“What is this crap?” muttered Big Elmer.
“Shh, Big Bertha will hear you,” quavered Little John. Little John lived in terror of the scourge of Whooping Valley. Since her employment as head nurse of Whooping Valley Convalescent Center, her terroristic nursing tactics had become legendary. Her early morning bed baths and late night enemas had become the terror of the residents.
“I asked a simple question. What is this crap? It looks like turds in tomato sauce,” Big Elmer was new to the center. He had not yet faced the brunt of Bertha’s wrath.
“Please, Elmer, just eat it. It’s called Ravioli. If you say anything, you’re going to get all of us in trouble,” pleaded Little John.
Turning to Mrs. Haney at his right, Elmer put his arm around her and said, “How about you, baby? Do you like this swill, or would you like something that is actually found within the four basic food groups?”
“I hate to complain,” said Mrs. Haney. “Miss Bertha says that it’s good for me and my baby.”
“Baby?” queried Big Elmer.
“Promise you won’t tell?” whispered Mrs. Haney.
“I promise. Now what am I promising not to tell?”
“I am going to give birth to the Messiah. An angel appeared to me and told me that I was going to bear a child, and his name would be called Woodrow.” Mrs. Haney raised her head in a dignified manner, “He said that I was blessed among all women.”
“Now, Mary,” said John patronizingly. “You’ve been saying that for the last three years. When are you going to have that baby?”
“You can’t rush divinity!” shrieked Mrs. Haney. “You’re talking like you don’t believe me; I’m not crazy!”
A large shadow fell across the dining room table. Accompanying the shadow was the overpowering stench of Evening in Paris coupled with disinfectant.
“Mrs. Haney! What is all this commotion about? You know I like a nice quiet dining room.”
“It’s nothing, Miss Bertha,” said John. “She’s just a little excited. It won’t happen again.”
“Mary, you mustn’t excite yourself,” crooned Big Bertha in a syrupy patronizing tone. “It’s not good for you or your baby.”
Big Elmer looked up at this big woman with amazement. To the shock of the other residents, he slapped her broad behind and boomed, “Hey beautiful, this food would make a buzzard puke. How about you waddling into the kitchen and fixing us some good grub. We don’t want anything fancy. A hamburger with some fried potatoes would be real good.”
Bertha’s hairy tattooed arm gently brought Elmer’s hand from her rear to the table. In a voice devoid of sweetness, she looked him in the eye and hissed, “Mr. Wilson, we don’t touch the nurses or the aides, now do we? We also eat the good food that the cooks have provided for us. Now eat your Ravioli, and let the other residents alone.”
Elmer looked at the small pockets of pasta that were filled with God-only-knows-what. He stirred them and looked at Bertha’s wide retreating backside. In a deft movement, he scooped up a handful of the vile concoction and propelled it in her direction. The gooey glob impacted her from behind and ran down the back of her clean white uniform.
Instead of the cheer that he had expected, the residents raised their heads from their varying stages of senility and gave looks of pure horror. Big Bertha turned, and with a snap of her fingers, conjured up two burly aides prepared to do her bidding.
“Mr. Wilson, you’re obviously distraught and disoriented. We’ll take you back to you room and phone your physician. Perhaps he will prescribe something that will calm you down so you won’t attack others.”
“I’m not violent,” bellowed Big Elmer. “I’m hungry, and you won’t give me anything decent to eat.”
The two nurse aides wheeled Big Elmer out of the room as he protested vehemently. Before they were able to completely extricate him from the room, he caught the door facing and bellowed prophetically to all of the residents in the dining room, “I shall return! I have no yet begun to…”
Whatever else he may have said was lost s the double doors swung shut behind him.
“I tried to warn him,” whispered Little John.
“It’s the wrath of god upon him,” wept Mrs. Haney.
“God had nothing to do with it, Mary. It’s that devil-woman Bertha’s doing. I’ve got to find a way to stop her.”
In the nurses’ lounge, Bertha was changing uniforms and muttering vague obscenities to herself.
“What’s wrong, Bertha?’ asked one of the nurses.
“What’s the name of the new old coot? It’s Wilson, isn’t it?
“Yes, why do you ask?” questioned the nurse. “Did he do that?”
“Yeah, he must be crazy. Doesn’t he know who I am?”
Trying to suppress her mirth, the younger nurse asked, “Why did he do it?”
