This is a fictionalized version of several experiences I had with my grandfather when he was in the early stages of Alzheimers disease, as told from his imagined point of view.
Duluth Daze
" Good morning, I’m Doctor Goodwin." the man in the white lab coat pronounced as he swung open the examining room door. The fluorescent lights flashed in his glasses as he took in the room’s occupants. Seated in one chair was a short, old, balding man who wore a quizzical grin and a bolo shriners tie. Next to him, he noted approvingly was, he glanced down at his chart was, ah, yes, his granddaughter. She flashed him a smile that could make her millions but as she rose to greet him, he realized she was a bit short.
"Hi," she cooed, "I’m Amber and this is my grandpa Benny." She rose and proffered her hand to the doctor. Grandpa Benny, taking his cue, rose and shook vigorously.
"Call me Ben, of course. How’s your father?" He stated with an unusual friendliness.
"Oh, he’s fine," the Doctor lied. His father had passed away twenty years ago, but with these patients it was best not to confuse them. "Have a seat."
The young woman rolled her eyes as she directed Benny to sit. The doctor pulled up a third blue plastic chair and indicated that he would be asking Ben a few questions.
"Sure, people always ask me questions. I’m in real estate ya know. I know this town like the back of my hand. Lived here for thirty years."
"Yes, um. Ben. Do you know what today is?"
"Uh, Thursday. No, um... yeah, its Thursday." He stated unconfidently. He looked up for help.
"Very good. Do you know the date and year?"
"Uh..." Ben looked a bit lost so the doctor gave him a hand.
"It’s the 20th Ben. April 20th, 1989." Making a note on his chart he thought to himself for a moment. "Let’s try something else. Do you know who the president is?"
"The president?" he asked, eyebrows arching toward the sky. "Sure. Ron, Ron Reagan. That’s my pal."
"Well, actually it’s George Bush, but we can let that one go." He looked over at the young woman, hoping for another smile. "After all, the election was only a few months ago." Not to disappoint, she flashed him her straightened and gleaming white teeth, a look of concern worrying into lines across her forehead. Breaking away from those high cheekbones and that bronzed skin, he looked back at a confused Benny.
"Let’s see. Something a little easier. Ben, do you know what state you’re in?"
Benny rolled his eyes up to focus on the doctor, a sly grin slipping across his wrinkled face as he gave Dr. Goodwin a "what kind of schlemeil do you think I am?" look. "Sure, he explained, "we’re in Minnesota."
Grinning with his first success of the day, Benny lolled back in his chair and looked out the window into the brightness of the afternoon Arizona sunshine.
* * *
"She sure is pretty," Benny mused as he looked across the dining table. Her blonde wavy curls shining in the light from the chandelier. She noticed his gaze and shot him a wink and a smile, lingering on his face long enough for him to inhale all of her. What a dream. Her name was Amber. A bit trashy, but that made her all the more seductive to Benny. Unfortunately, he mused, he never could get women of that quality. His ‘brother’ always had all the luck.’
He turned to look at his brother, the tan, half-bald gentleman to his left. He seemed to be talking about credit cards or some other such nonsense. Hmmmph. Didn’t even wear a tie or a sport coat. Benny looked down, pretending to brush crumbs from the lapel of his blue polyester jacket, straightening his kachina-leather bolo tie and smoothing his white shirt. A light stain from the butter sauce had dotted his shirt-pocket and his gaze was drawn to it as his eyes glazed over.
"Grandpa? Grandpa Benny...?" Lifting his head as if just awakened from slumber, Benny focused on the figure to his right. Why did that kid always have to call him Grandpa? He wasn’t that old. Wrinkling his face and pushing his lower lip into the ends of his gray mustache, he shot the youngster a look of displeasure. The kid retaliated by shaking his head and addressing the other two.
"See, he just zones out for a while. Weird." Benny looked back and forth at the two to his sides, wondering what they were talking about. Everyone was looking at him. Gazing especially interestedly was the young woman in black pants and tuxedo shirt who stood to his left. Gosh she was cute.
"Hello there," Benny said, mustering up all the charm he could. "How are you this evening?" He crooked his smile and winked.
The waitress, very used to being flirted with by men three times her age didn’t miss a beat. "I was wondering if you’d like coffee or dessert? Perhaps some tea?"
"A little cup of hot water please." Benny grinned his biggest grin. He read in a magazine that hot water is better for you than coffee or tea.
The waitress looked at him a bit quizzically but responded courteously. "Thank you, I’ll be right back with that."
