Senior Unassisted Living

senior woman householdMy son has just threatened to write my unflattering obit—Death by Compost Bin—because such a disaster almost came true. In our enlightened Palo Alto community, taking out the garbage/recycling/compost has become more complicated than dealing with the IRS, with a lot more moving parts.

Chez-moi, the black bin is for the-less-the-better garbage; blue holds paper, wine bottles (oops, I mean glass), and plastic-stamped-with-a-numbered-triangle (but absolutely no Styrofoam); and the good-earth-y, green cart packed with dead leaves, dropped branches, dried plants, will now be composted and reused to…Save Our City.

However, Our City has leap-frogged over the entire country to…Save Our Planet. Palo Altans succumb to the theory that China, India and the rest of the smoggy, smelly, wasteful world will soon follow our lead.

In order to Save Our Planet, the green cart must now also hold comestible compost-ables—all those icky, yucky, squishy, scummy food-scraps that in the bad old days one either stuffed in the disposal, tossed to the dog or “for shame,” threw in the garbage. No more!

Those waxy milk cartons—no longer taboo (green!) But what about truly tricky trash like soiled paper plates (green?) or slightly used napkins (blue?) And in a drought, should I wash the plastic mayonnaise jar and toss it (blue?) or since it’s sort of food, keep it (green?) “It’s not the work that takes time,” my husband always said; “it’s the decisions.”

“Are you crazy, mother?” my son shouts. “Do you really think your two banana peels, a few chicken bones and some radish leaves will actually make any difference? I thought you just got rid of the ants?”

“I have my own system,” I counter. “The garbage company’s purse-size container breeds enough fruit flies for major sex experiments, so never take anything from the top shelf of the freezer; it’s all garbage.”

Last week, after a late Book Club, I juggled the giant, open compost container (green), to the curb. Brimming with rotting leaves and frozen food scraps, its wheels suddenly stuck in the bark covered, drought tolerant landscape and stopped dead. I, however, plunged on, a head-first dive across the bin—and driveway—in the dark. My twisted body wound up splayed atop the container like road kill, my forehead smashed against the thick plastic rim and my shins sliced by the knife-sharp edge of the hanging cover. Dazed, I peeled myself off the can and struggled to my knees, giving thanks that nothing spilled very far (melting food mush), or broke (my aging bones.) Two days later I learned that a big lump on my forehead and “shiners” are a sign of healing.

Go be a homeowner! There’s always something…to repair, remodel, paint, plant or toss. So this new mantra of “Let’s keep seniors in their own homes!” may just turn out to be a disguised end run around the assisted suicide movement—or—Death with Indignity. Staying put may prove so dangerous to our health that trimming Medicare costs will be achieved via the pitfalls and pratfalls of the “at home” elderly. We’ll be thinned out in droves.

Let me count the ways.

You know those dandy little mandated-by-code smoke detectors to keep us old fuds from going up in flames? One woke me up chirping like a hidden cache of crickets, the incessant low-battery warning especially elusive at 3 a.m. There’d be no relief without an eight foot ladder that lived in the garage behind the rusting lawnmower and spider webbed-tools.

Steering the ladder lengthwise between my car and a wall of gorilla shelves, I “keyed” a ten foot scrape on my Toyota’s driver’s side that resembled a racing stripe if you squinted, and rounding the door, I knocked off a corner tile from my newly remodeled kitchen. Slithering up each rickety rung, I frenetically waved my hand toward the plastic ceiling case that remained a fingernail’s length out of reach. I froze. Better that I inched down, blasted my son’s old Stones’ CDs and poured a stiff drink. The next day I cornered a handy friend to help me in exchange for babysitting his two year old twins.

Fortunately, a returning wasps’ nest tucked under the eaves only required a step stool for me to eyeball their papery home. I waited for dusk when (I hoped) the insects had retired after a day of terrifying my grandchildren. I gulped a deep breath and sprayed a lethal cloud to wipe out an entire colony of God’s creatures while decimating the food chain and destroying the environment for the next generation.

I never told my kids how close they came to receiving an early inheritance as I survived another week of home maintenance and escaped Last Rites from Raid.

Of course, there’s always a chance of tripping over the tree roots recently unearthed in my lawn-gone landscape, slipping on the un-padded Oriental rugs to better let the

radiant heat through, or colliding with the double-paned sliding glass door rushing for a robo-call. There’s certainly the omnipresent fear of further battering by one of the lurking bins.

Talk about living—or dying—on the edge, I’ve got it all—hard plastic, decorative wood, sheer glass and shiny stainless steel.

I try to look on the bright side! None of that same old banal slipping in the bathtub for this aging homeowner. I hope my demise will exhibit some dramatic flair, perhaps snagged by a garden hose snaked around my ankle as I crash unconscious on the pool coping and, Ophelia-like, gracefully drown. I’ve always enjoyed the out-of-doors, and my children will thank me for a quick-exit. Then, as my son suggested, they can just scoop my body right into the compost bin (green or blue), all ready to recycle.

About Evie Preston

Evie enjoys the double life of a freelance writer and a financial columnist as the Money Lady for Active Over 50 magazine. Her humor pieces appear in the Palo Alto Weekly and other local publications. In a warm and witty style, Evie slants many of her articles on the facts and foibles of senior living. She also explores her past adventures in the food business and often returns to her first love, teaching.
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