18 May 2010

Working Backwards To A Funeral (Part I)

Insomnia is once again my best friend.

The last few days have been full of fitful sleep and vivid dreams, making me toss and turn throughout the night. Finally, I'll give in and get out of bed sometimes wasting the extra hours of unwanted time, like this morning, on the Internet, surfing through the flotsam and jetsam on Facebook or one of the many news sites I subscribe to, reading up on the same stories that I am hearing, simultaneously, on Good Morning America. Then there are the other times I'll get directly out of bed, grabbing cleaning supplies and getting my weekly chores done in the early morning hours before everyone else wakes up.
Although today wasn't a total waste of time, I did begin my laundry and had to wander out in the rain, collecting the lawn furniture and trash bins that blew around the yard and driveway. I'm concerned that the heavy rains and winds may have damaged the new plantings but it'll be a while before I can make an assessment.
Later today, I have to get to the gym and then it's off to Hammonton for a little get-together with Stephen Moore. He's taking me out for a belated birthday celebration, the details of which I'm not privy to but I'm sure it will be a great time. I'm glad I woke up in good spirits today...

...unlike yesterday. I was exhausted from the day before and thought I'd sleep like the dead but I was wrong. I was up every half hour and never got to the R.E.M. sleep that's crucial to providing the benefits that a deep sleep possesses and because of that, I was in a foul mood the entire day. I was getting pissy reading people's Facebook status updates, I was getting annoyed at the cat who only wanted the usual attention he gets in the morning, I hated the coffee I was drinking, I was irked at the dogs for wanting to play, my hair was thisclose to being shaved totally off my head, my elbow was inexplicably hurting and I could barely bend it, I was just a completely miserable, hateful person. I sat at the computer and stewed in my bile, wishing something would come along to salvage the day. The only saving grace was that as the afternoon wore on, Claudia didn't show up. Helene's pet project has assumed that she can come here each and every day, whether Helene's here or not, and sprawl across the couch from ten in the morning to ten at night, pontificating on and questioning every movement I make in my own house. She's actually a nice person but she can be a busy body and ask too many questions. And she is a huge mooch.
So, that being said, I was damned glad she wasn't there and I didn't have to deal with her in my dark mood.
Even with my elbow hurting me, I decided that I would go to the gym. That's always a great place to work out your frustrations and get some Zen. Maybe throwing around some heavy objects in the name of Narcissus would spur the manufacture of some endorphins to elevate my mood.
I got ready although I procrastinated, taking my sweet ol' time. The gym would be there and the overcast skies and my elbow weren't helping with my motivation. I finally left the house and began walking to the gym, listening to my mp.3 player along the way, scrolling through the songs one after another because they were all annoying me. It would have been a good day for some speed-metal or gloomy Goth-rock but, sadly, I had downloaded mostly upbeat songs, sixties girl groups and some eighties New Wave.
I was around Richard's Avenue in Ventnor when my mobile rang. I thought it was Miss Patti, who usually rings me when she's walking to work but I was mistaken, it was Helene. I answered and she wanted to know what I was doing and I told her I was on my way to the gym. She said, "Okay, never mind" and hung up and I breathed a sigh of relief because, knowing her, she had something for me to do, something I probably wouldn't like and with her "never mind", I was off the hook. But before I could count my blessings, she rang me back and went right into her request. And I knew by her tone that I had no choice but to agree with whatever it would happen to be. I girded my loins and asked her what she needed from me.
Doris, her other pet project, had to go to hospital, NOW and I had to go with her! She's been having trouble swallowing and just threw up her breakfast and was coughing and choking. I halfheartedly tried to get out of going, reminding Helene that I was on the way to the gym but I knew that it was a lame excuse and I turned around and began the trek back home. I got the final details from her and hung up the phone and my mood, which was rather dark to begin with, turned pitch black.

