5 Dangers You Find in the Homes of the Elderly
Here at Cracked, it's our unspoken mission to ply you with useful knowledge to optimize your chances of getting laid as often as humanly possible. (Note to our under-18 readership: Ignore that prior sentence. Stay in school/out of pool halls.)
But monster truck rallies? They're cool.
That said, today's column addresses a topic that will furnish you with zero facts to help you convert cocktail party banter into heavy petting. This topic is my dead grandparents and their bungalow of frights. (I also talk about 9/11 toward the end.) So if somehow you're able to get to second base using anecdotes about a 12-years-dead French grandmother, there's nothing more our website can teach you, because you are the earthly incarnation of Eros and have a library card to Mount Olympus.
Anyway, from the 1960s to the 1990s, my grandparents lived in a modest two-story home in Rhode Island. They were lovely people, but that house made me understand why H.P. Lovecraft wrote up New England as the edge of sanity but with shittier winters.
The Stabbing Sofa
My grandparents moved to Rhode Island when my mom was 9. Before that, they'd bounced from Georgia (the one with peaches, not immortal yogurt eaters) to France to Queens. My grandfather couldn't land a job, despite being a World War II vet with a Harvard doctorate. (Back in the '50s, being a Russian kid from Boston who decided to check out a few communist youth group meetings in the '30s because girls was less useful for your employment prospects than being named Dr. Gay Hitler.)
"Many fine old homes can trace their ancestry to the Hitlers who built them when Pickaway County was young. Hitler School served our youngsters until its sale in 1920." -reality, just plain fucking with us.
Eventually my grandfather got hired to teach at a college outside Providence. My grandpa was a good guy; everyone liked him. No, seriously -- here's proof from the student newspaper:
As you can see, it was the most exciting news day in Rhode Island history.
But what God gave my grandfather in affability he denied him in handyman skills. The guy (alav ha-shalom) sucked ass at home repairs. For 40 years, my grandparents' house was held together by a latticework of yellowing duct tape. Windows, bannisters, chairs ... you name it. My grandfather was a dipsomaniac man-spider.
As my grandparents got more wizened, they'd spend most of the day in two Lay-Z-Boys. This didn't give them much impetus to buy new chairs for the rest of us. Around 1993, you had four options, listed here in order of attractiveness: a) stand, b) the floor, c) two chairs that would spontaneously combust if you sat in them too hard (these were reserved for my parents), or d) the stabbing sofa (below -- I'm center).
Back then, our favored pastime was gatherin' 'round an itchy hound.
The stabbing sofa was a yellow Victorian sofa that my mom insists to this day was "a wonderful antique." Anybody junior enough to be sequestered to the damn thing knew the truth: that some colonial demonologist used the forbidden arts he learned in far Rangoon to build a Burmese tiger trap inside a loveseat.
This couch had a huge, hidden, rusty spring that could gore you square in the asshole if you sat on it wrong. My grandparents' solution was to toss a minor landfill's worth of decorative throws over it, which only goaded the coil to weave its way through the crochet like some butt-loving kraken tangled in a fisherman's seine. My siblings and I never complained because we were children and knew fuck-all about everything except the names of the Little Rascals.
The Hell Tub
My grandfather died in 1995, but I hadn't really known him since '90. A string of strokes had left him somnolescent on good days. (On bad days, he mistook you for the Artful Dodger or some other celebrated urchin.) Maybe my last memory of him being entirely lucid was '89, when he hauled us jabbering grandkids to see Ghostbusters 2. This was also one of the worst days of my life, because everything was a documentary back then.
We'd have been less scarred if he'd abandoned us at a pile of dead dogs for 90 minutes.
The main reason Ghostbusters 2 destroyed us was that scene where a possessed bathtub tries to eat Sigourney Weaver. You know, this one:
Baths were already a dicey proposition, but that scene only confirmed our suspicions that my grandparents' old tub -- with its four-clawed feet, like the dread progeny of a lion and a bucket or the griffin's backwoods cousin -- was Baba Yaga's industrial child blender.
