It’s here. It’s gray, maybe mauve, hard to tell. It’s located on the stairs that lead from the shadowy hallway to the upstairs.

It’s called a “stairlift.” It’s sleek, semi-complicated and capricious. “Capricious” is what my mother, my family and most people who know me, call me. My online dictionary defines capricious as “given to sudden and unaccountable changes of mood or behavior.” So that’s what I’ve been all these years?

Let me bring you up to date. Do you have 30 or 40 minutes?

She taught until she turned old enough to know that 40 years was way too long. Forty years is a long time. She didn’t have to work that long, she just did because she loved it. She should have known better. She was raised a Catholic and should have known that 40 years was what Jesus spent fasting in the Judean desert.

Wait. She just shouted down a correction. Jesus only spent 40 days in the Judean desert. My bad, it just seemed like 40 years.

She, who has had “troubled” arthritic hands since the afternoon she was mugged in L.A., has a family history of arthritis, which makes me feel guilty. Our family’s medical history involves only hair cowlicks.

You’re probably bored now because you have arthritis. Your spouse may have it worse than you, and your parents are still suffering from it. I’m not writing this to complain about her arthritis, she wouldn’t let me do that. I’m here on your table this morning to talk about “the chair.”

About a month ago, maybe two, the “Knee” took on darker features. Dealing with it brought displeasure to the other knee. Then one day, this woman who looks much younger than her actual age, who once could zip through the South Portland mall faster than teenagers, who danced in a private night club in Manhattan, who used to try and help stage hands move furniture, suddenly became immobile.

OK, this means that everything we once shared — laundry, cooking, shopping, driving, Irish step dancing — everything is now on my plate.

My bride, who fears hospitals and is resisting knee replacement, needs my constant help. This is what the priest meant when he whispered, “in sickness and in health.” I was just waiting for, “You may now kiss the bride.”

Walking up or down the 13 steps to the bedroom, master bath or her office has become impossible.

So, our family on the Fun Coast, Dawn and Jillana and their husbands, who all make more money than we ever did, sprang into action and ordered “The Chair” from a reputable and experienced Maine company.

So here it is: sleek, gray, maybe mauve. It brings to mind “Hal,” the computer in Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” when it refused to obey Dave’s attempts to overtake it. It just froze and refused to comply.

Let me make it clear. The technician who installed it answered all my questions except the ones I forgot to ask. He did provide me with a manual.

Manuals. The Air Force gave us enlistees a manual, which we all left on the bus at the training site. Each of my many computers, television sets, including the new and equally capricious “Smart” TV, came with manuals.

I am non-compatible with manuals. I have always required on-site personal assistance, as in “Turn this, pull that, don’t touch that or you will die.”

Imagine you’re watching this in a movie:

I made a test run. I sat in it and joggled the toggle. It hummed and worked. When She sat in it, it refused to comply. We finally worked out a system when I got it started, and she took the seat.


Over and over we tried it. Me? It works. She? Zero.

She cursed it and cried. I cursed it in loud colorful Irish tones and eventually, in its “capricious” manner, it played along on its own terms.

When, in a moment of frustration, I threatened to unhinge it and put it out on the curb, it was then that I swear I heard it speak.

“I can’t let you do that, JP.”

“What do you mean, Hal?” (I’ll change the name later.)

“I think you know what I mean, J.P.”


“Sorry, J.P. This machine is too important for me to let you do that.”

Wednesday, a technician is coming to show me how stupid I am and teach me how to make “Hal” work.

FYI. If it works, I’m inviting neighbors over in the evenings for rides, half a buck going up, a buck coming down, and another buck to hear Hal talk.


J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer. 

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: