The Melba Notebooks, Chapter XIX
The following Ja entries are from his Standard Diaries:* All remaining entries are from The Melba Notebooks.
Thursday Nov 18, 1999 Ja- Sophie called with information on Bob’s flight to attend the Big Game between Cal and Stanford. (Ha! I expected the 100th Big game 2 years ago would be Bob’s last. But he never communicates much; this is the 102nd.) He will fly to Seattle, then to Alameda, where I’ll will meet him. She arranged for an escort to assist him at the change of flights, and will check his luggage all the way through. After the game I will leave him with the airline and the reverse process will be followed. As always, Bob doesn’t give a heads up about such things- But it looks like everything is covered.
Nov 18, 99 8 AM M: Sophie: Got some things arranged for Dad’s trip. Will call Dot tonight.
Tomorrow, Friday morning , to airport
Saturday 20, 21, Js’s and game
Sunday 21 return
Nov 19, 12 Noon: Shi: Came to relieve VJ. … Melba asking about Bob but knows he is at Calif. Melba reading & watching chimney sweep.
Nov 19, 1999 , Ja about 3:30 PM: At the Alameda/Oakland Airport ; I was surprised that Bob had his suitcase in his hand as he met me because the plan had been to check it. A lifetime of traveling the world with only carry-ons made that his preference of course. Somehow he had foiled the airline in that regard.
PM Ja We drove to Stanford across the San Mateo Bridge to Atherton, and El Camino Real. I had not expected to have much trouble finding a place to stay, but ‘no vacancy’ signs ruled the streets; so rather than fight it, under these circumstances,I just popped for the posh well located Stanford Park Hotel.
“He’s 91,” I thought, “and now unaware of my extravagance. I have this compliant credit card, and can indulge myself to treat him to the best!”
9:00 PM Ja: At dinner the waiter always first addressed Bob; after all he was a most venerable customer.
” My name is Rock, and Ill be your server tonight. Might I suggest, sir, the raw oyster appetizer? They are very fresh, served with wedges of key lemon, and our special Chesapeake Bay sauce.” At that and every subsequent suggestion Dad looked up pleasantly and responded enthusiastically. Brightly. “Thank you!”, or again, “Yes!” And so we free ranged through the salads, wine, rack of lamb, desserts, after dinner drinks and cappuccinos. Bob ate every bite, as always. I was pleased, but troubled because obviously Bob was on auto-pilot, all instruments failing excepting his motor skills, his automatic affirming verbal responses, and faithful appetite.
Nov 20, 1999, 1:00 AM Ja: I awoke to a persistent banging of the door as it was forcefully pulled against the safety chain.
“Dad, what are you doing?”
“Trying to get that damn light off.” He had noticed the bright light from the hall shining through the peep-hole.
“Dad, that’s the hall light. This is a hotel. They leave the hall lights on all the time.” He always was a hyper sensual being who slept nude. When he used to parade around that way, he was never shy about his well maintained body or proud manhood. Now he continued to stand there bare-ass naked jerking the door, unable to take the chain off. Then I did something monumentally stupid. I removed the chain and opened the door to show him the hall, as proof of my assertion about the hotel. We both went back to sleep.
2: 25 AM: I awakened to light from the hall streaming through the open door. Bob had removed the chain following my example. He was in the hall looking up at the long row of glaring bright ceiling lights. A good looking young man in suit and tie approached cautiously:
” Good morning sir. I am the night manager. How can I help you, sir?”
“I need to get these damn lights off!” The thin stringy body stood erect, dressed in wrinkled sagging 91 year old skin. Absently he covered his genitals with a hand. The left. But he remained fully focused on the manager and the infuriating lights.
Bob continued-“And who are you, anyway?” as in “What are you doing in my house?”
“I am the night manager sir. Another guest has complained of the noise.
“The lights are still on!”
“We keep the lights on all the time at night.”
“Well, I always turn them off!”
I was able to lead Dad back to bed, explaining again where we were. He was up at the door four more times that night, but I wakened immediately and he responded to my sharp interference readily; the last two times I merely had to remind him verbally.
Uncharacteristically, Bob slept in beyond his usual 6AM and I gratefully thanked each and every God and devil: I was in no condition to offend any of them.
But they all promptly failed me. Going to his suitcase, which no one had touched until then, I opened it to get his change of clothes. On lifting the lid I saw a syllabus for a neurosurgery conference, and a number of beautiful carefully rolled up saris, such as a well dressed East Indian woman might wear. I needed to look no further to realize why Bob was carrying his suitcase at the airport. Always the efficient engineer who traveled light, he had never checked luggage. On deplaning yesterday, he found a suitcase that looked right and took it with him.
The Stanford Axe had been stolen by Cal in 1902 and recovered by 22 Stanford students in what amounted to a bank heist, in about 1929. Bob was among them , so we sat with three other survivors of The Twenty Two, in the honorary seats reserved for them. Stanford won the game in fine form. Bob was quiet during the entire event, maintaining a pleasant but vacant smile, with no apparent excitement. In sharp contrast to his life-long custom, he did not enter into any two way conversations, made no comments, confining himself to ‘Yeses’ and ,’ Thank yous’, reserving ‘No’ only to deny problems or needs. Immediately after the game we returned the unfortunate doctor’s suitcase,and collected Bob’s without any difficulty. Aside from color, there was very little similarity between the two pieces of luggage.
