Monthly Archives: January 2014

A Letter from a Pen-pal

How, how and how do I get my name off the income tax department’s computer? How many more phone calls must I make and letters must I write to tell them I have retired, that I exist on pensions, such as they are in these days of dark economy? And even if I manage to break through into the brain of the infernal computer, will it believe me? Or will it simply put an ‘x’ in the box marked ‘Liar’? Will the computer recognize my address as that of a retirement home or will it read it as part of my tax evasion scheme?

I remember the last job I did. I completed the work, checked everything, pulled up my invoice from the depths of my computer, wrote it out to my client and hit the ‘send’ button. About 4 seconds later I heard a gong chime, the sound on incoming mail. You guessed it. My partner, aka ‘Income Tax Department’, was there, demanding payment of his 50 percent share of my fee. That’s efficiency as I would expect from a government department. But when I tell them: ‘Retired – look elsewhere’, they laugh: ‘Yeah, right! We hear that one every day!’

Now comes decision making time – tear up their letter and file it in the bin under the desk or write them another letter? Or make another phone call and leave a message with another tinny voice which you know will never go anywhere?

On the positive side, my pen-friend has already decided on the amount of money I will be earning this year. That’s the advantage of having optimistic friends…


A Face Slap In the Retirement Home

Probably the most common sight in a retirement home are back problems, meaning walking problems. The worst cases are confined to wheel-chairs. They are usually found parked in clusters, looking bored as hell while their care-givers drink coffee, tell jokes and generally have a good time. They go over to their “patients” from time to time to make sure they put the brakes on. Next in the pain line are the back-sufferers who push themselves along with “walkers”. These are easily recognizable by the two yellow tennis balls on the back feet of the (metal) walker. After that are the “caners”. They often suffer from some sort of military or teaching background.

Now we come to the “help-free cases. The worst is the shuffler where one foot remains in contact with the floor while the body slides forward. Then there is the bent spinee, the straight knee-er, the limper, the twitcher, the foot dragger and the foot dropper. I belong to the ‘sideways bent’ class. All these ailments lead to one common symptom – the pain grimace. One soon learns who has what and which twitch is which.

The other day I dropped into a couch with a huge sigh of relief at taking the weight off my feet – and thereby my back. Sitting on the couch is a lady who I know by her own particular pain brand – the walking butt clutcher.

“Are you sore when you walk?” I ask the stupid question as an ice-breaker. It works.

“Sore as all hell,” she answers.

“And when you sit?” I say, continuing the questioning.

“Not too bad,” she says, “as long as I lean to the left and the seat doesn’t sag.”

“Hmm,” I say digesting this piece of information before I make my diagnosis.

“How about when you stand?”

“That’s the worst!” she exclaims, wincing at the very thought. “I cannot stand which means I am badly handicapped. No museums or art galleries, no standing in lines at the bank and definitely no cooking!”

“Wow!” I offer in sympathy. “That’s pretty bad.”

“Any more questions?”

“What are you like in bed?”

The three second pause is followed by a loud thwack which rattles my teeth.

“Well, your back problem hasn’t spread to your arms,” I say, running for the door.

Mozart, You Would Have Lived To 100 In A Retirement Home!

Every morning I drop into my chair in front of the computer and with a click of the mouse I turn on Radio Mozart, a radio station that I found on the internet. It plays Mozart’s music 24 hours a day interrupted only by very short announcements. And every day I am stunned anew by the beautiful music that Wolfgang Mozart composed. When I am stuck for a word in an article or essay, I think of Mozart, never stuck for a single note.

Can you imagine how different our world would be if Mozart had been born in the last 50 years, in our time, in the years of antibiotics and healthcare, in the years of recognizing and fostering genius? Instead, he lived his short 35 year life, from 1756 to 1791, in days where he had little chance of reaching old age. Of his 5 siblings only 2 made it past the first year, an indication of how fragile life was in those days.

But it’s what he achieved in those few years that really count. He composed over 600 works, an incredible output of work, considering that it includes operas and symphonies, long complicated works that he couldn’t have completed in a day. In between he struggled on a daily basis with family matters, health issues and making a living. In today’s world he been fawned upon from every angle by well-wishers and perhaps have produced many more great masterpieces on a finely-tuned grand piano in a retirement home.

If Mozart had lived in today’s world with our medicines and healthcare he could easily have attained a great age, continuing his genius to the very end, surrounded by admiring fans and music lovers in a five-star retirement home where he could devote himself to composing great music. He would also have had the advantage of listening to his own music and would have a collection of records, tapes and CD’s lining his study. All his own work.

