Part II: Journeys (Chapter 41)


Psychedelic Bingo.

What old boomers, in 2035, play at Paisley Palace Nursing Home.

Flashing strobe lights, the scent of medicinal weed hanging in the air, mingling with patchouli, Pine Sol, rubbing alcohol, scented Depends –


“Pump it up!” the 20-something Bingo caller will yell.

We’ll be hard of hearing.

Years of cranked up Grateful Dead and Steppenwolf concerts taking their toll.

About time for a winner.

The caller, a young person of indeterminate gender, part human, part cyborg, with rainbow dreadlocks and gaunt body, wants to split, to get on with their young robotic life, their young lover, probably with matching dreadlocks, passions, jutted-out hipbones.

We hardly matter.

“B-5!” spews out of the caller’s mouth, a brown sound morphing into airy blue. “G-59!” plays like a green note with a bluish brown under melody. The air fills with Bingo numbers, colors, and anticipation. If I could capture this moment on canvas, the Bingo numbers, in their various color schemes, would float above the silver heads of the mostly female players.

Most of us have recaptured our youthful hair; my hair is redder than ever.

These days, my fingers are too arthritic to manipulate or even hold a paint brush, but I have learned to interpret my artistic visions onto the plasma screen through the universal computer voice translator, and the printer.

Through my website: – how Paulie found me and shadowed my career for years.

In secret.


The one I tossed aside without a thought.

No time for regrets.

Live in the now. The past is past, and the future is not yet.

Oh, Sheldon.

His voice still resonating, somewhere in his broken body.

Later, I will recreate the bingo game, this scene.


Michael Mason, a retired rock musician drenched in sweat and wearing a ripped, baggy tie-dyed tee-shirt, covers the brown-orange B-13, jumps up, and waves his winning card like a protest banner.

“Bingo,” comes out as a tiny whoosh of air from his stoma.

“We have a Bingo!” the caller says, her voice overly enthusiastic, considering the minuscule nature of the stakes involved: an extra orange at dinner tonight, which he can’t eat, anyway.

An assistant checks Michael’s numbers against called numbers.

No cheating allowed at Paisley Palace.

“We have a winner!”

A slick D.J. in the corner, with colorful brain wires sticking out of his head, yells, “Hey, man!” and offers Michael a high five. “Have I got an oldie for you!”

The assistant hands Michael a voucher for his prize.

The Doors’ “Break on Through (To the Other Side)” blasts through the Surround-sound speakers, and the room fills with black light and strobe flashes. Jim Morrison, our boomer guru, invites us to follow him 65 years later, and many of us will.

Very soon.

Sheldon is very close to the other side; he lies immobile in a hospital bed in our connubial nest, stuck in the dreamy world of our past, the cold steel of our present, the unlikelihood of much more future together.

I still love him – I’ll always love him – but it’s hard to see his fighting spirit so diminished.

He needs to die, but he doesn’t quite see it – not yet.

Lately, I have been spending a lot of time in Michael’s room.

There’s no sex.

Our bodies can barely move – I’m trapped in a wheelchair most days, and Michael can barely breathe.

When we do move, our bones creak and stiffen.

The concept of free love seems too ridiculous even in the abstract, let alone as a possibility.

The very idea!

Michael and I while away our days, he drawing in marijuana smoke through his stoma, I sometimes accepting a toke.

So what if it kills me.

I’m 85, after all.

I love hanging out in Michael’s room.

Though trapped in a broken body, he hangs onto the 60’s with the ferocity of a rabid Grateful Dead fan. He keeps his room young, reminding me of Doug (May the good earth soothe his corporeal remains) and me when we were frivolous and still in the glow of our youth: his walls are plastered with counterculture posters, my two favorites: a peace sign proclaiming “Better Living Through Chemistry” and a cartoon of Mickey, Goofy, and Donald Duck, sitting around a hookah, stoned out of their gourds, their eyes bloodshot.

“Ain’t gonna work on Dizzy’s farm no more.”

Caption: “Ain’t gonna work on Dizzy’s farm no more.”

We did, of course, eventually work on someone’s farm; even Michael made millions cranking out hit songs for his record label. But it was such an in-your-face sentiment – you had to love it, even when you couldn’t fully embrace it.

Even Michael concedes this. “I was just another sell-out, disguised as a cutting-edge musician. That’s why I love you, Samantha. You became famous for your fabulous work, but you didn’t get rich.”

How can I tell him that my lack of wealth wasn’t a choice? That was instrumental in my artistic breakthrough and for my lack of wealth, what with digital art thieves?

That my brilliant granddaughter Kaitlyn will maintain my website after my death?

So I don’t.

Michael’s company is too vital to me; I hope he doesn’t die before I do, but it looks likely; lately, his breathing has become labored. He requires oxygen most of the time, taking the breathing tube out only long enough to smoke a joint.

He no longer eats – I eat enough for the both of us. He’s hooked to a feeding tube – Vanilla Ensure pumped directly to his stomach.

