Twist and Shout

Twist and Shout
Life is never straight (Joey Kulkin photo)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

TV Trenton News alert: French Towers saga Day 4

TV Trenton News photo by Joey Kulkin: Perry Shaw III, Mamie Kelly, 97

TRENTON -- Five Trenton men who look like they could play middle linebacker or defensive tackle exerted their bodies for 15 minutes lugging a 250-pound woman up 6 flights of stairs at the French Towers on Tuesday. She was in a wheelchair. Scenes like this have been taking place since Friday's lightning storm fried the elevator motherboards at the 10-story building for elderly and disabled residents.

The circuitry is not expected to be fixed anytime soon. Monday is an estimated date, but when a reporter asked Kenny King, who runs the French Towers, if the new circuitry would be ready by Monday or if Monday was just a target date, he shook his head in the kind of way that let you know the truth. The truth is that hundreds more volunteers are needed at the French Towers to help the residents up and down the stairwell or to fill large buckets with ice and water and lug those up the stairs and set them up and each landing of the complex. Or even do a few of the mundane things like fill plastic bags with cukes and squash and blueberries and other natural goodness so that other volunteers can bring them to the residents who don't come down as much because it's just too much trouble without the use of an elevator.

When TV Trenton News arrived for the second day in a row, a sweetie by the name of Lillian said she's staying positive despite the elevator outage. She's a 60-something diabetic who lives on the 4th floor. "I walk up then sit on the platform, then I walk up the rest of the way," Lillian said during a video as she said on a bench outside on a glorious day of sunshine and breezes.

Minutes later a 49-year-old man by the name of Scott Smith led TV Trenton News up the stairwell to the floor he lives on -- the 6th floor. It doesn't look like anything is physically wrong with Scott, who was wearing jorts, a short-sleeve cotton shirt and a fedora. But Scott has lung problems. He had to stop on every landing to catch his breath, and Perry Shaw III and Esmond Liverpool of A Better Way were right there at every step to make sure Scott did not exert himself too much and to make sure he drank a cylindrical cup of water after every set of 8 steps. We made it to the 6th floor in about 4 and a half minutes. Scott led us into the room of Mamie Kelly, the oldest resident at French Towers at 97. She was stretched out on a lengthy adjustable chair wearing a pink lounger with white polka dots and a checkered scarf around her head. The air was on blast. On the TV played one mundane afternoon show or another. No one in the room paid attention to the TV. In a chair to her left was Mamie's son, Clatis, 67. His big concern today was Mamie's doctor's appointment Thursday. Perry Shaw III took down Clatis' phone number and promised him he would show up on Thursday with Mr. Liverpool and carry Mamie down the stairs and get her to her doctor's appointment on time. Clatis seemed relieved to her Shaw's promise. In Mamie's kitchen sink was dinner, thawing: pork loins and what looked like collard greens.

Perry Shaw III had a much easier time making a promise to Clatis than he did carrying Kim McRae up 48 steps. Shaw and the other four men charged with the mighty task lifted the woman's spirits by the "third and a half floor" as they took a water break. By then they had figured out it was easier to let the inertia of the wheels do most of the work up each step. But lugging a large woman in a wheelchair up so many steps takes a toll on any man, or set of men. By the 5th-floor landing McRae seemed happier, and she smiled and shared her talent by singing to the men. She sang about praising Jesus. The men, worn down and wet with sweat, enjoyed her voice. It made the final 8 steps tolerable, as you'll see in the video below. It shows McRae's 15-minute journey from the commons room to her front door.

Back in the lobby, Perry Shaw ran into Marge Caldwell-Wilson, the Scottish silver fox who represents the North Ward on city council. She appeared with a few dozen bags of ice. She's one of three city council members who have come to lend support. Verlina Reynolds-Jackson and Zach Chester are the others. Everyone who was asked said Mayor Tony Mack has not walked through the front doors since the elevators went down Friday. Andrew Bobbitt, who runs a city organization called Never Give Up and whose bass voice makes the late Barry White seem like a tenor, didn't let things like the mayor's absence that faze him. Bobbitt said at least 100 volunteers from city organizations have walked in and out of the front door, and up and down those stairs, and that several more groups have called to promise volunteers. It could be several days before the company that services the French Towers elevator builds new motherboards and sensors and all the other electrical gadgetry that will carry 97-year-olds and 250-pound women to their floors.

Kenny King said he's paying the company top dollar to fix that circuitry ASAP. But that company has several other clients, too. It's one thing if it were just a matter of ordering new boards and circuits, but by the sound of things, the company has to build the motherboards, which takes time. King has been the most patient person at French Towers since Friday night because everyone is tugging to get his attention, stretching him like silly putty. Lesser men would have crumbled under such a weight. About 20 minutes after helping lug 250-pound, wheelchair-bound Kim McRae to the 6th floor, King stood in the lobby. For a few moments it was quiet, peaceful, no one nagging him to fetch this or secure that. The ice that Councilwoman Caldwell-Wilson brought leaked into a puddle. Kenny King stood there mopping the floor.

"I wouldn't ask my staff to do anything I wouldn't do," he said.

Lillian Jackson: "staying positive"

Volunteers from A Better Way

James Milbourne from A Better Way

Mamie Kelly and her son, Clatis

Perry Shaw (L) of A Better Way and Councilwoman Marge Caldwell-Wilson

Kenny King: all in a day's work