Of course he would have had to fight off all the suggestions and corrections that the residents would have offered. You can almost hear them:
“But Dear Maestro Mozart, if you reverse the last three bars it will sound much better!”
“No, No! Not the violin here! The cello is much more suitable for this!”
“Mozart, get rid of that E flat at the end of the last bar!”
Perhaps he was spared after all…

The Storage and Retrieval Game

After almost a year’s experience I have to say that being in one’s 80’s is no big deal. There have been no major changes; my back is still bent and I still walk like a question mark. The doctors are still puzzling at the condition and trying different pills on me. Some days I wander around like a zombie and other days I sleep a lot, but my old back remains bent. On the memory side I recognized and greeted a couple of old acquaintances yesterday – they are both pushing 90 and I’m not sure they knew who I was. My appetite is great and I can still read the small print. What did happen is that this morning, whilst scrunched over the crossword, I found myself sitting with the answer to a clue hanging off the end of my tongue and not making it all the way to the pen.

That’s the only change I can detect, a suggestion of slow retrieval from the vast storage system I shlep around with me. The filing system is full, most of the drawers overflowing:
‘Family and Friends’ is pretty full.
‘Engineering and Information Technology’ is bursting and has a notice hanging on the front – “no new information accepted here’.
‘Culture’ has small spaces available between the books, music and writing.
‘Department of Useless Information’ which houses miscellaneous and little used stuff has huge globs of information hanging from it hoping it will still be called on to provide an answer. There is no ‘Full’ notice so I keep pushing more and more in there hoping it will find a place. But I’m starting to think it’s a waste of time. I can still rack up a respectable score at the monthly trivia evening here at the retirement home.

We all go through life building these huge storage systems for ourselves, convinced they are made of concrete and will be there forever. It’s not like that at all. They are made of some kind of Jello and are highly susceptible to outside influence. In extreme cases they melt and leave one with no memory at all.

Oh yes, the crossword character I couldn’t remember in the story of Jason and the Argonauts was Helle. How on earth could I forget him?

How Come I’m Not As Smart As My Phone?

For some years I watched my little grandchildren with their smart-phones. They played games, even while I was talking to them, they texted each other, while I was teaching them and they were taking photographs while I was trying to show them something. Once or twice I asked them to show me and they did, for all of three seconds and then they grabbed it away from me and went back to their games. “It’s complicated, Pop! Better you stick to your old phone.” And so I did.

But it gnawed at me. I was good with my old model phone and I helped other people here at the Retirement Home with their old phones by deleting their unanswered messages, finding their new unanswered messages and adding new people to their contacts. I also use an iPad. I can zoom my way from the Stock Exchange live to the sports results to a quotation from Shakespeare in microseconds.

I should have a smart phone, one as smart as I am, one that will make my grandchildren gape at me in admiration. “See that old guy there on the bench? That’s my grandfather. He’s busy texting his broker! Not bad at his age, huh?”

I hunted around, checked prices, found a shop with a nice sounding name in Nathan Road, Hong Kong and ordered my smart phone. Here the story ends – I am no longer smart.

This confounded phone has reduced me to a school boy. It has a logic system called Android. Somewhere in the mists of my mind I remember Android – he was an anthropomorphic robot – a robot that looks like a human with no built-in logic at all. Now he’s in my phone! I cannot answer phone calls nor can I make calls. I cannot find old numbers nor can I add new. I cannot text messages and I only see incoming messages 3 days after they have arrived.

The good news is that my Android can take pictures and I can find them afterwards in the Gallery to show my few remaining friends. But I cannot send these pictures anywhere except back to the shop where I ordered the phone. And that may be the problem. Could it be that they sent me a camera instead of a phone? It looks like phone…

The Retirement Home Gets a Red and Yellow Paintjob

I’m enrolling for lessons. I’ve had enough of this trying to paint faces in my paintings. It all came about when I turned to the sports page of the Jerusalem Post which we have delivered to our apartment at the retirement home.

Two things happened more or less simultaneously; in Golden Ager’s Lingo, this means within a 3-day period. I finished a painting that I was doing of two people in the middle of a Tango. He is in black and she is in deep rose; background is green and overall effect is fantastic. ‘Finishing’ in this case means I was utterly sick of trying to get their faces looking more or less human. I will never ever paint a person again, I vowed. From now on it’s “Landscapes Only” from this microscopic studio. Feeling great with my decision, I flipped the paper open to the sports page and there, in bright red and yellow are two basketball players scrambling for the ball.

