Sunday, 16 May 2021

The Hills: Nursing Home Edition by Naomi Elana Zener

Molly, a young reporter from Variety, the TV/film industry periodical, found herself reluctantly at the Hollywood Hills Home for the Preternaturally Preserved to conduct a ‘where are they now?’ piece on the remaining cast mates of yesteryear’s celebutantes from MTV’s hit and rebooted show, The Hills.  MTV died with demise of cable TV, leaving behind a litany of MTV-stars who couldn’t find fame, fortune, or relevance with the network now long gone.  To Molly, the article made no sense, but she was told there was a story there, so like any good newbie journalist who was underpaid, she followed the story.  But, to her, society no longer needed to hear from a gaggle of no longer girls without a flotilla of cameras trailing behind them, while they coquettishly batted eyelashes at never men who never were interested in them in the first place.

 

Each had their reason for agreeing to the interview: remaining relevant, hoping to be cast on a new show (there was a resurgence on geriatric programming given the success of Grace and Frankie—there was even talk of a Golden Girls reboot), or reminding the world they weren’t dead yet. However, whatever their reason, they would only participate in the interview on the condition of complete anonymity, in case it led to bad press. The adage of any publicity is good publicity no longer being true, the surviving Hills stars were savvy enough to remember that reputation was everything, and they wanted to preserve whatever good reputation they had left with the public that once adored them.

 

“Ma’am, these folks don’t have much attention to give these days, if you know what I mean, so please be brief,” the nurse at the front desk advised.

 

Molly nodded her head. She laid down a tape recorder in the middle of the table, where the four original cast members sat around the table.

 

“So, I understand you want to tell me about your days making The Hills and all of its reboots. The tape recorder is on, we are now on the record.”

 

“Who’s filming this?” Mr. P asked.

 

“No, no one is filming anything. I’m here to interview about what life was really like when you did The Hills all those years ago.”

“No one cares about back then. This is us, now. We are ready to show the world…” Mr. P continued.

 

“So, basically, you want to bring the series back now?” Molly asked.

 

“Isn’t that why were all here? Living together like we used to? Why Variety sent you?” Miss A inquired.

 

“I’m in!” Miss S shouted, waving her cane in the air before breaking out into the show’s original theme song.

 

“Staring at the white walls and bedpans,

Nurse brings you your medication.

Reaching for your walker in the distance.

So close you can almost feel it…

 

Feel the life in your heart,

Others no longer have it!

You live another day, but

Not your friend, not your friend…”

 

 

“Stop changing the lyrics to that fucking song,” Miss A croaked. “I can’t stand hearing it anymore.”

 

“Why man, it’s funny,” Mr. B replied. “It’s the proper homage to our real life, like now, but a throwback to when it all commenced in the deep roar of motorcycles….”

 

“Enough with the words. You make no sense,” Miss A squawked. “You never did!”

 

“I’m an urban philosopher,” Mr. B countered.

 

“You’re a bullshit artist,” Miss A retorted.

 

“Sing your truth!” Mr. B shouted to Miss S who never stopped humming the tune.

 

“No one wants to be reminded how old we are,” Miss A cried.

 

“Only you know how old you really are. Your face still looks like it did when you were 22,” Mr. P retorted.

 

“So, did any of you actually get along?” Molly inquired. “Like, ever?”

 

The four former cast mates turned nursing home neighbours exchanged glances furtively.

 

“No,” they replied in unison.

 

“It was all staged for the cameras,” Mr. P advised.

 

“Well, everyone knew it was scripted and staged,” Molly interrupted.

 

“She was never my sister!” Mr. P shouted, and then paused. He looked over at Miss S who continued to hum the show’s theme song. Then lightening struck. “No, she was my sister. But, she’s dead now, so I guess I won!”

 

“We made money. We spent the money. We had fame. We lost fame,” Miss A added.

 

“Man, that’s the most profound you’ve ever been,” Mr. B said to Miss A.

 

“Fuck you! That show was made to make us look stupid.”

 

“What’s it like living together now in this nursing home?” Molly interjected.

 

“Like before, but no cameras, food is lousy and we ain’t getting paid,” Mr. P advised.

 

“I don’t mind the food,” Miss. S offered.

