Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Christmas Carol-ish


I hate being cold. Really, I do. I’m very delicate that way. But what I hate even more is having a $900 heating bill for one month, which I had one winter. It wasn’t even unusually cold that year, not for Chicago, but prices for natural gas were even more through the roof than usual.

So of course, I’m very conscious of the need to keep the heat at reasonable, i.e. low, temperatures. Or rather, at least the 66-68 as dictated by the city, since I have a tenant, Kathleen, and for some reason the politicians won’t let me freeze people out, dammit. But even with having an adjustable thermostat and keeping the temps down, I still wind up with heating bills that are $500+ a month during the winter. Which sucks.

And while Kathleen is a great tenant, she’s also the type of person who is always cold. Always. So I stopped letting the temperature adjust down, and just keep it at a constant 68-70 these days, which is highway robbery in my book, but it’s the most I’m willing to do. Oh, I know Kathleen still thinks it’s cold, but I’m not made of money here.
Present day

The Kone and I are snuggled on the couch, having our ‘nog and bonbons, when there’s a knock on the door.

“Harrumph,” I mutter, “who pray tell could that be?”

Kathleen, at the door looking all shivery like a wee street urchin: Hi, umm, it’s pretty cold out there tonight, about 14 degrees, and windy, and it’s kind of cold upstai….
Me: ‘Tis a fine excuse for picking a man’s pocket every December!

(I find it helpful to transition into Dickensian speak at such times.)

Kathleen: But……you’re……not…..
Me: Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses??
Kathleen: Bu….
Me: Bah! A humbug I say! A humbug!
Kathleen: But…..
Me: Good day!
Kathleen: But it’s not da….
Me: I said, GOOD DAY!


I look at the thermostat and drop the temp down a notch, just because. Hmph.

Even later that evening

The Kone has wandered off for his nightly ablutions, and when he comes back, he as usual insists I move over so he can have my spot on the couch.

Me: Koney, you’re such a sillums, my little Chunkers, you…….wait……what’s this?

Kona is maneuvering so he’s buried under the blankie, and now, he’s trying to nestle his head under there as well.

Me, horrified: Koney! Are you cold? Is my poor little monkey-chunky a bit chillums? No no nonononono……….this cannot stand! This will not stand!

I run to the back of the house, make sure the heating element back there is cranked up, then dash back to the front and turn the little space heater on. Then, the coup d’grace, I beeline to the thermostat and crank that puppy up. Then pile more blankets on The Kone so he doesn’t get a chill, and so he defrosts from the block of ice he had surely turned into. Poor baby.

And so, as The Kone and I snuggle on the couch with the furnace blasting, heating bills be damned, and I wonder how we can get that really big turkey to Bob Cratchit on Christmas morning for his poor wife to slave over plucking and cooking as if she doesn’t have enough to do with the blasted Christmas pudding….the words of Tiny Tim come to mind.

“Papa, you hold old mistah Scrooge down while I kick ‘em!”

Okay okay, not those. Not from when Scrooge was still in his pre-ghostly-visitation Republican let-them-eat-cake phase. But the later ones.

“God bless us, every one!”

Yeah, those.

Merry Christmas to all…..

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The cup (of alcohol) runneth over

So Grandma and I managed to make it through the Thanksgiving holiday relatively unscathed, as we went to Normal Brother’s place and had a cheerful, gala sort of day with him and his family. That was actually the one fly in the ointment, so to speak: Grandma isn’t happy unless she has something to complain about. But Andrew cooked up a feast, everything was perfect, Crystal and Scarlett were helpful, and even the dogs were well-behaved.

The only time that Grandma could show that her methods of doing things are far superior was when Andrew’s wife Angela was trying to crush some almonds for the stuffing version she was making, and she was doing so by putting them in a plastic bag and pounding on them. Grandma was having none of it, and took over the task, using a knife to chop up the almonds.

But other than that, seamless.

This presented a problem though when I was driving Grandma back to her place. Normally, this would be an hour+ drive of one lament after another – but now? Poor Baba had nothing to work with. Oh, she tried. She certainly did try:

Baba: ....як вона там с оріхамі..... (what she was doing with the nuts)….

Then she’d lapse into silence. Then 10 minutes later, the same thing, then more silence. She was completely stymied by Normal Brother and his family’s competence.

It was almost sad.