Wow, what a painting this will make, I breathed. Seconds later I was in the throes of enlarging the photo to canvas size and up to my elbow in red and yellow acrylic. The next few days passed in relative silence as I painted while the radio played Mozart to keep my creative juices flowing. The two players took shape, their arms and legs muscular and strong. Their red and yellow shorts and shirts freshly washed and ironed, the low barrier around the court and the background took shape in dark colors. I was right, I gloated, it’s a great painting!

But on each players shoulders rested a pinkish colored ball of nothing. The dreaded face: one in profile (ugh) and the other in full face (double ugh). So what, I thought, as I hummed with Mozart, I can do this by lunchtime. So I did. My in-house art critic, who is also my wife, took one look and shrieked softly. (We do not let out wild or loud shrieks in the retirement home. They have bad connotations). Okay, I mumbled, “I’ll do them again.”

And so I did. This time she laughed and I was happy for a few seconds before I trudged back to the studio. The next 12 times she just shook her head sadly and went back to her Sudoku. The faces are sort of okay now. Tomorrow I will show them to the art instructor in the studio downstairs. He may not agree with my idea of “Okay”.

Meantime I found this great photo of a chef in the kitchen. He is standing right in front of the camera and chopping the vegetables. And he is looking down. That should make it easier, right?

The Boys of the Trolley Brigade

For years I’ve been seeing these guys in the supermarkets and other stores. I wondered who they were and why they were draped over the handles of their shopping-carts. At the same time I thought that the way they handled their vehicles was great.

Then I found out they belong to an exclusive club and today I became a member. I zoomed my way into the supermarket, did a couple of wheelies in the entrance, and near the pasta aisle I swung my cart into a 360 degree turn which would have made Vin Diesel proud. At the meat counter I did a four-wheel slide around the corner while the butcher clapped. I’m a shoe-in for the next street-racing movie that Vin makes.

To join this club all you need is a bad back. Any kind of back pain gets you in. The pain must make you hang over the handle of the cart like a wet cloth. A slipped disc, a torn muscle or a displaced vertebra gets you full membership while a simple broken back qualifies you for the special class. The worse your back problem, the greater the respect you receive from the non-members in the aisles. They will move out of the way when they hear you groaning in pain as you trundle along.

Carts for drivers in the “Back Problem” class will be able to take carts fitted with fire-engine sirens and flashing lights. Members will have a special check-out lane where the electronic reader will read the cost of your purchases by the cartful, avoiding any waiting in line while the cashiers go through each item.

I had a successful supermarket session this morning. My shrieks of agony moved slow moving shoppers to the right leaving me clear access to the shelves on the left. A few heavy grunts and twitches as I neared the long lines at the check-outs had great effect: people looked me scrunched up over my trolley, saw that I only had 40 items in the basket and said, “let that poor man through…”

Membership? Free. No application forms. No doctors’ examinations. Just arrive, er… stagger up and you’re in.

The Old Master And The Retirement Home

Unlike many retirees in Retirement homes, we have a decent sized apartment. Two adjacent apartments were available and we joined them. So on one side there is a living/dining room and kitchen and on the other a spacious bedroom and a small study which lately has tuned into a painting studio. And it is in this microscopic studio that I am producing my masterpieces.

In the beginning I held the canvas on my knees and steadied it with my teeth as I was groping for the tube of green. The pictures were okay but nothing to get excited about. One day I watched my wife wheeling the shopping trolley about and realized I was looking at a possible easel. I used it for a while, managed to splatter red and blue over it while I learned how to keep it from rolling away by using my knees and my foot while painting, leading to some interesting scenes.

Finally I gave in and bought an easel. It is a tripod type and is adjustable to any height and any size canvas. Did I mention that in this studio of mine is also a cupboard along one wall where my wife keeps the overflow clothing that didn’t make it into the bedroom cupboard? So she comes in from time to time to look for an item in the cupboard. The tripod easel is guaranteed to always have at least one leg in the way.

As to the actual painting process which involves brushes, little bottles, a couple of big bottles, palettes, palette knives, various other knives, rulers and scales, and a variety of stuff that has no permanent place nor sits in any order. The rags and paper towels are never where I can find them, tubes of paint seem to wander around on their own and brushes are totally undisciplined.

Painting has become quite a challenge. There ought to be a handicap system like they have for golf. That system is based on your ability. The painting one would be based on your space multiplied by your age. That would make me an old Master already…