With gas prices rising like summertime hemlines, and my income remaining at a pitiful level, my wallet was becoming more and more tight-lipped. It seemed to cringe and back away each time I reached for it in search of cash. After sorting sofa lint from change for the third time in a week, the truth became crystal clear. I needed a job. The trouble was, I hadn’t worked outside of home in years, and the idea of working for anyone appealed to me about as much as sitting through another episode of “The Bachelor” while slurping down my umpteenth dinner of ramen noodles. After hours of researching working-from-home “opportunities” and coming up dry, I decided to start my own business.
Looking back, I can’t say I had consumed a large quantity of alcohol or an illegal substance on the day I decided to offer an errand service to the senior citizens in my area. Something must have convinced my otherwise sensible brain that being on call to old folks every day sounded like a rewarding and profitable way to spend my time, otherwise I’d be punching a timecard somewhere and listening to my fellow employees bitch during their smoke breaks about the injustices in the workplace. I made a flyer listing the services I was willing to provide to seniors at reasonable fees, and posted a few around town. Nowhere on that flyer did I mention cleaning, yet when the calls started rolling in, everyone seemed to have the need for a housekeeper. Oh yeah, and everyone had an extremely limited budget. Of course.
If nothing else, the day I met Arthur should have left me questioning my brilliant business idea. An established bachelor and avid smoker, Arthur had let his apartment bear the brunt of his lifestyle for far too long. With only one light bulb burning, the place was so dark I instinctively reached to remove my sunglasses before remembering they weren’t on my head. A closer inspection revealed that it wasn’t a lack of lighting that gave the apartment its cave-like ambience, but a heavy layer of nicotine that coated everything Arthur owned like a sepia blanket from floor to ceiling. Nothing was immune. I wondered how Arthur himself remained the color of a living human being. He offered me a tour, and like a lamb to the slaughter, I followed along, unaware of what lay ahead.
One look at the bathroom and I knew something weird was going on with Arthur. A pile of cigarette ashes lay on the burn-speckled floor in front of the toilet. Odd. I shot Arthur a questioning glance.
“Sometimes I fall asleep at night with a cigarette,” he offered.
“Arthur, who smokes on the toilet? And you’re falling asleep in here?”
“Yeah, and I often hit my head on the way down to the floor.” He bowed his thinning buzz cut a bit to show me the recent wounds on his pale scalp. Good grief. He could have used a few stitches and a crash helmet.
On to the bedroom, where the tour did not improve. A mountain of prescription bottles filled the corner next to the computer, and another collection of ashes lay under the desk. Too many burn marks to count dotted the carpet, along with several unidentifiable stains I really didn’t want to ask about. The scene was worthy of an entire “CSI” episode. I looked at Arthur with a raised eyebrow.
“I fall asleep in here a lot, too.” I began to suspect narcolepsy. Either that, or he was smoking himself into nicotine stupors and eventually passing out from oxygen deprivation.
“How have you not burned down the building? Really, this is scary.”
“The carpet’s flame retardant. Oh, funny story. I’ve been using the same towels for the last ten years. I finally broke down and bought four new ones. I happened to look at the labels. The towels are flame retardant, too.”
“Well, Arthur, I feel much better now. Should you send the place up in smoke, the carpet and your four new towels will be left standing among the smoldering ruins… Awesome.” What had I gotten myself into? Suddenly, those bitchy smoke breaks didn’t look so bad.
The man obviously needed help, like so many other older people. Our initial visit convinced me that Arthur and I would have an interesting relationship. He had a good sense of humor and was willing to tolerate my sarcasm in exchange for a helping hand. If my own father should ever find himself in a similar situation, and I am unable to assist him, I would hope that someone would step up. Since I began doing this, I hear of more and more seniors who really have no one they can turn to for help with areas of living that many of us take for granted because we can do for ourselves.
By far the most valuable thing I can offer people is my time. Sometimes they just want someone to visit with them. I’ve viewed bushels of family photos, heard war stories, love stories, tall tales, and even a smidgen of gossip. A little genuine interest in someone and time spent in meaningful conversation goes a long way. The knowledge that someone cares comforts people and makes them feel as though they matter. Often I get more than I’ve bargained for, but I believe in what I’m doing. Every day is different and I am always entertained.