Sick Day

In which Citizen Jim arrives the day after Chicken Sheets has binged on junk food with a resident—the results of which are as disgusting and sad as you might expect.

I could tell that the last thing Citizen Jim expected at eight-thirty on Wednesday morning was for me to be home. That’s probably why he kept making such a racket with his fists, like some angry ape pounding on the walls of an empty Banana Room.

“I—er, but—why—er—”

Citizen Jim could hardly speak. He looked like a shy, trained bear caught in a spotlight when he saw me.

It wouldn’t be right to slam the door in his face while he stuttered and stammered. I didn’t feel like having company but Citizen Jim is my best friend and the person I love most in the world. All I wanted to do was crawl between the sheets for the rest of the day; instead, I invited him inside using the loudest croak I could manage (which was not very loud at all).

“What’s wrong with your voice?” he asked, but before I could answer by rolling my eyes or stomping my foot, he said, “Mother of God! You finally got the COVID-19, didn’t you? Probably from going into Piggly Wiggly and licking the more delicious-looking wine labels. Or maybe from stuffing cork-sized chunks of fresh ginger up your nose! You’ve got to stop doing that!”

There was no telling how many more times he would feel the need to bring up my old habit whenever we used to go grocery shopping together: breaking off a very, very small piece of ginger and casually lifting it to my nose to take in the aroma of the root. It was kind of like aromatherapy before everyone started calling it aromatherapy. It had been nearly twenty years since I’d done that but Citizen Jim refused to let it go.

I shook my head because speaking would have hurt too much.

“What are you saying ‘no’ to? The COVID-19, the wine bottles, the ginger—speak up, woman!” he said. “I got places I need to go to and things I need to get to!”

I don’t know what the thing about licking wine bottle labels was about so I shook my head again and pointed to my throat, grimacing to indicate pain. I thought he would take the hint but, in thinking that, who was I trying to fool but myself? Nobody else would have believed he might take such an obvious hint. NOBODY.

“I’m just gonna assume that the chaotic, unpredictable ebb and flow of life got the better of you in the last week or so and that you tried to end it all by drinking Drano, only that didn’t work and I’ll never have to hear your voice again as long as I live,” he said.

That’s when I opened the door and pointed to the outside while trying to convey my anger through a super-scowl that was not, at this juncture, unfamiliar to Citizen Jim.

“Yeah, okay! Now you want me to leave even though you’re pretending you can’t talk, and even though you haven’t offered me food or drink and even though you haven’t told me why it’s nearly nine in the morning and you aren’t at work?” he said. “Your wish is not my demand and will not be granted. I’m staying until you tell me—or act out, like charades, or write me, in a note or something—what the hell is going on.”

I grabbed a legal pad and a Pilot G-2 fine point pen and scribbled a note. I held it up for Citizen Jim to see when he sat down in my reading chair: Actually, it’s kind of a funny story.

“Considering your unwavering belief that the movie Man Bites Dog is hilarious, I can’t take your word for it,” he said. “Let me be the judge of this so-called ‘funny story.'”

Yesterday I got one of the residents and myself some eggnog, and I went into her room to watch a movie with her to kill time before I went home.

“Now, wait a sec,” he said, “there’s a lot to unpack in that one sentence. Which resident?”

Can’t tell you.

“Why the hell not?” he asked.

HIPAA.

“Fair enough. What brand of eggnog?”

Barber’s.

“Did you put nutmeg and bourbon in it?”

No nutmeg, no bourbon.

“Did you drink it straight or thin it out with milk?”

I cut it with milk—which might have been the only thing that saved me later.

“I’m sure that’s not true, but. What movie? What time was it? How much time did you need to kill?”

It was about 2:45, and I was planning on leaving at 3:30 since I’d gone in early to help with the staff COVID-19 testing.

“Ha! Then maybe you DO have the COVID-19! Christ on a bicycle—and now you’re walking around without a mask, breathing on me and looking like you might touch me at any minute!”

