Prime Time

Since moving in with my daughter Susan and her family (a silent husband, two noisy sons, and a mean dog), I have found it to my advantage to feign a touch of dementia.  I don’t worry too much about them trying to put me away; I can pass any cognitive test someone puts in front of me, and I have a sympathetic lawyer. Besides, they know I won’t be with them long anyway.  But it means that I can say almost anything – do almost anything – and be forgiven as long as I don’t push the limits.  For example, I can eat all the leftover lasagna or turn the air conditioning up five degrees and they all just roll their eyes and tell me not to worry, it’s OK. 

But, of course, life is really not OK when you are in someone else’s house.  I have my own room and bath, and they installed a TV that takes up half a wall, even though I told them I never watch TV and don’t how know how to use their complicated cable system.  I guess they just wanted to make sure I had no excuse for sharing their television, but from what I have seen on the screen walking through the kitchen or family room, that would never be a problem.  Mostly, it’s not too hard to live here. The boys occasionally play the video games too loud, but when I complained they gave me a pair of noise-cancelling earphones, which I turned out to like very much indeed.  

They also gave me a tiny fridge which I unplugged as it was too noisy at night and a coffee machine, for which I am grateful.  All in all, I really have nothing to complain about.  I tried living on my own after Fred died, but it was lonely and worrisome.  Being 82 is not a picnic, and I was hoping to get to know my grandsons before I died, but clearly living in the same house hasn’t helped that along. 

When I moved in, they didn’t ask me to do much to help.   I do my own laundry and make my own bed, and that’s about it – except for the packages which you’ll learn more about later. A housekeeping crew comes in once a week and there’s a service for the yard, one for the pool, and another one for the windows and power washing.  I let them in, but they are always in a hurry to get done and on to the next job.  Even when they take a break, they are busy with their cell phones.  I always ask them for their names and tell them mine, but they never remember it.

The only thing my daughter and her husband asked me to do is to bring in the packages – and, cripes, do they ever get packages.  It’s a classy neighborhood, but I guess there’s been some porch theft, so as soon as one of them gets a message on their cell phone that something has been delivered, they call me so I can bring it in – or at least push it into the garage if it’s too heavy to lift.  It turns out they even get a picture of the item at the front door, so they know exactly what it looks like.  And here’s the funny thing.  They also have a camera on the front door with a motion detector that takes a picture of the Prime driver taking pictures of the package!  

But it’s not just Amazon Prime, there are the green plastic packages from L.L. Bean, take-out food in pizza boxes or brown paper bags, and groceries in white plastic sacks.  And, of course, there is the U.S. mail.

After a while, I got to know what time the various trucks usually come through:  FedEx comes at about 1, Prime about 2, the mail carrier no later than 3.  If the UPS guy comes it’s usually between 3 and 4, and that is when food deliveries usually come too.  I started to take my knitting out to the porch after lunch (yogurt and granola) and got to know some of the drivers by sight, but they would never say more than “hey” to me – “on a tight timetable,” the Prime girl told me once.  Another time when I was trying to tell her a story about my Uncle John, she said that her office knew where she as at any moment; they timed her movements and wanted her to explain any deviations.  I was shocked; it seemed kind of inhumane to me.  But then again, Susan and her husband know where the boys are at any moment because they have some kind of tracker on their cell phones.  Anyway, the Prime driver didn’t have time for the story about my Uncle John, so I’ll tell you the story in a little while.  Actually, the longest conversation I ever had with her was when she asked me to move out of the way when I stepped over to the package she had just left and was in danger of appearing on the package delivery portrait.  Which meant I would also have been in the picture our doorbell was taking of her taking a picture of me and the package.  Whew.

The mailman is even harder to get a response from.  We don’t get a whole lot of mail, other than catalogues and flyers.  I think Susan pays the bills online, and no one in this house except me ever writes a letter.  I still write to my sister, but she never writes back.  When she starts feeling guilty enough, she calls me.  Anyway, we do have a regular mailman, but they are also a lot of part-time subs.  One of them told me that they can go home early if they finish their routes under schedule, so I guess that’s why they have no time for chatting.

