Walkers, Sitters, and Feeders

•June 11, 2012 • Leave a Comment
This assignment from my Advanced Expository Class was called the Place Essay. I worked at a hospital for a few years and while I used some of that experience as inspiration, I would like to point out that this is a work of fiction

The tires on my car crunched the dirt as it lulled to a stop. The back parking lot was littered with a dozen vehicles: some right off the lot and some that had missing paint flecks and dents in the panels. Two people smoked stoically on a bench by the overflowing dumpster. A pasture with a few cows lazily grazing was next to the parking lot. I walked to the heavy rusted iron door and thumbed in my code on the plastic number box: 9734. The sound of metal scraping let me know the nursing home was unlocked.

Once inside, the smell of bleach and urine wafted into my nostrils. The walls were off-white and had Holiday Inn art hanging on them. The door at the end of the hall was my stop, and through it I could hear the pulse of water jets in the dish machine ring out from the kitchen.

After I finished the usual routine of setting up the dining room, dozens of half-conscious elderly residents where wheeled into their specified seats at the dining tables.

In the cafeteria, we had three sections of residents. In the back, we had the “walkers,” who were coherent, of sound mind, and  able to feed themselves without much supervision.

The next category of residents, seated in the middle, where the “sitters.” These were the folks who, by and large, were mostly able to feed themselves without guidance. Sometimes, though, they became crazed by things that happened fifty years ago, so a close eye was needed. One gal became hysterical because she thought her parents got lost on a boat while coming to visit her – The Santa Maria.

The closest group to the food servers were the “feeders.” These were the people who couldn’t feed themselves, whether that was because they were crippled with age or they mentally could not understand how to eat.

There was a silence that hung over the dining room, once the walkers, feeders, and sitters where in their places. The only sound was the soft clank of silverware or the low hum of an oxygen machine. They looked like ghosts wrapped in old cracked leather sitting in their wheelchairs.

Every so often, a resident would start to cough violently. At that point, like clockwork, a nurse would slowly stand up and shuffle over to the resident. They would lazily pat the patien’s back and ask them if they were okay. Once the resident would choke down pureed turkey, the nurse would shuffle back to her seat.

After a few moments, my job would be to go around and ask the residents if they needed anything else. Most of the time no one would respond, or if they did it would be with a quiet grunt. However, there was one woman whom I always loved to talk to.

She was a diabetic who loved food. The only thing she ever wanted, when I would talk to her, was two slices of bacon. The nurses had told me many times before that she was not allowed bacon, because that would interfere with her medication. I never saw the logic in prohibiting a ninety-eight year old slice of bacon; I’m sure she was well aware of the risks. I feel that, at ninety-eight, if you want a piece of bacon, you should have the right to have one.

Every now and then, I would slide a few slices of the fried pork to her. Her boney fingers gingerly grabbed the greasy bacon and she would shove it all in her mouth at once. Drool would slide out of the corners of her mouth, and she would pick up her plate and lick the salt that remained.

Walking back to my serving table I would then smell the faint odor of feces. The nursing staff apparently did not notice, and after a few minutes, the scent became so strong that the head cook walked up to the head nurse and whispered something in her ear.

The nurse would then leisurely walk about the dining area, sniffing the air above the resident’s heads like a hunting dog. After a while, she found the person who was responsible for the fragrance. The head nurse waved a nurse’s assistant down and whispered something in her ear. The resident was then wheeled out.

The head nurse then wheeled in a giant cart. It was the size of a bail of hay and had a dozen drawers with labels. Without looking, she would then reach into a drawer and pull out a small cup with colorful pills. Then, she would walk around like a giant, placing cups after cups of tablets in front of every resident’s seat. Her eyes were predatory, as she’d make sure that every plastic-coated capsule had been consumed.

Chances are a few residents would either have forgotten to take their pills or refused to. Some of the more clever ones would sneak their capsules in their shirts or under their tongue. When the head nurse would come back around to check if they took them, the residents would grin and nod politely.

Once the residents left, it was my job to make sure no tablets had been left behind. I would usually find one or two, so I had to put them in a cup and walk to the nurse’s station. There, they would ask me whose it was; often I had no idea.