Then the day before I was leaving California, I craftily decided that Baba and I and her friend Rosemary would go to dinner, so that I could pay for Rosemary as a thank you for picking me up from and taking me to the airport. But first, we had to decide on a place.

Me: I don’t care, where do you guys want to go?
Baba: You decide.
Me: Okay, is there a good fish place around?
Baba: Kentucky Fried Chicken!
Me, patiently: Okay, we are NOT going to KFC. Seafood maybe?
Baba: Marie Callender’s!
Me: Okay, fine.

So off we head to Marie Callender’s, which I had never been to as an actual restaurant, though I’ve seen their frozen food in the stores. And apparently Rosemary and my grandma had been there enough times to know what they served, so this seemed like a good choice.

Until we got to the restaurant.

Me: Baba, what do you want to have?
Baba: I don’t know! I have what you have.
Me: You won't like what I have. Look, they have everything. Chicken pie, pot roast, beef stroganoff.
Baba: I don’t know!
Me: Baba, how in the world can you not know what you like??
Rosemary: You once had the fried chicken, right?
Baba: Kentucky Fried Chicken!

They then lament that the KFC that used to be nearby is no longer there.

Me: Okay, they have fried chicken, do you want that?
Baba: Hamburger!
Rosemary: What’s that place across the street, The Islands or something, where we’ve gone before for burgers?
Baba: Yes, hamburgers!
Rosemary: But theirs are less expensive. We should have gone there – we could have gotten less expensive burgers.
Me: Baba, do you want a hamburger?
Baba: I don’t know!
Waitress: Hi, and welcome to Marie Callender’s! Can I start any of you off with a…..
Me: YES, please, for the love of god, just bring me a mojito as quickly as possible……

Several mojitos later, we were all having a lovely time, even as my grandmother and Rosemary continued to discuss the demise of KFC, and what a fine establishment that was. Then the check came, which I grabbed up. Rosemary was having none of it.

Me:….but you have to let me pay! You do so much…
Rosemary: If you pay I’ll just leave this $20 as a tip.
Me: But I’ve already left a tip. That’s silly!
Rosemary: I’m leaving the $20 as we speak, see?
Me, to waitress: Can I get another drink? Maybe to go?

Monday, December 12, 2011

It takes a village

I was shocked, nay dismayed, to find that my grandmother didn’t have a drop of alcohol in the house. What the hell happened to the older set having a tot of brandy in the evening as part of their constitutional?? Where have the principles on which this country was founded gone?

And another thing: where exactly WERE the bottles of water in the frig coming from? Grandma had told me to not drink the water from the sink, but the bottles of water in the frig weren’t new; their squishiness seemed to indicate that these poor bottles had been used for quite some time now. Hmm. Then, a call from my mom.

Mom: Blah blah, blah….
Me: Blah blah! (whispering) Psst, so I have to know. Those bottles of water, where are they coming from?
Mom: Well they…
Me: Because the water from the sink is supposedly a no-no, but we’re not buying water, so….
Mom: Oh, your grandma goes to the fountain near the pool and fills the bottles up there.
Me: So she goes to some fountain and fills the bottles with the exact same water that’s piped into the houses?
Mom: Well….

Okay, so we’ve established I seriously need some likker.

But this means I need to head to the grocery store on what’s now the DAY before Thanksgiving, Shit. I can only imagine what chaos this’ll be. But, emergency times call for emergency measures. Courage.

At Ralph’s Grocery Store, down the road from LeisureWorld

Hmm, the parking lot doesn’t seem insanely packed – maybe the store isn’t open? But no, it’s open, and as soon as I walk in, it’s like stepping back in time, to a world where people were kind and smiley and nice, especially around the holidays. In other words, a world that doesn’t exist anymore. Clearly, I have died and am now shopping in heaven. Oh well. Easy come easy go. I wonder how pricey the Cheez Doodles are up here?

Dead or not, I need my alcohol, so I find the likker display – where another sign points to the presence of a celestial spirit, as the spiced rum I want is on sale! Whee! A dilemma presents itself though – the really big jug, i.e. the optimal one, is highly discounted if you have a Ralph’s card, which I do not. Then the smaller bottle is almost the same price as the mega one, which irks my frugal Ukrainian sensibilities. Hmm. I finally decide that I’ll rely on the kindness of strangers at the checkout in helping me deal with the no-store-card situation, and pick up the mega jug-o-rum.