“He said that he didn’t like the food. When I told him to eat it, he threw it at me.” Bertha’s fury grew as she recalled the incident. “I will not accept any form of rebellion. If I’m to run this place correctly, I can’t afford to have my authority questioned.”
“That’s true; these people don’t have the ability to make decisions for themselves,” parroted the young nurse. “If they could, there would be no need for us to be here.”
“What’s on for tonight?” asked Bertha as she was leaving.
“We ordered Chinese last night. How about sending out for pizza tonight?”
“That sounds good,” said Bertha. “Make sure they put everything on it.”
Two hours later, Little John gently opened Big Elmer’s door.
“Elmer,” whispered Little John, “are you awake?”
“Yeah,” grunted Big Elmer. “What do you think? It’s only nine-thirty. Even old dogs should be allowed to howl until eleven if the want to.”
“I thought Big Bertha had you doped,” Little John whispered as he wheeled himself into the room. “I wanted to come to talk to you and to give you something.”
“What is it?” asked Big Elmer.
With a triumphant smile, Little John produced a large flat box from beneath his lap blanket.
“I can’t tell what it is in this light,” said Big Elmer. “What in the world is it, and why are you smiling like that?”
“It’s pizza with everything,” chuckled Little John.
“Pizza? Where in the world did you get pizza?”
With a flourish, Little John opened the pizza box and handed Big Elmer a huge piece of pizza.
“I stole it from the nurses desk. Now eat it while you listen to my plan.”
At suppertime the following day, the two conspirators sat in the dining room awaiting their supper. With a flourish, the dietary aide placed before the two men heaping plates of Ravioli.
“What is this? This is roast beef night,” said Little John.
“Don’t crawl down my throat, grandpa,” snarled the aide. “This is Nurse Bertha’s doing. She has ordered that Ravioli will be served at supper every day until whoever stole her pizza last night owns up to it.”
“Get Buffalo Butt in here!” bellowed Big Elmer. “I’ll show you how to handle that heifer!”
“Shut up, Elmer,” said John. “Don’t mess up the plan simply because you’re angry. We’ll have plenty of food later. Just dump what you don’t want into one of those bedpans over there. The staff will never know the difference.”
“What if this plan of yours doesn’t work?” whispered Elmer.
“It will work like a charm if everyone follows their instructions to the letter. By the time it all comes together, we’ll have generated much publicity that the staff will be forced to feed us properly. Now smile and try to act domesticated,” said Little John with a smile.
Later that night, Big Bertha down at her chair at the main nurses’ station. As was her custom, she prepared to enjoy her usual half-dozen doughnuts with a cold diet soda. Just as she was beginning her repast, Little John wheeled himself up t the station.
“Miss Bertha, can I ask you a question?” said Little John.
“You are up past curfew, Mr. Little,” said Big Bertha with a sense of propriety.
“I’m sorry, Miss Bertha. I’ll go right to my room and go to bed. I was just wanting to find out whether it’s the Baptist or the Methodist ladies that are coming to sing tomorrow.”
Bertha leaned to the side of the station and read the activity schedule closely. “According to the schedule, it’s supposed to be the Baptist ladies.”
“Thank you, Miss Bertha,” said Little John meekly.
Unseen to Big Bertha, Little John had slipped a handful of tranquilizers into her diet soda. The residents had collected them by pretending to swallow them, while in reality they merely manipulated them under their lower plates.
“How did it go?” asked Big Elmer. “Were you able to slip them into her drink?”
“No problem,” said Little John triumphantly. “In about twenty minutes, Big Bertha will be sound asleep. We can carry out phase two of my plan then.”
“What if the other nurses come back and find her?” whined Mary from the closet.
“They won’t be back for at least forty more minutes. They always stretch a ten-minute smoke break into an hour. It’s just a matter of time, and then we’ll go into action.”
“Look, John,” whispered Big Elmer.
Big Bertha’s head began to droop, and in a minute she had crumpled upon the nurses’ station in a deep stupor.
“Mary, walk down the hall to Naked Otto’s room, and tell him to come a rolling,” commanded Little John. “Phase two is in operation.”
“I’m not going anywhere near that pervert’s room. They can’t keep clothes on him. Yesterday he rolled that motorized chair of his straight into Catholic Mass. He wasn’t wearing a stitch of clothing.”
“He’s promised to wear them for the duration of the rebellion,” snapped Little John. “He has the strongest arms in the center, and we need his chair to transport Bertha.”
