Dee Sellner will go to great lengths to keep her Plaza population happy. But she’s a professional. So no matter how much Bob McDowell keeps pestering her for a gin and tonic, and no matter how nicely Art Balinger pleads for a vodka rocks with a lemon twist, Sellner refuses. She is a CEO, not a cocktail waitress.
“Serve yourselves, boys,” she says, excusing herself from the room and leaving cackles in her wake. McDowell, Balinger, Kronenberg, and I are sitting in a small office at the Plaza, rehashing our private dinner from a few weeks ago, particularly the part about the gentleman who, perhaps unbeknownst even to himself, crashed the party. Mortality is an uncomfortable topic for anyone, but when broaching the subject with those who, given their age, might already see it in their periphery, it’s even more so. Still, I have to ask: What happened to him?
“Some people wander when they don’t mean to,” Kronenberg says. “They don’t have a lockdown here, so if you’re a wanderer, you can’t stay.” There’s a beat of silence, but instead of the morose reaction I feared, they steer the conversation toward the man’s life before his condition forced him to leave Terwilliger for the nursing unit. His family. His friends here. His life in medicine. It’s a nice circling-the-wagons moment. “There are men and women here who have done some wonderful things,” Balinger says. “There was a time when I’d see all these people in wheelchairs … Now I’ve got a walker of my own. I can relate. I’m with old people who are just as old as ‘Old Art.’ It’s comforting.”
Another comfort is that, for the third time in as many visits, some attractive elderly woman (it’s never the same one) has just popped her head in to offer to bring Balinger dinner in his apartment. He accepts coolly, but like Bogart in his prime, he does so with an ultimatum: “Just make sure it’s there by 5:30. The debate’s on at 6.”
As for McDowell’s evening, it sounds like it has as many possibilities as that of a teenager who just got his driver’s license. “Let’s see,” he says, running through a mental checklist. “There’s a chamber music performance this evening. I could go to the gym and work out, I suppose. Or maybe I’ll just head down to the track.”
Balinger rolls his eyes and lets out a withering mock sigh. He takes the handles of his walker and gives them a light shake. “That’s what’s so beautiful about being 73,” he laughs. “You feel like you’re indestructible.”