Thursday, October 14, 2010

Visiting Mom

A sort of journal of a sort of typical trip to mom. It’s really about how to get from Jersey City to Paramus without driving. It’s also a snapshot of a son visiting his elderly but still full of vigor and vim mother.
The journey begins with purple flowers. Actually, it begins with purple. Saying purple is my mother’s favorite color is an understatement, even obsession is inaccurate. Purple is a way of life. The Korean produce bodega on Newark always has a nice selection of purple flowers. I probably go to this store every other day. Their stuff is great. They know what’s going on when I get the flowers, the woman who runs the place has a 95 year old mother.

I could take the PATH, and have of course, to Hoboken. I generally do not, I hate to risk mussing the bouquet. The cab is only ten bucks, the ones that line up at Columbus. It’s quicker and easier to judge the time. I hold punctuality in high esteem, and usually have to give myself time to buy the train tickets, which have gone up in price.

I give myself time to get an egg white with turkey bacon and whole wheat toast and a cup of tea at the Hoboken Train Station. I don’t mind spending a few extra minutes there, reading or just watching commuters. I love the term in transit. Movement is passage. Yet, there are conductors, maintenance guys, workers of all sorts, clerks at the counters, cooks at the delis, the workers whose responsibility ensures the passage. Permanence and passage. Transit.

What makes it all possible to maintain the state of passage? Everything that is going on in the peripheral.

There’s a wonderful gal who is often at this counter, where they make a very tasty egg white breakfast sandwich. She lives in Journal Square. I don’t know her or her name. She’s young, quite beautiful, fair skinned, long red hair, sleepy eyes; her jersey accent is thick but non-abrasive. Honey might sound like her. Several months ago, I happened to at the VIP on SIP eating dinner. It was a slow, quiet night at this diner. She was in the other booth, complaining to her boyfriend about his behavior. I wasn’t eavesdropping but I couldn’t help but over hear. I didn’t hear close enough to get any substance of the dispute, but one glance at her I just felt, what kind of dip-shit are you buddy, she’s an angel. It’s not like there was screaming or anything, the only reason I noticed her or heard anything was that I was seated in the booth next to her’s I saw her a week later at this counter during my mom run. I asked her if she lived in Jersey City. Journal Square she said. I told her I think I saw her at the VIP. Probably, she smiled, I go there all the time. I didn’t mention anything else about the scene. It’s not the height of the Hoboken rush hour when I go. The less hectic atmosphere is conducive to small talk. She is such a nice person, she’s one of those people when you encounter then, she immediately adds brightness to your day, no matter what.

I usually take the 9:47 to Ridgewood. NJ Transit is adding the new trains, but today I get one of the older ones.

Ridgewood, classic suburban train station. Bergen County Main Line, all the way up to Port Jervis.

I do not drink coffee, I drink tea. This independent place, The Ridgewood Coffee Company has the best cup of English Breakfast. Some suburban hipsters run the joint, and they play records, vinyl. This day it was Luke the Drifter, classic Hank. Instantly, everything improves when you hear Hank do Luke.

Google the Ridgewood Bus Terminal sometime. The other internet pictures look a little different than this ramshackle, weather-worn glorified shed of a transportation hub.

Bergen County and Ridgewood in particular, is a pretty white bread place. There’s a lot more money around these parts than what I recall from my youth. Besides me, the other bus passengers seemed to be either Mexican immigrants or African Americans.

Finding out about these buses took a little doing. Oddly, the bus station, two short blocks from the train station has nothing about the trains and likewise, nothing about the buses is at the train station. I heard about it accidentally, one of the Ridgewood Taxi mentioned there was a bus, and it’s not really apparent from the otherwise NJ Transit website, but there was a phone number. Very short time on hold I was able to ask. Basically I needed to know that the buses go on Paramus road between Route 4 and Century Road. I had to piece it together. There was a stop listed, which was a quarter of a mile from the assisted living.

There are two buses, the 163 and the 175, that run this route. To find out this information, I called up the NJ Transit number.

I walked to the station, only a couple of blocks from the train station. I asked about the route, Did they stop on this Assisted Living Home?

You mean the old lady’s home said the gruff but loveable bus driver, calmly on a cigarette break.

Yes, the old lady’s home. It’s by the El Cid restaurant, right across from what they used to call Paramus Beach.

He exhales smoke out the side of his mouth. I’ll stop there. So, that is how it works, they make unscheduled stops.

What about going back I asked and was informed just stand out and wave down the bus, they’ll stop.

Welcome to the suburban bus system, just like the jitneys, except much nicer. This was a clean, comfortable bus. Probably takes the better part of an hour to get into NYC, and you would not mind the ride. Great air conditioning. There were less than half a dozen people when I got on.

I always have a book with me, I could have read but I gaze out the window instead. I used to get a constant barrage of angst visiting the land of my birth and youth. I hated being defined by suburban mind-set that I hated then and spent the rest of my life rejecting. But the rejection is long over, I am who am. Rejection is easy; replacing what has been jettisoned, not as easy. You can’t chose where you’re from; it’s the mean and stupid who hold to those arbitrary prejudices. What we have in common is far greater—and far more interesting—than what makes us different. I’ve made peace with the suburbs.

I am visiting Mom for the day. I love her, I think we have a pretty good relationship. But the parent relationship experience is never free of some anxiety and even sadness, who needs to regurgitate the angst of a decade or so ago?

