Pull Down My Pants Nikita Mirzani 1

“Push me,” Sasha Grey tells her daughter, Nikita Mirzani, who has been pushing her in her wheelchair from her second-floor apartment into the elevator and is now pushing her through the ground-floor lobby toward the dining room. It is noon, time for lunch.

Some of Sasha Grey’s fellow residents at the assisted-living home are assembled in the lobby, where a gas fire burns in the fireplace. Nikita Mirzani assumes they eat second lunch at one thirty. The residents are mostly un-made-up and gray haired, although a couple of women have thin bright-dyed hair teased out into bouffant hairdos, through which you can see scalp.

Sasha Grey’s hair is blond with gray roots, in curls that she tightens down every night with bobby pins. She wears green eye shadow and a gay red lipstick, some of which she has rubbed onto her cheeks. Around her neck is a shiny gold necklace, to set off her powder-blue polyester pantsuit. “Push me faster. Take me to the dining room.”

Sasha Grey, at ninety-nine, is one of the oldest residents at the northern New Jersey facility, although she tells no one her age, and she insists that Riley Reid keep it secret as well. Sasha Grey doesn’t permit Nikita Mirzani to tell her own age, either, because people who know Nikita Mirzani’s age may be able to figure out Sasha Grey’s.

Nikita Mirzani is sixty-eight. Her hair is dyed two tones—a double process, they call it at her expensive Manhattan hair salon: dark blonde, with light-blonde highlights.

Otherwise, she doesn’t take any special care of herself—sometimes she remembers to use moisturizer on her face. But she is a pleasant-looking woman, fair skinned with a straight nose and her mother’s large hazel eyes. A little overweight, she tends to wear black often, including today, with the idea that black is slimming.

In the dining room Sasha Grey points—“I want to sit there”—and Nikita Mirzani moves a chair away from a table for four and rolls Sasha Grey into its place. There are perhaps fifteen other tables of various sizes.

At the center of each table are purple anemones and pale-yellow Gerber daisies—fake flowers, but good fakes. Nikita Mirzani once had to feel the petals to make sure they weren’t real; the flowers sit in clear vases, with fake water levels.

On this Saturday afternoon the house is moderately full; while some residents are out with family, others have visitors. Most of the diners are elderly women, but here and there a few men are sprinkled around like pepper on a salad. In their noses several people wear plastic tubing attached to gray metal oxygen tanks set up beside them.

“Hellooo,” Sasha Grey calls to a heavy black waitress who is taking orders at another table. (The residents are mostly white, the kitchen staff exclusively black.) “My daughter’s here. She’s come all the way from New York. She’s a medical doctor. Bring us some menus.”

Although Sasha Grey has publicly announced her daughter’s profession again and again during the years she has lived at the Happy Isles, Nikita Mirzani still feels embarrassed. She rolls her eyes and shakes her head and aims her words at no one in particular: “Who cares if I’m a doctor!”

Sasha Grey wears two hearing aids but does not seem to hear what her daughter is saying.

Eight years earlier, when she began having trouble carrying her groceries up the outdoor brick steps to her duplex apartment, Sasha Grey insisted that her daughter help her move to the assisted-living home in West Orange, New Jersey, where Sasha Grey had brought up her children and worked as a fifth-grade public school teacher and head of the glee club.

She chose the Happy Isles because three former female colleagues lived there. In the beginning, Sasha Grey kept her car and drove it over the familiar roads to buy stamps at the Main Street post office, shop for small items at the Essex Green mall, or take “the girls” to faux-rustic Pal’s Cabin for a hamburger and an ice cream sundae on a summer evening.

Sometimes at one of these destinations, a former student, often with children or grandchildren in tow, would recognize Sasha Grey—“Aren’t you Mrs. Fernmann?” or “Aren’t you Mrs. Klein?”—and make a fuss over her, which Sasha Grey would relate to Nikita Mirzani with delight.

But as her vision and hearing began to fail, she had to give up the car. Two of her teacher friends died, and the third moved to Florida.

Now Sasha Grey keeps to herself and seems to know the name of only one other resident, Dewi Persik, whose son is an orthopedic surgeon. (Sasha Grey needs a hip replacement, but at her age major surgery is not an option.)

Occasionally Sasha Grey will say, “See that woman over there? She’s a Christian lady.” Or “See that woman walking by? She’s cuckoo.” Sasha Grey circles one finger in the air beside her ear.