by Todd McKie
Shirley looked around the Recreation Room at the six old men assembled for the weekly Pep Up! session: Glenn in his fancy wheelchair, sweet Alvin Coombs, Neil Harrison leaning on his walker, grouchy Marvin Silverman, Walter in his worst sweater yet. And Roger.
“Today, as you know,” said Shirley, “we’re going to discuss hobbies and how they can really pep up our lives.” Neal Harrison was already asleep.
“Yes, Roger?” Oh God, here we go again.
Roger held up a handful of snapshots of Rover, dear, departed Rover who, according to Roger, had been his “soul mate.” As he passed around the photos, Roger launched into his spiel about how dogs in general, and Rover in particular, just gave, gave, gave, all day long.
God help us, thought Shirley. Get on with it, for Chrissakes.
Roger finally got to the unpleasant details of Rover’s demise: the lameness, the whimpering, the bladder problems, and how, even in all that pain, Rover never stopped giving.
“Thanks for sharing that, Roger,” said Shirley. “Rover must have been a very special friend.”
“Sorry about your loss, Roger,” said Marvin, “but what the heck does a dead cat have to do with hobbies?”
Roger glared at Marvin. Neal Harrison slept on, his bloated, excema-covered head resting on his walker.
“A hobby can be many different things,” said Shirley. “For Roger, it’s recalling his special companion, and then telling us about him.”
Shirley turned to the skinny fellow in a patch-work sweater.
“Walter, do you have a hobby you’d like to share with us?”
“Model airplanes,” said Walter.
Shirley almost gagged thinking about her visit to Walter’s room with its stench of duco cement and urine. She’d pretended to be interested in Walter’s crappy planes, oohing and aahing over his “craftsmanship.”
“Walter, I wish you’d brought some of your airplanes to show us,” said Shirley.
Alvin Coombs, who had an unfortunate drooling issue, said, wetly, that his hobby was watching television. Roger said watching TV was a pastime, not a real hobby.
Glenn didn’t have a hobby.
“Maybe,” said Shirley, “you could learn a hobby, Glenn. How about art? We have some very talented artists here at Maple Crest Village.” It amazed Shirley how all these lies kept tumbling out of her mouth.
“Nah,” said Glenn, “I don’t go for that modern art stuff.”
“Unfortunately,” said Shirley, “our time’s almost up. Next week we’ll talk about beating the winter blues, how to cheer up when it’s cold outside.”
Alvin Coombs raised his hand. “Miss Waters, do you have a hobby?”
Shirley thought for a moment. “As a matter of fact, Alvin, I do. I’m a mixologist.”
“What the heck is a mixologist?” said Marvin. “That’s a new one on me.”
“A mixologist is a bartender,” said Roger.
“Yes, that’s right,” said Shirley. “Of course, I’m not a real bartender, but I enjoy trying new cocktail recipes at home. That’s my hobby.”
“Does that pep you up?” said Glenn.
“Why, yes it does, Glenn. It peps me up a great deal.”
Shirley woke Neil Harrison. After the men hobbled, wheeled, and clanked out of the room, Shirley took a paper towel and wiped up the puddle of drool that Alvin Coombs had left behind. She checked her watch. She had fifteen minutes before that awful folksinger arrived for her weekly “Hootenanny.”
Shirley went out to the parking lot, climbed into her Datsun and fished inside the glove compartment for the half pint of Smirnoff.
When she’d drained the bottle, Shirley leaned back against the seat and waited for that warm, familiar feeling to creep up her chest and neck into her head. When it did, the mixologist went back inside to help the folksinger set up for her concert.
published 11 October 2013