“I’m only doing this for the cause,” said Mary primly. “I’ve never gotten any personal satisfaction from his nudity. I’m only doing this because it’s the Christian thing to do.”
“Hallelujah, sister,” snapped Big Elmer. “Move it, Mary; we don’t have time to debate this.”
Marry shuffled down the hall and gently knocked on Naked Otto’s door. It opened immediately, and with a hum Naked Otto emerged in his electric wheelchair. With the combined efforts of the three men, they were able to gingerly place Bertha’s large frame on Otto’s lap. Without speaking, they wheeled their way down the darkened hallways to their intended rendezvous point. They stopped before the huge wooden door that marked the entrance to the laundry.
Big Elmer knocked three times, and the door opened immediately. Four more residents were on-hand within. With their combined efforts, they managed to tape Big Bertha’s hands and feet with gauze. For a final touch, Big Elmer wrapped gauze around her mouth, and with a laundry marker wrote: DO NOT OPEN TILL XMAS.
“Nice sentiment, isn’t it?” laughed Otto.
With great effort, they manipulated the sleeping hulk into the large industrial dryer. With a sense of finality, Little John closed the door.
“Phase two completed,” said Little John triumphantly. “Now on to phase three.”
“I hear the other nurses coming back,” whispered Big Elmer frantically. “What are we doing to do?”
“Calm yourself, Elmer,” whispered Little John. “I’ve prepared a contingency plan.”
From the other end of the corridor, a shrill scream came from the chapel. All of the staff ran towards the sound and found Mary lying on the floor kicking her legs erratically.
“What’s she doing?” said Big Elmer.
“She’s going into labor,” laughed Little John hysterically.
As the perpetrators hobbled and rolled to their respective rooms, the nurses were gently escorting Mary back to her room.
“I’m sure I felt contractions,” said Mary weakly. “It must have been false labor.”
The nurses and aides slowly made their way back to the station after putting Mary to bed. They were mystified with the disarray of the station. They were especially curious to know why Bertha had failed to consume her usual six donuts.
Little John emerged from his room, and in a businesslike manner, wheeled his chair behind the station.
“Ladies, you will immediately vacate the center. We have taken a hostage, and soon we will give our list of demands to the press.”
The staff just looked with amazement at the withered old gentleman. It began with a smirk, and before long, the entire nursing staff had broken out in contagious laughter.
“Open this,” said Little John. He handed one of the nurses a shoebox. Her laughter ceased when she looked inside.
“What is it?” asked one of the aides.
“It’s Bertha’s cap, shoes, nursing pin, and Andre the Giant wristwatch. I’d recognize them anywhere.”
“We have Big Bertha as our hostage,” said Little John forcefully. “No harm will come to her if you do exactly as we say. If you choose to ignore our demands, I will not be responsible for her fate.”
“What do we do?” asked one of the student nurses. “We’re not trained in geriatric terrorism techniques.”
“For now, we’ll do what they say,” said the eldest nurse. “We’ll leave the building immediately.”
“Don’t try to slip back in,” warned Little John. “I’ll have guards armed with full bedpans at every exit.”
The staff filed out quickly and silently. The residents watched them go from their respective doorways. For the first time in many years, they began to feel as if they were in charge of their own lives again.
“What next?” asked Big Elmer. “Do we raid the kitchen?”
“No, I have bigger plans than that,” said Little John as he picked up the phone. “I’m going to get us the publicity that I promised. I’m calling the local newspaper, the center administrator, and the local police department. We’re not just going to have a snack; we’re going to make a statement.”
Within minutes, the parking lot of Whooping Valley was full of emergency vehicles and reporters from both the newspaper and local television station.
“What are we doing to do, Chief?” asked one of the officers. “Should we lob a couple of tear-gas canisters into the building?”
“You can’t do that!” screamed a woman as she pushed her way through the crowd. “They’re only harmless old people!”
“Who are you?” snapped the Chief.
“I’m Penelope Badger, administrator of Whooping Valley Convalescent Center. Those people have been entrusted to my care. I cannot allow you to open fire on them or to bombard them with chemical weapons.”
“What do you propose, Miss Badger?” asked the Chief. “We’ve got to do something; they’ve taken your head nurse as a hostage.”
“Old people react negatively to negative emotions. I can handle these people, because I understand them. They know me; they trust me. Allow me to go inside and talk with them. I’m sure that they will listen to me.”
“We’ll try it, Miss Badger,” said the Chief. “I want to settle this without bloodshed and with as little publicity as possible.”
