There was something to the geriatric smell. Perhaps it was the atrophied limbs or the numbing minds. The wisps of hair that blew with the chill of the air conditioner. It could have been the mountains of Purell that built up under overburdened dispensers. The environment was overwhelmingly sterile, and sterility was chaotic for Eugene. He wanted to set fire to the linoleum and watch it burn. He wanted to feel the heat against his cheeks as he walked away from an explosion; he wanted to be Jean Claude Van Damme. All around him, the liver spots coalesced with wrinkles. Wrinkles danced with disease. And, well, disease led to death.
Doris went out on a stretcher last week. Pulmonary embolism. Cardiac infarction. Hemorrhage. Did it really matter? Eugene always questioned why people were so eager to find out the cause. Didn’t people enjoy mysteries anymore? Where’s the romance in being taken apart in a lab?
There was a constant patter in the large meeting room. Pills being poured into cups. Bright oranges and blues in little capsules. Everyone seemed to be prescribed the same dosage. Two in the morning with breakfast and two at night before bed. What an infantilizing routine. Eugene despised routine and tradition even more. He craved spontaneity, thrills, and romance. He thirsted for smog on a New York City street and the soft lace of a tightened corset. In his youth Eugene was an unabashed lothario. But, when you walk with four tennis balls, it’s a bit difficult to be seductive. They always say STI rates are highest in elderly homes. This is a lie, and Eugene experienced it firsthand. Why do they strip the elderly of sexuality? Eugene always thought this as adults attempted to spoon feed him soup. And what is it with soup? Soup is not food; it is the watery precipice from which people jump into lethargy.
It sounds like I’m the manifestation of Eugene’s subconscious. A talking neuron, taking a stroll through Eugene’s mind. But, if you think this…you’re wrong. I am just a passive observer. I mostly stick to the corners, caught in-between the sharp edges of chipping paint. I’m sorry if I confused you, but after all this time, I know Eugene really, really well. I feel a certain fondness towards him. I can’t pinpoint it. It isn’t paternal, nor is it respect; it’s more like I’m observing a mouse in a lab. I see how he reacts to certain stimuli, how he solves certain puzzles. It’s interesting and I’m bored. So I’m going to tell you about Eugene’s life. It’s quite surprising so feel free to interrupt me if you have any questions…
Eugene. Eugene. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? It’s not a particularly attractive name. Kind of sounds like he was a dentist or maybe an accountant. Alas, Eugene was never too good at school and definitely was not good at handling money. They used to call him “butter fingers.” No, not because of his inability to catch a football, but because he would gamble away any and all money he earned. Well, that’s why he is here now, languishing about in that brown arm chair. Look at him. Bald. Slouching. Is that apple sauce on his khakis? Even if it was, I doubt Eugene cared; he was the picture of elderly angst. His graying eyes rolled as the nurses coaxed him into playing chess. He scoffed when Sudoku was passed out. He was the de facto social pariah of Clearwater Home for the Elderly. He took pride in that because he was better than these geezers. At least that’s what he thought.
Do you want to know a secret about Eugene? Well, I hear he used to be a famous movie actor. Yeah, gasp. I know. In the late 50s, Eugene was a true star. Some might even say a sex symbol. Hell, I’ll even say he was a sex symbol. He was tall, burly, and had a distinctive tuft of gray hairs that burst forth from his tendrils of black. He was a post-war dream. At least that’s what Marilyn Monroe said. Eugene and Marilyn Monroe. Pickles and Ice-cream. War and Peace.
Let me give a little more backstory. Eugene was from a small town in Indiana. It’s a cliché—small town boy accidentally finds fame in the big city. It’s true though. Eugene worked as a waiter, and one day Humphrey Bogart walks in. Why was Bogart in small town Indiana? I don’t know, but rumor is that he spotted Eugene from across the restaurant. Supposedly, in those days, Eugene had these eyes—a piercing, verdant green, dotted with flames of yellow and orange. Something caught between heaven and hell. At least…that’s what they say. Bogart whisked Eugene off to Hollywood. He didn’t even say bye to his mother or father. But who needs parents when you’re famous?
Once in Hollywood, Eugene found fame immediately. He was not necessarily a high caliber actor. He could muster a fake tear or two. Deliver a Shakespearian soliloquy from memory. But none of these made him special. What made him stand out was his charm. He flirted his way through Los Angeles like a serpent, slithering through relationships and romance without remorse. He could shed his skin in a moment, perpetually adapting and reinventing himself.
Hollywood has always been cutthroat, but in those days, it was different. Today, there’s a glut of celebrity, a constant rotation of forgettable faces and talents. Eugene built a cult of personality; he was caught between a world of rumors and legends. Drugs, partying—if you heard of any debauchery, you could bet Eugene was there. He was the original Bad Boy. I heard this one story where he came to set so drunk that he insisted that he perform his own stunts. He jumped out a window, and the tequila broke his fall. Not a scratch.
Love? Did Eugene ever find love? Now, that’s a good question. He never had any kids. I don’t think he would have been a loving father. He didn’t have it in him; he would have been too scared. He had a debilitating fear that he would mess up, ruin life for someone else. And I guess that’s the same reason he never really found love. Eugene was idiosyncratic in that way. He never wanted to hurt someone else. To impact others was a strange phenomenon. People should be able to lead their own lives. Eugene liked to watch, to embrace from afar, quite like myself.
Lamentation. Regret. Those are the sensations that float around when I think about Eugene. Oh look, he’s fallen asleep. There is something quite pitiful about watching someone when they’re asleep. So vulnerable. Do you think he’s dreaming about the past? I do.