On Friday, I visited my dad at his nursing home. The air quality in Oakland was abysmal, nearing 400 — “Hazardous” on the Air Quality Index. It hurt to breathe. I panted shallowly. Air clogged my chest. It felt like I was buried by a heap of blankets. Dirty, foul blankets.
Nearby hills were invisible, covered by a dirty white curtain. It was impossible to discern even the close hills, even the top of a street. Everything was obscured, murky.
The majority of the people I passed on the street wore masks. Some had flimsy surgical masks which do nothing. Others wore the 3M N95 masks, which are a little better. Several had full, respirator-type masks fastened to their heads with two different straps.
People were going about their lives this way.
I went to my father’s room to check on the air filter. I’d bought it for him the previous year when Napa County was burning, the last time the air quality had been horrific, though it was nowhere near as bad as this.
My dad was not in his room. His bed was neatly made. His new roommate, a gaunt, bearded man, looked sickly and dejected.
The room was too quiet.
The air filter was off.
I pulled it away from the wall, realized it was unplugged. Looked for the remote. Couldn’t find the remote.
I wheeled around and marched to the front desk, trying to counsel myself. I said to myself, these are just the workers, they’re doing the best they can, the person you’re about to speak to is probably not the responsible party, stay calm.
Still, the words erupted with pressure.
I said, “Why is my father’s air filter off, and unplugged, when the air quality is hazardous? When I bought him a $1000 air filter? And it’s needed now? And it’s off? And where is the remote? I can’t turn it on!”
I went downstairs. I knocked on the door of the nursing home’s executive director.
Again, I tried to modulate my anger, but I was too hopped-up to even sit down in his office.
I said, “I bought my dad a $1000 air filter to protect him. I came here three nights ago and turned it on. Now, when I check it today, it’s off and unplugged, and the remote is gone.
“I need it found. And turned on.
“Don’t you think this is a bit ludicrous?
“Can you please make sure the staff knows what this is? It’s an AIR FILTER. You can make at least one room clean. You can use it for other fragile residents.”
(WHY DO I HAVE TO STATE THE OBVIOUS?) came from behind every sentence I uttered.
I’m sure I can be more effective if I’m less angry. But, this article isn’t about anger management.
It’s about something nicer than that.
It’s about music, delight when it’s least expected… and flirtation!
I’ll get there.
I went to find my dad. This was heartening in the first place, that he’d been brought to the day’s activity on the third floor. The last few weeks, he’d been quite out of it. Semi-conscious, slumped in his jerry chair, unable to register my presence or anything else, really.
His chest was filled with phlegm that he couldn’t clear. I’d been alarmed. I had not pressured my kids to join me to see him. There didn’t seem to be much point, and it was pretty depressing. I was girding myself.
I made my way to the third floor. The elevator opened. I walked down the hall and took a left turn into the dining/activity room. My eyes sought my father. When they found him, joy and surprise washed over me.
He was sitting up, alert, handsome, his eyes rapt, enthralled by something before him. I turned and saw and the vision that had captivated my father.
There in the front of the room, dressed in a dandy black cowboy shirt with white piping, a big cowboy hat, cowboy boots, and jeans with a big brass buckle was a spry black man in his fifties playing the accordion and dancing around.
He played and sang and pirouetted and extended his feet, brushing the floor as dancers do. His hips moved smoothly, he was lithe and vibrant and ever so smiley. He exaggerated everything. He was having a blast.
My dad barely registered my presence. His eyes gripped the musician.
I knelt down beside him, took his hand, and watched the show with him. The man was ribald, with a great stage presence. He flirted with the ladies, sidling up to them, playing his accordion, then, later, his fiddle. He played guitar and piano too. He was the magical music man, wreathed in smiles, delivering country, zydeco, rock and roll, and jazz standards.
He changed the whole room. I took a video of him and the almost entirely wheelchair-bound audience.
After several songs, I had to get back to work. I kissed my dad goodbye and gathered my things.
As I made my way out of the room, smiling, I caught the eye of an old man in a wheelchair, on the perimeter of the room by the door.
Immediately, he did what was natural for him when encountering a smiling, attractive woman. He winked. And not just any wink. It was a knowing, rakish, fantastic, fabulous wink, a wink that said, You’re cute! I like seeing you! I’m acknowledging you, your smile, your womanhood.
I’m acknowledging you as a man. As a man acknowledges a woman.
He was a man who knew and remembered how to flirt, and in that moment, the moment he sent that vivacious (voracious?) wink my way, he was no longer an old man in a wheelchair.
He was transformed. He was handsome and sexy, vibrant and vital, and we bonded in the air in that moment. I understood and acknowledged his wink. He saw I understood. It brightened both our lives. It was a secret we shared.
When I got home, I told my 20-year-old son about it.
I said, “Bo, you have to learn to flirt. It’s so important, it’s so fun. In this time when young people are holing themselves up behind their devices and laptop screens, when flirting and dating have gone by the wayside, when isolation is rearing its ugly head, more pronounced, it seems with each passing year… you have to flirt and appreciate women!”
At a time when the MeToo movement — which of course is needed but is unfortunately taken too far by unintelligent, bitter people — as these things always are — we need to keep a part of our culture and society dedicated to the art of flirtation. The art of appreciating the opposite sex, playfully, and appreciating sexuality and sensuality is valuable, is crucial.
It is decidedly not terrifying to be flirted with, to be appreciated.
I thank God that at 50, men still flirt with me. The fact that they just may be wheelchair-bound and relegated to a nursing home takes absolutely nothing away from the magic of that moment, and the magic of what was exchanged.
That man made me feel pretty and sexy.
By receiving his wink in kind, I made him feel handsome and sexy.
That’s a win-win in my book.