Benny watched her rear shimmy across the dining room and into the kitchen. Suddenly aware he was staring, he turned a bit red and looked at his brother, stealing a glance at the beauty across from him. He tugged on his brother’s shirt and leaned to his ear. "Boy she’s a looker," he whispered. He looked back toward the kitchen. Thoughts racing through his mind.
His gaze drifted out the large observation window to the silouetted mountain peaks in the distance and wondered if his mother was making meatloaf this Sunday.
* * *
Benny awakened quickly to the clamor going on around him. He flicked his hollow azure eyes around his bedroom, not quite comprehending the scene. There before him were ten burlesque dancing girls, breasts bobbing, red gilded outfits gleaming, pink feathers sprouting from the masks they wore. They had their arms intertwined and were circling his bed, high kicking their way across the blue carpet. From off in another room a band played a familiar "da, da, da da, da da, da, da, da da..." Benny pulled the sheets up to his eyes and snickered. He liked this place very much. The girls circled his bed three times and high kicked out his door and into the hall, the last winking as she looked back over her shoulder. When they were around the corner, Benny leapt up out of bed and threw on his gray terry cloth robe. Lashing it closed in the front, he stepped into his slippers and shuffled out into the hall, searching for those lovely ladies. He slipped down towards the kitchen, his slippers scratching along the hardwood floors. He rounded a corner and there they were, kicking up the stairs. The music was back and their teeth were gleaming. They rounded the quarter circle staircase and disappeared into the upper living room. He huffed up after them and burst into the room, finding only a young man sleeping. He shuffled around the room, searching behind bookcases, finally stopping to look out the large, sun drenched windows. No dancing girls. He wanted answers.
He shuffled over to the bed where the young man lay. His blonde hair was quite tangled and a small trickle of saliva was pooling on his pillow. Benny bent over and examined his face for any sign of awakening. Finding none, he paced in front of the bed, making and effort to slide his hard soled slippers along the creme colored wood. The young man quickly drifted out of his slumber to the sounds of his grandfather sanding the floors. He wiped the drool from his lip and lifted his head slightly.
"What are you doing?"
"Where are they? I thought they came up here."
"Who came up here?"
"The dancing girls."
"What?!?" The young man now propped himself up with an arm. "You saw dancing girls?" He looked dumbfounded.
"You didn’t see them. They were here." He pointed a wrinkled hand at the top of the stairwell. How could he have slept through that?
"Oh, god," he sighed as he fell back and rolled over in the bed. "Please go away, I’m trying to sleep."
Dejected, Benny turned and left, his slippers scratch scratching their way out.
* * *
"Grandpa, what are you doing?" The young man, dressed in black shorts and white t-shirt, walked up to the small table at which Benny was sitting and looked over his shoulder. Benny had the phone book open and was copying numbers onto a legal pad.
"I’m looking up some of my friends." Benny scrutinized the kid and decided that he definitely didn’t like this guy one bit. Benny figured he was the Hood who was supposed to keep an eye on him. A shady character at best.
"You have friends at," the Hood examined Benny’s list, "Joe’s Lube Pit?" He snickered through his nose. Benny thought he sounded like the Mississippi wild hogs he enjoyed hunting with his father. But this boy was handsome, just like all the other sheisters he’d seen in his life. Benny patted for his wallet protectively and found it already missing. This kid was good. Benny scowled and wondered how well he could fight...
"You been at this all day?" the Hood inquired, looking up at the clock. "Doesn’t matter. Did you remember that we were going to mom’s tonight for dinner?"
Benny’s violent musings were ceased by the rumblings of his insides. Dinner. Sounded nice. He had tried to make himself a can of that Alpo soup but the opener had hurt his hands.
* * *
After dinner, Benny shuffled down the hall to speak with his brother. He was thinking about his trip to ‘mom’s’ house, and was a bit troubled. That was one of the nicest brothels he’d been to in a long time but he found his pockets shallow and dry. He had to rectify that sad state. He found his brother unbuttoning his shirt.
"Why don’t I have any money?" Benny led, giving him no opportunity for distraction. "I used to have lots of money and now I don’t. You know if I had some money I’d have had more fun tonight."
His brother unzipped his pants, looked at Benny and frowned. "Dad," he said, "how many times do I have to tell you that I’m taking care of it. You have lots of money. Don’t worry about it."
"You know what I think," Benny explained, not seeming to have heard a word, "I think that hairy guy or that kid are stealing it all.