“I’ll have this under control in a few minutes. Just you wait and see,” said Miss Badger confidently as she strode towards the front door.
“I believe that this will be enough of this,” she said firmly as she opened the door widely.
In response to her words, a barrage of fully loaded bedpans began to impact her head and upper body. With an inhuman shriek, she ran to a nearby police office and tried to steal his service revolver. It took three officers and two paramedics to finally wrestle her to the ground and restrain her.
“Ingrates! After all I’ve done for you!” screamed Miss Badger. “I’ll fix you! No more Bing Crosby film festivals, no more basket weaving classes! I’ll make your lives a living hell!”
“Get her out of here before she aggravates the situation!” bellowed the Chief. “From now on I’ll handle this my way.”
Chief Decker slowly reached into his squad car for his bullhorn.
“This is Chief Decker. We’re willing to talk to one of your representatives. I guarantee that we will not attempt to charge the building.”
Mary hobbled outside the front door and was momentarily blinded by the glare of the flashing lights.
“We’ll have a list in a little while; we can’t find a pencil. Are there three wise men out there?”
“Mary!” bellowed Little John. “Get in here, and try to stay in our dimension. I’ll talk to the Chief.”
Little John wheeled his chair to the doorway, and to everyone’s amazement, he had commandeered the bullhorn used for bingo night. With a look of grim determination, he addressed the Chief.
“Send in one of the reporters to take our story. That blow-dried pansy from channel six will do. We want to make sure our story reaches the outside world.”
“I’ll go, Chief,” said the anchorman. “I’ll transmit their demands on a live satellite broadcast. The network has heard of this situation, and right now we are broadcasting live coast-to-coast.”
Chief Decker quickly held in his massive stomach. With a jerk of his thumb, he gestured toward the front of the building. Slowly and carefully, the anchorman walked towards the front door followed by his cameraman.
“Don’t come any closer until we’ve searched you,” warned Little John. Two elderly ladies came out and groped both the reporter and cameraman.
“I guarantee that we’re not carrying any weapons,” said the anchorman.
“We’re not looking for weapons,” muttered the largest of the ladies.
“They’re looking for candy,” said Little John. “They’ve been on a diabetic diet for the past three years, and they’re to the point where they’d kill for a Hershey bar.”
“They’re clean,” muttered the second old lady with a disappointed tone.
“Come in, and be seated at the table that we’ve set up,” ordered Little John.
The two reporters mutely made their way to the table and prepared their equipment for the interview. Before they could begin, the entire convalescent center was plunged into darkness. The emergency lighting automatically snapped on and filled the center with a ghostly hue.
“What’s going on here?” snapped Big Elmer. “Are the police trying to start a riot?”
“Relax,” said the anchorman. “Chief Decker was reading an article on dealing with terrorist demands before I came in here. No doubt the first thing that the article instructed him to do was to cut power to the facility. We hope that this situation is resolved before he finishes the article. Now let’s get down to business. What exactly are your demands?
“We want a better quality of food and more of it,” snapped Big Elmer. “They’re starving us to death or torturing us with their strange dishes.”
“What kind of strange dishes?” queried the reporter. “Is the food poisoned or spoiled?”
“No,” said Little John. “It’s merely food that we don’t like and never want to see again.”
“That seems kind of childish,” said the reporter. “Of course, many people your age become childish when they reach their declining years. Why should we think that you people are different?”
“Somehow I knew that you would say something like that,” said Little John with a smile. “That’s why we have prepared you sample of our cuisine.”
“No thanks,” said the reporter. “We’ve already had dinner. Besides, my doctor told me to cut down on my starches, cholesterol, and food from medical facilities.”
“Eat or be bedpanned,” said Mary as she set a steaming plate of ravioli before him.
“This is against the Geneva Convention,” quavered the reporter. “Besides, this stuff looks like it’s moving of it’s own accord.”
“It’s just the effect of the sauce,” said Big Elmer. “Now eat, and let the whole country see what we’ve had to put up with.”
Before the entire nation, the reporter choked and gagged as he was forced to eat an entire serving of ravioli. With the last bite, he began to convulse and froth at the mouth. His cameraman started to go to his aid.
“Leave him be,” said Little John. He has no control of his limbs, and his strength is greater than normal. These are just the signs of his system adjusting to the chemical imbalance caused by the ravioli radiation. These symptoms will pass within a minute or two.”
