The Fountain of Youth: A Guest Post
By Steve Shear
When I was a kid I shared one bedroom with my three brothers. Three of us shared a pair of twin beds up against one wall. My oldest brother got the outside bed because he was the oldest. I got the inside bed because I was second oldest, and our number three brother got the crack between the two of us. Some of us think he still has psychologic scars from spending a good part of his youth in the crack. Just kidding! Our youngest brother slept on a rollaway and our grandmother, Mama, who lived with us, had her own bedroom.
Mama and I played gin rummy often. She cheated but I didn’t let her win, mainly because we played for money and Polly seeds. Yes, I said Polly seeds! Actually sunflower seeds but that’s not what we called them. Aunt Ethyl and Uncle Frank lived above us in a duplex. Uncle Frank was a pharmacist and sold packets of Fisher Polly seeds to Mama wholesale. She would in turn sell them to us retail. And that was okay because we knew where she hid them and our moral fiber hadn’t yet matured in those early days. Besides I think she knew what we were doing. She never complained about her depleting supply.
Not long after Mama reached ninety-two she was moved into an ‘old folks’ home. We would go visit every Sunday; truly a frightening experience for her and us. But she held her own. I remember one Sunday, she introduced me to her ‘Aunt’ Charlotte. “No, no, Mama, she’s not my aunt,” I recall telling her. “Stevie, she is your aunt,” she insisted. Lacking social graces in those early days I argued otherwise right in front of Aunt Charlotte. Finally my grandmother of ninety-two years put the discussion to rest. “Stevie, mit er money and no one to leave it to, be grateful she wants to be your Aunt.”
I have wonderful memories of Mama but the old folks’ home is not one of them. One doesn’t forget all those people who share a common objective, to make it through their remaining years with minimal pain and suffering and with a functioning head on their shoulders. Hope springs eternal.
Flash forward sixty or so years and I found myself in a ‘facility for seniors’ in which my mother-in-law, age one hundred plus, was a resident. She had an apartment on the independent living floor. Clearly she should have been one floor below, assisted living, but she wouldn’t budge. Getting her to move downstairs was harder than taking her car away a few years earlier.
These experiences, first the old folks’ home my grandmother was in and then the senior facility where my mother-in-law lived, were in part why I wrote The Fountain of Youth. If for no other reason where else can you find such characters as interesting and quirky as the old folks who reside there, the staff who takes care of them, and the children and grandchildren who visit them?
But there is another reason I decided to write this book. At my age, going on seventy-five (just like Glickman in The Fountain of Youth), I see close up how quickly and ravaging diseases like Cancer, dementia, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Parkinson’s, and the like can sneak up on us. And when it does, at some point many if not most of us ask whether there isn’t a better option.
Actually while the worst of it is the pain and suffering or the idea that your brain does not know what the rest of you is doing or where you’re at, just the idea that this may happen to you in the future is extremely disconcerting, to say the least, especially when you see it firsthand in family and friends. In The Fountain of Youth, you are first introduced to Glickman who lives on the independent living floor at the Fountain and to his Sunday ritual. Sometime in the early afternoon he searches for and must find the sixth grade quiz book (once his grandson’s) he hid somewhere in the facility the previous Sunday. After dinner he selects twenty questions from the quiz book and attempts to answer them. For example, one question might be: Another name for your voice box is? A perfect score is what he expects but he is willing to live with at least fifteen correct, that is, after he cusses out himself and the quiz book.
Glickman wears around his neck a key that opens a small metal box hidden behind some old clothes in his bedroom closet. In the box is a pill … in case he needs it. “… research has confirmed that a ‘Peaceful Pill’ provides peace of mind for its seriously ill or elderly owner [whether ill or not], giving that person a sense of control over his or her life and death.” This is a quote from The Peaceful Pill Handbook written by Drs. Philip Nitschke and Fiona Stewart, 2016 edition, in association with Exit International USA. I studied this book as part of my research in writing The Fountain of Youth and found it to be extremely valuable. Actually until I read the Handbook I didn’t have the slightest idea what that little pill was in Glickman’s metal box. Now that I have an idea what it is, I’m still trying to figure out how he managed to get it.
