's dressed like a nurse.

“He should be out of bed,” she says. “I don't get it with the staff in here. Susan (the general manager of the facility) says, 'keep Fred in bed. We're giving a tour today and we don't want people to see that. We want things to look cheery.' So they keep him in bed.“

Dad whispers something, but I can't understand it. I put my ear next to his mouth. But I can't make out a thing. I get his glasses and slip them over his face. I can see that he knows I'm here. He wants to say something to me, but can't.

“I haven't eaten today,” I tell him. “I saved the hunger. I was gonna eat with you. Are you hungry?”

“No,” he whispers.

“Are you thirsty?” I ask.

“Yes,” he whispers.

I go for the real water... unadulterated... like he likes it. He drinks greedily. As he's drinking, Grace, one of the nurses walks in the room.

“You're giving him water???” she says. “With nothing in it? He aspirates. It goes right into his lungs.”

She takes the glass out of my hands and returns with a glass full of thick white liquid. She hands me the glass.

“You want to give it to him?” she asks.

Celina walks in the room, carrying a spoon. “Here,” she says, “let me.”

She spoon feeds him the gunk.

“It's your fault,” says Grace. “Anything he eats or drinks goes into his lungs. He has trouble breathing. You give him solid food. He chews. You give him water. He drinks. Goes right into his lungs.”

As if on cue, Dad coughs again.

“See,” she says.

“He coughed that way before I gave him anything,” I tell her. “He hates that stuff in the water.”

“You'll give him pneumonia. He's had a temperature. He aspirates.... we'll try to get him out of bed.”

“It doesn't work to get him out of bed just because I show up,” I tell her. “What happens when I'm not here?”

“He's not eating,” Marie tells me later. “We try to feed him in the morning but he spits it out.”

“I'm planning a trip to California next week,” I tell her.

“If he were my father, I wouldn't go,” she tells me.

I go.

Kindly, Dad stays alive until I get back. I reserve a car to visit him on the first Sunday after my return. My plan is to greet him with Thanks for Waiting.

He doesn't.

Saturday night, I'm at dinner with a dozen friends. My cellphone vibrates. I check the screen. It's from Gayl. I know without answering.

We later find out that two of the other people in hospice “care” also died that week.
Though I can't prove it, I really believe that hospice killed my father. As soon as we turned him over to them, he started on the quick road downhill.

The life-saver that pulls me back from the guilt of giving him to the death factory is the memory of him sitting in his wheelchair screaming. This was last month, but I won't forget it.

“What hurts, Dad?” I asked.

No answer.

“Is it your legs?”


“Your back?”


“I don't know what to do,” I said. “What do you want?”

“Out,” he said.

My parents were here for about 5 years until their recent deaths. A complete review would take a book.

In short:

THE STAFF: The individual caregivers are great. Really caring people who go out of their way to help the tenants. They face a difficult situation and do it with humor, dignity, and concern. You will love them.

THE FACILITY: It's a large rambling house with two levels. On the first floor is a communal dining room and the REMINISCENCE area for the memory impaired. The place is clean, and interesting, with a garden in back.

THE MANAGEMENT: The bottom line is THE BOTTOM LINE. Chronically understaffed, I've seen tenants sitting and yelling for help -- sometimes just to go to the bathroom-- with no one attending them. It's not because the staff doesn't care, it's because there just aren't enough people working. If you look at the facility, do NOT make an appointment. Just show up and look around. A caregiver told me that they hide the "unpleasant-looking" residents when they give tours. Also, family members are prohibited from joining residents for meals in Reminiscence. For me, this was a big minus.

MEDICAL CARE: There is a registered nurse who actively monitors the residents. They all get proper medication when they should. Sometimes, however, residents seem to medicated to be kept quiet. When a resident requires too much care, s/he will be nudged into hospice, and die soon after. This happened to both of my parents.

This place is a lot better than others I've seen, especially the quality of the staff. But it is a business... and that's always first.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

MEXICO NINE: Twin Peaks at a Strip Bar

[Note: Blogspot lists these chapters in reverse order. To read earlier adventures, scroll to the bottom or click here to go to the beginning.]

