Wednesday, March 23, 2011


I had a dream last night. I was having an argument about something with my father, and then he went into another room and I left. And then he died.

It was because I read Fixer talking about his father-in-law, I think. His father-in-law who is dying slowly of Alzheimer's, who once was deputy comptroller of New York City and now can't add 2+2.

Reality is that my father's ending was far slower and more hellish. At the end Alzheimer's had reduced him to a shambling mass of twitches and paranoia. The end came when he ran away from the VA nursing home, hitchhiked in the rain to a town several hundred miles away still wearing his pajamas, was taken in by Catholic Services' emergency shelter after the police found him wandering the streets babbling nonsense, and eventually Catholic Services' social worker found out who he was and where he needed to be and returned him to the nursing home, already sick with pneumonia. The reality is that he died a slow miserable death, gasping for breath into a respirator, a husk, a shadow of the man he had once been. He had never been deputy comptroller of New York City. But at one time before his slow cruel decline, he had been a successful small business owner, he had worked multiple jobs to support his family, he had, despite his limitations in other ways, been a for-real man. And the Alzheimer's took that all away from him, and he did not go quietly, he went raging and ranting and violent.

Our society doesn't have anything for that. The violent part is what allowed my mother to get an involuntary commitment order for him to force him into the nursing home, after he smashed windows and attacked a home care nurse and was clearly a threat to himself and others, but that was near the end when he could no longer carry a coherent conversation -- he had been a man who loved to talk, he was non-stop talk all day long in his shop as he talked to his customers, and he couldn't get four or five words out before losing track of his train of thought. But the slide to get there was long and hard and there wasn't anything that our society cared to help us with in dealing with it.

Given the family history, I'm likely to die of "natural causes" too, just like my father and his father before him. At least I won't be dragging a family into that misery with me, though. Just another reason to be a bachelor penguin...

I went to the grocery store this evening, the shabby rundown one that's part of the local chain that's losing to the big guys. It was 10 pm, and the homeless were out in force, doing their morning shopping. There was a toothless lady who looked 70 years old in front of me, buying various small items and paying cash. She put the items into a grubby pink backpack. I noticed that her sandaled feet were muddy too. She reeked of gin and perspiration, and was so drunk she almost fell backwards onto me as she launched herself from the counter. She was probably actually around fifty years old. And I thought, I'm lucky right now. But I've been down. Somehow I managed to get back up and do something else and eventually make it, but there was probably as much luck involved as anything else. But if anything else happens, at my age... would I end up staggering drunk looking twenty years older than my years, staggering out of a grocery store with a few odds and ends shoved into a grubby pink backpack? Soon enough she'll be dead. Of "natural causes". Of hunger, or alcohol poisoning, or whatever, but her death certificate will say "natural causes". And any answer to that would require a humane society that valued all its individuals, where people tried to help one another and did their best to make sure that everybody around them was okay. Some other society, in other words. Not ours. Not ours.

- Badtux the Nightmare Penguin


  1. In the end it may be me too. Could we do better finding a cure or something that lessens the effects of this disease. No we need bullets. Sorry to hear that about your father.

  2. That's why I focus so much on having fun and adventures while I'm still able. It's not the crash when you get to the end of your road that matters, it's the sights you see along the way.

    When we buggered out of the U.S., our primary reason was moral objections to war politics. But another motivation was the thought of "What the hell? Moving to Australia is going to be like a giant working vacation, a novel experience. Time to roll the dice, shake things up in our lives." Ditto when Mrs. Bukko wanted to leave Oz, a country I liked for no logical reason. Canuckrainia leaves me cold, but it's new, so might as well "give it a burl" as the Aussies would say.

    Don't focus on your dad's last shambling years, Tux. That was just the tip of his iceberg. Did he have fun being a garrulous shop-owner? That's who he was for what, 75% of his time on Earth?

    Ditto for you. You might expire alone in your rented hovel, and not be found until the parts of your corpse that the cats have not eaten stink so bad that somebody finally kicks the door in. That disgusting fate won't mean nearly as much as the years you spent driving Jeeps into remote scenery. Focus on making good memories now, before senility wipes them from your brain drive.

    One more thing -- even though you're a childless penguin, you can still "build a lifeboat" by finding other people who can watch your back when times get hard, and you can watch theirs. You have skills and a good mindset which will be useful when the crunch comes. Allies don't have to be blood relatives -- it's better to CHOOSE your companions rather than have them bred for you at random. That's what we're trying to do here through the social and activist groups we've joined. It's a way to NOT become like the gin-reeking lone woman.

  3. That woman wasn't a lone woman, Bukko. I didn't tell you what happened after she walked out the door. She was at the end of the building talking with two other homeless people, and it was clear they were all friends and all helped each other as much as they could given their circumstances.

    This particular grocery store on El Camino Real (the shabby depressed-looking one) used to be open 24 hours a day. They close at midnight now, because hoards of homeless people roaming the aisles and shoplifting after midnight overwhelmed them. They donate their nearly-expired food to Second Harvest and otherwise do what they can, but when you have hoards of desperate people overrunning you and are losing money you can't afford out the front door of the store, what can you do?

    Regarding thinking about my father and his fate, I don't do that very often. I'm more of a now-oriented person nowadays. I don't see there as being a future, so I live in the present as much as possible. Thus why my vacation hours hover between -4 and +4, vacation is there to be used, to experience things, not to be hoarded like Smaug's gold. On the other hand, when your subconscience drags something like that out of the closet, it's always good to examine it closely before putting it back away and firmly closing the door...

    - Badtux the Reminiscing Penguin

  4. One Fly, my father's been dead for almost 20 years now. And yeah, our national priorities for the past ten years have been total suck...

    Dave, welcome to the choir!

    - Badtux the Priorities Penguin

  5. Oh, Badtux, now I haz a sad, too. For you and your dad - and for me and mine. We're still in the middle stages of Alzheimers, and he has had a couple of verging-on-violent episodes. Medication seems to be keeping him calmer and better focused now, but we know it can't last. I am so sorry about your story. It is a harsh club to join, but at least there's a lot of good company in it.

    Echoing the advice not to be a hermit-penguin -
    Sungold (at Kittywampus)


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