 

“That’s because you eat now and have no frame of reference to what food, tasted like in your twenties” Mr. P added. “You never ate any!”

 

“Too bad your wife didn’t outlive you. She was easier to deal with.”

 

“Peace be, my friends. Be like the planets and just rotate around and away from each other,” Mr. B offered to no one in particular.

 

“Oh, shut up already!” Miss A spat.

 

“There’s so much great tension here. I wonder what The Hills – the geriatric edition would look like?” Molly pondered aloud to herself.

 

“You know, that’s not a bad idea,” Mr. P replied.

 

“It’s better than selling crystals,” Miss S muttered.

 

“What was that?” Mr. P asked. “I thought we were planning on doing a show. Isn’t that why we’re living here?”

 

“We live here because we are geriatric and your crystals didn’t pay the mortgage,” Miss A shouted.

 

“No, I wasn’t suggesting anything…” Molly interrupted.

 

“We could get a camera crew,” Mr. B said. “Hell, we can film it on our phones ourselves.”

 

“Why would anyone tune in to watch a bunch of old people in a nursing home?” Miss S asked before returning to her humming pursuits.

 

“Why did anyone tune in to watch a bunch of kids with no direction live in homes they couldn’t afford or own? Nothing better to do.” Mr. P stated. “This is the best idea I’ve ever had.”

 

“Five minutes ago you forgot all your ideas. Now you’re full of them?” Mr. B chided.

 

“It would be real reality TV this time. Doesn’t get more real than bedpans, dentures and dementia cause that’s what every wants to watch. Old people shitting their pants,” Miss A added. “I’ll pass.”

 

“Why do you have to label everything? It’s bad for your inner calm.”

 

“If I had any more calm in my life living here, I’d be dead,” Miss S added.

 

“I wish you were dead,” Mr. P chuckled.

 

“Oh, shove a crystal up your ass.”

 

“Maybe it’s time to end the interview,” the nurse suggested upon walking into the sunroom and witnessing the former reality stars growing agitated.

 

“Let’s talk about something else, since no one is bringing the show back?” Molly suggested.

 

“MTV needs us. They should bring back the show,” Mr. P proclaimed.

 

“MTV doesn’t need you…” Molly started.

 

“I can’t even find the channel anymore on the TV,” Miss S advised.

 

“MTV is dead. The channel went off the air decades ago,” Molly advised.

 

“Wait, what?” Mr. P asked.


“MTV, is like, gone?” Miss S whispered.

“That’s what she said. You never listen,” Miss A added.

 

“Wait, why?” Mr. B asked.

“People stopped watching reality shows about people who do nothing all day,” Molly explained.

 

“Good riddance!” Miss A proclaimed.

 

“Dude, why do you have to be so down on MTV?  They made you,” Mr. B asked.

 

“They made me “like” you! I never liked you,” Miss A replied.

 

“Who’s gonna watch us now?” Miss S asked.

 

“No one watches you. You live in a nursing home!” Mr. P shot back.

 

“But, we’re famous. Everyone watches us. They love us,” Miss A whined.

“No one loves you. No one ever did,” Mr. P cried, throwing his hands in the air. He desperately wanted to storm out of the room, but his arthritic everything forced him to stay put until the nurse brought him his walker.  “I’m done with this shit. Nurse, I need my walker!”

 

The nurse brought the walker over to Mr. B. She pulled his chair back away from the table and put the walker in front of him. She helped him slowly to his feet, placed his hands around the bars of the walker and stood behind him as he shuffled his right foot forward slowly. About a minute later, his left food started to shuffle forward. Everyone looked on in silence waiting for Mr. P to make his dramatic exit.

 

“Mr. B loved me,” Miss S whined, breaking the silence.

“No, he loved Miss A,” Molly reminded her.

 

“Didn’t you even watch the show?” Miss A asked.

 

“Why would I watch the show? I was on the show,” Miss S shot back. She looked confused. The nurse rubbed her shoulders to help calm her down. “Wait, so you didn’t love me?”

 

“Babe, I love, love. The world is love turning around and if you’re on the ride, I love you cause I love the ride,” Mr. B chimed, looking dizzyingly into Miss S’ eyes. With the interview running longer than anticipated, he’d forgotten to take his medication and he began to act loopy.

