Monday, October 26, 2015

Karmic Nest-Feathering

The seafront in Marmaris, Turkey, is lined with bars and restaurants designed to please British tourists. It is very common for them to offer two cocktails for the price of one. It is very common for them to show (English) Premier League football games. For the not-sporty crowd, several offer drag shows. But it was karaoke, which the missus loves so passionately, that we were after. Our second night in town, with her hair newly professionally blowdried, we went in search of some of the karoake bars about which previous visitors had raved on TripAdvisor. Because it was late in the season, though, both of those we located had ceased to offer karaoke. At another, there were so few singers that the bar staff performed dance routines. 

To Spousie’s limitless relief, there seemed to be karaoke at a place called The Captain’s Pub. She sang The Tremeloes’ hit version of Cat Stevens’ Here Comes My Baby, and Blondie’s The Tide Is High. I, of course, sang Conway Twitty’s It’s Only Make Believe. And then the very gay compere welcomed to the stage an old chap — Bert, I think — whom he had to help into the stool he fetched for him from the bar. I cringed, imagining that Bert would croak that which the elderly (that is, even elderlier than I) invariably sing in these circumstances — My Way. 

Bert did not. He sang Christian Aguilera’s heretofore-unheard-by-me Say Something. I didn’t think it much of a song; It didn’t deserve his remarkably passionate, soulful performance. His voice was slightly tremulous at times, but he didn’t miss a single Big Note. Later, he returned with another number — Robbie Williams’ Go Gentle, in which the singer, gigantic in the UK and virtually unknown in the USA — warns his infant daughter about the predators she’ll have to deal with later in life. He sang the hell out of it. When he was finished, the compere said that Bert was 92, and several of us remarked either, "Ooh! or, "Ah!" There are few things I have more when the elderly are patronized in this way.

It came time to head back to the hotel. I saw that Bert was sitting alone around a corner from where Spousie and I had been seated. I suggested we tell him how much we’d enjoyed his singing. He seemed delighted. Up close, he didn’t look a day over 82.

And now the bad part, the part about which I continue to kick myself over a week later. After we’d shaken his hand and told him how much we enjoyed his singing, we left them there. I didn’t do onto others, in other words, as I’d have hoped to be done. I’d have hated to have been there on my own. And yes, hated it if a couple of strangers had invited themselves to sit down with me, even if they’d kept rhapsodizing about my singing. But a better person than I would have erred on the side of providing more company than desired, rather than less.

Investigating volunteering opportunities in SW London, I find myself shying away from those that involve the elderly, who of course are probably those who most need companionship. I will not deny that many of them — the worst off, those…soiling themselves without even realizing it — inspire considerable revulsion in me. I’m ashamed of myself, but that makes me no more inclined to want to hang out with them, in much the same way that the realization that he might die if I didn’t wasn’t enough to get me to perform artificial respiration on the malodorous homeless guy who collapsed frothing at the mouth in front of me one afternoon in 1988 in San Francisco.

I have figured out that I feel as I do because I realize that in not very many years, I’ll be the one lying there helpless in that convalescent hospital bed, wishing someone whose language I don’t speak will notice my discomfort and come change my diaper. IA believer in karma might think that he’s feathering his own nest by being kind to the discarded elderly. I believe in karma no more than in astrology. Sometimes that which goes around really does come around. At least as often, it does not. 

In 1991, my dad had a stroke that left him unable to walk. My mother, the queen of catasstrophic expectations, felt sure that if she "allowed" him to come home, the house would catch fire, and that they’d both perish when she was unable to drag him to safety. Before he died in a Santa Monica convalescent hospital that reeked equally of urine and the disinfectant with which the staff tried in vain to banish the urine stench, a stranger, whom I never met (I was living in San Francisco) came in every week to take my dad on a little outing. It’s to my repay debt to that kind stranger, and not to feather my nest karmically, I will find a way to get over my revulsion.

The guy in San Francisco lived, by the way. My revulsion didn’t preclude my calling 911, and the paramedics revived him.