Doris has early-onset Alzheimer's among a long list of other ailments which I won't go into here. Her daily pill regimen would kill a bull elephant. Helene wanted me to go with her so I could talk to the hospital staff on Doris' behalf and listen to the diagnosis and inform Helene of everything that transpires. Doris is very forgetful, especially in stressful situations and she would have gotten the entire diagnosis wrong. I understood the reasons she wanted me to go and I agreed with them (better safe than sorry) but I was in no mood to do this. I also knew that it was going to be a waste of time, that it was Helene's overreaction that was sending Doris to hospital, not Doris' condition. I got home and changed out of my gym clothes and put on jeans and a hoodie and off we went to Shore Memorial Hospital, driving down the island and going over the Longport bridge to Somers Point, where the hospital is located. Doris' driving is another matter altogether! She's a madwoman on the roads, very aggressive and rarely follows even the most basic traffic rules. Like speed limits. Like red lights. Like turn signals. Like signs. So driving with her is another drama-rama to add to my already lovely and lighthearted mood.
We finally got to hospital, which is under construction, and she was complaining that all the parking is gone, driving everywhere trying to find a spot. Complaining as if they actually started the construction months ago and tore up the streets and former parking lot because they knew that on Tuesday, the seventeenth of May, Doris would need to park at the hospital and it was their goal to annoy her.
We finally found a spot and went to the packed emergency room, filled out the forms and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

You see, she's presenting no actual threat to her life, since she's talking and breathing with no problem so her choking complaint is low on the triage list. So we waited.

And waited some more.

Finally, they called her name and off we went to the back so she could get the "once over". Suffice to say, after prodding, poking, orifice eyeballing and an X-ray, they concluded she needed to see a specialist. Which she already has an appointment for on Thursday.

To sum it up, it was a COLOSSAL WASTE OF MY TIME!!! By now it was six at night, too late for me to get to the gym (they close at seven p.m) and my day was completely shot.

We left and I rang up Helene and left a message about Doris' condition and had Doris take me to Wawa so I could get some provisions and she went about her business. I walked home through the drizzle and I opened my front door and noticed the telly was on and I heard a "Hello" and realized that my hateful day just got even worse:

Claudia was sprawled all over the couch!

I simply greeted her back, curtly, grabbed my things and went to the bedroom, where I hid until she left, at ten-thirty.

I took my Lunesta once she left, climbed into bed and that brings me back to the beginning of this entry.

12 May 2010

Random Thoughts And Observations

I was at the gym yesterday and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and was very happy with what I saw. It was one of those quick looks that you do where you don't realize who you're looking at and you're like, "Who's that nicely built person?" and then you notice that it's you! I don't think I'll ever get the body I had over a year ago but I like how I look now, after a little more than two months of working out. I guess the muscles were still in there, hiding from me all this time. If anything, going back to the gym has done wonders for me. Giving me a constructive outlet instead of sitting on my ass and pestering everyone on Facebook has been a great thing. And my walks to and from the gym are giving me that time to compose my thoughts for journal entries. That's where I used to always come up with the inspiration for some of my most eloquent blog entries. I can't wait to get to the gym today which means I am obsessed...again. Miss Patti is already gloomy at the prospect of trying to design dresses for my broadening shoulders.

I've been reading the New Yorker religiously. It's Helene's subscription but she doesn't read it, she really has no time to. I read each issue almost cover-to-cover (although I am a few weeks behind). It's amazing how prescient they are! Some of the topics they discuss and the predictions they make are scarily accurate. Being behind in the issues, I'll read an article and compare it to current events and sometimes, I'm astounded at how accurate they were/are. Reading about the Big Apple, though, is making me want to go there, Big Time!

Death And Squalor

I woke as usual on Wednesday, immediately logging onto Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/mortimerlove?ref=profile) and checking out what happened during the night, since I usually log off around eleven and go to sleep. The show "Glee" (http://www.fox.com/glee/) had been on the night before and it always elicits a huge amount of comments among my gay boy/straight girl friends. The rest of the morning was going fine, I got my breakfast of oatmeal with some fresh blueberries, orange juice and coffee, getting back on my self-imposed diet. Because I was up in Philadelphia for so long, I hadn't been to the gym so I planned to go at some point during the day. I didn't really feel like going, it's so easy to find other things to do when you haven't been there in a few days. Although, when I do go on a regular basis, it can't think of any place else I'd rather be.
I did some laundry and yard work, taking my time to get ready for the gym, total procrastination but I figured I'd get there, sometime.
Then my mobile rang. It was Helene.

She was calling with bad news. Tammy, Doris' step-daughter, had just died. Tammy's mother, Nellie, rang Helene first with the news, understandably distraught and hysterical. And before I could even ask what happened, Helene asked me if I could go with Doris to Vineland to be with the family since she would be upset and needed someone to ride with her. Helene couldn't do it herself because not only was she working but was also on her way to Philadelphia with Evelyn, the woman she cares for as an in-home health-care aid. Reluctantly, very reluctantly, I agreed to go. The reason why I was so hesitant will become painfully clear as the story progresses.