 

“Oh, get on your dirt bike and ride away,” Miss A spat.  “I’m done with this interview.”

 

Miss. A put her motorized wheelchair into drive and rode back to her room.

 

Miss S continued to shake from the shock of learning MTV had moved on to greener, heavenly pastures.  Mr. P had managed to make it halfway to the door to the sunroom. The nurse remained steadily behind him.

 

“Nurse, please take me to my room. I need to rest,” Miss A request.

 

“I’ll have to call someone to come help you since I can’t let Mr. P walk by himself, in case he falls again,” the nurse explained. She pressed on her walkie-talkie to call for a colleague to assist Miss S back to her room.  The second nurse arrived before Mr. P managed to take five more steps towards the door. The second nurse led Miss S away to her room. Only Mr. B and Molly remained in the sunroom.

 

“I think we’re ready to wrap things up,” Molly suggested. “I do have one last question. If you could tell give your audience and our readers one piece of advice, what would it be?”

 

Mr. B sat silently, letting Molly’s question marinate in his mind.  He closed his eyes and begun to sway his head from side-to-side. After a few minutes passed, Mr. P finally crossed the threshold and left the sunroom, and Mr. B opened his eyes slowly, looking straight at Molly with his signature-penetrating gaze.

 

“The song was right, man. The rest is still unwritten.”

 

 © 2021. Naomi Elana Zener. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, 20 February 2021

I Bequeath To Thee by Naomi Elana Zener

“Amy, you are beyond late!” my mother shrieked. 

“I’m sorry. I had to stop by FedEx to pick up a package,” I replied.

 

“Today, of all days. You couldn’t go tomorrow? Or, next week? I don’t understand how a package could be so important that it had to be picked up on the day we buried my father!”

 

“Ma, I had to get it. The notice came four days ago. I was already late in getting it.”

 

My mother shook her head. Nothing was worse than the castigation of Jewish motherly disappointment.

 

“They’d have sent it back to the store, and I’d have lost my money! It was a final sale.”

 

My mother ’s head shot up.

 

“Why didn’t you say that in the first place? I don’t want you to lose your money.  Did you get a good deal?”

 

“80 percent off!”

 

“Ok then. Now, go upstairs, put your stuff away and then help me put out the food. You can show me what you got later.”

 

I started towards the stairs.

 

“And, don’t forget to wash the cemetery off your hands.”

 

I nodded. I went back out to the front porch, and used the cup in the water bucket left by the funeral home to wash off any trace of the funeral from my hands. It’s not like I buried anything. I had worn gloves when I used the shovel to toss dirt on the casket. But, tradition is tradition. So, I removed my gloves, rinsed my hands and said the requisite prayer before returning inside.

 

I ran up the pink-carpeted stairs of my grandparents’ side split-level bungalow. They lived there together for 70 years. They moved in shortly after their wedding. Now, it would it be known only as ‘Bubbie’s House’.  I went into her bedroom: the walls papered with giant green palm leaves, the bed dressed to match with a palm-themed bedspread and sheets. The ceiling was painted in a soft blue, and the carpeting was brown—the only place in the house where it wasn’t pink. Bubbie never had grandiose tastes or dreams, in fact, she only had one dream: spend her winters in Miami Beach. Since she could only afford to go there for the winters, decorating her bedroom to look like the beach was the next best thing. So, a small 1950s style bungalow became Bubbie’s version of Miami Beach 365 days of the year. I tossed my coat and package on her bed, and retreated to the kitchen, where my mother was with Bubbie, to help serve food for the shiva mourners.

 

“Hi Bubbie.”

 

I leaned down to hug my five foot minus three inches grandmother, who was seated at the kitchen table. She claims she’s really 5’3” tall, conveniently ignoring the fact that the extra three inches come by way of her orthopedic high heels. What she lacks in stature she makes up for in hugs, as if she’s a polar bear standing on her hind legs and bringing you into her fold with an invitation to hibernate inside her forever. You could live in her hugs.

 

“Oh, my shaina Amy maidel,” Bubbie said.