BREAKING THE BOYCOTT... OR MYKEL SELLS OUT TO HIS EGO__ part 9 (part 8 will come later)

The very core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure. “ --Christopher McCandliss

[My friends told me not to go to Mexico. They said it was dangerous. I do not listen to my friends. My conscience told me not to go to Arizona. It said the place was evil, a hotbed of racism and xenophobia. I do not listen to my conscience.

I'm here because my Mexican friends have made a cover band. It's a cover band of my songs from my old group ARTLESS. Called Sin Arte, we're supposed to play in Arizona and Mexico. Three shows in the latter, two in the former. Things don't work out like that. That's life.

This blog skips a bit. My traveling companions from Cojoba have left. I'm on my own with Gilberto. We're off to Aqua Prieta, his hometown. This blog appeared in abridged form as a column in Maximum Rock'n'Roll. Here's more of the story-- and pictures!]

I'm not like other people. I love to watch naked-- or near naked-- people gyrate on stage, I love to poke my dollar in a bikini string, I love to stare at the flash of gash, a quiver of quim, or a dollop of dick. I love to watch naked nipples, and the pulsing spiral of an exposed anus. Yes, in that way I'm normal. 

But, I cannot get off on a lap dance. It's my curse.

No matter what the gender, age, endowment. No matter how hard or light the pressure. No matter if it's frontwards or backwards. No matter nothing. Rubbing my stiffened stub from outside my clothes will not give me an orgasm. It may even unstiff the stiffness.
Now: I'm in Guau Guau, a titty bar in Aqua Prieta, right over the border from Douglas Arizona. In one hand is a beer from my 180 -peso-a-bucket special. In the other hand is a single dollar bill.

AP is one of those cities that the US government issues warnings about. One of those places where headless bodies turn up on Main Street. Where the local drug cartels run the drugs, the restaurants, the shops and the government. One of those places where the U.S. State Department says DON'T GO:

Since 2006, the Mexican government has engaged in an extensive effort to combat drug-trafficking organizations (DTOs). DTOs have erected unauthorized checkpoints, and killed motorists who have not stopped at them. According to published reports, 22,700 people have been killed in narcotics-related violence since 2006.

Yow! Here I am!

At the end of the town's main street is a single mountain with an ominously cup-shaped top.
“My family told me it was a volcano,” says Gilberto. “Now, I don't think so... but you never know.”

You've already met some of the characters in this story. There's Gilberto, my best Mexican pal and organizer of this trip. It's for his birthday party that I find myself in this town.

(And what a party it is. Mexicans have relatives and friends from here to Arizona. From 8 to 80. At least Gilberto does. He's a pretty popular guy.) Check out this crew!
Then, there's Barichu. Here's a picture of him and me outside Guau Guau. 

Aka the Mexican GG Allin, he's been arrested by the police more times than I've paid for sex. That's a lot. When he went after the cops waving a plastic gun, they broke his nose. Newspaper headlines were (in translation): Drugs or Satan? What's behind the bizarre attack?

Barichu's hobby is mashing up dried dog shit... and snorting it.

Then there's Ingrid, Gilberto's roommate in Boston. She's a pretty perky blonde with skin so pale you can almost see through it. Her visit to Aqua Prieta engenders erection impeded walking from every male between the ages of puberty and final decay. With me, she always talks about her BOYFRIEND back in Boston. For some reason, whenever I meet attractive people, they all immediately talk about their BOYFRIENDS... always in capital letters. Ingrid won't let me use her real name, so she gets Ingrid, for the blond hair and general sexiness. 

Also in A.P. is Pamela. Ah, what a great story that is. We know each other through Gilberto who gave her a copy of my book I, A Me-ist, as a birthday present. She was not amused. 

“¿Quien es ese pinche pirata?” she wanted to know.

After meeting me in real life, though. We got to like each other. Seems like I'm not as bad as she thought I was. I even stay at her place in Flagstaff when we go to the Grand Canyon. More on that later.  

She surprised me as much as I surprised her. Though her refrigerator magnets are a bit on the sinister side:

She was cool enough to come to the strip club with us. And she proved to be a lot more fun than her fridge magnet would indicate! That's her in the middle, between Gilberto and one of the many folks whose name I forgot.

