Friday, November 04, 2011

Fast Times and the Chinese Wheelchair Kleptomaniac

Mr. Chu is the stuff of Wanted posters. A desperado. A one-man crime wave on wheels. He whips around the nursing home all day long, in and out of rooms, stealing things from other residents while paddling his wheelchair with one foot. Since Flip spends all his time walking back and forth in the hall, his room is easy pickings. To date, Mr. Chu has taken his eyeglasses, his prescription Ray Ban sunglasses (multiple times,) his CD boom box, which now has a broken antenna and barely works, at least five times a day, his portable CD player, 15 or 20 CDs, various items of clothing, some of them never worn and never found again, strangely, a book of photos of Los Angeles taken from the air, his toiletry kit (countless times,) his shoes, sneakers and Crocs, and various treats I have brought him which were stationed on his bedside table.

Some of the doorways now have thick metal bars across them, near the top, since Mr. Chu's wheelchair has two long poles attached to it. Unfortunately, this won't work in Flip's room as Flip is over 6'3" and wouldn't be able to get in and out without hitting his head. Yesterday, several staff members ambushed Mr. Chu and removed a veritable Santa's toy sack from behind him, all of which they had to return to a dozen or more people who were missing items. It was a good day for small gains, until the market tanked.

Today I saw him maneuver his chair into a room with barred doorway and then flounder, unable to wheel himself out again. It was oddly satisfying. I have never had the slightest desire to hunt or trap animals, but it suggested a predator caught in a bear trap. I even related to the hunter's elation for the first time, briefly. Later, one of the aides brought back the bottom of Flip's CD boom box on which I had written his name in black marker, clearly a trophy since it serves no purpose without the rest of the unit. I wonder if he was a cat burglar before he was in a wheelchair. Or maybe a politician. Habits never die. Perhaps the wheelchair is just a ruse and he can run like the wind.

It would be romantic to think of Mr. Chu as a tropical tradewind, but he never gives anyone anything. He only takes, and acts defiant when confronted with his purloined booty. I assume he can't help it, but it's getting old. I wish he would find another way to entertain himself. Still, it's endlessly fascinating to observe the many forms of wackiness that afflict people. I wonder what I'll be like in a few years.


Paula said...

The kind of thing you describe is both funny and aggravating. A nursing home once called my mother and asked her if she could please buy my aunt a knitted hat so she would quit stealing other peoples'. As for what you will be like in a nursing home, my guess would be that you'll tell stories to entertain people and try to keep the peace among all.

My husband says I will walk up and down the halls looking for things that need cleaning, but I think it's more likely that I will steal books and candy!

the walking man said...

A chain through the rear wheels of his wheel chair locked with a storage unit lock (damn near indestructible) with the key thrown in a dumpster aught to entertain Mr. Chu for awhile. Immobility is very entertaining.

Taradharma said...

I was thinking along the lines of the walking man...take Mister's wheelchair away and give him crutches or braces or something to slow him down. How aggravating that everyone suffers because a solution cannot be found for this little hell on wheels.

I hope that when I'm in a nursing home I will be completely bonkers and have no recollection of anything that occurs around me. A Mr. Chu could have a field day with my stuff and I'd never know. Course it would bug the hell out of my children.

nick said...

I'm surprised Mr Chu is allowed to stay on the premises if he's such a liability to all the other residents. But then again, if he was moved somewhere else, that wouldn't solve the kleptomania, merely transfer it to a new bunch of exasperated victims.

I like Walking Man's idea too!

Molly said...

Even though Mr. Chu is endlessly exasperating I'm glad your sense of humor is alive and well so you can entertain us with these stories! I hope Flip is being better taken care of now, the Mr. Chus of the world notwithstanding....

Anonymous said...

Oh my, my, my. The stories you could tell -- and do!! Thankfully for us.

I read this and I am saddened that you basically have to guard against this thief, but your words are lovely. You are a fantastic writer, goodness. This is pure, pure, pure gold: "I wonder if he was a cat burglar before he was in a wheelchair. Or maybe a politician. Habits never die. Perhaps the wheelchair is just a prop and he can run like the wind."

Jo said...

I agree with *Witnessing*. You are a fantastic writer. I still think you should publish your book about this whole adventure. Mr. Chu provides some comic relief, albeit unwelcome. Perhaps the irony is that, in his previous life, Mr. Chu was a policeman, and would never have dreamed of stealing from anyone. I have no patience for thieves, however, and it's hard to be sympathetic with Mr. Chu's *habit*. But I guess there is not much they can do about it, unfortunately.

secret agent woman said...

I am sure you are right that he can't help it, but does his need for mobility get to outweigh everyone else's need for him not to steal their belongings. I'm in agreement with everyone else - immobilize him. Either that or put a bell on him so they can track him a little better.

It's kind of terrifying that your habits might escalate with dementia. Will I end my days spiriting away people's clothing to do laundry, pilfering their chocolate stashes, and sneaking into their beds?

English Rider said...