 

She pulled me in closer than usual. She missed my Zaidy. He was 97 when he died suddenly and painlessly in his sleep. It was like he died on the beach, she said, which was how he wanted to go. What Bubbie failed to tell my mother, and only told me in an unguarded and unfiltered moment after his body was taken to the funeral home, was that he died having sex on the beach. “Do you know what I mean, bubbaleh?” Bubbie asked, winking at me as I escorted her to the limousine. I gave her a knowing smile. “Just don’t tell your mother. She wants you to keep thinking that you were made like Jesus. He was Jewish, you know.”  While lust ran deep in my grandparents’ genes, it clearly skipped a generation—my parents stopped having sex once my mother’s pregnancy test came back positive.

 

“I know you miss, Zaidy. We all do.”

 

“Married for so many years, I don’t know what I’ll do without him. I’m all alone.”

 

“Ma, you’re not alone. I basically live next door.”

 

“At least I have you,” Bubbie said, patting my back and ignoring my mother.

 

“You have all of us,” I offered.

 

 “My children abandoned me!”

“Ma, I live down the street.” My mother rolled her eyes.

“Exactly, down the street. Not next door. It’s like a need a passport to see you!”

 

“Bubbie, maybe I could stay with you for a while. So you don’t have to be alone?”

 

“Such a good girl.”

 

“Enough hugging.  Amy, take this to the dining room.”

 

My mother shoved a platter into my hip to break up our hug. Truth be told, my bond with Bubbie bond always rubbed my mother the wrong way. She thought I loved Bubbie more than her. I didn’t, but she didn’t care for the truth. She cared about what she could use to guilt me to her will. Clearly, that gene didn’t skip any generations.  

 

“Ma, go out and sit with your guests.”

“They’re not my guests. This isn’t a party. I’m sitting shiva. And, if I want to sit shiva on the floor of my kitchen, so help me, I’ll sit shiva on the floor of my kitchen!”

“Don’t be ridiculous. People are here to pay their respects to you and daddy.”

“The schnorrers are only here for a free meal. I bet you no one signs up to send us a single meal for this whole week.”

 

“I bet if you put out a bag of potato chips, no one would stick around to help make a minyan for evening prayers,” I added.

 

“Would it hurt you to take my side instead of Bubbie’s for once? I am your mother.”

 

I took the tray from my mother and kissed her on the cheek.

 

“I’m going. I’m going. Bubbie, come with me. Let’s go see Bev and Erica.”

 

“If you see my good-for-nothing sisters, tell them to bring their tuchuses into the kitchen and help me bring out the food.”

 

I nodded my head and escorted Bubbie into the dining room adjacent to the kitchen, which in turn opened onto the living room filled with mourners. It was a packed house. My father was in the corner pouring shots of schnapps for a group of Zaidy’s gambling buddies. My mother’s sisters were sitting on the cushion less plastic-covered sofa, half a foot lower than everyone else who was seated, in accordance with Jewish custom out of respect for my departed Zaidy.

 

“I forgot to ask, did you get the package?”

 

“I did. I put it on your bed.”

 

“Thank you! You’re such a good granddaughter,” she said, kissing my hand.

 

“I still can’t figure out how to order things from that jungle.”

“It’s not a jungle, Bubbie. It’s called Amazon. I hope it’s what you wanted.”

“Ma, sit next to me,” Aunty Bev ordered.

 

“No, sit next to me,” Aunty Erica pled.


“First you abandon me. Now, you fight over me?” Bubbie shook her head. She went over to the couch and wedged herself between her other two kids. The ones she “never” saw anymore because they each lived on separate Canadian coasts, except for when they visited for the high holidays and every other Passover, to enjoy some kugel and a lecture on how they abandoned their mother and father in Toronto without anyone to care for them – even though my mother never left their side since we lived five houses down the street from theirs. I perched myself on the armrest of the couch. “So, I see you came back for the funeral.”

 

“How are you doing, Mommy?” Aunty Bev asked a little too sweetly.

 

“Now I’m Mommy? When your father was alive I was ‘Ma’.”

 

Aunty Bev rolled her eyes.

 

“Can I get you something?” Aunty Erica asked.

“You’ve been parked on this couch since we got home from the cemetery. Now, you’re suddenly going to get up and help me?”