I had been out in the garden so I was a little dirty but now I had no time for a full shower. I did a quick clean-up and got dressed and by the time I was done, Doris was there and off we went (after expressing my condolences, of course). By now, I had found out what happened and it really didn't surprise me. Tammy had died of an overdose. She had an appointment to be in court that morning for violating the conditions of her last conviction, i.e. staying clean. Evidently this is the third or...eighth time this happened and supposedly the judge was going to throw the book at her. I gather she was doing a "last shout" before having to go to jail. What makes this even more tragic and despicable is that she has three children (in their teens/early twenties) and, through her schemes and welfare assistance, is the soul provider for the house. Now, her little private heroin party not only cost her her life, but will totally devastate the family when they will eventually lose their home.
It's a sad situation compounded by even more pathetic complications, as you will see.
The ride there was interminable, since I was not in the mood to deal with all this madness. I kept Doris distracted as much as I could, telling her stories of my trip to Philadelphia and lying about performing up there. There was no need to go into my problems at that moment. She was pretty calm and collected until we got to the cross street we needed to turn down to get to the house. The city had it blocked off for construction/repair and Doris, in her imitable style, turned on a dime into the parking lot of the convenience store to our right, nearly hitting the car that was exiting and driving right over the curb. I slammed on the "passenger brake" and clutched the seat for dear life!

Here's where I should inform you that Doris is suffering from early-onset Alzheimer's. She is under medical supervision and is taking the latest drug regimen but there are breaks with memory and skills common to those with the disease/condition. Her driving, though, has always been erratic and has, so far, not been affected by the disease. She's a bit of a speed demon and far too aggressive (read: road rage) for her own good.

We figured out an alternate route to the house from the other end of the block and drove down the street looking for a place to park. Without her telling me, I could tell which house it was by the assorted riff-raff gathered on the front porch and the police vehicles parked out in front of the brick home. She brazenly pulled into the driveway and we got out of the car, making our way through the ramble of people who did not behoove themselves to even step aside to let us in the house. They were sitting and standing everywhere, some were eating and chatting loudly which I found a bit distasteful, considering Tammy's body was still in the house! I could hear dogs constantly barking from somewhere nearby. We walked through the screen door and into the front hallway. To our immediate right was an old-fashioned front parlour and I saw, right away, the squalor these people were living in. It was dark and full of dust and lacked any furniture to sit on. There were parts of a cheap entertainment center haphazardly set along the walls, made of pressed fiberboard and filled with personal mementos, and a vintage television along the back wall, in front of the cobweb encrusted curtains and blinds. The beige (I think) carpet was filthy with stains and dirt and the smell of dog waste hit us as soon as we entered. Nellie's bedroom was to the left but the door was shut and there were people standing throughout the house, smoking cigarettes although I don't recall seeing an ashtray let alone anyone using one. We made our way past her son's and daughter's bedrooms who's doors were (mercifully) shut and into the kitchen. Doris was adamant that she wanted to see Tammy's body but the police informed her that no one could go into the room until the coroner came and inspected the scene. From what I could see of the kitchen, it was in the same state as the parlour. Little to no furniture or appliances and devoid of clutter but not exactly clean. We went back down the hall and I couldn't help but despair at the condition of this once-beautiful house. The aged dark-wood door frames, the hardwood floors, the plaster ceilings and moldings were phenomenal but the fact that it was not maintained broke my heart.

Yes, I admit: I was more concerned for the house than the family undergoing their self-inflicted tragedy.

