Like many people who wonder what their cats are up to while they are away at work all day, I often wonder about what Olga’s up to all day at home. Once in a while I get panicked visions of her falling down, letting strangers into the house, getting robbed, or running out of adult diapers… but Olga’s not really the one who’s a cause for panic, as she is generally too half-awake for any kind of crisis. It’s Sophie who’s the flight risk since she’s still able to get around outside the house and even hop cabs to places outside the city.
More often than getting panicked visions, though, I sometimes just think about how Olga must be so bored in her apartment. I think about how every day is the same for her, and how it must feel to come to terms with never getting out anymore. But then I remember how great it must be to be able to hang around home all day, to have no obligations, to nap whenever you please.
Thankfully she’s got the company of Mrs Fruehauf and her sister Sophie (when they’re on good terms and not fighting), as well as her daytime home health aid. Olga’s also very entertained by listening to DJ banter on pop radio stations and watching the anchors on Fox News. She once asked me if one of the anchors, his name was Harry Fairweather maybe, was the President of the U.S. (She still has trouble understanding “Americanish,” as she says).
Anyway, the thing I take most comfort in when concerned about Olga’s boredom is her astute ability to find little ways to pass the time throughout the day. She has her jobs, like reminding me about the garbage, locking the doors at night, and sorting our mail, but she also has a number of other daily agenda items that she diligently completes.
Aside from changing the pictures in her photo frames, she also changes her outfits at least 5 or 6 times a day. She rearranges her china in her cupboard, she leafs through coupon fliers or a stack of German newspapers from 1982, and she sits by the window looking out at the sidewalk. On warm days, she asks her heath aid to drag a chair out to the front stoop and sits there with the door open. On cold days, she opens the door of her oven and turns it on to heat her kitchen. And about every hour, she snacks and boils water in her electric kettle to make a cup of instant coffee or tea.
Sophie once gave me a necklace, a gold chain with an amethyst gem that she says she bought from the jeweler on Myrtle Avenue for $100. But since first presenting it to me, she’s asked for it back about a dozen times, to borrow and wear for her various special occasions. She recently needed it for a dinner at the Klubhaus that a “nice German man” invited her to.
The Klubhaus, as it’s known to Sophie and Olga, who’ve been going there for years, is known to the rest of the Ridgewood community as The Gottscheer Hall. It’s an old European banquet hall where on any given Sunday evening you can hear polka music and see a crowd of older folks in fancy dress. The front area, which is open to the public as a bar, is a fake wood-paneled room with carpet flooring, low ceilings, and White Russian drink specials.
Sophie, clearly, still attends events at the Klubhaus (whether or not she gets asked on dates to them), as being right around the corner from Granny Mansion it is easy enough for her to walk there. She loves having these events as reasons to get dressed up in her clip-on earrings, necklaces, and glittery blazers.
At these events, I don’t know exactly what she does, but she’s told me many stories of all the “vondaful” people she’s met by joining them at their dinner tables (or more likely, crashing their private parties). She’s also told me stories of how every now and again she goes to the Klubhaus bar to sip a beer and “talk mit doze men.” So I get the feeling she’s established herself there as the lurking, local granny who’s always a bit overdressed and out of touch.
Lately I’ve spotted a few hipsters hanging around there, as there’s a lot of hooplah about Ridgewood being the new Williamsburg. I’ve only been to the Klubhaus twice though– once a few weeks ago when my boyf Steve and I followed some hipsters in there in something of a turf war, and once when my friend Ryan and I crashed in at 2am on Elvis night a random summer ago.
You probably hate garbage night. I do. But Olga loves garbage night. Taking out le garbaj, to her, doesn’t mean going outside, hauling cans to the curb and tying up bags. It means going outside and ringing my doorbell to tell me that I need to do it. And then supervising, or more like coaching, me from the front stoop.
It’s a weekly ritual– after she’s rung the bell, down in the hallway I’ll usually find her shaking a big black bag while hollering in her quaking, half delirious state, “you do de gaaabidge??” She’ll often do this the moment the sun sets the night before pickup, but if I’m not home, she’ll tuck the bag between handrail rungs in the staircase, and then do it all over again with the doorbell at 6am the next morning.
Olga is amazingly diligent with the garbage, despite the fact that she has trouble remembering my name or other simple things like where the grape jelly belongs (I once found it on her bedside table). Alzheimer’s is a really curious condition–it’s wiped out the majority of her life’s memories but also causes her to get stuck in certain memory loops and routines. She’s got her garbage ritual, she’s got a cauliflower ritual, and she also has a ritual of waking up at 10 o’clock every single night, and basically sleepwalking out into the hallway with her walker and nightie to make sure the hallway light is off and the front doors are locked.
She’s lived in Granny Mansion the longest– 50+ years– so I think she still has a deeply ingrained sense of duty to household responsibilities. Because she’s too frail to work in the garden and too forgetful to cook now (she’s almost burned the house down one too many times), her responsibilities come down to garbage reminders and the locks on the doors. Fair enough for an 89-year-old.