I wander around the rest of the store, and discover we all seem to be tourists here at Ralph’s. A woman actually asks me, “Are you local? Do you know where I might find the stuffing?” Another kindly person who overhears steps in to help her, and I realize that all the local people are shopping at Costco. So here you just have all the out of-towners, on vacation, NOT having to cook for 32 irate relatives for Thanksgiving. No wonder we’re so benevolent.

But then, the moment of truth: the checkout. The guy scans my rum and asks me if I have a Ralph’s card.

Me, smiling winsomely yet regretfully: Nay, I do not, kind sir – if I lived here I’d certainly have a card and shop only at this fine establishment, but I’m from out of town.

I’m about to up the ante by putting on the Sad Cancer Face, when the woman in line behind me pipes up: “Oh, you can use my card!”

Well then.

Me: Why thank you, that’s so sweet of you!
Nice woman: Oh, no problem. Where are you from?
Me: Chicago. And I’m visiting my grandmother, hence the need for the big bottle of alcohol.
Checkout guy: Amen to that!
NW: Oh, do I ever hear you! I’m stocking up as well!
Bagging guy: Yep, don’t wanna forget the alcohol, no sirree.

And we all smile at each other jovially, having found the ultimate common ground, i.e. the need to get likkered up to deal with one’s relatives.

Who ever said there’s no such thing as holiday spirit?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Hi ho, hi ho, to Costco we will go……

I’m not quite sure exactly at what point it was in my trip to Grandma’s for the Thanksgiving holiday that I lost my mind entirely – I just know that it happened. Maybe it was the accumulated effect of getting all sorts of beauty advice from the residents of LeisureWorld that caused my mind to snap. From my grandmother, standing there demonstrating to me over and over how I should apply moisturizer to my face, to her neighbor Rosemary who dragged me over to make me apply something to my hair to hide the apparently glaring grey strands (ahem, premature grey, of course).

Maybe it’s all the snickering I’ve been doing every time I drive onto the LeisureWorld property, onto Golden Rain Boulevard.

Whatever it was, all I know is that 2 days before Thanksgiving, I had this actual conversation with myself:

“Self, Costco will be insanely crowded the day before Thanksgiving – but if we go on Tuesday, it should be pretty quiet. We’ll go and get that all-important pumpkin pie.”

So you see what I mean about the crayzee setting in. Because of course 94-year-old Grandma would insist on coming with.

The happy holiday scene at Costco 2 days before Thanksgiving

“Hey, watch it, ASSHOLE!” I snarl as we almost get run down by someone in the parking lot. It’s total chaos, of course, and Grandma forgot the handicapped parking card so we’re off in Siberia, slowly trundling our way to the entrance, trying to navigate through the hordes of people at the outside food window buying their insanely cheap Costco hot dogs and churros.

“Now Baba,” I note, “we’re just going to get the pumpkin pie and maybe a couple of other things and that’s it, okay?”

Grandma smiles serenely. “Yes yes!”

Okay, whew, in out, how bad can this be?

Two steps in, Grandma is off and running, so to speak. Towards the shirts. Boots. Trying to convince me that I need boots that are exactly like the ones I’m wearing, but newer. Trying to figure out what kind of shirts Normal Brother might wear. Apparently she wants to do all her Christmas shopping in one fell swoop. Sigh.

We somehow manage to wend our way to the back of the store, which is when Grandma has to go to the bathroom. As in now. Apparently the expired food is still having an impact on her digestive system. She heads off to the bathrooms at the front of the store, walker and all, while I look at my shopping list and realize I only need a couple more things, including the (ahem) big jug of EGGNOG which my own Costco in Chicago does not have! Oh, the humanity!

I pick up these things and start making my way back towards the front, keeping an eye out for Grandma – after all, she has a walker, how fast can she be? I don’t see her, but get into a line where I have a clear view to the bathroom so I’ll see her when she comes out.

After I pay, I head over to the bathroom and look inside, and……no Grandma? WTF?

I’ve lost Grandma.

At Costco.

With masses of people in a pre-holiday shopping frenzy. Shit.

I careen up and down the aisles, wondering, how the hell did she get so far? So fast? My grandmother, even at 94, likes to act all doddering and slow when someone else is around to see, but left to her own devices, it’s pretty clear she’s a speed demon.

Because yes, I eventually find her, all the way at the BACK of the store.

Grandma, looking at me beatifically as she stands next to a pile of shirts: “You want shirt?”

I so need a drink…….