Sylvia Moves In


I get the call just two days after breaking up with Riccardo. My grandmother Sylvia and her boyfriend Mr. K, are both stricken with the Covid-19 virus. They’ve been taken by ambulance from their home on Long Island to Presbyterian Hospital on East 68th street. Within 24 hours, Mr. K is dead. Sylvia, on a ventilator, is fighting for her life. I can’t go to her. I can’t see her. All I can do is camp outside the hospital and argue with cops who refuse to wear masks but want to know why I’ve been sitting on this bench all afternoon. “My grandmother is up there. Where else would I be??”


Sylvia is tough. She always has been. And she pulls through. But she can’t go back out to Long Island. There’s still more recovery for her to do. When a nursing home is suggested I don’t think twice about it. I start making arrangements for her to come home with me. A hospital bed and a lovely nurse named Fiona is installed in my bedroom and I sleep on the convertible sofa in the guest room next door. It’s also my office so it actually works. But WINONA, INC. hasn’t had a booking in three months. Who needs a fucking office?


Sylvia starts to regain her strength and develops a severe case of old lady foulness, growing shittier and more hard to please every day. Nurse Fiona is replaced with Nurses Marguerite, Lucille and Cassandra. Sylvia’s chewing them up and spitting them out like pumpkin seeds and when she gets tired of shredding on them, she turns her high beams on me. But I’m missing my man and kind of in a bad mood myself so we’ve had some skirmishes, Miss Sylvia and me. Don’t worry. I haven’t gone Baby Jane on her. Not yet anyway.


But she’s pushing a bitch real close to the edge. At least one plate of food ends up on the floor almost daily and in less than a month, I’m rolling up and trashing the fine, Tibetan rug in my bedroom! I swear she’s putting the screws to me. Directly. Not her nurses. Me. And what in the hell did I do?? So the night a saucy plate of spaghetti and meatballs land just inches away from her pretty pink Dearfoams, I leave the mess right there. All night. She probably doesn’t get even a minute of sleep but she asked for it. Right? Well okay. That might be a bit Baby Jane-ish. But it’s also the last time she skids a plate of food across my floor.


I have Katz Delicatessen’s world famous chicken soup trucked up here from downtown. What does she do? Spits out the first spoonful. The broth is salty and the noodles are mushy. Fine. She used to love Melba’s on 114th Street. Couldn’t get enough of it. But now she says their braised short ribs are disgusting.
“Disgusting?” I ask, chomping on a mouthful of fabulousness. Hmmmm. “Well I’ll just call them right up and issue a formal complaint, Your Majesty. Right after I lick this plate clean.”


Once she acquires an Air Hawk power chair Sylvia becomes mobile. Yay! Now she gets to spread her joy all over the building. Whoever ends up on the elevator with her bunches her panties by the time they get to the ground floor. She argues with Caitlyn at the front desk, the doormen, the chauffeurs, she even fights with maids of the other tenants. And she never bothers to tell me she’s rolling out. Oh hell no. She just disappears while I’m showering or on the computer in my office. Until I get a phone call from the lobby.
“Ms. Warner? Come get your grandmother. Please.”


My circuits are jammed. I don’t know what to do. I ask her doctor if maybe she’s had a stroke. I mean, she’s always been feisty but Miss Thing threw her shoe at me yesterday! What in the Naomi Campbell is going on? Dr. Nang shakes his head. “I see this type of thing with many patients, Ms. Warner. Your grandmother is angry. And she’s sad. She misses her friends, her home, her life. How long was she and Mr. K together? Over ten years? And now he’s gone. No funeral. No goodbye.” He shakes his head again. “She’s depressed. And she’s pissed off. Who wouldn’t be?”


While I’m sad and horny and missing Riccardo, for all intents and purposes Sylvia has been widowed. Again. And damn. I’ve got to do better. So the next morning I select a caftan for her to wear, the bright and colorful kind she likes. I help her to put on earrings, her precious diamonds, and her favorite gold cuff. In the foyer I tell her to pick out a mask to wear while I tie a pretty head wrap over her hair. Then we head out with a picnic lunch to snag a table in the building’s courtyard. The waterfall has been turned on for the season, the sky is as blue as my pumps and there’s a sweet breeze blowing. It’s a gorgeous day.


Sylvia perks up the minute sunlight hits her face. She’s come a long way in her recovery, in spite of having a nasty attitude that won’t quit. But today she’s looking mighty fine and regal sitting here nibbling on cold chicken and pasta salad. Nothing like that scary old witch who rolled through the building last week terrorizing everybody. Taking a sip from the small cup of scotch I’ve poured for her, she leans towards me and whispers, “A man over there is staring at me.” I turn to look but she stops me. “Don’t be obvious,” she says and then, “Oops. Now look what you did. He’s headed this way.”


I pull my mask up over my nose and mouth and tell her to do the same as the man, on a cane and assisted by a teenage boy, walks slowly to our table. His brown eyes are twinkling above his standard-issue surgical mask. I can almost see his smile behind it. “Aren’t you Sylvia Warner from CityMeals on Wheels? We volunteered at the same facility about ten years ago. I’m Simon,” he says before lowering the mask to his chin. “Simon Baladashi.”