I DON’T HAVE COVID-19! I AM TRYING TO TELL YOU WHAT HAPPENED!

“You DO NOT need to shout at me!” he shouted at me. “I can understand the tone of what you’re writing without the underlining and the ALL CAPS!”

The resident I was drinking the eggnog and watching the movie with

“Hey, you never said what movie it was! How am I supposed to get a clear image in my head if you don’t tell me what you were watching? Lord God almighty but you would make a horrible deaf-mute. I’m not kidding, Stimpy!”

We were watching Dial ‘M’ for Murder! Not that it matters!

“Of course it matters! I hate that movie! I hate any movie where Ray Milland plays a bad guy,” said Citizen Jim. “I only like him as a good guy—or, at the worst, as a hopeless alcoholic. Also, what was the deal with Grace Kelly and Robert Cummings in that stupid film? Why was Ray Milland letting them hang out together if he knew they were having an affair? Why was HE hanging out with Robert Cummings if he knew about the affair? And that deus ex machina hours before Grace Kelly’s execution! She sure looked pretty fresh for someone who’s about to be executed after being in prison for months! From an idiot like you I’d expect something so implausible—but not from Hitchcock!”

When he looked tired and unable to say anything more without giving his big, fat mouth a rest, I held up a new note.

ANYway! While we were watching the movie and drinking eggnog, Mrs. E. couldn’t stop plying me with various and sundry foodstuffs.

“Like what kind of food? You don’t need to be coy about the things you put in your body,” he said. “I know you eat like a drunk raccoon behind an Arby’s.”

Sesame sticks from Walgreens, miniature candy bars, dry roasted peanuts, chocolate covered hazelnuts Mrs. E. got from her kids in a care package, some

“Mrs. E! Does the E stand for Ewing? Is she J.R. and Bobby’s spinster aunt?”

I shook my head.

“Holy crap! The E stands for Ekland, doesn’t it? Britt Ekland is living at that rest home where you work, isn’t she? Wow! A Bond Girl! I can’t believe the ex-wife of Peter Sellers AND Slim Jim Phantom from Stray Cats is living where you work!”

OH. MY. GOD! NO! NOOO!

“I told you to stop YELLING!” he yelled. “Is the E for Ebenstein? Didn’t you know some other old folks named Ebenstein once?”

I crumpled up the piece of paper I’d been writing on and wrote on a fresh piece, I’m not going to tell you her name, so quit trying to guess.

“Ugh! You never want to have any harmless fun,” he said. “Could you hurry up and finish this story? You haven’t told me anything cool or funny yet, and I’m starting to get bored. And if I get bored enough I might start tearing this place up, and you’re not gonna want me to stick around if I start tearing the place up.”

So, the reason I can’t talk and why I’m home this time of day is because I ate a bunch of junk food, drank too much eggnog, and got really sick in the middle of the night.

“Sick? Like thinking-Jesus-would-approve-of-Donald-Trump-sick? Or puking-your-guts-out-sick?”

I pointed and nodded my head on the second kind of sick he mentioned, scribbling frantically on my legal pad.

I threw up everything I ate in Mrs. E’s room while we watched Dial ‘M’ for Murder. EVERYTHING! It was so violent! At one point I was afraid I might be choking on what was trying to come out of my stomach. And now my throat hurts and I’ve only had a couple hours’ sleep.

“Go on.”

I shrugged.

That’s it.

“Ah—see? That was not funny at all. Not in any way,” he said. “I knew you were lying to me earlier.”

I’m sorry. I forgot.

“Well, you better eat some honey and go back to bed so you’ll feel well enough to edit this story later,” he said, walking toward the front of the house. “But don’t be surprised if you start editing out the boring, badly written parts and end up with no story at all.”

By this time writer’s cramp was starting to set in, so I couldn’t continue our conversation. I gave Citizen Jim a slow and begrudging thumbs up and flashed him a fake smile. “Fine! I love Fonzie, too,” he said, and slammed the door before I could hug him or tell him how much I would miss him once he was gone.