They’re bad news." The moment he said this he stiffened up in fear, that huffing noise behind him was unmistakable. The hairy guy. He froze, fearing that he had been heard. However, the hairy guy merely walked past him, turned around three times and sat down on the floor. He grabbed his brother by the hand and led him out into the hallway.
He hushed his voice and whispered "I don’t much trust either of those sheisters. They’re stealing my money. Why don’t we get out while we can and take the bus back to Duluth?"
"Dad, we are in Tucson, remember?" Observing no recognition he threw his hands in the air. "Matt, could you come here please?"
The Hood loped around the corner and swallowed part of the ice cream bar he was devouring. "Yeah Dad, what’s up?" Benny cringed, upset that his brother chose to involve that phony.
"Why don’t you take my dad to the bank tomorrow and get him a couple hundred dollars. He’s been bugging me for weeks that he has no money. Maybe that will pacify him. Just have him sign one of his checks."
"Sure, no problem." The Hood turned and went away.
"Happy?" his brother asked. "Tomorrow you’ll have some money, now go to bed."
"But I don’t want to go with him. I want us to go. You and me. I just want us to go home. Mother is making liver and onions this Sunday." He tugged at his brother’s sleeve and made a half-turn. "Lets go."
"Dad!" his brother exasperated, pointing at the floor. "This is your home." He pointed to the doorway down the hall. "That is your room. Now behave and go to bed." He abruptly turned and strode away, leaving Benny alone in the hall. Benny could hear the hairy guy’s tonails clacking across the floor in the next room.
Benny went to his room and sat on his bed, his hands massaging his knees in quick, firm strokes. He just didn’t trust that kid. How could his brother? He was beginning to wonder what he had gotten them involved in. His vision swam with thoughts of plots imagined. The walls sucked in and out, taking in some unseen breath, settling closer to each other than before. Voices echoed on the edge of his consciousness. Somewhere in his mind a ball-peen hammer tapped a spike, a metronome in steel. His hands worked his knees in time.
"You get out of here you!" Benny suddenly rose, brandishing a shoe. The hairy guy had been watching him from the partially open doorway. "Stay away from my things". He rose and tramped toward the door. The hairy guy just breathed deeply and looked up at Benny with big brown eyes. Benny put his hand on the hairy guys face and shoved, swiftly shutting himself in. He held the knob, desperately feeling for a lock but settling for leaning his shoulder into the door. His ear to the wood, he could hear no sign of the intruder. Feeling a bit more secure, Benny readied himself for bed.
* * *
The next morning, the young man arose to the sounds of an argument, or rather, one side of an argument. He went downstairs to investigate and found Benny menacing the dog with the telephone receiver.
"What are you doing?" He asked, totally dumbfounded. Benny looked at him and scowled, anger ruining his face.
"Tell these three to leave me alone. This one," he gestured at the confused dog, "this one keeps trying to trip me. And these two," he pointed to the empty space next to him, "they say they are from the government and that I owe them fifty dollars. Well, I won’t pay, I wont! You stay back." He again menaced the dog with the phone.
"Grandpa, why don’t you put the phone down and we’ll go get you some money from the bank." The young man stepped forward and reached for the phone. He almost got rapped on his head for his trouble.
"Oh, you just want my money too," Benny shouted as he held the receiver in front of him. "Why you’re probably in with them." He again shook the phone at the dog and the ‘tax men.’
Realizing he had a problem, the young man improvised. "Grandpa, if I get them to leave, can we go to the bank, please?"
"You just get them out of here."
"Gentlemen," the young man said, addressing the imaginary men, "Ho-Ana," he stated, perking the dog’s ears, "come with me." The dog rose and followed the him out of the room. The young man returned a few moments later and asked, "could we please go to the bank now?"
* * *
They first stopped at the grocery store for lunch and beer. There were certain advantages for a teenager with a suggestible grandfather and being sixty years past his twenty-first birthday was one of them.
"Grandpa," the young man began as he spied the special on Bud Light, "how would you like some beer?"
"Beer?" Benny hushed his voice and pulled the young man away from the milling shoppers. "I’d love some. But it’s illegal you know. They’ll throw you in the slammer if you don’t watch it."
The young man didn’t hesitate for a moment, he had a proven plan. "Well, that’s no problem, were in Canada. Don’t you remember crossing the border a while back?"
Benny thought for a moment and did remember crossing the border. He had smiled at the nice woman on the horse. She was one of those Canadian police. The ones that rode horses.
"Yes, I remember. But if we get caught on the way back to Duluth, we’ll get tossed in the slammer. I can’t get tossed in the slammer. " Benny frowned, he did want a beer.