To the amazement of the cameraman, the reporter went through the convulsions like a man possessed. After the passing of the spasms, the reporter dragged himself to his feet and staggered unsteadily around the hallway.
“What’s wrong with me?” asked the reporter. “My legs and arms hurt, and I’m having trouble focusing my thoughts.”
“You’re facing what we face every day,” said Little John. “We believe that we have made a great scientific discovery here at Whooping Valley Convalescent Center.”
“You don’t mean?” gasped the reporter.
“Yes, the cause of senility is institutional food, specifically ravioli,” said Little John.
“I’m sure that our viewing pubic will sympathize with you now. In addition to that, I’m positive the administration of the center will be forced to do something about the menu,” the reporter said confidently.
“Our basic demand is that we have final approval on our menu, and the entire staff has to eat what we eat,” said Big Elmer. “That way we’ll be assured that the food will always be decent.”
“I’ll carry your demands to the administration,” said the anchorman as he primped his hair. “Thank you for giving me this interview. I’m sure to get a raise for this one.”
“Just make sure that our message gets out,” said Mary. “No more ravioli.”
As the reporter conveyed the residents’ demands to Chief Decker, his eyes widened with amazement.
“That’s all they want?” said the Chief. “I’m sure that the administration will have to give in after all the publicity that this spectacle has caused. Where’s Miss Badger? I need her approval in this.”
“We’ve got her restrained on a gurney,” said one paramedic. “That old bat bit me three times, so we tied her down and gagged her.”
“Let me talk to her,” demanded Chief Decker.
The two attendants walked briskly to their ambulance and wheeled the gurney to Chief Decker’s side. At his command, they stood the gurney upright and loosened the gag on Miss Badger’s mouth.
“You can’t trust anyone over seventy!” shrieked Miss Badger. The chief quickly replaced the gag on her mouth.
“Listen carefully, Miss Badger,” whispered Chief Decker. “Right now we can resolve this situation without anyone getting hurt, and we can look good on national television, too. All we have to do is agree to their demands. Now, if you can behave normally, I’ll remove the gag.”
“I don’t negotiate with terrorists,” hissed Miss Badger the moment the gag was removed. “Gas them! Get a water cannon! Shoot them with rubber bullets! That’s the way to handle revolutionaries!”
“That won’t look good on the network news,” sighed Chief Decker. “All that the residents want is full approval on their menu. That’s not much, considering the position that they have us in. Is the administration prepared to meet their demands?
Miss Badger withered in a defeated manner.
“Yes if that’s what it’s going to take to end this matter. But this is only the beginning. Before long they are going to want pottery classes and scheduled readings of the writings of Karl Marx!”
Chief Decker quickly replaced the gag on her mouth.
“Sedate her,” he commanded. “I’ll take full responsibility.”
Turning quickly to the front entrance of the center, the chief called through his bullhorn, “We have agreed to your demands! Now, release your hostage and allow the staff to return to the inside of the center!”
“Come in and get her!” shouted Little John. “All of our bedpan artillery positions have been disbanded. We’re just waiting for the power to be turned on so that we can return to our rooms.”
“Turn the power back on!” shouted Chief Decker as he and the staff of the center began to make their way to the front entrance. As the power snapped back on, a cheery glow diffused the darkness in the center. At the same time, everyone began to hear a muffled whumping sound.
“What’s that?” asked Chief Decker.
“That’s just the main dryer,” answered the janitor. “It always kicks back on when the power first comes on. I’ve been meaning to fix that switch, but I’ve never gotten around to it. It sounds as if someone left a big load of laundry inside of it.”
“Big Bertha is in that dryer!” shouted Little John.
The staff and residents immediately made their way to the laundry room to shut off the big dryer. As the chief and one of his officers extricated the bound Bertha from the dryer, they were bombarded by questions.
“Is she hurt?’ asked Little John.
“Is she dead?” questioned the reporter.
“She didn’t hurt my dryer did she?” whined the janitor.
Bertha was released from her bonds: bruised, dizzy, but none the worse for wear. She did, however, resign her nursing position on the spot. She vocally spouted her intention to return to her old job as matron of the women’s state prison.
“It’s been a long night, partner,” said Little John as he wheeled his way over to Big Elmer.
“It sure has, pal. Do you happen to know what time it is?” asked Big Elmer.
“No, I didn’t wear my watch,” answered Little John.
A broad grin covered Big Elmer’s face.
“It’s breakfast time.”