February 11, 2014
Alice called me early this morning. I was barely awake. “Where’s Hugh Hefner?” she wanted to know.
I mumbled sleepily into the phone. “I don’t know.”
Mumbling was a mistake. “Don’t talk so soft,” she said, and repeated the question. “Where’s Hugh Hefner?”
I sat up in bed and repeated my answer. Hugh Hefner and I have never been on familiar terms. If we were ever to meet, I’m certain that we would pass right by one another, eyes glazed over, each looking for someone more in line with our personal interests. “Why are you asking about him?”
“Oh, the things I think about sitting here,” Alice said. “It’s never predictable. He came to mind. Now he’ll pop up on television, I suppose.”
It could happen. Lately, we’ve been wondering if Alice has suddenly developed psychic abilities. The other day she’d asked me about Rosie O’Donnell.
Rosie is not someone she’s ever cared much for, but she came to mind, as Alice would put it.
The next day Rosie O’Donnell showed up on The View, one of the few programs Alice still watches on television, even though she can’t hear it any more.
Alice found this coincidence striking. A few days after that, she asked me about George Clooney and reminded me that he is the nephew of one of her era’s most popular singers, Rosemary Clooney.
I couldn’t put my finger on George’s whereabouts either. A few days later, Alice saw him being interviewed by someone about something. She had no idea what they were talking about, but she felt glad to see him.
“Rosemary’s dead,” she said. “Right?”
Alice doesn’t know anyone currently popular, but once she knew not only the stars’ names from her days of going to movies, but also their back stories. I think she adopted this interest from her mother, and it has, for better or for worse, been passed on to me. Any of my friends might ask me, for example, what Reese Witherspoon is up to and, not to anyone’s amazement, I will know the answer. Name a movie star and, even though I don’t care one whit about them or give a damn what they’re doing, my brain will have pulled in some trivial fact via a sort of genetic Celebrity Information Magnet. For example, not long after Alice asked me about George Clooney, I learned that he recently directed a movie that I don’t plan to see.
Alice’s mother, Martha, in her later days, added a television set to the house she shared with my Aunt Mattie. Martha liked wrestling. She knew it was all fake and she knew she’d survived things through her own wits and strength that no impersonator of a fighter could even hope to survive. Still, she liked watching. There wasn’t much else on. She liked the old radio serials better than anything.
Martha did not approve of many stars’ back stories. She didn’t like it, for example, that Debbie Reynolds lost Eddie Fisher to Elizabeth Taylor.
Alice didn’t like it either, but now she’s not interested in the back stories so much. She wants to see the faces she knows. Lately I’ve been wondering if this is at least partly because people at The Place disappear without notice, without explanation, and sometimes without returning. The Man in the Hat, for example, is gone. “He hasn’t been around for a couple of weeks,” she told me yesterday.
Also, Calista , who was beginning a friendship with Alice, has disappeared. Calista came from northern Minnesota and spoke a bit of Norwegian taught to her by her grandmother. She’d been helping Alice remember Norwegian words and phrases that had dropped down so deep into the well of memory that not even Martha with her well survival skills could have brought them back up again.
Almost every day Calista remarked on Alice’s looks. She told her she was pretty, beautiful, smart-looking, stylish – all of Alice’s favorite things to hear. Imagine losing track of the person in your life who tells you your favorite things to hear about yourself. She liked telling Calista how smart she was, and how wise to remember a foreign language; it’s good for our brains to speak more language than one.
I’m trying to track Calista down, but one needs to be tricky at The Place. Even if it’s your mother’s friend, you cannot come right out and ask a direct question because of the iron wall constructed by HIPAA. I’m hoping to finagle the information out of Jolie at the front desk, but so far she pleads ignorance and always says she’ll ask someone, then forgets to do it.
Until my sleuthing pays off, we’ll have to work on the rich, famous, and of dubious character. Where’s Hugh? Turns out everything you probably never cared to know about him is only a Google search away.
This is one of Alice’s favorite songs. She told me she sang this to herself often when my father was away being a soldier in France and then Germany.