So, no one talks to me, but I sit on the porch anyway because it’s a long day while everyone is at work or school or basketball practice.    Even even when the family is home, they are looking at their phones or opening all the boxes that arrived.  So I spend hours on the porch; it is the kind of thing dotty old ladies are supposed to do, and I watch things being delivered. 

I don’t know how much more stuff can fit in this house.  It just keeps coming.  The cardboard packaging gets folded up and put in recycling every two weeks – you should see the pile! But that seems to be the only thing that they get rid of.   They even had to get a storage unit last year to hold stuff.  I went with Susan once when she was retrieving a kayak for their vacation, and the place looked like some garages had started reproducing until there was nothing for acres but overhead doors.  Anyway, stuff comes in, but rarely does anything go out.  And, judging from the recycling piles at the neighbors houses, it’s not just Susan’s family.

As I said, sitting on the porch waiting for deliveries got me thinking about my Uncle John.  He was married to my Aunt Elsa, my father’s sister, and she was a fierce old Dutch woman.  They lived in a bungalow in Providence where they raised three kids with neither a telephone nor an automobile.  Uncle John worked at a costume jewelry manufacturer his whole life.  When he retired, he didn’t go to Florida or join the Senior Center; Uncle John just sat on the porch.  Elsa wouldn’t let him smoke or drink, and John wasn’t much of a reader, so he would just rock and watch people go by, staying out of earshot of Elsa.  And in that way, he got to know the mailman.  In Providence in those days, they had walking mailmen, who carried big leather satchels.  Every day except Sunday – when John was at the Presbyterian Church anyway – the mailman walked up the sidewalk, put down his satchel, and sat on the top step of the porch and conversed with John.  No one knew what they talked about; no one was interested enough to ask. 

I had known my aunt and uncle well as a child, but when my Uncle John died, I had long since married and moved to another state and hadn’t seen him for several years.  My father was recovering from a broken leg and couldn’t go to the funeral, so my mother asked me to meet her there since she didn’t want to go alone.  And so I did.  We sat through the service at the Presbyterian Church, where apparently John had helped with any number of things and was known as a sober Christian.  We followed the hearse to the family plot. And then we went back to the bungalow in Providence for a modest repast of cookies and non-alcoholic punch.  Not even any coffee.  While we were sitting around, the doorbell rang.  Looking for a way to be useful, I went to the door and on the other side of the screen stood the mailman.

“Haven’t seen John for a few days,” he said.  “Wondering if he was sick or something.”

So I told the mailman that Uncle John had keeled over in the bathroom of a massive coronary three days ago, and that by the time Elsa called the ambulance from the neighbor’s house, it was too late.  It was probably too late by the time he hit the floor. 

The poor mailman turned white and dropped his satchel.  Then that man in his postal blue-grey shirt and shorts sat in Uncle John’s rocking chair on the porch and wept for at least a half hour.  Really wept.  No one else at the funeral had wept like that.  Elsa just clucked her tongue at his lack of control. No one in the family even knew the mailman’s name.  We brought him tissues and a glass of water, and when he finally composed himself, he picked up his mail and went to the next house.   But I never forgot him.

Now, I am not looking for a relationship with the Prime driver like my Uncle John had with the mailman, but it is strange that we don’t even know the names of the people who visit us the most often.  And it is even stranger that we keep buying enough stuff to keep all these people busy every day.  In comes the stuff, out goes the cardboard, and then we do it again.  If you sat on the porch with me for just one day, you would realize that this is the business of America now.  Not sure what that means.

I moved into Susan’s house because I know I don’t have long left.  It will probably be the nursing home next, or maybe I’ll just keel over in the bathroom like my Uncle John.  Then, the coroner will come, and out I will go to be recycled into ashes.  They don’t take you out in a coffin anymore, but maybe they wrap the body in plastic like the green L.L. Bean packages.  In any case, it will be the opposite of a delivery, which will be a nice change.