Friday, June 27, 2014

Community Service

With all the elderly in this area you would think there would be one luxury long term care facility that I could go to play their piano, talk about Nat King Cole, eat the leftover crackers, and all those other activities that make my community service so interesting. Well, I've done nothing but strike out and the latest attempt has me shaken and unnerved. I saw a building "Res Care" or something like that. Residential housing. Perfect. I park the van and ring the bell to enter. Through the window I see all kinds of mobile bodies in the hallway which is a good sign. A nurse opens the door along with setting off an ear-piercing alarm.
"Hi, I'm Oggy, is there an entertainment director?"
The nurse shakes her head and mumbles something in Spanish.
"Director de entertainment?" I say in Spanglish.

I am puzzled because there is always some kind of entertainment in these joints.
"Piano? I play piano."
The nurse looks off into the distance like I'm babbling. Then I glance down the hallway and briefly thought to myself..."Man, there are a lot of young rehab patients living here."
But why are they walking around? Normally the rehab patients have broken their necks or backs or have terminal cancer and are obviously wasting away. But these patients were robust...erect...walking and talking.
I spotted a nearby woman who looked Anglo, perhaps a visiting relative, so I asked, "Is there a piano...see, I play Jazz and old time songs on the piano and..."
The woman literally looked at me like she was a character in a movie where the hero stumbles into an abandoned mental institution. She cocked her head far to one side...then even farther...grotesquely far...her sweater looked like it was from 1993...her eyes were pretty but hollow and she did not communicate with the living. The shutter was clicking but there was no film in the camera. I thought, What the fuck kind of operation have I walked into?

I stood there awkwardly frowning. I'd never had such a bad feeling walking into a rehab hospital. Something felt wrong. I usually don't stare at the residents because they can't help being old and infirm, but this time I really looked at all the young people wandering through the halls and my heart sank. I was not in a rehab hospital because rehabilitation was not in the future for these patients. This was a group home for the mentally challenged and I was suddenly surrounded by a clawing hoard of Downs Syndrome and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Rain Man Syndrome and God Have Mercy Syndrome. All traces of my desire to do good in the world, my noble ambitions and scarcely concealed narcissism vanished. I am selfish and only wanted to play Cole Porter songs for the silver hair set...and when it comes to really becoming a Patch Adams kind of savior to the spiritually malnourished I completely collapsed. I am no saint. I did not run out and get my guitar to play songs for this group of culturally starved inmates of their own mental prison. They had been farmed into this home, where they probably would never leave, because they had not committed a crime but could not take care of themselves. They were mostly adults in their 20s and while I projected my own sadness onto them (who in the world is more adrift than Oggy?) I did not feel comfortable singing songs for them.

The kids kind of clawed at me wondering if I was admitting myself or maybe I looked vaguely like someone who already lived there. It was like a scene from Night of The Living Dead except the only thing they wanted was to be stimulated. The nurse nodded as my expression gave away my sudden realization of where I was.
I backed away slowly and she opened the door for me. The patients all stood there gawking...I was escaping...but none dared follow me.

It was troubling moment.

Then I went to another home and walked the deserted halls. Found an old church piano in need of tuning in a dusty room with discarded Christmas decorations. A black janitor looked at me.
I said, "Does anyone play the piano to entertain people? I play Cole Porter."
He looked at me like I was crazy and went back to sweeping.

Creative Commons License
Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.