This is not my grandparents' tub. That tub turned invisible in photographs.
Now, have any of you ever actually been in the presence of a claw-foot tub? It's Halloween every time you sit on the john. Now imagine you're literate as a bird, coordinated as a glue-addled gnome, and convinced you saw a National Geographic special about Ernie Hudson and the magic painting. Given that skill set, you'd be forgiven for assuming that bathing was a conspiracy drummed up by a cabal of Dracula and every shark on planet Earth. I smelled like garbage that summer.
Death, Just Goddamn Everywhere
Prior to those family trips to Rhode Island, my understanding of dying came primarily from an episode of Sesame Street where Ernie and Bert go to an Egyptian tomb and meet their mummy doppelgangers.
It didn't explain where Mr. Hooper went, though.
But after that? Rhode Island was oblivion. Outside of the Ocean State, everybody lived forever in the Muppet pyramid. But once Mystic, Connecticut, faded in the rearview mirror, the specter of death blackened the Eastern horizon, a sickle in one ossified mitt, a glass of Autocrat brand coffee milk in the other.
How bad was it? Every time we visited, a new old dog was dead. Three of their four deaf cats were undone by a feline addiction to sleeping inside minivan wheel wells. As a toddler, my cousin jumped off their roof for laughs (he survived and is now a lawyer). My grandparents lived down the street from a cemetery, so the siblings and I often held chariot races using my grandparents' old wheelchairs, surrounded by corpses who voted Whig.
I already mentioned that my grandfather died in '95. But my grandmother? She kicked it over and over again, like Prometheus chained to the rock, eternally resurrected and consumed by a wake of vultures.
For the metaphor's sake, please imagine that vulture's name is "Mr. Diabetes."
My mom's lost count of the number of heart attacks and strokes my grandmother had. (It was definitely over a dozen. None affected her mind.) One Christmas, she had a coronary at the dinner table but denied it because "everybody's having such a nice time." By the time she received an 11th-hour cancer diagnosis in '01, she and mom had no choice but to laugh their asses off.
The Dog-Doo Yard of Despair
Yes, doom loomed large over the Narragansett Bay, but it was there that I learned of a fate worse than death. As I just said, my grandparents owned a few barking skeletons that spent their puppy years chasing aurochs and humping Neanderthal sofas (which I guess were just dead aurochs).
My grandmother's dog. He witnessed the crucifixion of Christ.
But as the years wore on, they had trouble walking the dogs, between my grandfather's dementia and my grandmother's everything. Their solution was to saw a German shepherd-sized doggy door out of their bedroom wall and build a ramp wending outside to a large, stark concrete patio, which I guess was once an oyster garage (or however you say "shed" in New English).
My grandparents surrounded the patio with a tall chain-link fence so the dogs could poop outside but not bolt across the border to Massachusetts. (Note: This happened.) It was a serviceable lifehack as long as you never-ever-ever-ever thought about it.
Unfortunately, my siblings and I had to, as the dogs stole our stuff constantly. And when this happened, the only option was to wriggle out the doggy door into the crap paddock, where we gingerly fished scarves and shoes and hats and Gremlins 2 for Game Boy from an inland sea of fossilized turds.
It was comparable to Jurassic Park, if Jurassic Park was about an insane billionaire who -- for perverted motives unknown -- traps the world's foremost scientific minds in a tropical labyrinth of manure and electrified fences.
The impartial observer would've assumed it was a penitentiary for bad shit or a nature preserve catering to Scheissefilme enthusiasts. Prowlers could've easily ransacked their home via the doggy door, but they'd have died of horror first.
You Can't Escape a Good Deathtrap
I guess this is the point in the article where I'm supposed to go, "Sure, I complain now, but I wouldn't have wanted their house ANY OTHER WAY!" But I won't say that, because that's stupid. I spent almost every visit to Rhode Island in a Benadryl fugue because of invisible mountains of cat dander. Do you know what it's like to run downstairs on Christmas Eve and find out that Santa doesn't exist when you're flying on allergy meds? It's the exact opposite of getting crazy high and seeing God in a crinkly autumn leaf.