We entered Nellie's room which was dark and disheveled, a condition that I think is normal and not because of the recent events. She was sitting on the bed in her house dress that didn't quite cover her legs, especially since she was in a sitting position. I was standing at the foot of the bed and got a most unwanted view. There were people milling about and I was informed to make sure the door stayed shut. I really didn't mind except for the fact that I was on that side of the door! The conversation quickly became personal amongst the family members (burial method, financial decisions, etc.) and I hurriedly made my way out of the room when someone else came in. I stood in the parlour, text messaging people and accessing Facebook, watching the people come in and hug and cry with the family. The city chaplain came in and did his thing, comforting the immediate family and friends and was a welcome sight, since he was able to answer questions and knew the drill. After a bit, I felt completely out of place and I went outside and stood on the sidewalk out front, since no one on the porch made me feel the least welcome. The ambulance service and coroner came and the oldest son moved Doris' car out of the driveway and parked it down the street. The ambulance backed into the driveway and pulled all the way back to the rear of the house, out of my line of sight, thankfully. I went back in just to see what was going on and they were letting those family members who wanted to to view the body before they bagged her and took her to the morgue.
I went back out, refusing the offer to see Tammy. No, I really don't want to view a dead heroin addict who's bowels have released, who's blood has settled to the one side of the body and has been lying there for hours in an un-air-conditioned room, thank you anyway.
I fled to the street again and rang up Miss Patti and told her what was happening. She was my little glimmer of normalcy and hope in this tempest of misery I was unceremoniously thrust into.
I wandered down the street to the car, watching the neighbors who were watching the events happening on their street. I began to notice how nicely maintained the other homes on the block were. The lawns were mowed, flowers were planted, hedges were trimmed, it was all very nice and orderly, all of them with Tammy's house the only exception. I couldn't help but think they might have been a bit relieved. I'm sure they were well aware of what happened and probably thought that this would facilitate a vacancy of the house since this was the problem house of the neighborhood. The police were there so often for fights and squabbles that it had become a constant but commonplace nuisance. I sat in the car for a while and then paced up and down the street, admiring the beautiful day, finally watching as the ambulance pulled out of the driveway and took Tammy's body away.

I went back in and after some more discussion of the funeral arrangements, Doris (thankfully) was ready to leave. I gave the family my respects once more, hugged Nellie and quickly made my exit back to the car and we drove home, uneventfully. The conversation on the way home, however, was odd. It seems that the family is under the impression that Tammy committed suicide instead of a dying of an overdose. Frankly, I could care less.

Once home, I went back out into the garden.

The funeral is this coming Thursday. Helene wants me to go.

Once more, into the breach.

10 May 2010

Unexpected Get-A-Way

Last week at this time I was in Philadelphia with my dear friend Shannon. Previously, I have been in that wonderful city just to see her but I was up there on another task, one that I shamefully did not complete and I feel most terrible about it.
Shortly after our triumph at the Miss'd America Pageant, I began to get offers for gigs with the Red Ribbon Bingo being the most prominent among them. I love doing the bingo and I had always said that once I retired from the grind of performing on a regular basis, I would only do benefits or the rare appearance for a friend to celebrate a birthday or whatnot. I am really not prepared to do anything much more that that.
I gave away a great deal of my costumes and accessories to the newer "girls" once I decided to retire, leaving bags and bags of clothes in the dressing room at the club for everyone to pick over and take with them. When I started out, I was given cast-offs from the reigning performers in Atlantic City and it was a tremendous help when I was so young and green. It's a tradition I was happy to continue with, knowing how hard it is to build a stage wardrobe when you begin. On top of that, my former psycho-mate in the penthouse threw away my entire shoe collection. When I moved out, I had left a few things to pick up at a later date. Unfortunately, being the unstable and unreasoning prick that he is, he simply threw away everything I had left in the flat. Added to this, my living conditions are such that most of the items I own are sitting in a storage locker on the White Horse Pike, packed in there so tightly you couldn't add a penny to it without it busting at the seams. This includes nearly all of the costumes I did not give away which are sealed in boxes and bags and jammed in there, somewhere. So it seems I am hobbled, where my drag career is concerned, by circumstance and history and semi-retirement.
A good friend and promoter, Dan, had asked me, shortly after the pageant, to do an event in Philadelphia and I quickly agreed since I was still on a high from the success of the show. I was ready to accept any offer at that time. I didn't even look to see what it was that I was agreeing to, I just said an emphatic "YES!" and didn't give it a thought for the next few months. Time passed and the day quickly drew near and I had totally forgotten about it. I began to get a few text messages and emails from people, not just Dan but a few friends who heard I was going to be there. I actually panicked a little since I really had no idea what the hell I was supposed to be doing and now, people were contacting me telling me they were excited that they were going to see me. I had (insanely) hoped that it would just go away but it didn't so I bucked-up and rang Dan to find out what I was supposed to do, exactly.
It was all pretty straightforward, so to speak. I was either going to serve with the waitresses or host with the hostesses at Darling's Diner (http://www.darlingsdiner.com/). I have server/host experience from working at Evo (http://www.evorestaurant.com/) so I figured it would be fairly easy and I told him (and everyone else) I'd be there.
I decided to go to Philadelphia the evening before and Shannon graciously agreed to allow me to stay at her flat. The event was very early in the morning and it would be easier to go across town than to have to come from Atlantic City. I really had nothing to wear. I only had a few costumes from the past two bingo shows and chose two things from them and packed them with the rest of my gear and made my way to to the city. It was rather cool on shore and when I got to Philadelphia, I was amazed at how hot it was up there. The walk from 30th Street Station to Shannon's flat had me drenched in sweat by the time I got there. The humidity was ungodly. I settled in and we had a cock...tail and another friend came by, Anthony, and we sat and chatted all night.
All night.