I continued cleaning the dining room. Plates were heaped with overcooked vegetables and half-drunk glasses of thickened grape juice. A blue slop bucket was next to me and I scraped every plate. Many times there would be so much food left over, I would have to dump the bucket out a few times into the sink to get enough room to finish my job.

Once the dishes were cleaned, I’d poke my head into the resident’s social living room. A big screen TV with Jeopardy! sang to no one, a glass case full of small birds were picking their feathers out was by the wall, and a small dusty piano sat in the back corner, like a child who was scolded. In the middle of this room, ten residents were in wheel chairs and automatic recliners. Some stared off into space, some slept, and some wanted to find a person to talk to.

The heavy iron door at the end of the hall always had one resident trying to get out. I would have to tell her someone was looking for her, but she would not buy what I was selling.

“Please…please let me out! They are trying to kill me!”

I was warned that she would say this; she made this a habit almost daily. Taking the handles on her wheelchair, I would slowly take her to the resident’s social living room.

“It’s okay, ma’am, they aren’t trying to hurt you,” I would sigh. She would start to cry quietly, but she did every day. Alzheimer’s disease gave her the opportunity to be this terrified and come morning everything would be forgotten – only to be repeated daily, until she passed.

After the Alzheimer’s patient was back under Big Brother’s eye, I slowly walked back to the clock-out machine. The clock-out machine was replaced with a computer that never worked right and had a layer of a sticky substance all over the keyboard. When I’ve officially clocked out, I cannot, under penalty of expulsion, do anymore work. I head for the door.

The plastic number box on the inside was worn down, and I’d have to press my code to get out extra hard. Outside, two other people sat smoking in silence.

My car’s engine would turn over and I’d go out of the parking lot. The cows mooing were the only goodbye.

Le Bal Masqué

•June 7, 2012 • 1 Comment

So, since I havent been on in quite a while, I’m gonna try and get back in the swing of things. Here is a little memoir that I wrote last semester. I’ll upload a few more from that class in a day or two.

Also, this assignment was called an Odd Object Essay. Which, basically, is what it sounds like. I chose to write about masks.  

It was the color of a well-done steak with pink blemishes. A long crooked nose with a giant crack at the tip sat in the middle of its face. Flaming carrot-hued hair grew, matted and mangled, on the top of the head. Warts, bumps, and scars crisscrossed every inch of the moth-eaten skin, like a map of a subway station. Eyeless holes sink above a silent, shrieking mouth. It lived in the dusty corner of a closet in my basement; it was the boogeyman.

As a child, this mask terrified me. Several times I raced down the basement stairs, skipping steps, to fling the closet door open and steal a look at the lifeless latex. My heart felt like an old shoe in a dryer as I stood frozen. It’s grin would stare back at me saying: “I’m going to eat you.”

I believed it.

***

“Okay, move a little to your left,” the mechanical click vibrated my fingertip. As he lifted the pig mask off of his head, I heard a sharp inhale. “Man, can’t hardly breathe in this thing!” I grinned and he slid the sweaty mask back on his face and struck a pose.

I was asked to take some photographs by a friend of mine, Pat, to model his brand new masks; he is a fanatical admirer of a band who performs in facades.

In Mushroomhead, a few of the members hand-make every mask. A mold is prepared and then cast with latex, and Pat tells me each mask is hand painted, sometimes by the band. A waiting list of hundreds makes the delay time for the masks to be created, sold and shipped months long. These disguises can cost more than five hundred dollars.

Pat takes me in his house and shows off his collection. They sit on his television stand on empty beer bottles. Each mask has a baby-eating grin as it stares blankly ahead. He points to each mask and tells me the back-story of every one.

“I got this one signed by the band,” he proudly says when he shows me the mask of a doll’s head with sharpie scribbles. There was a mask of a bloody butcher, a mouthless man with two giant “X”s on his cheeks, and a bright orange pumpkin shaped head. “I had to buy some burlap and sew it on the back so I could wear it,” Pat puts on the scarecrow mask, “I got a pretty big dome!”

