By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
“To find one person who can do both would be quite rare,” board member Pipes admits.
At last month’s meeting in the dining hall, family members sitting around the edge of the room testify, one after another, that were it not for Phil Way, they wouldn’t have brought their parents to Sunset Hall. Then Irja, wheezing in a wheelchair from a recent bout with emphysema, plows into the board with the chutzpah of her muckraking days:
“This board is simply blaming Phil for its own shortcomings,” Irja starts. “Phil is on call seven days a week. In four years, he’s never taken a vacation. When the driver is out sick, it’s Phil who takes us shopping. When our toilets clog up, it’s Phil who’s there with a plunger. Where are you? And when did families stop being invited to board meetings? When did all these closed-door executive sessions start? I am disgusted.”
Irja followed up her outburst by meeting with Solis in the library a few days later.
“I blew it,” Irja confesses. “I asked her about her politics, and she said she didn’t have to answer that question. Then I asked her about her philosophy, and she said she didn’t have to answer that question either. I got mad and left. Discussing politics and philosophy is why I came here!”
The board’s cloak-and-dagger approach to hiring the new executive director has residents like Irja worried that the board is too willing to sell out Sunset Hall’s ideological traditions, if that’s the quickest route to financial health.
Indeed, despite residents’ concerns, the clandestine maneuvering seems to be continuing as Solis has already transferred six residents from her current employer, the Molokan Home for the Aged, while her staff at Molokan has been directed not to discuss the nature of or reasons for the transfers, or even to disclose her name. Sunset Hall residents worry that the old folk arriving from Molokan have no experience with or affinity for Sunset Hall’s progressive legacy and that the transfers appear to be in direct conflict with policies prohibiting discount rates and double-room occupancy to which Way was strictly bound, but Solis is not. Solis declined to return phone calls from the Weekly, and Sunset Hall board president Larry Abbott had no comment.
Out in the stony courtyard, Irja leads a circle of women in discussion. The women are still feeding off the energy of the previous day’s anti-war rally, gibing the administration, trading anti-war stories. Irja catches every little irony, every wry joke, with a quick laugh. She grew up in Connecticut, Quaker stock, and recalls her father working in an ax factory, where the metal dust was damaging workers’ lungs. He started a union-organizing effort for healthier working conditions. These days, Irja has a computer in her room with a high-speed Internet connection — the better to feed her news-junkie habit. It also allows her to e-mail her son, her only child, now in his 60s, who has a high-tech career in China. Curiously, Irja, who is not Jewish, nudges the mostly Jewish residents to observe the customs of their faith — candles for the Jewish New Year, Manischewitz wine. They usually go along with it, reluctantly, and perplexed by Irja’s obsession with traditions not her own.
Betty shades her eyes and reveals a set of perfect pearl teeth when she smiles:
“I’ve never seen a place where they’re so nice to people — it makes you feel like home — my son brought me here and I just love it — so, so lovely,” Betty gushes. “I lived in the desert, my husband died, and my children wanted me to be closer. My son, Stewart, lives two blocks away, that’s why I wanted to be here. It’s so much nicer being here than being up in Yucca Valley all alone. Here, they make my bed. I’m very happy.”
A short, stocky woman named Myra has a shock of brunette hair and looks 30 years younger than her age, 83. She visits Sunset Hall regularly with the aim of eventually residing here.
“They had a beautiful choir,” Myra remarks about yesterday’s demonstration. “They sang ‘Down by the Riverside.’”
The women spontaneously burst into the song, more or less in tune, while some clap out the beat:
I’m going to lay down my sword and shield, Down by the riverside, Ain’t gonna study war no more.
Myra interrupts the singing: “Jackie Goldberg was there!”
Adds Irja, “Medea Benjamin was terrific.”
Luba stares up at the courtyard’s jacaranda tree, deep in thought.
“I knew your husband,” Myra says to Luba. He was a union organizer.
“We never know what each other has,” Luba says, reflecting upon the way the aged become marginalized in our society. “And we all have something, and many people don’t appreciate who and what we are, and there’s a tremendous amount of rich experience.”
Says Myra, “My husband was in the Rubber Workers Union in L.A. — Goodrich.”
“Mine was in the Carpenters Union, also in L.A.,” Luba adds.