One of the disadvantages of aging is the outpouring of attention (read by some as “pity”) lavished on the chronologically endowed. I know. As I have advanced into my golden years, people have gazed at me with sympathetic expressions and have physically handled me as if I would disintegrate at the slightest touch. Unfortunately, Mom and Dad are not exceptions to this phenomenon. In fact, they are even reluctant to leave me alone while they are out doing heaven knows what.
This week, they carried this worrisome obsession to its illogical extreme. They were scheduled to go to a play at a local theater, and two nights later, to an operatic concert. They were unjustifiably worried about me, so they decided in their infinite wisdom to take me along as their “service dog”. They know that service dogs are permitted virtually anywhere, and that the definition of a service dog is imprecise and purposefully vague. Now, let’s be clear: I am no service dog. Truth be told, I am the antithesis of one who serves. I have fashioned myself as an entertaining obstruction to whatever objectives my companions have in mind. Nevertheless, off we all went to the theater.
The theater’s capacity was about 200, and it was a full house. Mom and Dad sat in the front row, and had me lie down in front of them. Dad had torn apart an old sweatshirt, scrawled “Service Dog” on it, and tied it around my midsection. He thought it looked great, obviously blinded to the reality that I looked like a stuffed animal that a 4-year old child used for a dress-up game. People stared, but this is the price I pay for living with the mentally challenged.
The play’s many segments were separated by short “black-out” periods, where the set was rearranged. The opening scene was set in an apartment with the usual furnishings, including an inviting sofa. The sofa looked much more comfortable than the hard floor on which I was stationed. So, at the first “black-out”, I quietly arose, walked on set and positioned myself on the sofa. When the lights came up, the audience gasped, somehow realizing that I was not meant to be part of the play. Mom and Dad were characteristically apoplectic. The actors, being consummate professionals, carried on as if I wasn’t there. I fell asleep. At the end of the segment, the lights dimmed and two burly stage hands carried the sofa and its new passenger off stage. I eventually found my way back to Mom and Dad, who were still paralyzed with shock, laid down on the hard floor and resumed my nap. At the end of the performance, the actors called me back onstage for a bow. I received the biggest ovation of the evening.
Two nights later, one of the finest operatic divas of all time, Renee Fleming, was performing at a large, beautiful concert hall. Mom and Dad admonished me to behave myself, and we were on our way. Since no “black-out” periods were anticipated, my companions felt confident that I would not get into any trouble. After a couple of beautiful songs, Ms Fleming launched into an astounding aria, “O Mio Babbino Caro”, which contained a number of high notes that I thought only dogs could hear. They immediately struck an emotional nerve which travelled from my brain to my vocal chords. I sat up and began to accompany Ms Fleming with the most stunning harmony. The wonderful acoustics of the venue enhanced our duet, until the star on stage abruptly stopped and stared in my direction. I imagined that she was so taken with my performance that she wanted me on stage for a solo. I started my journey in that direction, when Dad abruptly grabbed me, and we all hurriedly headed for the exit. And then, something glorious happened. The audience rose and gave me a standing ovation. Even Renee Fleming was clapping and smiling. But Dad was furious, excoriating me as we walked up the aisle. As we left, Dad muttered, “Well, Flap, you’re two for two…what’s next?” We all knew the answer.
Tonight, Mom and Dad are going out again. I’ll be staying home. I don’t know what happened to all that concern about leaving me alone in my dotage. But I do know that, because of their concern, this week’s local cultural scene has benefitted immensely.