Friday
Oct242003

« Old People »

Today I got news that one of my clients from the Poway Senior Center died. I had delivered food to him for over a year. Wednesday the 22nd was my last day at the Poway center. Oscar died on the 23rd, making me one of the last people to see him alive. I believe he had just turned 89 or 90 in the last month or so. I always liked to see him, and we always made some jokes to each other. He was sort of a surrogate grandfather to me, and as often as I could, I would have him tell me some stories about the old days. He was a Hungarian that grew up on a farm in Louisiana. May he rest in peace. May his flowers get the water they need.

I just got a new job doing the same thing as my old job. The gig at Poway came to an end and even before that completely expired, I had a new job lined up in a similar center right here in my own neighborhood of Clairemont. I’d been at Poway for over a year, driving meals to about 10-18 seniors on my rather lengthy route. Oscar was one of the most steady, week after week for the whole time. I got to know a lot of my people pretty well. I don’t even like to call them clients. They really got to be friends in the time I spent with them. Funny, the job itself is one I neither sought nor was particularly interested in when I started. It came to me as a hand-me-down from my girlfriend Kelli who worked there (now working at another senior center herself, as director of activities). Last summer, when funds were tight, she told me about the spot to do another driving job at Poway, and I jumped on it because it was some quick money for two weeks. But then that segued into the home delivered meals job when another old timer at the center wanted to retire. So I got into this by some really odd fluke. I never really applied or was drafted in by the usual path, but I did it for a year and I absolutely kid you not, it changed my life initially because I used to GO TO bed at 6 AM, but this gig had me GETTING UP at 7:45! Needless to say, that changed things for me. I also was doing a straggler’s amount of work in the audio world, which seems so far away from where I am now. I haven’t done any of that for almost half a year now, and it is nice.

Somewhere in the last year, I began to discover that I could live on the pittance I did—only about $90 a week most of the time, with some music and freelance work thrown in, and some nice people helping out now and then, as well as getting some food from the center for lunch, etc. Anyhow, it was a real lean and modest year there. There was some change going on inside me. The work itself was nothing to speak of, and a far cry from the heavy duty industrial grade sound equipment I was accustomed to working with. The thing that took me over was the sense I had that I was doing something important, which I pretty much never felt at any other job. The music work and its surroundings were always bad for me, and made me really bitter for years. But this very modest job I didn’t even apply for or even want just took me over and made me feel like for once I was doing something right. Really, the pay was less than any other job I’d had in years, but for the most part, I have a lot of really fond memories from doing it and that just really eclipsed the matter of money. There were some little things I didn’t dig, the 20 mile commute being central in that regard. I drove 20 miles one way to do a 35 mile route and then return, and this at such a weak paycheck. Sort of odd. A rational mind would think I was a fool. Even I have to wonder about it. But some things just make sense in odd ways.

I began my new job in Clairemont yesterday, on the strength of the prior experience, and the line on my resume about really liking to serve these people. It's the first job I ever used a resume for (made on a printer I bought a week before after a disastrous relationship with printers in the past). On the first day, I was welcomed just about with open arms. It was odd, let’s say, considering my past work history that I am less and less proud of as time passes. Also, the driver that I was going with was a delight to work with, showing me all the ropes and generally making it a hell of a first few days on the job. It's too bad I am replacing her! I have a route that on paper is about two or three times the service load as the Poway center, but it's all more tightly packed, and damn, I go within two blocks of my house in one instance! I get over twice as many hours, better pay and a whole lot shorter commute. I’ll certainly miss my Poway folks, and Oscar’s passing sort of put that square in front of me in a very real way.

I worked pretty damned hard on a speech for class this last few weeks. It was about volunteerism as a social and ethical necessity. I spoke about Meredith (my fellow staff driver at Poway who left a career in law to do this same job as I on opposite days). The importance of volunteer work can’t be underestimated. Nor can its power to make people do things that the rational mind wouldn’t do. I struggled along for my year, and Meredith left a really good line of work to serve people. While we weren’t technically volunteers, we certainly weren’t getting rich off the work. But volunteer or no, we were doing the same work as our volunteers were doing, and more of it, day in and day out. I guess it's a matter of nuance. The thing I just was not prepared for was how the act of serving people I barely knew would change my life. It went hand in hand with some other parts of life, like going to church after a 10 year self imposed layoff, and trying to distance myself from a world in music that left me alienated more and more. I just was needing something profoundly different from life, and I think I found it, at least in the present. I had my terrible spell there for a while when I lost any sense of meaning and was counting down to 30 with the idea that it would all come to an end for me. Somehow it didn’t and somehow I awoke to realize that maybe it's my time to serve people, and keep doing it. Getting the Clairemont job was easy, I suppose maybe because I had already decided to be committed to it before I even got it.

Another thing I can’t really deny is that I didn’t really have the relationships I wish I had had with my grandparents, even though they really did a lot for me. They’re all gone now and there is no going back to talk to them and see that their needs are met, so this is one of the ways to sort of satisfy that latent urge of mine. Delivering in my own community now where I grew up, and within a few blocks of my own place now is something that is just seeming to make immense amounts of sense and is so appealing to me now. The people here live differently than in Poway. It's not so much a matter of overall need, but in some cases, it's frighteningly apparent how important it is to do this work. A line in my speech for class mentioned that we must make our seniors feel valued all the way out to the end of life, and not just put them out to pasture arbitrarily, and sad as it is to say, I see that happening, and it reminds me of some bad decisions I made in the relationships with my grandparents as a younger and more foolish person. Now I have that on my conscience and the desire to put some of that to rest burning in me, and the urge to be a worthy member of the community and not just be one who lives off of it.

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