The bus ride helps with that, quiets the mind by stretching out the journey. I find myself enjoying the suburbs, seeing the greater abundance of nature one gets in the city. It’s a day in the country. The exact route although through my home town. Paramus takes streets that I am not as familiar with. I’m sure I’ve been here before, just can’t remember when or why and even if I could that would have been two decades ago.

Familiar yet strange. Could be anywhere USA, well, maybe anywhere New Jersey USA. Okay, make that North Jersey. USA though, no doubt.

Paramus Beach, that’s what it was called I’ve been told. It’s an old swimming hole. I never went there, I don’t remember it being open and it’s astounding this piece of real estate has remained undeveloped like this, more than 20 years. Life’s too short to make rationale sense of New Jersey real estate but you know that don’t you.

You do get the feeling that you are getting off in the middle of nowhere, but this isn’t Appalachia and no broken tooth banjo players on porches are in sight. No porches in sight, actually. It’s just a more wooded section surrounding a rather decrepit section of my dear hometown. I cross the street to the Assisted Living Facility, sign in and up to Mom’s apartment. Lunch is at 1:00. I’m there by 11:30, we hang in her two room apartment. She cuts the stems of the flowers and places them in a vase. She says they’re beautiful. She always says that. I don’t watch television at home but I do watch it here. It’s always on. My family is big on the TV watching. I have to admit that being without it makes me like when I watch it. I like watching Thomas the Tank Engine.

Survived by his wife. About 80 percent of the residents at the facility are women. My mother has a feisty table. They are almost beside themselves with laughter when I told them the bus driver called the facility the Old Lady’s Home.

“You tell that bus driver that we’re not all ladies.”

I have of course returned several times since this particular trip, they still refer to their facility as the old ladies home. I don’t always get the same bus driver, but I don’t tell them that.

After lunch mom and I take a walk. She takes a lot of walks, she has to use a cane these days. They all talk about the number of walks she takes. She’s always walking. They talk a lot about each other, there at Assisted Living Central.

Today it’s raining, so we can’t go outside. We walk around the building, up and down the halls of the three floors. Then we hang out mom’s little apartment, efficiency. She likes to play solitaire on the computer. In fact that’s all she uses the computer for, although at work—she works one day a week at the Rectory of the Church and Grammar School, yes it’s where I grew up and received four of the seven.

She does secretarial work there, has since the late 60s or early 70s and that ain’t no lie! I think she might use the computer there. I love to say my mom is 91 and still works. Even though it’s at the Assisted living room, it’s how we have spent much time these last 15 – 20 years, the television on and chit chatting, she plays solitaire, I take a brief nap. I don’ t watch television at home, do not have cable. Usually it’s some Turner Classic Movie. I forget if it was a Norma Shearer pre-code thing or Black Hand, a Gene Kelly noir about the mafia where everyone spoke with fake Italian accents.

It’s just about spending some time together, it’s about transcending impatience, accepting boredom as part of the experience. Think about how few people in your life you can do nothing with or how the opportunities to do nothing with somebody diminish with adulthood. That after school special term, quality time is an important concept but does it really mean boundless entertainment? Maybe the idea is more about time than quality. We take the ability to do nothing with somebody we love for granted, like we take the color of the sky for granted; but can you think of a more beautiful blue?

Back to the buses. Out there in the suburbs, NJ Transit buses are a little flexible with the schedule. There aren’t assigned stops along Paramus Road, you just stand there and wave down the buses. Because two different lines travel the route that I require, buses are available about every 15 minutes.

My mother is quite excited about this, waiting for a bus. It’s rainy the day of the visit. Mental note, only visit on sunny days. She walks me to the front door of the place, I beg her to stay here, I’ll wait for the bus myself.

We say good bye, hug and I walk and look behind me. There’s the red wig and cane following.

"No, go back home, you can’t come. Go back!"


I walk to the corner. A slight drizzle begins.

“Mom, please go back.”

Her cane bangs on the sidewalk like a judge with a gavel and she declares, “I’m waiting here.”

“It’s raining.”

“It is not.”

“Look at that puddle, see the ripples. Those are rain drops.”

”It’s not raining that hard. A little rain is not going to kill me.”

“Mom, you’re 91, stop acting like you’re 85.”

I tend to amuse myself more than her.

She bangs the tip of the cane. Than she starts in, "where is the bus?”

”Go back inside mom, they don’t have a schedule.”

“I’m waiting here.”

“Look, the bus isn’t coming. I’ll go back inside and call the cab.”

“I’m waiting here. You are not calling a cab.”

Luckily the rain tapers to a halt, it was off and on, just a damp day.

Believe me, if it was a real rain I would not have bothered with this.

She is actually enjoying this chance to show a sliver of independence. She is able to insist.

Then the bus comes. Everything is cool, we hug once more, I get on as I pay the fair my mom is like thank you to the bus driver, throwing her whole body into it. People in the bus are laughing and waving at her. It’s about half full.

The bus driver says, “don’t worry we’ll get him safe to Ridgewood.”

Thanks mom, I’m getting my chops busted by the bus driver. You know, she’s a nice old lady. People like her, people like old people when they’re nice. It was a little embarrassing, but it was also pretty darn funny.

To get to the Hoboken-bound trains in Ridgewood, you walk through a pedestrian tunnel.

My favorite thing about waiting for the train in Ridgewood is one of my favorite things to do, spot the headlight of the oncoming train.

Hoboken Path. Hudson County. Home from Home.

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