TALES FROM RHAPSODY HOME: OR WHAT THEY DON’T TELL YOU ABOUT SENIOR LIVING By John Gould, Algonquin Books, Chapel Hill, N.C., 2000, 182 pages, $18.95.
When you are 90 years old, use a walker, have a heart condition and are stuck in a nursing home, you have a right to be cantankerous. That describes John Gould and the latest of his many books.
When he answers the phone on Christmas Eve, he answers with his usual friendly enthusiasm: “Not on your life. I’m not about to pay you one red cent! The kumquats were squishy, and we had to throw them all away!”
If you like that one, you will love the book. Gould hates being cooped up in a nursing home. He milks each aggravation with his special brand of Maine
humor – gruff and grumpy, but with a hint that a warm and generous heart beats inside.
Some old folks learn to love assisted-living establishments as a final home, accepting the restrictions and abiding by the rules. Some sink into despondency and never really adapt.
Not John Gould. He fights them all the way and gets a funny book out of it to boot.
He’s used to fresh air at night, and he raises hell when the window won’t open. He complains when an attendant says the window wasn’t built to open and nothing can be done about it. He complains about the fan they installed for ventilation. He complains when the fan goes kaput. He complains when they bring in another fan. When he asked for an ax and a broom and said he planned to smash the window, a young man took a month or so to install a window that would open. The trouble this time was that the wind whistled through it and kept him awake.
At the end of the third episode of this running gag, Gould offers this helpful advice: “If your windows begin to honk, enjoy it. It’s the only way.”
Gould hates it when anyone tells him, “What you have to do is …” That’s what J.C. Penney told him when one of its promotions got out of hand. Gould ordered a wine goblet that was supposed to come with his family coat of arms. The coat of arms didn’t suit him. He would have preferred “two manure forks sticking out under a barn,” but his wife called him Sir Galahad for a couple of days.
But that was only the beginning. He unwittingly had signed up for a series of wine goblets, each accompanied by bill. When 16 of them had come, he dropped in at Penney’s and asked the manager what could be done about it. That’s when he heard the magic words. What he had to do was go to the post office and fill out a form.
Gould replied: “What you need to do is defecate in your chapeau.” He never did pay. The goblets kept coming. There were 159 at last count.
Who can blame Gould for complaining about the red tape, the stupid “activities,” the dull food, the snippy attendants, the string of doctors who gave him innumerable tests including exploration of his colon and sent the bills to Medicare?
Gould never tells where Rhapsody Home is or discloses its correct name. Most assisted-living institutions are no fun. Still, it would be nice to hear the other side of the story. If the proprietor had a good Maine sense of humor and would write a book about his cantankerous guest, it might be a lot of fun.
Richard Dudman is 82 and lives in his own home in Ellsworth.