I also don't want to forget Tavo Poison. He's one of Gilberto's punkrock pals, and a nice well-connected guy. He brings the hardcore Tequila to the birthday party. He's filled with stories. I really like the guy, but sometimes girls find him... creepy. Then again, sometimes girls find ME creepy. Here's a picture of him at Gilberto's great birthday party with Gilberto and Barichu.

But the real star of this story is Agua Prieta itself. A wry place with a sense of humor lurking on every corner. The local convenience store is Walmarcito.

It's just down the street from the fast food joint, Burger Queen.

You won't want to eat there, though. Because Gilberto's uncle has La Cabaña, “the biggest non-cartel restaurant in town.” I suggest you go there and try the cow-udder tacos. You won't find them at Taco Bell.

 Gilberto's uncle introduces me to some wild concoction of beer, soysauce, line, chili powder, and Clamato® for God's sake! It's called a michelada.

Pamela is in town for the two day birthday party. Ingrid comes tomorrow. The party's a wonderful affair hosted by Gilberto's aunt and uncle... with a ton of kids, grand-dads, relatives, friends of every gender, age and description. Igrid, with her blonde hair, thin body, and gringa good looks, stands out like a beard at a lesbian bar 

She and Barichu hit it off pretty well. The only two smokers in the place, they have that special camaraderie that pushes social outcasts together in the most unlikely combinations. Like homos in a small town in Alabama.

Then there's Guau Guau, the strip club. You pronounce Guau Guau like WOW WOW in Sonoran Spanish. It means something like BOW WOW! But the girls here are as far from being BOW WOWs as Barack Obama is from being progressive.

Tavo gets us in free. It's him, Pamela, Gilberto and me. He's got a ton of free admission tickets. It must be like New York. There the guys give out free admission cards to Gentlemen's Clubs. They lurk on every midtown corner and hand them to anyone who looks like they'd enjoy the show. I got a ton of 'em.

Inside the club, on the stage are beautiful girls who give you a kiss when they pick up the dollar you leave.

Yeah, they bug you for lap dances. Walking around after their set, putting their hands on your thigh, asking if you want a private dance. It is a strip club, after all. Tavo is soon off in the back room. He returns with a satisfied smile on his face.

“I'll buy you one, Mykel,” says Gilberto. “You should do it.”

“No thanks,” I tell him, not going into detail about my personal... er... impairment. “I just like to watch.”

He goes off with one of the more attractive strippers. I keep feeding dollars to the girls on the stage. Each kisses me on the cheek after I slip a bill under an elastic band, near the good part. 

In my 71 years, I must've gone to a hundred strip bars... but up til now, I've never been to one where the strippers kiss the patrons for tipping them. 

The next night, Pamela has gone back to Flagstaff. Ingrid joins our crew for the night. I return to Guau Guau with Gilberto, Tavo, Barichu, and Ingrid. It's great enough to meet a girl who likes a guy like Barichu. But it's even greater to meet a girl who likes STRIP CLUBS! This trip I meet two of them! In the 70s, even girls who WORKED in strip clubs didn't like them. Ah, change is not all negative.

One of Gilberto's friends gets us in for free. We huddle around the stage, nose-close to the dancers.

Ingrid lays those dollar bills down almost as fast as I do. She gets a flash for each one, and a nice peck on the cheek. 

Gilberto brings one of the best strippers, tall, curvy in the special way that Latinas do curves. You know, ass-not-hips. Skin, the color of cinnamon. Breasts like twin Mount Fujis. Makes me want to erupt.

Gilberto speaks to Ingrid in English. “Hey Ingrid,” he says. “You want a lap dance? This one's the best. I'll buy you one.”

I laugh.

Ingrid doesn't.

“Sure,” she says. 

By the time I close my gaping jaw, she and the Chicana walk off to the back. Brown and white, like a peanut butter sandwich made in heaven.

In twenty minutes, Ingrid's back. Her face glows in the soft light of the club. 

“They were watching me, Mykel,” she says. “All those bodyguards and bouncers. Back there... it's like an office... with cubicles... she sat on my lap and we were surrounded, these guys... those guys with no necks who work here... they came around to watch... you could see them jiggling themselves... their hands in their pockets.”

“YOU should have charged THEM,” I tell her. 