At the end of one’s day or more accurately as that day approaches, I believe everyone should consider having an explicit exit plan which takes into account exactly what it is he or she wants to avoid whether it be serious pain and suffering, the onset of dementia, or merely having to go to a nursing home. While my good friend Glickman had no problem implementing such a plan, I’m sorry to say Glickman lives in a make believe world, a world of my own creation. Unfortunately, finding that little pill or otherwise trying to die with dignity at a time and place of your own choosing is far more difficult in the real world, especially a world in which the religious folks have taken to mind our business as well as their own.
Title: The Fountain of Youth
Author: Steve Shear
Genre: Contemporary Romance, Alzheimer’s, Fiction
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
A love affair, a teenager in deadly trouble, a possible Nazi in hiding, and a battle to escape dementia—make for high drama and unpredictable twists at the Fountain!
Two generations of dementia are enough!” Robert Glickman declares in his quest to die with dignity and the likelihood he will be next. To that end he uses his grandson’s sixth grade quiz book, a locked away metal box, and a secret weapon that eventually comes back to haunt him.
In the meantime, he is embroiled in the lives of many other residents including his neurotic sister Essie who plots to steal his secret weapon for herself; Beautiful Christina Abernathy, a retired psychotherapist, he instantly falls in love with; Hester, a young server at the Fountain who suffers from progressive mutism resulting from a horrific incident in childhood; Boyle, a man of mystery with a questionable past for good or evil (Glickman isn’t sure which); Boyle’s grandson, Santini, a troubled young man caught between the dope dealers he runs with and the FBI wanting to use him; and a runaway girl who reminds Glickman of someone in his past.
Will Glickman and Essie beat dementia? Can he win over Christina? And what about Hester, Boyle, and Boyle’s grandson, and the runaway girl?
My quiz book, all three hundred pages, is older than my stay at the Fountain. It belonged to my grandson, Peter, my daughter Bonnie’s oldest. Peter and I spent many evenings in his room reading the questions and seeing who could come up with the answers first. Often I won. Sometime he did. I clearly had the advantage of age and education. Peter had the advantage of looking up the answers ahead of time so I guess we were even. When the decision was made for me to move to the Fountain, not unanimously I might add, Peter insisted I take the quiz book with me so we would have it when he visited. By the time I settled in he decided he was too old for the book. I often wonder whether that was so, or was it possibly because he couldn’t look up the answers ahead of time. Either way, whenever I open the book I think of Peter and smile. And then smile again because I know its real purpose.
By the time I retrieved it from the multicolored vase and returned to my apartment, I had totally forgotten about Pomerantz even though I had been asked by Ruth at the front desk to speak at his memorial service, and for her I would do anything. So, I spent several grueling days writing and memorizing the speech I planned to give. It was sitting on the kitchen table, although I hadn’t noticed it when I walked in. I normally don’t forget such things. Maybe I was just bothered by the fact that I mixed up the East and South Halls. Besides, he wasn’t my best friend. He was a Republican. He voted for George Bush twice. I’m sure Ruth thought we were best buddies because I joined his fight against the Vatican’s refusal to take Mrs. Pomerantz off life support. She took the trip to Hades on Lower Level 2 a year or so after she and Pomerantz arrived at the Fountain. Such a shame and such a surprise. She was a spry little woman with the intellect of a giant. First in bridge, always, and first in the weekly trivial pursuit night. I’m sure she didn’t study the answers ahead of time … but who knows. From one day to the next she found herself on the River Styx without ever stopping at Lower Level One. Three months later she was on life support without a ‘valid’ living will, at least according to church officials at Christ-the-King Care Group. That brought Pomerantz and me together, at least for a while. There’s nothing like a good fight for what one believes in to bring people together.
When I first met him, Harry, he was racing down the hall past my front door in his supped up motorized wheelchair like James Dean and the hoodlums in Rebel without a Cause. As I stepped into the hall we practically collided head on. Fortunately I jumped back just in time, except for my big toe which throbs to this day.
“Christ!” he shouted, “Can’t you watch where you’re going?”
