The Senility Test
Looking after an 89-year-old man poses many challenges. And so it is with my father-in-law, Jake.
For instance, it’s a challenge for my wife and I to keep him entertained. Jake’s worn-out body prevents him from engaging in almost all the activities he enjoyed a few years ago. He was once very active. But now about all he can do is sit around and read or watch TV, or stare at the walls.
But he can also play games. And he loves games.
And so we compete against each other at Scrabble, Dominoes, Yahtzee, and Rummy. Rummy is his favorite.
I theorize that playing games with Jake can help us to assess his level of mental capacity. In other words, has that old fart gone senile yet? How about we put him to a test every day? Let’s see how well he does at Rummy.
When my wife and I first started playing Rummy with Jake, we colluded to go easy on him. We didn’t want him to feel dispirited from us beating him too much. But it didn’t take long for this conspiracy to fall apart. Jake kicks ass at Rummy. Now it’s everyone for themselves, in a Rummy free-for-all.
We also track the winner of the most games per month. The monthly champion gets a free dinner at the restaurant of their choice. So far, we’ve bought Jake’s dinner three months in a row.
A typical game of Rummy with Jake goes something like this:
Me: “Let’s see, since you dealt, my dear, Jake goes first. He’s to your left.”
Wife: “Oh yeah, right. Jake goes first!” she repeats firmly and loudly.
A long minute passes while he silently fiddles with his cards. We stare expectantly at him, our patience gradually dissolving. Finally he glances up at our stern faces and gimlet eyes.
Jake: “Who’s first?”
Wife & Me: “You!”
Jake: “Oh, I thought it was someone else.”
Jake fiddles with his cards some more.
Jake: “I can’t play. I only have eight cards.”
Wife: (takes cards from his hand and finds the ninth card hidden behind another card) “There. You have nine.”
Jake: “Oh, there it is. Thanks.”
Jake drags his lame hand and fingers across the table, reaching for the deck. The stridor of his scratching fingernails on the tablecloth sends shivers up my spine. He fumbles with the deck. He has a very hard time picking up the top card, due to arthritis, and numbness in his fingertips from carpal tunnel. Finally he gets a grip on the top two cards and pulls them back toward his chest.
Me: “Jake, you picked up two cards!”
Jake: “Oh. Damn! Sorry.”
He clumsily drops the bottom card (my card when I draw next) upon the table top, face up. I pick it up and put it back on the deck.
Then Jake proceeds to lay out some beautiful runs of three and three-of-a-kind on the table. That son-of-a-bitch sure has some luck!
It’s now my turn. I draw the card from the top of the deck that everyone has already seen. It’s a useful card, but I fear tucking it into it’s most appropriate spot in my hand, because everyone has seen it and would know what else I’m holding. I find a less useful card and tuck it there as a ruse, then discard it, then put the useful card there. Nobody is fooled.
The play goes around. When it’s Jake’s turn, my wife helps him pick up the top card, and only the top card, so that the next card will remain a secret. Then when it’s my turn, I draw it. To my delight, it’s a Joker.
I play two Aces and the Joker, for three-of-a-kind.
Jake: (tsking in disgust) “Another Joker. You always get the Jokers. I just don’t understand it.”
I roll my eyes and sigh. I’ve given up on this controversy. Jake began making this claim that I always get the Jokers, from the time we began our Rummy tournaments. His little under-the-skin implication is that I’m a cheater, and have somehow figured out how to always conjure the Jokers from the deck.
I don’t even like Rummy. And why would I cheat an 89-year-old man?
At one point I kept a tally of who was getting the Jokers, just to prove that I wasn’t cheating. And then I was able to smugly point out to Jake that actually he had gotten the most Jokers over the past few games. Jake replied that it was awfully strange that he was suddenly getting so many Jokers after I started keeping track.
That old bastard is so good with the needle. Always getting it under my skin.
Jake gets a look at my upcoming draw card just about every time he clumsily draws without assistance. But it all evens out. His arthritic, numb fingers can’t hold his own cards in his hand very well, and they often escape to gravity, revealing themselves on the table top. I shamelessly make a mental note.
We bought a special card holder that Jake can use, to assist him at keeping his cards from dropping. But he refuses to use it. He’s painfully independent. He wants to get by in this world with as little help as possible.
We play Rummy every night, routinely murdering each other in our minds, as one player or other picks a card from the pile that someone else wants, or makes a big play, or goes out.
Mostly we murder Jake. For all his fumbling and bumbling, he thwarts our strategies much more often than we thwart his.
And so, Jake keeps passing the senility test.
After the game he pushes himself up from the table, exerting every last ounce of muscular effort he can manage, to render his broken old frame upright. And all this exertion forces him to pass a big, long, loud fart. And then he glances at our panicked faces and cackles wickedly.
It happens EVERY time. And we know it’s going to happen. Why don’t we ever get up first and make a run for it? I don’t know.
I guess it is us who cannot pass the senility test.