March 17, 2011


Benjamin Braddock from the book and film “The Graduate” is an anti-hero who faces no ruthless enemy. His nemesis is summed up by the single word, “plastics” — a word which denotes not evil but a life lived at its most meaningless level. Braddock’s struggle is real despite the benign culture in which he finds himself, a culture where no one wishes him harm and everyone works tirelessly to help him conform. Still he knows he will be smothered by it as surely as if he’d been immersed into a vat of soft bubble gum.   

A few days ago, I found myself in a similar predicament, struggling against an unyielding system designed to help. On two successive days, my 95-year old mother was whisked by ambulance to the emergency rooms of nearby hospitals.  Each time I arrived to join her, I was overwhelmed by forms deemed necessary to satisfy the system, my state of mind and that of my mother’s notwithstanding.    

(courtesy: RenovoMedia)

Eventually, the last ER doctor sent his patient to a nursing home for 24 hours of observation. When I arrived at the new location, I found the place in bedlam. The sick and elderly were warehoused like dogs in a kennel, four to a toilet. All that was missing was the storm fence. That evening, I left my mother in a room where an elderly woman was babbling to herself. My guilt as I kissed her goodnight was horrific.  

The next day I arrived early to rescue my parent only to discover the system had decided to keep her indefinitely. The reason?  No one had ordered release papers.  Blowing a horse kiss to the stringy-haired woman in charge, I began gathering mom’s few belongings, behavior which sent the system into panic. Suddenly, I was besieged with pleadings and numerous phone calls from anonymous bureaucrats who warned me what I was about to do was tantamount to a prison break. “Yeah verily,” I agreed. Still, the arguments persisted while, unbeknownst to me, the system was quietly generating paperwork. By the time I had my mother in tow, the woman with stringy hair ran up to me with the requisite forms for me to sign. Her eyes were puddles of bliss. “Thank you for being so patient,” she murmured. Then she gave me hug. What was I to do? What was I to say to behavior so contrary to the fact? Speechless, I put my mother in the elevator and took her home. 

I recount this incident as a warning to all innocents: there is a word in the English language more sinister than plastics.