Thursday, April 01, 2010

Dinner with Fran

Visited Fran last night over at the Elder Housing place where she lives in Carlsbad. The facility is gorgeous and the views magnificent. She can walk out the door and wander around Carlsbad which is not a bad place for wandering. Everything is at her fingertips and she's right on the beach. As she has a 2 bedroom 2 bath place with 1800 square feet, she's hardly crowded. She invited us to dine with her in the dining room where the specials of the evening included swordfish, balsamic glazed chicken thighs, Cobb salad, and every night, if the specials don't interest you, you can order a filet or a piece of salmon, done any way. The dining room is nicely appointed with linens, excellent china and glassware. It's a class act.

We talked with the dining room manager who spoke about managing food in that kind of environment. He can really offer anything he wants, he says, because the budget is so generous. A huge waste factor is built in because they can't predict dining room attendance on any given night except then they offer hot dogs, fried chicken or roast turkey - then it's "wall to wall" as he described it. I wonder why they don't have them on the menu as alternates all the time? Last night he said they would have 20 portions of the balsamic chicken thighs left over  and they would go to a battered women's shelter nearby. Very smart. I'm sure the wealthy residents like that fact and certainly the battered women would appreciate it. A great strategy for locating such a home - next to an upscale senior living complex. The only complaint I had with the meal we were served is the dismal salad bar. In all fairness I don't like salad bars and this one has a particularly school- lunch- like-feeling to it, jammed up against the wall with wierd lighting. That could be changed by putting a round station mid-room for the thing and lighting it correctly.

The food service manager told us that 20% of the residents eat take-out food - as he put it, they eat out of a styrofoam box, so the dining room appointments are completely lost on them. I wonder if they get more complaints per capita from this segment of the residents than from those who dress up, get moving and experience the dining room china, linen and service. What would it be like to sit eating alone in that room? Fran doesn't do it - she goes with a group or eats in her place, which has a full kitchen and dining room. She orders the soup with her meals but has it to go and eats if for lunch the next day. They serve the cookies wrapped up in plastic wrap - probably most of the residents eat this treat a little later in the evening.

Because the dining room is almost funereal - we could hear (even me) an odd squeaking sound near the end of our meal. It was the lonely sound of a bus boy operating a crumb machine on the other side of the room. The room emptied out by 8 pm, the lights had dimmed and I guess you'd say we closed the joint,
laughing too loud,swilling two bottles of wine, one of which was a Two Buck Chuck, 2001 Shiraz which Fran pulled out of a closet and dusted off. Pre-dinner, she served us a plate of Nick's favorite Graber Olives and gave me a can as a door prize. She always apologizes that it's Flossie's night off and so we'll have to make do without someone to pick up our olive pits and refill the wine. It's her old joke and we always enjoy it.

The place has a great pool and a marvelous gym. Interesting classes are offered and there are clubs organized for bridge and various hobbies, like model airplane building. We met one of her neighbors, bent over double with Paget's disease, who was on his way to bowling (WIFI) and another  nice lady walking the halls with her tiny teacup dog, who had a prime spot on the top of the walker which he'd hop on and off of. Nice people who seemed very complimentary of Fran.

But, it's still, in the final analysis, an old fogies place with a feeling that the credits are going start rolling any minute; an aura of  "the end" hanging heavy in the air. You "fly up" in the place, starting out on your own; when you need it you move "up" to assisted living and you move to the top floor when you
need full time nursing care. All the heads are white or grey, the ladies have cardigans buttoned up to the neck with kleenex stuffed up the sleeves; half the people are using walkers and the other half are shuffling; none of the lipstick is on straight. No mothball and denture glue smells - but there's a multiplier mood effect of some kind in an environment like this. If you have one neighbor in a walker and another going to kindergarten, things even out. When everyone's in kindergarten or everyone's in walkers, things change. The karma tips. Both situations are artificial. People are meant to be mixed up together with the old benefiting from the enthusiasm and energy of the young and the young benefiting from the maturity and steadiness of the old. Our Philippino relatives have this kind of arrangement - grandparents take care of the kids and I guess it'll be vice-versa when the GP's need it - not on the horizon for a long time. I grew up with lots of aged relatives in my life - the nest of aunts I saw every Sunday and my grandparents who lived within walking distance of our home. These quiet, musty old homes (everything in it's place - doilies on the chair backs, a rocking chair, grandfather clock, bible on the mantle) were havens from my school yard squabbles, hormone swings, teenage angst; they were also cheering sections for the little successes of life.

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