“I hate Strawberry,” he says, although he can’t possibility taste the stuff.

I, on the other hand, am healthy, my usual appetite stuck in overdrive.

Despite my stroke back in 2030, I’m still surprisingly robust and –

Still fat – which is probably why I’m confined to this wheelchair. I’m probably one of the last portly 85-year-olds still alive.

Aren’t fat people supposed to pop off in their 60’s or, at least, their 70’s?

Thank God Michael doesn’t care if I’m fat, old, still married, disinterested in sex.

“I’ve had enough sex for three lifetimes,” he says.

What with all those 60’s and 70’s groupies opening their legs as sacrificial offerings to the God of heavy metal.

“I’ll bet most of those bitches are dead by now,” he once said. “And I’m not far behind them.”


Nicole and Arianna, Nicole’s spouse, have parked Sheldon and me here.

I can’t blame them; Sheldon is so out there, and I’m too heavy to lift.

Nicole has Kaitlyn and her own grandchildren to worry about.

With Michael here, this isn’t a bad place. Sometimes, I wish my daughter would just stay the hell away.

But I like the great-grand kids’ visits; maybe it’s because they surprise me by showing up at unpredictable times, or maybe it’s because we don’t have to go on those awful guilt trips.

They don’t care if I’m fat.

I’m just their ancient grandma, once vaguely famous in the avant-garde art world. On my part, I enjoy their squeaky newness and thrill-seeking attitudes. Best of all, their voices don’t resonate in my head 24 hours a day like the voices of my youth – Nana, Auntie, Mother, Aunts Sal and Gwen, Shel – and the voices of my present – Nicole and Kaitlyn – and I appreciate that.

My great-grandchildren are one-dimensional, totally out of my sphere of neurosis.

Harrison Bergeron clones, they show up, all hooked up to those frightening computer chip implants and the multi-color wires sticking out of their heads like Medusa’s snakes.

Cyborg technology: now a reality.

My generation used to worry about body piercing and tats.

I will be long dead when this generation of 20-something buzzheads pays the price for messing with its collective brain chemistry via electrical impulses, just as we have with LSD, speed, heroin, and cocaine.

Nicole will have to cope with her own voices from the past and present – future.


If it’s Saturday, then it must be Nicole’s visitation day.

I could pinpoint her arrival by the atomic clock; she shows up precisely at 1:00 p.m., after lunch.

Exactly 15 minutes of niceties and proper social behavior: the profuse kissing and hugging, the questioning of health and medication matters, the offering of small gifts – stationery, stamps, printer cassettes.

Then we get down to the real purpose of my daughter’s visit: my lack of concern for others, my selfishness.

Nicole sings; I spaz.


Mother, you keep letting yourself go. I swear, every week, you just get fatter and fatter. You must be well over 175 pounds by now. How can you live with yourself? Don’t you worry about what the nurses are saying? That every time they lift you out of the chair and into your bed, they strain all kinds of muscles. It’s so embarrassing. I hear them talking about you, you know. They don’t know I’m within earshot, but even if they did, I couldn’t fault them. They’re just voicing their frustrations. You make everyone’s job harder, just because you won’t control that horrendous appetite of yours; if you would just lose some of that weight, you could visit us on holidays, you could spend Christmas at our house instead of our traipsing here to this depressing place. You know how Arianna and I hated sticking you and Sheldon here. We wanted to keep you at home, but I couldn’t afford a 24-hour-a-day sumo wrestler to care for you. They have pills now that will curb that monstrous hunger of yours, and they’re perfectly safe, not like the drugs back in the old days.

It’s 2035, after all.

But, no, you’re as stubborn as an ox. You just want to eat your way into the grave, don’t you? I’m surprised you’re still alive, most fat people pass early, but, no, you just keep going, not that I don’t like having you around...I do, and so do Kaitlyn and the kids. I’m glad you have some super gene that supports your fat, no matter what you do, but if you keep going as you’re going, Nana, God rest her soul, will have been right about your needing a piano crate...I know I’m being morbid, but you don’t want everyone seeing you in a piano crate, do you? I talked to the nutritionist today; she says that she can put you on a wonderful new diet; you won’t even know you’re on a diet, it contains an awesome amount of food, but the right kind of food. Too bad you don’t listen to me, we could keep you around for years and years yet, and then when the time does come – God forbid it should come anytime soon – you’ll have a normal service with a pretty casket. You would like that, wouldn’t you? I’ve begged the nutritionist to stick you on the diet anyway, but as long as you remain competent, she can’t make any type of dietary change without your permission. Sometimes I just think I should talk to a lawyer about assuming power of attorney, and then you would have to go on that diet, wouldn’t you? If I thought it would work...I just don’t understand why you can’t see your way to better health. If only you could get yourself up and moving – the activities director can set a simple exercise routine – I just know you’d be out of that wheelchair within a few months, but I might as well talk to the dead...