By this time, another Mexican beauty is on stage. This one darker and lither than the first. Like a sexy snake, she slithers full length across the stage... crawling on her arms and legs to the edge. Her petite but proud breasts just touch the wood. She slides right in front of Ingrid and reaches down. 

She grabs both of Ingrid's arms and pulls her on stage. But our Indrid isn't dancing. At least not in the normal sense of the word. She's lying on her back. The stripper is over her. Rubbing her brown body against the white girl. 

Then the dancer reaches down. She pulls Ingrid's sweater up, over her head. In the soft light, Ingrid's breasts, as perky as her personality, sparkle bright and white.

I reach between my legs to make myself more comfortable.

Gently, the dancer takes one, then the other nipple in her mouth. 

Looking at the men in the audience, I can see sympathetic tongue movements on each of them. We're in this together.

Together we lick those nipples. We lick each and then lick down to a place between them. We lick in a line from breast to navel, back to breast. We lick downward again. We press our collective chins against her individual crotch and keep licking. We're collectively disappointed when Ingrid keeps her pants on. We're collectively inspired when she licks back at the woman on top of her. We become Ingrid as she takes those brown mounds into her hands. 

All too soon, it's over. All too soon, we let go of our breath and applaud our collective appreciation. Ingrid puts her sweater back on and climbs down from the stage.

“Guau Guau!” I say.

She smiles and we (Ingrid, Tavo, Barichu, Gilberto and I) walk out to the car.

“I'm sorry you had to see my breasts,” she says. 

“I'm 70 years old,” I tell her. “I've done more than people twice my age would have done if they lived that old. I've eaten Piranha in Peru, had sex under a Mongolian staircase, been in a threesome with one girl in Thailand, been kidnapped in Albania, but never in my life before has someone said to me I'm sorry you had to see my breasts.”
She smiles.

“Please don't be sorry,” I tell her. “I sure as shit am not.”

We got back to Gilberto's tio's place where the party is still going on. 

“Mykel,” asks Gilberto's tia, “¿Mykel, porque andas todo pintarrajeado??”

The lipstick! Whoops. I forgot about that.

I wash my face as best I can. The various shades of lipstick on my cheek meld into one another, but never completey disappear. 

We drink some more, eat some more, and somehow Gilberto ends up in bed with Ingrid. I sleep with Barichu.
FLASH AHEAD: It's Arizona. Ingrid wants to see the Grand Canyon. That's what you do in Arizona. I don't want to give the state any of my money... and I certainly don't want to do any tourist shit. But I'm out-voted and Gilberto has the car. So it's to Grand Canyon we go.

We pay $20 to park, then go to the guest house and souvenir shop. I can buy a Grand Canyon Collector Plate, a Grand Canyon Ceramic Cup, or a Grand Canyon Refrigerator Magnet. I don't.

The gift shop is in a rustic-looking shed. Log cabin-ish, though there aren't many logs in this area. One wall is Plexiglas. It overlooks the canyon.

A crowd of tourists presses against the glass, oooowing and ahhing. Being 5'3” tall, I decide not to compete with them, and walk outside for a direct look. I look. It's a hole in the ground. A big hole... and that's it. 

Twenty dollars for a hole? I've paid that in Thailand and the DR, but in those cases I got a hole I really enjoyed! 

Sometime ago... in the Wild West... some Indian stumbled on this place and said, “let's sucker the gringos. Tell 'em it's special. A really big hole. The rube's be lining up to buy fridge magnets. Those white folks. They can't tell their ass from a hole in the ground.”

I don't take one picture. I don't even stay and look. I head for the car and let Ingrid and Gilberto ooooh and aaahhh. 

For me? Aqua Prieta was more ooooh and aaah than the Grand Canyon will ever be. Walmarcito, Burger Queen, the volcano at the end of the street. 

That's worth some oooohs and aaaahhs. Ingrid's own twin peaks, the lipstick all over my face, Gilberto's birthday party, that's what I'll remember from this trip. I can tell an ass from a hole in the ground. I'll take the ass any day. 

More later.

[This is part 9 of Mykel's Mexican adventure. Part 8 has not been posted yet. To read the rest, click on the right spot:]

The story of the Yellow Chili Pepper is here.

And, you can and should go directly to Mykel's own website.