***

There was a point in my early childhood when I began to become less terrified with monsters and more worried about getting homework done. One day, I remembered the red-haired boogeyman that lived in my basement. Part of me wondered if he still caused worms to slither in my spine, so I decided to find out.

My breath quickened and my pulse became heavy when I walked down the basement stairs like a teenager trying to sneak out past curfew. Silence was of the essence; any noise could wake the demon. I carried my mother’s good kitchen knife to protect me.

The closet had trash bags stuffed inside, each with different holiday decorations in them. After swimming past nutcrackers, Easter eggs, and plastic Jack-o’-lanterns, I saw a dusty tuft of ginger hair in the corner of the floor, lying lifeless. With a trembling hand, I grabbed the knotted hair and ran to my room, leaving the holiday decorations littered across the basement floor.

***

We pulled up to the Muse Ballroom in Salina, Kansas. The doors hadn’t opened yet, but one hundred people were waiting outside. All of them adorned in piercings, tattoos, and Mushroomhead masks. One lady wore black and white face paint, leather pants with chains dangling, and a bright green Mohawk. Another man had so many piercings, I wondered if he fell face first into a tacklebox.

“Dude! This is going to be sick!” Pat shouted as he grabbed his doll mask and rushed out of the car. He was covered from head to toe in a costume for night’s show: a leather trench coat, combat boots, and daisy dukes were his choice attire. I was wearing blue jeans, a black shirt, and my old hat. I was a bird of paradise in a flock of pigeons.

Once they herded the crowd into the concert hall, Pat and I got close enough to the stage and waited for the band to come out. The whole time, Pat was explaining other concertgoer’s masks to me.

“Oh! That one there! Do you see it?” his arm pointed past my face. “That one was a mess-up that Mushroomhead gave to the band Dope to paint,” his grin widened. “What I would give to get a hold of that one!”

“And, and that one! That one was a practical joke they were gonna give the drummer! That’s why it’s painted bubblegum pink!”

The lights went down and the slow hiss of a fog machine filled the building. Suddenly eight giant creatures stepped in the light and silently looked across the crowd while the audience screamed.

A deafening roar filled my body when the band went into full swing. For the next hour and a half, I was watching a horror movie in real time. Except instead of scaring everyone, they were singing to them.

As I looked at the crowd, I saw that almost every other person was wearing a handmade, hand-painted Mushroomhead mask. They were all headbanging on the same beat and screaming the same lyrics. When one guy moshed too hard, the other would pick him up and set him on his feet. These were people who didn’t know each other, but knew what their masks meant.

When the show was over, Pat took off his doll mask and sweat gleamed all over his face and head. We walked to the car humming the songs we just heard. He told me he never wore the same mask to a show twice in a row. I asked him if he wore a mask every time he saw Mushroomhead. He smiled so big, I could barely make out his eyes.

“Every time.”

***

I sat cross-legged on my bed with the boogeyman on a chair in front of me. The latex bunched and folded and made the face look deflated; his eyes looked heavy and the shrieking grin was a frown.

The bumps on his face felt hard under my fingertips. A thin layer of dust had settled on his face, so I wiped it off with a damp cloth. I knew there was one thing left to do.

I grabbed the mask with my fist and walked slowly into the bathroom. The mirror was in front of me, and I looked down at the ball of red fur in my hands. Steadily, I brought the mask to my face.

It stank inside. The smell of my grandparent’s basement filled my nose. It was a smell not unlike that of old books, if the books happened to be a little moldy. As I breathed into the mask my glasses fogged up and I thought I sounded like Darth Vader. I began to laugh and laugh until my belly ached.

With my fist full of its hair, I raced down the basement stairs, skipping steps, and flung the mask back into the closet. I put the nutcrackers, Easter eggs and Jack-o’-lanterns back in their place and the closet door shut.

About a year ago, I went into my basement on a visit from college to find this mask. It was nowhere. I called my mother and father on separate occasions and I asked each of them if they remembered a certain mask that was in the basement. They both vaguely remembered what I was talking about, but couldn’t remember where it came from or how it got there.

All I know is the boogeyman is gone.

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 218 other followers