Take your pills; eat your lettuce, drink your water, just be careful, stay away from dirty old men with big promises and no money; don’t eat chocolate, you’ll raise your blood sugar, maybe not right away, but as you get older; where on earth did you get that peanut butter cup?, and, for God’s sake, are you EVER going to be thin?


New York City

October 12, 2035

Dear Grandma,

Happy 85th birthday! Buy something pretty (not candy and junk food) with the enclosed check.

You’re my favorite sweetest grandma, and I want you to be happy and comfortable.

Are you still fat?

Mama says you’re still having some weight problems; she told me about your checkup with Dr. Morgan. He said you should lose 10 pounds by Christmas. Gram, that’s only two and a half months away, and you know how Mama complains about your weight, especially during the holidays. The kids and I will be spending Christmas this year with Mom and Arianna, so we will most definitely be visiting you a lot, and I hate when Mom harangues you constantly about your weight.

She’s right, you know, but I don’t see the point in making a big deal out of it. Still, I would like to buy you a knockout outfit, and you know how ugly old fat-lady clothes are...

I hope you can lose some of that excess fat by Christmas.

Mama’s in a snit. She says you have been seeing a half-dead rock star on the side.

You go, girl.

Grandpa Sheldon is so far gone, he won’t know the difference.

Michael Mason.

Yes, I remember reading about him.

Played bass for “Psychedelic Bingo,” a fusion band, I think. Isn’t he from Mom’s generation?

Ooh, la, la. A younger man.

No wonder Mom’s in a dither.

Thanks for the lovely drawing, though it seems kind of odd, with all those orange and brown splotches. Maybe you should take some art classes away from the home, perhaps at the university. Keep your talent up to date.

Had Beth and Dwayne over for dinner last week.

Poor Beth. Remember her? She’s Arianna’s older sister, a successful literary agent. She’s the one who just missed being killed in the World Trade Center on 9/11. Well, she went on a crash diet last year and lost 50 pounds in two months. Now she’s gained it all back and then some.

So sad.

You don’t want to be big like her. She must weigh over 325 pounds now.

Anyway, for dinner, I poached and sauteed a whole salmon, tossed a lovely salad with homemade vinaigrette dressing, and made a nice linguini on the side. Served with a lively cheese sauce and spices. For dessert, we had New York style cheesecake with chocolate syrup. They loved it! Got so many compliments.

Wish you could have been here to enjoy it.

Heard from Aunt Ruby yesterday. Says she misses you, but she’s not well and unable to travel from Arkansas right now, so won’t be coming to Pennsylvania this year. I know how disappointed you are, but it’s for the best. Ray’s not well, not expected to live much longer.

She says maybe next year.

Well, must run. Have a lunch date with Beth. We’re going to the Thai place near Times Square. I know how you like their Shrimp Pad Thai and peanut soup.

Maybe if you’re thin next summer, you can come to New York, and I’ll take you there. And then we can yak-yak like teenage girls.

Lots of love and (Hershey) kisses,



Another thing, Ma.

This thing with Mr. Mason, it’s got to stop.

People are talking...and what would Sheldon think if he still had his mind? He’d divorce you in a flash, and you couldn’t afford a divorce, not after all these years. Really, Mother. You pick a fine time to cheat on your husband. God, I can’t imagine fucking someone strapped to an oxygen tank and feeding tube to boot. Sheldon might just be a shell of his former self, but at least his body is whole, and he doesn’t suck in air through a stoma. I can’t even imagine such a scene, it’s so disgusting. Why do you need to spend so much time in Mr. Mason’s room, anyway? Can’t you just finish your business and get out before anyone sees you? I can’t imagine any kind of meaningful sex with that man, he’s just so gross. His being a former rock star and don’t know what kind of diseases he might be harboring. Don’t think that old people like you can’t get exotic diseases, they can and do. I read an article in AARP Wired about a 90-year-old woman who found out she had AIDS. She got it from a frisky 75-year-old gigolo. You never know with these old men, where they’re poking their shriveled up...things. You’d best stick with Shel; after all, you dumped my father – how I miss him – for old Shelly, and now you should spend your golden years feathering his nest, but you don’t listen to me, no one listens to me.

Take your blood pressure pills and lipid nanobots; eat your carrots, drink your fat-free soy milk; just be careful, stay away from dirty old men with limp dicks and grotesque ailments; don’t eat doughnuts, you’ll raise your blood sugar, maybe not right away, but as you get older; and –

Where on earth did you get those Hershey Kisses?

For God’s sake, will you EVER be thin?


And so it goes, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, week after week.

My daughter moving her mouth in mindless natter.

How deep the grooves line her face, especially around her eyes.

While I’m meticulous about keeping my red hair young and vibrant, Nicole has allowed hers to go gray.

My daughter, an old, shriveled woman.

This is my legacy, I’m afraid.

I don’t have to listen, do I?

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