“Who in the hell are you,” I barked back, trying to fight off the pain in my lowest extremity by jumping up and down on my left foot like a fucking clown. “Dr. HMP MD?” I read aloud off the New York license plate wired to the back of his lethal weapon and laughed. “Well Dr. HMP Master Dick, or whatever MD stands for, just remember you’re sharing this road with the regular folks who don’t have vanity plates plastered all over their stock cars.”
That was a number of years ago and only the beginning of our bipolar affiliation. It went uphill and downhill from there.
About the time I took the puzzle book out from under my shirt, the phone rang. “Robert, where are you?” a voice at the other end hollered. I looked around.
“In my apartment,” I hollered back, recognizing Goldfarb’s soprano voice. He should have been a woman, I always thought, but he would have been an uglier old woman than old man. Imagine Karl Malden in The Streets of San Francisco with long hair and Tiny Tim’s voice.
“Well, we started without you but the Rabbi is now calling up all the speakers.”
“All the …” Oh, God! I looked at my speech on the table. “Okay. Don’t bury him without me.”
“What?” I heard him say as I hung up and grabbed my speech.
For a guy who thought he had lost his puzzle book and totally forgot about the memorial service, I did a pretty good job and only looked at my speech a couple of times. I told everyone how I collided with Harry that first day we met and became best friends even though he was a Republican. I lied about being best friends. Otherwise I would have had to explain why I was at the podium we borrowed from Rufus. And to be honest we were best friends during the time we fought to get Harriet off life support.
She wound up in the hospital with pneumonia which clearly wasn’t a good thing since she had already suffered from emphysema and had to drag an oxygen tank wherever she went. It was well past 10 o’clock one evening when I heard a knock at the door causing me to jump from my covers. I raced for the door and saw an eyeball through the peephole.
“Don’t slip on the newspaper,” I yelled.
He ignored my humor. “It’s Pomerantz. Can I talk to you Glickman?
I rushed for my robe and opened the door. By the time I tied it across my waist he had already made himself comfortable at the kitchen table. Surely he wasn’t there to argue about the election; was he? I made it clear his politics gave me indigestion and wanted no more to do with it than jalapeño cream cheese on a garlic bagel. At the time I didn’t know Harriet was in the hospital with pneumonia. Before learning why he was there, I offered to make us a cup of tea and he accepted.
“I’ve been told that you know how to make a living will?”
“Brownsher next door said you were the expert.”
“You don’t have one?”
“No. But it’s not for me. It’s for my Harriet.” It figures, I thought. What do you expect from a Republican?
“Why all of a sudden?”
“She’s in the hospital with pneumonia.”
“Oh! I’m sorry,” I said, then reminded him I was not a lawyer but I did have some experience with living wills, although I didn’t mention why and he didn’t ask. I started for my computer and he jumped up to follow me. ….
The Trials of Adrian Wheeler was Steve’s first published novel (L&L Dreamspell, 2011). It was awarded runner-up in the San Francisco Book Festival 2015. He is happy to say that Adrian has been optioned as a movie by EVW Entertainment (producer of the movie Break the Stage), and the screenplay has been written by Erik Wolter and Steve. EVWE is now looking for partners to produce the movie. Erik and Steve have collaborated on a sequel to the screenplay.
The Wild Rose Press published The Fountain of Youth, Steve’s second published novel, in May of 2017. It has received exceptional reviews, some of which appear on Amazon and Goodreads.
He and his wife, Susan, collaborated on The State vs. Max Cooper and The Steele Deal(published by ArtAge Publications), courtroom plays in which the audience serves as the jury. Both are being produced around the country.
In addition, Steve has four novels that have recently been completed: The First Coming, An Eye for an Eye, and The Click. He has written screenplays on the first two and is presently collaborating with Erik Wolter on a screenplay based on The Click.
Steve has been writing poetry for over fifteen years (some of which has been published) and is also a portrait and figure artist and sculptor, having been represented by a number of galleries in Denver and Boulder, Colorado. He is presently represented by the Delta Gallery in Brentwood, California and on line by Vango Art. His work can be seen at his website, www.steveshear.net.
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