Concentrating On the Classics

Before the American medical system unceremoniously dumped me into the warehouse aka convalescent home, I endured close to three months in a rehabilitation hospital. Instead of giving me appropriate care, the staff dealt with me like I was a retarded animal. I expected shabby treatment from the naïve CNAs who considered themselves “health care professionals” as if making beds and emptying bedpans are specialized skills. But the reasonably well-educated therapists that should have known better also patronized me to an obscene extent. This occurred at the tail end of the twentieth century in a modern medical facility located in a major American city. In retrospect I’m surprised they didn’t recommend that I be bled by leeches.

An ex-girlfriend of mine visited me on weekends. She treated me like a mentally competent human being, which proved more therapeutic than the mindless bullshit that the trained therapists imposed on their patients. I also looked forward to her wheeling me outside so I could smoke a cigarette. The stroke-induced shakes made it impossible to hold anything; she had to carry the burning cigarette to my lips. A stroke patient that smokes is indulging in reckless behavior. But given the gravity of my dilemma the hazards of cigarette smoke weren’t uppermost in my thoughts.

In addition to physical and occupational therapy the hospital offered art therapy. An eccentric but drab lady that wore an unnaturally bright red bouffant presided over the art department. One Saturday afternoon she spied my friend and me in the hallway as we waited for the elevator. I cringed when I saw her wave and trot toward us. I really wanted a cigarette and didn’t welcome the dumbass conversation that the art lady would undoubtedly try to initiate. She must’ve perused my chart and noticed that I’m a musician because she always mentioned it when she spoke to me. She seemed to think I should be impressed by her cursory knowledge of my interests.

The art lady enthusiastically announced a concert beginning in five minutes that would spotlight an ivory-tickling former head trauma patient. Since I was a musician myself, she smiled, I would want to attend. Then she nodded to emphasize the invisible bond that all artists share. She asked if I wouldn’t appreciate an audience when I returned to perform. I thanked her but declined the invitation. I explained that visiting hours would soon be over and my friend and I were engaged in an important conversation. I could almost feel the smoke caressing my lungs—that’s how smokers think.

Undeterred, she spoke to my friend and referred to me in the third person as if I wasn’t present. “He’s just a bit cranky, that’s all. Attending a musical performance would be very good for him.” Before I knew what was happening, my friend was wheeling me to the room in which the former patient would perform. She had always been somewhat of a militant non-smoker and though the treatment I received appalled her, she took full advantage of the opportunity to prolong my nicotine fit. She regarded the situation as hysterically funny; I didn’t.

The performance was slated to take place in a big room with a low hung ceiling. Antenna-like legs supported blue molded plastic chairs that had been pushed under long folding Formica tables. The tables formed a U around a distant piano. This arrangement took advantage of the cavernous room but obliterated any semblance of intimacy. There were only five people sitting at the tables and we were two of them. The other audience members sat together about twenty feet from us.

The art lady trotted into the room and stood against the back wall. She occasionally glanced at a typewritten list hanging to her side. Her smile never collapsed while she scanned the room though she’d clearly been unsuccessful at coaxing more people to attend.

A man and a woman lumbered from a backroom to the piano. The woman wore a frowzy housedress and a leg brace. Dirty gray hair hung in her eyes as she slowly and stiffly lowered herself onto the stool. The hulking man wore very thick glasses and snorted as he breathed through his open mouth. He stationed himself standing in front of the piano and addressed the audience as though he was speaking to an assembly of children.

He divulged that he and the woman had married a year prior. They had met at a support group for developmentally impaired adults. He explained in detail the reasons for his wife’s and his physical and mental disabilities and assured us that they could each still “reach for the stars.” The man repeatedly informed us that performing classical music required a great deal of concentration and cautioned us to sit still and be quiet.

After her husband introduced her and then sat on a chair beside the piano, the woman started playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. It sounded reasonably decent. Her interpretation came across as slightly plodding but she’d obviously invested substantial time and effort into her endeavor.

Forty seconds into the piece she abruptly stopped playing and announced that she needed to visit the bathroom. Considering her husband’s lengthy introduction I would’ve guessed that the ensuing silence would please him. But he turned to his wife and snarled:

“But we used the bathroom before the recital.”

“Well I can’t help it.” She started to giggle, which infuriated him.

My friend and I were already heading for the door. The art lady noticed that we were on our way out of the room, trotted up to us and begged us to stay. She stressed the potentially hurt feelings of the couple. He sat in his chair next to the piano viciously berating her for her lack of self-control. She maniacally giggled.

One Response to “Concentrating On the Classics”

  1. Mike Says:

    This shit is great. I just started reading, have a lot of entries to look forward to.

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