You can narrow Flip's doorway somehow so the wheelchair won't fit. Will they allow you to visit with a large hammer and chocks of wood? (Screw, rather than nail so removal is easier).

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I hope never to be in a nursing home. I hope that very much. But I appreciate your optimism concerning what I might do in such a situation, and if you steal my books and candy, we might have a problem.


What a brilliant idea! I wish I could fix his wagon once and for all.


I am trying to practice compassion, but it's difficult when he is such a pain in the ass.


As long as someone is paying for him to be there, they will keep him. Greed conquers all. The home is far more concerned with revenue than fairness.


I am still trying to get him moved to a much nicer place in SF which accepted him to its wait-list more than two months ago. They are not giving him preference because he is already in a facility, which is most exasperating.


This place is a whole hornet's nest of town characters. I may write the nursing home version of Edgar Lee Master's Spoon River Anthology.


How bizarre to think Mr. Chu may have been a policeman. I'd love to know, but the facility is bound by HIPAA Laws not to disclose information about patients.


Sneaking into their beds...? Now that sounds interesting. Could you be a little more specific? This blog could use some livening up.


Can you see me arriving in full carpenter gear toting a tool box? Yeah, me neither. But I love that you're thinking outside the door frame.

Maria said...

Well, that sucks. I did time in a geriatric ward when I was a resident and there was this woman who used to love to get naked and then run through the halls to the community room piano and play beautiful music.

This was unsettling but calming if you just shut your eyes. Until the day that she not only got naked but then defecated each and every time she sat down and played.

I often wondered what caused her to do this? What was in her past that rushed to the surface? so many other things that happen, maybe it was just...quirk.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Elementary, my dear Watson. She was forced to practice as a child when she would have much preferred to be outside playing hopscotch, and she was finally able to express her true feelings about the whole thing.

Hey, I'm here to help.

Anonymous said...

May I suggest three possible courses of action;

a) The preventive approach - tie a loud bell to Mr. Chu's wheelchair so that everyone knows when he is coming and where he is at any time.

b) The negative stimuli approach - equip nursing home inmates with tazers. Watch out Cat burglar on's HUNTING SEASON!

c) The if you can't beat them, join them approach. Strike a deal where you offer to fence all stolen items in return for a percentage and him leaving Flip's stuff alone.

Pam said...

Wow. What a story. Imagine Mr. Chu and the defecating naked piano player in the same facility.
"...with bells on her fingers
and bells on her toes
She shall have music
Wherever she goes...

With bells on his wheelchair
And theft on his mind
He coverts possessions
And her naked behind!".

e said...

I laughed when I read this...I once worked in a unit in which one of the older women would "sundown" forgetting where she was...She once appeared in the dining room with her bra on outside her blouse...

Admittedly not as much of a pain as your lovely Mr. Chu. I do hope Flip gets moved soon.

Odat said...

I'm sorry, but I can't help but Mom was the keptomaniac...she stole everyone's stuffed animals...and I would get phone calls advising me that I should come in for familiy counseling to see what "we" could do about it. I felt like I was being called to the principal's "we" tried e'thing to get her focus off her swiping animals...(music, her own animals, lava lamps..etc.) to no avail,and one day, it just stopped. But I did feel so bad about her taking other people's "things", so I would just take them back to whoever she stole them from...and they always thought I was giving them presents...(they didn't even know they were missing)....Susan it's such a bizarre hang in there...and please keep your sense of humor!

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I actually suggested that they put a bell on Mr. Chu's wheelchair like a cat's collar to warn birds, but the staff said they couldn't do it. Wimps.

Today, he got stuck halfway out of another room. I said, "Crime doesn't pay" as I walked by, laughing. The CNAs left him there for hours. I snapped a picture but my camera battery died - karma, no doubt, for laughing at his plight.

I loved all your ideas!


Oh, poetry! How very sweet and lovely! "Theft on his mind..." And a defecating naked piano player, too. This is a great party!


The lady with the outside bra might set a new fashion. It's great that she could still put one on at all - the rest is just details.


This is hilarious! I especially love that when you returned the stolen stuffed animals, they all thought you were giving them new gifts. The whole thing is like a scene from the play "Harvey."

There are a million stories in the naked nursing home.

Paula said...

Here's another nursing home bra story. When I was a girl, my best friend's parents owned and ran a small nursing home. It was as nice as they could make it, not part of a corporate giant. Anyway, this very skinny old lady was seeing the doctor when he came to make rounds. He was having trouble hearing her heart and lungs. He pulled her dress collar aside to investigate, and she was wearing a HUGE bra and had half her worldly goods inside of it. The next time they had some donated clothes to distribute, they tried in vain to give her some bras in the right size, but she wouldn't have them, because "there ain't room to put nuthin" in there."

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I love it! You could say she was a little fuzzy on the concept.

secret agent woman said...

Oh you know - I"m a glutton for warm skin. :-)

heartinsanfrancisco said...


And here I thought you were all Goldilocks and the Three Bears. A girl has to try a lot of beds before she finds one that is just right.