Sylvia smiles. She remembers him right away. “How have you been, Mr. B,” she says. He sits down at the table closest to ours and in-between bites from a super deluxe Z Grill sammie, he tells us all about his son and daughter-in-law, two bigtime cosmetic surgeons, and how he, a widower, moved into the building with them last year after a stroke. He leans towards Sylvia and admits, in a loud whisper, that he doesn’t care for the arrangement. She cocks her head and gives me the side eye.
“Go on and say it,” I tell her before excusing myself. “You don’t like living with me either.”


That evening after lights-out for Sylvia, I open a bottle of pinot grigio and get ready to Zoom with Belle, Desi and Lourdis. It’s been three months since our last Thursday night at Salon de Ning, our hangout at the Peninsula, and I miss my sisters like coo-coo-crazy. Poor Belle is literally trapped out in Queens with her mother. Look. She’s smoking again. Desi is sequestered downtown and forced to stay true to Truman. That’s hard for a tramp like him. And Lourdis, in the Village, is rolling solo. She put her last squeeze out right after I let go of Riccardo. She’s such a copycat.


When they ask about Sylvia I tell them how much she hates my lavender scented candles, insists that everything I watch on television is trash and complains every morning about the motor on my Thermador refrigerator keeping her awake all night. In the meantime, I hear her snoring like Godzilla through the walls. “Her doctor says she’s mad at the world,” I tell them. “But today she ran into an old friend and that seemed to cheer her up.” After I give them the 4-1-1 on the widower Mr. Baladashi, Lourdis laughs.
“That’s your answer right there, hunni,” she says. “Miss Sylvia needs a man.”
“Stop,” I say. “She just buried one.”
“Well, now she needs another.”


Mr. B calls and invites Sylvia to lunch. “We’ll play Monopoly,” he tells her. How did he know that’s her favorite game? With his great-grandson Thomas, they drop by to scoop her up. That shirt, though! It’s way crazy on the eyes but Sylvia loves a peacock so he’s getting extra points right out of the chute. The old dude’s code—never let a lady drive her own wheelchair—must be universal because he insists on pushing her to the elevator, through the lobby and out to the table he’s got on reserve in the courtyard. It gets around fast and some of the senior ladies in the building are oooweee-pissed about it. Apparently Mr. B is considered hot stuff around here. Who knew?

The next day Sylvia orders several new caftans from Saks and goes through every bottle of perfume on my vanity before choosing Viktor & Rolf’s Flowerbomb as her new scent. She polishes her toenails and rummages through my mask collection, putting together her en-soms. Yeah. She’s still got game. After their third date, she rolls back in with a 24-piece box of Godiva truffles nestled in her lap. I call Lourdis and we can’t stop laughing. “That’s gonna be you, girl,” she screams. “That’s gonna be YOU!” Then there’s the flowers. Delivered almost every day. It broke my face the first time I read the card and realized they weren’t for me. Tulips. Big, colorful gladiolas. And lavender arrangements that smell like what? My scented candles. But guess who’s not bitching about that anymore?


Things are heating up between Miss Sylvia and Mr. B. They see each other almost every day. While in the kitchen one early afternoon I hear the front door open and Sylvia’s power chair motor. She left with Mr. B and Thomas not even an hour ago.
“Hey,” I call out. “What are you doing back so soon? Have a fight with your boyfriend?”
She blows right by me and rolls toward her bedroom. She doesn’t say a word. All I see is the back of her head. Oh-oh. Something’s up. I start to follow after her when the doorbell rings.


Through the peephole I see it’s Dr. Baladashi, Mr. B’s son. He’s frowning at me over his black space-agey N95 mask. “I would like for you to keep your grandmother away from my father,” he says when I open the door. He doesn’t realize it but I attended an anger-management session on Zoom last night and it just saved his life. A week ago I would have wrapped that cute little mask around his scrawny neck.
“You want me to keep my grandmother away from your father?” I ask. “Why? Has something happened?”
He hems and haws and then finally he blurts out—“I just caught them upstairs. They were in his bedroom pleasuring one another!”


All kinds of kinky, geriatric shit swirl around in my head and I just can’t help it. I burst out laughing! Then the elevator door opens. It’s Mr. B. He scurries out, sees his son and starts apologizing. “I’m so sorry, Winona. He shouldn’t be here. Benjamin, what’s wrong with you??”
But I’m dying to know all the dirty deets.“Mr. B, what were you and my grandmother doing??”
The doctor cuts in. “Things they shouldn’t be doing!”
“Who says they shouldn’t?” I ask him. “You?”


We’re shouting at each other in the hall. You’d think Doc would be thrilled to know that his 80 year old father still has an appetite, right? Not! Suddenly Sylvia appears in the foyer behind me. I turn around and OMG! She isn’t in her power chair. Sister is walking! When did this happen?
“Everybody just shut up for a minute,” she says and holds her hand out to Mr. B. He shuffles passed me. I can smell Flowerbomb all over him. He stands next to Sylvia and she watches attentively as he buttons his shirt and tucks it in before cupping her hands in his.
“We’ve got news for both of you,” she looks at his son and then at me. “When Dr. Nang says it’s okay for me to return home, Simon will be joining me. We’ve decided to become roommates.”

Leave it to my grandmother, Sylvia Warner, to roll out of the Grande Oaks Active Seniors community with one man and walk back in with a brand new one. Lourdis said that’s gonna be me? Well I sure hope so!

The End


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