Soliloquy 36


This year we were committed to fulfilling the traditional Thanksgiving Day ritual in the manner usual for most Americans. That is to say, this year my spouse and I did not go with a few guests to a restaurant, but planned on joining a larger gathering of family in our daughter's Philadelphia apartment for the typical feast.

My sister-in-law and her family were flying in from Cincinnati, Ohio and were to stay in a hotel. Our son and his family were driving up from Lexington, Kentucky and were staying with us. I was uncomfortable with anybody staying in our messy, decaying, smelly home.

It isn't that I wouldn't enjoy having my son - actually my stepson - and his family as brief guests in my house, but I am thoroughly embarrassed by the clutter and filth, the situation made worse by an aging dog. Boris Kuma-san Chaliapin is a Newfoundland dog, born 23rd November 1988. A breed that usually lives eight to ten years, Boris reached his twelfth year on Thanksgiving Day. In his senectitude my old friend cannot lift his hindquarters. He needs my help to rise to his feet. He doesn't seem unhappy or in pain, but content to live the remainder of his life as a lumpy bear rug.

It has been this way for three months now. I work nights and when I get home, it is rare that Boris will allow me more than two hours of uninterrupted sleep before he requires my assistance. He barks, if only so that he can be lifted to shift from under the piano to the cool tile of the foyer. Ms Keogh, my spouse, cannot lift him because even in his caducity he yet weighs over 150 pounds. Just to eat requires that he take three or four respites. After he catches his breath, I must lift him again so that he might return to his bowl.

Because of this sleep deprivation, I rarely find myself clear-minded. I have grown to be a spitefully grumpy ogre. It was not a good time to be hosting family guests, children in particular. The worst of it is sometimes I fail to wake quickly enough and Boris fouls himself. Then follows a difficult task of cleaning the carpet and his backside. It is more reason our house is not suitable for guests.

It was the day before my son was to arrive with his family. I had yet to meet his new wife and his stepdaughter. I had just arrived home from work and Boris had fouled himself again. I commenced cleaning. Upon turning the hot water spigot, brown water came coughing and spurting from the spout. It filled the sink with opaque sepia. After it had swirled down the drain, it left a thick film of sediment in the basin. Since the problem only occurred with the hot water, I called the Meenan Oil folks. These are the people who service our oil burner which heats both our house and hot water. They told me it would be two hours before they could get a repairman out to the house.

In the Levittown house, the oil burner resides inside a counter in the kitchen. It heats the house by sending warm water through the floors. The houses of Levittown do not have basements, but all sit on thin cement foundations. These heated cement slabs, when they work, subtly warm the houses. It is rather clever. There is no dust gathering in vents or behind radiators. The experience is best on cold winter mornings. Standing on the bare tiles before the bathroom sink, staring at the dull face in the mirror and performing one's ablutions, it is pleasurable to find the floors to be sensationally hot.

Sometimes the ground shifts beneath the heated slabs cracking the enclosed pipes. Water then leaks up to spread through the living room carpeting. It has happened twice to our house. At such times a plumber comes and brings an alarmingly loud jackhammer into your elegant living room to plow a hole between couch and lounger. And on this occasion, just prior to Thanksgiving Day and the arrival of our guests, my dismal and fatigued mind was quite prepared to believe the very worst. Many of our neighbours, if not most, have converted to baseboard heating for the obvious reason of not wanting some hard working tradesman mucking about in their living rooms, tracking in mud and grease, ripping open the floor.

Eight hours later and I was still waiting for the Meenan repairman. Because I work nights, I must sleep during the day. Waiting for the repairman, I didn't dare let myself sleep. It has happened to me before where the repairman knocked and departed when no one answered the door, because I had allowed myself to sleep.

On this particular evening my solace was the radio. WHYY-FM aired a live concert of those "fabulous Philadelphians," the famous Philadelphia Orchestra. It was a gala commemorating the orchestra's one hundred years. The performance came from The Academy of Music downtown, "the world's oldest opera house in continuous use." I began composing the first draft of this column, since I had to remain awake, while listening to baritone Thomas Hampson singing pieces by Aaron Copland, Copland himself would have been one hundred years old earlier this month had he lived. Which brings me back to the subject of Boris.

My wife and I had been giving serious consideration to putting Boris to sleep, a stupid euphemism meant to be less heart wrenching than to say we are having the animal "destroyed." We're paying $120 a month to see to it that Boris is not in pain, quietly hoping that he will die peacefully in his sleep. We were agreed to sparing his life through the Thanksgiving holiday so that our son could see him one last time. Now the holiday is over and still we postpone the decision.

And the brown water? After forcing myself to remain awake all day, the repairman arrived just before I had to return to work that night. He found the trouble to be just a clogged valve of some kind and restored our hot water in just ten minutes.

It was a very good Thanksgiving with plenty of delectable food and good company. It was a joy to meet my son's wife and stepdaughter, equally so to meet my sister-in-law's husband and stepson. Even so, next year we're eating out.

Bruce Bentzman

This is the thirty-sixth in a series of regular reports from the life and times of Mr Bentzman. If you've any comments or suggestions, the writer would be pleased to hear from you.
For further reading, Mr Bentzman's book "The Short Stories of B.H.Bentzman" is available from Amazon.