Nov 21, 1999, Ja. I reminded the check-in desk attendant that Bob absolutely required an assisted transfer for the Bellingham flight in Seattle. Ignoring the lesson of the day before, I optimistically relied on the assisted transfer, and checked his bag through, feeling rather pleased with the whole visit. Although we had experienced some problems, we had concluded with success. But this would not not be the end the day’s adventure or drama.
Nov 22 1999 12:30 PM Sophie: Fixed pipes under sink again. Couldn’t fix sprayer without risk of major problems beyond my available plumb. parts. Mom has had so much trouble getting around tub that I used commode in hallway. It went well once I got myself organized. She needs something to hold on to- I used walker but she got afraid getting up.
2:30 Dot: To airport to get Dad- No Dad. Alaska said due to a reroute, he missed the early flight.
6:00 PM. Now we are still waiting . Mom ate a sandwich, cottage cheese, & peaches. She is nervous about Dad. The 800 number’s ‘Micky’ Noname says they transported Bob to the gate as planned but … they left him alone! (What the hell was the extra charge for!? ) Dad wasn’t there at departure, didn’t appear despite paging. They are worried. I should hope so! I told Micky Dad was in good health but probably wouldn’t hear a page. I expect they paged in Terminalese of course which no one can understand anyway. Mickey will contact airport police. I suggested checking the rest rooms.
7:15 Sophie: Leaving for airport) so Dot can go home.
8:30PM Ja: Hooray!!! Someone found Dad at the United (not Alaska) lost baggage counter, searching for his luggage. Late tonight he arrived in Bellingham, and has been spirited home to his familiar surroundings and to his old double bed by the side of his faithful but rather scorched lady. She wasn’t totally certain the old college hero hadn’t been sowing some (stale and moldy) wild oats. It wouldn’t have been the first time; among other things her old suspicion of an extra child in Filipinas is alive and well.
11 22 99 8 AM Shi Still sleeping; 8:45 both up Bob looks very handsome in new clothes.
4 PM Sophie: Fixed pipes under sink again. Couldn’t fix sprayer without risk of major problems beyond the capacity of plumbing material. Mom has had so much trouble getting around the ( corner of the) tub in her wheelchair that I used the commode in hallway. It went well once I got myself organized. She needs something to hold on to- I used walker but she got afraid getting up. Once Dad woke up he got lots of exercise turning out lights. He actually turned out the lite in kitchen while Mom and I were petting the cat. Mom thought that was rather odd. Thoughtful though: asked us to take the cat home if something happened to her.
11 24 99 8AM Shi, M: Both still sleeping. Good job Sophie you should get a job as a plumber. House very cold this morning heat is turned off. Bob and Melba up Bob talking to Chuck (Shi’s Significant Other) about The Big Game. Of course neither understands the other, or makes any sense .
6:00 PM Sophie:Dad has heated up turkey sands in micro- Mom won’t eat them. She is asking where they should go live. She was very happy after I pointed out that she has the money to stay here. The commode business is tough. She doesn’t want help. So I just grab her(hug style) under arms and lift and turn and down. Mom is extra alert tonight and in good humor. Dad slept all day yesterday. Mom thought that was rather odd. She again asked us to take Cat home if something happened to her! Here is a schedule for Christmas vacation.
M Tu We Th Fr Sa Su
AM Shi Di VJ VJ Di Shi Shi
PM Shi Di VJ VJ VJ Shi Shi
11 25 99, 9:00 AM: Sophie: Mom up- washed- dressed. Has had BM at night in bathroom. She makes such great attempts to clean herself up. Laundry done- Both fed. Dad has something with his throat. Perhaps Mom too. It is blowing and storming out.
6:30 PM: Put mom to bed at 7:30. It was hard to wash her up as Dad was in bathroom and she was tired; he said, incredibly, I am sick. What!?
11 26 99 9:30 AM, Shi: No one up yet. Fed Cat. Started a fire & got Mom up & dressed. Seems like they are well today. Surprise: Dad was very happy to see me when he got home! Maybe he is actually sick!
Melba remains alert, inactive, but communicative and contented, hospital -bed-ridden in her living room facing her old piano and an array of pictures of her children. Bob’s First Last Big Game, two years before, was followed by a time of increasing confusion, isolation, anger and aggressiveness. But he gradually has become more quiet and withdrawn, physically capable and cooperative but often no longer angry, but quietly senile. He always asks for a good night kiss.
Cat, Bob’s only remaining blood enemy- aside from Shi- no longer appears in the notebooks. The two old tomcats part ways not with glowering, yowling and rancor, but in silence.
*Events that aren’t described fully in the notebooks are taken from the Ja’s shelf of bound red Standard Diaries date from 1963 onward.