The Blue Shirts

August 5, 2019

We tend to call them the “blue shirts.” The health aides or assistant health aides or whatever they are wear blue shirts with the Castle insignia. Many have been around for years and years and are competent. Many might be pushing it. Maybe five out 50 have survived this long.

The Castle doesn’t allow unions, so there is no 1199 presence. That means (besides other things) no sort of retirement fund; low wages resulting in rapid turnover; and, I can’t attribute this to the lack of a union, but I will attribute it to a lack of good candidates: little to no aptitude for dealing with old, mostly demented, deaf and blind adults.

For example, when I was trying to get out of my chair the other night in the dining room and slowly sinking to the floor, the aide who was trying to pull me up had no idea what she was doing and kept saying: you’re not trying, as if she had absolutely no idea of what a stroke could do to the nerve circuits in your legs.

Fortunately, an aide who had been here for years, rushed over, grabbed me by the back of the belt and got me to the pivot point where I had strength to push and could get into my chair.

With her help, again, grabbing the back of my belt she got me to stand up, and once standing, the muscles work pretty well.

The new ones often leave after their first pay check. And a few stay on until they can get Social Security.

The blue shirts who have been here a while are tough on the outside, and like to tease you if they see you appreciate them; and they are filled with the latest gossip. It’s a real disappointment when one of them leave: Sinar who has been here 20 or so years and has lifted me from the floor several times is leaving this Friday.

I don’t see her much but they had a small barbecue for her (I think) by the park yesterday. She’s Muslim and I’m Jewish, and we have bonded to the point where she laughs when I ask her if she cheated with her fasting during Ramadan.

She is an interesting character because she is unlike the typical prototype you see of a Muslim. She dresses with a leather cap, like Marlon Brando wore in The Wild One, and a black leather jacket.

After all, she lives and works in East Harlem, and when in Rome…

Anyway, I felt a touch of tears when I thought of her leaving, and told her how much I’d miss her.

And then new ones come in, or get rotated from some other floor.

Yesterday, my only goal was to take a nap.

At 6 a.m. someone I had never seen (every one btw is black) opens my door and screams: Good Morning. Not once but twice. No response from me. I’m on my side, back to the door. I raise my hand to show I’m alive.

Everything okay, she yells.

I yell back, all is well.

I get up to breakfast at 7 a.m.

We sit in the hallway outside the dining room trying to decipher the scrawl on the blackboard. One person sees french toast, another reads pancakes.

I should take a picture of the board.

Half the time the board has nothing to do with what is actually served.

This is my favorite time of day. The hallway is cluttered with rollaters, of all sorts. Some have decorated baskets, signs of Christ with masking tape, handmade dolls, lace; this is their home away from home.

Like you would put your personal doo-dads in your living room. Except this rollater is now your mobile living room. 75% of people have rollaters that you can sit in. Instead of allowing the “residents” to sit in their rollaters (if they want to) the blue shirts spend half their time taking them away and lining them up in the cluttered hallway, then the when the residents are ready to leave they have to motion for a blue shirt to get their rollater for them, and then they shuffle out and wait for the elevators which can fit about three rollaters at a time.

At any rate, the management is more interested in appearance than functionality. They bring people up to the dining room to show them the view and how pleasant it all is, and especially that it doesn’t look like a hospital. Look how lovely the chairs and tables are even though lots of people can’t move the heavy chairs or push the tables aside to get out.

But it looks good. They don’t hire waitresses, instead they hire people who have never served food and put them in black uniforms with silver ties. Look how fashionable they are.

I brought actual butter up for Ike yesterday, and it was like that scene in Stalig 17 where William Holden fries an actual egg. What’s that? It’s butter, Ike. Actual butter. I brought it up to put in my oatmeal.

Here, you can have the rest.

Are you sure, he asks. Bewildered.

Yes, I assure him. I brought it up for you.

Later on he offers me an actual egg.

Not necessary I tell him. Besides, other than poaching it in the microwave I have no way to cook it. And I can order eggs from Seamless. No repayment needed.

He wraps it in a napkin, gives me a friendly fist punch, and makes his way to the elevator with his newfound gold.

(BTW in case you’re wondering, I was calling him Spike when I first began these diaries, but I’m starting to use real names. His given name is actually Irwin, but he always hated that name and everybody calls him Ike. Everybody except Vera. She insists on calling him Irwin because that’s what it says on the ancient table seating signs, and she knows it annoys him.)