But I will say this about my grandparents' house: It taught me precisely how I do and do not want to die (outside of going to Dorney Park in Allentown, Pennsylvania, loading Steel Force with C4 instead of Pennsylvanians, and riding that sonuvabitch off the tracks into the dirt mound where the employees park their cars -- a Viking funeral at 100 MPH).
My death will be so dignified, Philadelphia will see it.
My grandmother lived on her own from '95 to '98. This was impressive, considering that most of her internal organ function left for a farm upstate circa '91. She had zero interest in moving to a home, so we sold her house and she moved to New Jersey with us. I have no clue who bought her house, but I assume the current owner is haunted by hundreds of dogshit poltergeists.
My grandmother loved me. But the rest of the species? Bof. One of her favorite pastimes was swinging by the senior center and yelling at other, nicer old people. But in New Jersey, she couldn't drive, could barely walk, and didn't even have those Merlin-looking dumbfucks whose sole crime was being alive while her husband was dead.
My grandmother, with potassium, 1998.
My parents worked. I was doing puberty. My grandmother's day was sitting in a back room in an unfamiliar town, with no one to visit and nowhere to go. Her only company was a revolving cast of home health aides, infinite reruns of M*A*S*H*, and a six-pack of O'Douls (served daily, warm, at 9:00 a.m.).
When a new nurse quit, my grandmother fought with my mom, who fought with my dad. This was not the natural order of things. Grandparents died off screen under Halley's Comet, or at least went dotty to signify their impending return to the Gitche Manitou. (See: my dad's mom, whose brain cancer inspired her to start using "white trash" as a term of endearment.)
In the '40s, my grandmother almost ran into Hitler's motorcade while bicycling unawares through the woods. You're not supposed to survive the Fuhrer's car only to die in Jersey.
This went on for three years. My grandmother withdrew, speaking only when I dropped off her rise-and-shine O'Douls, the beer that tastes like futility.
One Wednesday, my grandmother woke up loquacious. She went off her gumball galaxy of meds, took Confession for the first time in half a century, hit on the priest because what-the-hell-at-this-point, and stage-whispered a complaint when he didn't know Latin. She stopped breathing on Sunday, minutes after she finally knew all the grandchildren were under one roof.
Here's another Trentonian headline to balance out the above paragraph.
We didn't have time to mourn my grandmother because the world was ending. She died on September 9, 2001, and anthrax contamination shuttered my neighborhood post office a month later. Driving her casket to Rhode Island near the Tappan Zee Bridge, we could see the pillars of dust hanging over Manhattan. When we reached the graveyard -- where I'd spent entire Julys pretending to be Professor X -- the only non-family members present were two neighbors and her ex-hairdresser. (They'd been locked in some tonsorial quarrel and never made amends.)
Even in death, Barney enjoyed a good photobomb.
My grandmother's sofa was made of tetanus and her backyard could only be cleansed by several thousand years of clergy-consecrated glacier. But that's just how I remember it. For her, that house was where, in 1968, my mom and her best friend inexplicably ate a rose to celebrate Mick Jagger's 25th birthday. The only way she'd have tolerated Jersey is if Medicare subsidized an O'Douls-fueled time machine -- an O'Doul-O'meter, if you will.
My grandparents in 1946. They are happy because that forest is not full of Nazis.
So, thanks for reading. I've basically never told this story to anyone, and I'm lucky that my lot in life is to discuss Wikipedia erotica on the Internet. Call your grandparents if they're alive and not totally dreadful. To ease you back into our regular scheduled programming, here's a final Trentonian headline captioned with unrelated, actual words of wisdom from my grandmother's mom:
"A good cheese smells like a dirty woman. A good wine tastes like the Virgin Mary pissing in your mouth."
-my great-grandmother (1897-1988)
Let's help you forget those nostalgic nightmares. Check out 18 Instructional Charts for People Who Suck at Technology and 19 Things Old People Suspect About Modern Culture.