Seeing his plan coming together, the youngster moved in for the closer. "Well then, why don’t you get the beer, and I’ll drive it across. Then you can walk over and I’ll pick you up. That way, there’s no chance of you getting pinched." He smiled confidently. Benny had always gone for this scheme, and today was no different. Too bad he insisted on buying Old Milwaukee.
"Trust me," Benny said to the youngster as they climbed back into the car. "I used to work in customs. Buddies of mine, all of ‘em. If they give ya’ any lip just mention you’re my pal." He winked. The young man laughed. Sometimes the old pain in the ass was amusing. And, he smiled as he looked at the 12-pack in the back, occasionally usefull.
* * *
They sped off and soon were within sight of the bank. "What are we doing?" Benny inquired.
"Getting you some money," was the response. The comraderie of the shopping trip was quickly forgotten as Benny paled. Oh no. He wouldn’t. They pulled into the drive through and the Hood fumbled with something in the glove compartment. Benny swore he saw a gun.
"I’m not gonna do it," he stated. Benny unlocked and opened his door. He would have escaped but the seatbelt confounded him. "I’m not gonna help you do it" he repeated, fumbling with the seatbelt. "Let me go."
The Hood’s eyes widened as Benny attempted his escape. "What are you doing?" he asked, unbelieving. "You’re not going to help me do what? Get back in here." The Hood reached across Benny and slammed the door shut.
"I’m not gonna help you rob this bank. I won’t do it and you’re going to get us in hot wat..."
"Jesus Christ," the Hood interrupted, "I’m not robbing the bank, I’m going to cash a check." He waved the blue check in Benny’s face. "Remember, we’re getting you money? Remember the check you signed?"
"I won’t do it," Benny repeated and tried to open the door again. A stern and angry voice cut him off.
"Don’t open the door. Just sit there and be quiet." The Hood paralyzed Benny with a stare. Benny just covered the side of his face nearest the teller and tried to sink down into the seat. Sure enough, the Hood gave the note to the teller and minutes later they were speeding off with a wad of money.
"Here," the Hood said, handing the money to Benny. "Here’s your money. The wad looked like several hundred dollars, a fortune. "Take it."
Benny was tempted, he could almost buy a car with what was there. Then he could drive himself to Duluth. But he couldn’t take it.
"I’m not gonna take that money. You already got me in enough trouble. They’re gonna be looking for us." Benny worriedly scanned the cars at the intersection. "You should let me out. You should take it back."
Frustrated beyond belief, the Hood told Benny to please be quiet and didn’t speak until they arrived back at the house. He led Benny into the kitchen and placed the wad on the counter.
"Look," he said to Benny, "this is your money. It isn’t stolen, it’s yours. Now I’m going to leave your money here." He pointed to the counter. "You can take it or not, I don’t care. Just remember," he leaned close to Benny’s face and covered his mouth with one hand, "if you don’t take it now, he will." He pointed to the panting dog and walked away snickering.
Benny looked at the money, glanced at the hairy guy and stuffed the wad into his pocket. As he walked quickly out of the room, the hairy guy rose to follow.
He was being followed. Benny stopped at his door and glanced quickly over his shoulder. Yes, the hairy guy was coming to steal his money! He slipped into his room and locked the door behind him. He must find someplace to hide his loot. He looked behind his dresser and pulled out the stash he had hidden there. Assorted mail, bills, checks, letter, his ‘important documents’ littered the space between his dresser and the wall. No, he knew the hairy guy had been stealing his papers, the tax man told him so. He heard heavy breathing outside the door. The hairy guy was there, trying to get in. He must act quickly! Benny grabbed a safety pin and pierced his wad through with the pin, for safety of course. Next, he pulled a roll of tape from a drawer and wrapped the wad several times. He wrapped this in newspaper and stuffed the bundle in a small cloth bag. He retrieved a penknife from the dresser and slit open his box spring mattress just enough so he could stuff his bundle in. He quickly smoothed the rip and covered it with the edge of a sheet. Satisfied, he pushed open the door, gaining some measure of satisfaction as he wacked the snooping hairy guy on the head. With a challenging look, he stepped around the corner.
The dog waddled into the room and sniffed a few things, Benny’s dirty underwear in a basket by the dresser. His slippers by his bed. Satisfied with the latest sweep of her territory, she left the room to go munch some kibble. Benny, who had been watching this from the hall, smiled gleefully at his tomfoolery and wandered off to find his brother, happy with the knowledge that his loot was safe. Now if he could just find that bus back to Duluth.