“I’ll ask Amy to get you what you want. Or, Sheila’s in the kitchen, she can get you what you want.”

“Always getting someone else to do your work. If I want something, I’ll get it myself.”

 

“So, um, we want to talk to you about something,” Aunty Bev said.

 

“Yeah, we do,” Aunty Erica added without really adding anything.

 

“So, spit it out.”

“When are we going to read Dad’s will?” Aunty Bev asked.

 

Bubbie gaped. She said nothing.

 

“I have to get back to Vancouver in a few days…” Aunty Erica started.

 

“Get back? You just got here last night,” I shot back. “Zaidy has been lying under a duvet of dirt for barely an hour, and you have the nerve to…”

 

“I get everything. You get nothing. There, you’ve read his will,” Bubbie advised, patting my knee—her way to quiet me. “Go back to the city of vans.”

 

“Um, you didn’t actually read anything,” Aunty Bev said.

 

“I gave you the audiobook version. Now, shut up and mourn fast so you don’t miss your flight.”

Aunty Bev and Aunty Erica were stunned into silence. Bubbie turned to me. I smiled at her. She knew how to shut people up.  I always told her that she should take her show on the road, but Bubbie would always say the world wasn’t ready for two Joan Rivers.

 

I returned to the kitchen to help my mother, who was being run off her feet replenishing the food that the mourners ate to fill their bellies while regaling Bubbie with stories of Zaidy. Bubbie was right, these people were only too happy to eat free food—if you cook it, they will come.

 

“Sweetheart, come toast your Zaidy with us. You know my daughter, Amy?” my father called out to me.

 

Dad poured me a drink. Then he poured all the men and himself another. The men’s cheeks were redder than the beets on the dining room table. The sweats had set in, and a few of the men had loosened their ties. They’d all removed their kippot to allow the heat to escape. A bare head was the body’s natural air conditioning system, my Zaidy always said. Being bald, he never appreciated that fact more than in summer or while waiting out winter in Miami’s sweltering heat.

 

“How many have you had?” I asked.

 

My father shrugged, swaying side-to-side ever so slightly.

 

“Who’s keeping count? This is a shiva!

 

“During shiva, we drink,” one of the men ordered.

 

“To your Zaidy!” another man announced.

 

“To Zaidy!” the chorus echoed.

 

We all tossed our drinks back.

 

“Another!” the chorus commanded.

 

My father poured another round.

 

L’chaim!” my father shouted.

 

“You don’t say l’chaim during a shiva! Show some respect,” Bubbie shouted.

 

“That’s like saying Macbeth in a theatre,” Aunty Erica shouted.

 

“What does Macbeth have to do with sitting shiva?” I asked.

 

“It’s bad luck.”

 

“What kind of back luck could you be worried about? We’re at a shiva!” I laughed.

 

“Someone could drop dead,” Aunty Bev advised.

 

“Zaidy already did.”

 

Bubbie shook her head.

 

“This is too much for me. I’m going to my room. I need to lie down.”

 

“Ma, do you want me to take you upstairs?” my mother offered, running over from the dining room while untying her apron.

 

“Oh, so now you want to help me? Where were you when Amy was offering to move in with me?”

“Ma, I live five houses away from you. Amy lives in New York. She was offering to come home for a while. I never left.”

“That’s because she loves me more.”

 

My mother threw up her hands and returned to the kitchen. Bubbie walked up the stairs, shooing visitors away.

 

The cacophony of voices resumed their natural cadence as conversations naturally resumed after Bubbie left the room. Dishes clanged. My mother continued to cook. My father continued to get drunk with a group of nonagenarian men who’d left their dentures to soak in Bubbie’s fine crystal tumblers full of seltzer. Bev and Erica remained on the couch, happy not to help my mother or be with their mother, and remaining lost in the endless scroll of whatever app they were preoccupied with.

 

Suddenly, we heard a big bang. Voices quieted to a dim hum. Then, we heard another loud bang. Followed by another. The voices stopped altogether. Everyone listened intently for the source of the noise.

 

“What’s that sound?” my mother cried out from the kitchen.

 

“Shh!” Aunty Bev ordered. “We’re listening for it.”