During the evening, a curious sensation came over me. I was literally getting more and more anxiety about the event. It's normal to get butterflies before a show but I was getting...well...terrified. I couldn't sleep and didn't want to and my friends were nice enough to sit up with me and let me chat their ears off.
I haven't performed in Philly for a long, long time and as we were sitting there chatting, inside I was having a total anxiety attack. It was a thoroughly unsettling feeling. And the time drew closer and closer for me to get ready to leave, I couldn't do it.

I just sat there.

I have never had this feeling before. I was like a deer in the headlights, I couldn't move or decide what to do.

And there I sat. I kept thinking, "I'll just get ready in a few." and that "few" never happened. I even text messaged Dan at one point to tell him I overslept and I was running late but I didn't move from my spot and we kept chatting. My friends were obviously wondering why I wasn't getting ready but I kept giving them the lamest excuses and eventually it got too late and I just went to bed while Shannon went to play a softball game.

I totally froze and blew off the gig. I have never done that before. I am totally embarrassed about it and have avoided all messages from Dan and the others that were anticipating my presence. I feel so lame, I actually came up with some outrageous excuses to tell everyone but the truth, such as it is, is that I had immobilizing stage fright and I couldn't go and be "performer Mortimer". It's truly a sickening feeling.

After resting, Shannon came home (her team won) and we enjoyed the rest of my stay, ordering a pizza that night and watched some movies, curled up in bed together. It was very nice. Never mentioning the fact that I did not do the very thing that was the entire reason that I was there.

Monday morning came and I woke to her eating breakfast and all showered and getting ready. I was a bit perturbed, I thought we'd go to breakfast somewhere and that's when she informed me that she was on her way to work. I totally forgot that it was Monday and that people actually work for a living. While she did her thing, I sat in her place, mindlessly watching telly and playing with her cats, well, the just one of them. Lucky is rather lazy and sleeps every chance he can get. Dust actually builds up on him, he's that lazy. She came home and we went out to eat, finding a cute little restaurant that had al fresco seating and we sat outside, enjoying the wonderful weather in the early evening and having cock...tails whilst waiting for our meal. We had a few questions about the menu and the waitress was very patient with us and we ordered and sat there, laughing and chatting. At one point, curiosity overcame us and we wanted to know where the hell we were. The menu was no clue, there was only a profile of a rabbitpig at the top. Yes, I said "rabbitpig". That's what it was; a half rabbit, half pig silhouette. We looked into the restaurant and there was no clue there. The awning over our heads had nothing written on it. We were perplexed! Confounded! Mystified! We finally broke down and asked the waitron who informed us that the name of the place was "Pub & Kitchen". Clever. Concise. Easy.
Well, the food was amazing, we loved everything we ordered and once we were done, we went back to her place and finally to bed, watching movies until we fell asleep.
The next afternoon, Shannon came home for lunch and made us tuna fish wraps, which were scrumptious. She left me her keys and I got ready and decided to wander to Rittenhouse Square and check things out.

Before I knew it, I not only wandered through Rittenhouse, I went to Independence Hall, the Constitution Centre, Ben Franklin's grave (I always pay my respects when I can), wandered by Prive and the former Revival, ended up on South Street where I walked to Ninth Street and sauntered through my old neighborhood, looking at my former stoop and the apartments of my friends. I strolled through the gayborhood and then finally made it back to Shannon's flat, more than a little exhausted. I didn't plan on taking such a lengthy walk but I was glad I did, the day was perfect, not too hot and a nice breeze was blowing.
She came home and I figured I should go home. I was out of money and I needed to get back and do some stuff at my own house.

I got home and settled in only to have life intrude once again the very next day!