Al Martinez writes Mondays in the Daily News about lots of topics — last week it was about Christina Aguilera posing nude on her new album cover. Two years ago he got stoned on medical marijuana. Increasingly, and perhaps inevitably, his subjects are the vagaries and cruelties of becoming elderly. This might be the least recommended direction to go in these days when media editors count web hits above all else, but I think it's his best material. No one else writing in LA is reporting this personally on aging — though Steve Lopez has had serious health problems and the death of a parent recently. There must be a lot of potential readers in the Valley who would relate to Al's tales, like today's piece about the convalescent home where his wife of 62 years, Cinelli, is recuperating from hip replacement surgery.
They are awful places to visit and even worse to serve time in — even the good ones — and anyone you know or love could find themselves there as the result of a car accident or sudden illness or just a breakdown from age.
When I lie in bed late at night too keyed up to sleep and a full moon is spreading a soft light through an otherwise darkened room, I think of that old man begging to be released from his pain.
I can hear his voice rising down the remembered hallway of a quiet rest home wailing for someone to help him, to take him away, to put him at peace with God.
There were other sounds too in the late night stillness, including those of an equally desperate old woman who sat on a wheelchair just outside of her small room bent over and crying, whispering words between sobs that shook her frail body, words that no one seemed to hear or care about.
And I kept wondering who are these people in such anguish that they must cry out into the loneliness of their isolation for release from the prison of their emotional confinement?
I don't know that they called these places, rest homes or rehab centers, but they seemed peopled by patients whom very few ever visited, the flotsam and jetsam of a culture that moved past them like the floating wreckage of a ship at sea left to drift with random tides into the distance.
I experienced them in a place where my wife, the uncomplaining Cinelli, was taken for rehabilitation after hip replacement surgery. It was a mixture of lucid people with broken bones and motionless people silenced and immobilized by strokes.
But what seemed painfully apparent was that there were also patients who had simply grown old and who had been abandoned by those who had once cherished their companionship. Age has a way of defining presence in a youth-oriented society, and more often than not the old are left to wallow in their memories.
Some probably stopped reading Martinez after the LA Times dropped his column for the last time in 2009, or before that. But he's still around weekly in the DN, and leading writing workshops in Topanga Canyon, where he also blogs. Martinez, who has a longer list of credits on the Internet Movie Database than any other newspaper writer I know of around here, was honored earlier this year as The Bard of LA by the Huntington Library. The Huntington put on an exhibit of his work, which the museum acquired.
Last year Martinez wrote powerfully about the passing of his daughter Cinthia.