“Listening for what?” my father asked.


Another bang was heard.

 

“It’s coming from outside,” someone shouted.

 

“Probably a raccoon going through the garbage.”

 

“I don’t hear anything,” my father advised.

 

“You’re drunk” Aunty Erica said. “Now, shh!”

 

“It sounds like banging against the wall.”

 

Bang. Bang. Bang.  Then suddenly, a muffled sound was heard.

 

“Ooooooh!”

 

Followed by silence.

 

“It’s not a raccoon.”

 

“I think it’s a raccoon,” Aunty Bev said.

 

“Where is that coming from?” my father asked.

 

Then, the sound became louder. Everyone congregated in the living room.

 

“Ooh! Oh! Ah!”

 

“It’s not a raccoon. It’s a person,” one of the mourners cried.

 

“Someone’s in trouble,” a woman shrieked.

“Maybe it’s ma,” my mother cried. “I think the sounds are coming from her room. Everybody shut up so I can listen.”

My mother stood on a chair, with a glass in hand, trying to listen through the ceiling.

 

“What are you doing on that chair? Just go up and check on her,” Aunty Bev ordered.

 

“You get off your fat ass and check on her.”

 

“I’m mourning.”

“And, I’m not?”


“Well, you’re actually standing on a chair,” my dad chortled.

 

“Erica, you go up and check,” my mother instructed.

 

“My back is sore,” Erica advised rubbing her low back.

 

“It’s been sore since you were eight,” my mother retorted.

 

“Oh, shit” I muttered.

 

“What’s wrong?” my mother asked.

 

“Nothing’s wrong. Everything is fine. Let’s just let Bubbie rest. Go back to whatever you were doing.”

 

Bang. Bang. Bang.

 

“Ooh! Oh! Ah! “Ooh! Oh! Ah! “Ooh! Oh! Ah!”

 

“It doesn’t sound like she’s resting,” Bev offered.

 

“I think she’s in pain,” Erica added.

“I’m sure she’s fine,” I said.

 

“I’m going to check on her,” my mother advised, climbing off her chair and starting towards the stairs.

 

“You really don’t need to check on her,” I countered. “She’s fine.”

 

“She’s not fine! She’s shrieking in pain. Erica, Bev, come with me!”

 

“No one needs to check on her!” I shouted, following after my mother, Aunty Erica, and Aunty Bev, who had began to climb the stairs.

 

Then, the banging sounds increased in intensity and frequency.

 

““Oh God! Oh God! Oh God! Oh God! Oh God! Oh God!”

 

“What the hell is going on in there?” my father shouted from the living room.

 

“Nothing. Nothing is going on in there,” I replied.

 

And, then the noises stopped.

 

 

“Ma, you ok?” my mother cried out from the top of the stairs.

 

Her question was met with silence.

 

“Ma! Ma!”

 

Thirty seconds later, Bubbie came out of her room and stood outside wearing robe and slippers. Her face was dewy and her hair could stand to be brushed.

 

“What’s with all the shouting down here? This is a shiva!” She pushed past her daughters and walked downstairs. 

 

“We thought you were having a heart attack up there,” my mother advised, standing at the foot of the stairs with Bev and Erica at her flank.

 

“I need a drink,” Bubbie announced.

 

My father poured her a schnapps.

 

“Make it a double.”

 

She slammed it back.

 

“Give me another.”

 

My father obliged.

 

“What was all that noise coming from your room?” my mother asked. “I thought you were resting.”

 

Everyone leaned in for her answer.

 

“I was praying.”

 

Everyone leaned back, nodding their heads, and returned to their conversation. Aunty Bev and Aunty Erica returned to their phones. My mother returned to the kitchen to check on her cholent. Bubbie walked over to me and gave me a hug.

 

“Amy, you’re a doll. Thanks for the vibrator. It’s the exact one Zaidy told me to get in his Will. He said it would give me the same orgasms he gave me for 70 years. And, boy did it deliver.”

 

“I'm so glad. I got it on sale, too. 80% off!”

 

“Well, it got me 100% off, so hallelujah and thank God for that.”

 

© 2021. Naomi Elana Zener. All Rights Reserved.