Saturday, October 11, 2008

Rolling, Rolling, Rolling

Friday morning I drove to Keiro to pick up my mom and take her to a doctor's appointment.

While we were in the waiting room at White Memorial Medical Center, she mentioned that she thought the hospital part of the complex was where she had been born. Since her memory has gotten pretty bad lately I don't know if that is accurate or not, but we got to talking about my recent drive through our old 36th Street and she mentioned having attended 36th Street Elementary, then Foshay Junior High, and Manual Arts High.

I thought it was a bit odd having gone to the same elementary and junior high schools as my mom; I tried to imagine her along with my uncle and aunts as little kids running around on the playground back then.

I asked her what the ethnic composition of the school was back then - were there a lot of white people? Back in my day the school was about 99% black, and I wondered how much different it had been when she attended. She said there were a lot of white, black and Asian kids, although mostly black. I said, there were that many white kids? She said yes, they all lived on the "other" side of Jefferson, motioning with her hand to signify the area north of the boulevard, as though that was the "hi-tone" neighborhood.

When we got back to Keiro, we checked in with the 2nd floor nurse and then went up a floor to see my dad. A group activity had just ended in the dining hall and everyone was filing out to go back to their rooms.

It was like stopping at a train crossing; we stood there while the oldsters, using their walkers, filed past (more like zoomed) all in a row from the dining area to the adjacent elevators.

The staff had the resident's exodus extremely well orchestrated. A couple of them herded the seniors single-file into the elevator, which itself had been commandeered by another staff member to minimize the time it took to distribute the residents to their proper floor. It was amazing to see just how quick the whole process was; it seemed like the line never stopped moving as either one or the other elevators was available for more occupants.

My mom and I walked up to the line from the side, sort of like the people who cut diagonally into line at Costco, except we stopped to wait our turn instead of barging in. One staff member told us to wait - or at least I think she did, since they all speak in Japanese and having been a bad boy and never having gone to Japanese school on Saturdays, I can't understand what they are saying to me and have to rely on my folks. Anyway, it also looked like the elevator was going down instead of up.

Just as the elevator was reaching its capacity, the staff woman motioned to my mom and said, "Miyakesan" and pointed to the elevator. My mom started in and I told her I'd take the stairs and meet her. As I headed for the stairs, I was thinking I guess I was wrong, the elevator was going up, not down.

I walked up one floor on the stairwell and emerged just as the elevator doors were opening. There, in her own neat little square, was my mom. Again, I was amazed at how neatly everyone was arranged into the elevator space - like when you buy a multi-piece item from the store and all the components are packed so neatly in the box that once you take out the contents, you'll never be able to replicate the packing no matter how hard you try.

My mom got out, the staff person driving the elevator smiled and gave a small bow, and then the door closed and the rest of the sardines headed down to the first floor. She'd brought the elevator up to the third floor just to drop off my mom. How nice of her.

You know what that reminded me of? The scene in My Neighbor Totoro, in which Satsuki and Mei, the two kids in the movie, are waiting at the bus stop when Totoro walks up and waits with them. Then the giant Catbus appears. Today the elevator lady was Totoro and the elevator was the Catbus. There was just something magical about that elevator scene today, same as the whole My Neighbor Totoro feels like a magical movie. If you've seen it I hope you get what I mean and if you've never seen it, you should (but try and find the one in the original Japanese language with subtitles.. it is soooo much better than the dubbed one).

My mom got out of the elevator and there was my dad, lounging in the television room next to the elevator. We went in and joined him. After talking for a bit, I had to get back to work so we said our goodbyes and I drove back. Heading north on the Golden State Freeway towards the 134 (Ventura Freeway) and Burbank, I could see what a clear day it was. I played the song Ventura Highway in my head. Could I do like I used to do and exchange attending to responsibilities for a drive to enjoy the beauty of the day?

Naw.. waiting for the doctor took longer than I thought, and work beckoned. My conscience spoke. But one of these days..

Something else came to mind as I admired the well-regimented precision of residents and their walkers during their procession from the dining room onto the elevator. They ought to be in the Pasadena DooDah parade. You've got those businessmen who do the routine with their briefcases - heck, a well-regimented team from Keiro doing a routine with their walkers would go them one better!

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