Sunday, February 28, 2016

Noises off . . . and on

The long, long hallways of Bay Village
My parents live in Florida, in a pink, high-rise retirement community called Bay Village. It is very fancy, not at all what I expected the first day I walked into the place. I looked around at the crystal chandeliers and the thick carpeting and sparkling clean marble-colored tiles--and this is just in the lobby--and asked my mother, “Are we rich?” No, we weren’t, they had just lucked into this wonderful, friendly place after they made their last move. Until the next one . . . which won’t be an apartment. Aging and death are not sugar-coated here; the staff honor the residents who have passed away with 8x10 glossies and a single rose in a vase on a shelf next to the lobby coffee pot. The indications of age are all around. One indication in particular are the noises.

It’s a blessing of nature that as one ages and bodily noises increase, hearing diminishes.  The first time it happened to me, I thought I was just clearing my throat during a conversation, but a sound emerged from my mouth that reminded me of the old Mr. Ed television shows. And not Wilbur--Mr. Ed himself. Extra air bubbled up, my lips blew out and a blubbery poof erupted that reverberated in my ears, but apparently not to anyone else in my vicinity.  What the hell?” I thought to myself and didn’t think anything of it...until the next time. And there was a next time, wasn’t there.

Nearly every part of our body begins to make sounds. Creaking joints, whining hearing aids, grinding teeth and the dreaded expulsion of errant air and gas manifested in burps and, er, toots.  It’s the theme song to aging. I don’t even know what produces half the sounds I make, but I’m looking forward to the day when I don’t hear so well. Right now, I’m slightly self-conscious about the whole business.

But back to that classy retirement community, where jackets are required for dinner and there are parking areas for walkers. Even the quick trip to the pool can be a cacophonous journey.  Meals in the dining room are manageable; the sounds of dinner being served and tables being bussed disguise more of the obvious noises. But just put all those models of good manners and proper etiquette together in the elevator to go back upstairs and it’s all snort, snort here, and a burp, burp there; here a belch, there a belch, everywhere a toot, toot. And nobody hears a thing. And if they do, they’re not saying anything.

One morning when I was visiting my parents, I headed down to the computer room to print out a coupon to a restaurant we were going to try for dinner that 5 pm.  The computer room, beauty salon, craft room, mail room, and resident services are all brightly lit spaces clustered along a hallway that culminates at the auditorium. It’s the Grand Central Station of Bay Village.  I followed a petite, gray-haired woman with a crisply ironed white blouse tucked into trim Capri pants dotted with tiny embroidered palm trees. The whole way down the hall, I was treated to the putt-putt-putt of her procession.

As she turned into the mailroom she saw me behind her and she gave me a crooked little smile that reached up to her eyes. I smiled back.  She might have smiled because she was simply being pleasant, or maybe in case I was someone she was supposed to know. But I think her smile said, “I know what I did just there, but I don’t care.”

Now that’s an indication of age I can get behind.