Notes from a Walkman Junkie: Yell Me A Story
Recently, while sorting through my closet, I came across some of my old notes taken from my days as a social worker. The notes led me back to an entertaining, albeit disturbing, state of recollection. One of my first jobs in this field was at a facility for elderly patients suffering from severe depression. Needless to say, there was a great deal of sobbing, and I mean by me. I was still in school at the time and volunteering at the center to ‘get my feet wet’ so to speak. My job there basically consisted of serving as a liaison between the visitors and patients. I had a turn key on the top of my desk that would unlock and open the front doors to the facility, allowing the guests to enter and sign in, etc. Obviously, this lock and key system was also intended to prevent the patients from fleeing the premises, scattering like mice and generally running amuck and gloomily amuck at that.
My desk was positioned in the lobby area of the center where the patients would often gather to mingle (sit and weep). On one fateful afternoon, it collectively occurred to the flock of disheartened elderly that I could in fact release them from this den of despair with merely the turn of a key. I remember feeling distinctly observed while doing some paperwork at my desk when I heard, “She’s got the key,” in a revealing tone. Slowly looking up from my papers, I was met with seven pairs of conspiring eyes as the mob of seniors staggered towards me in zombie-like formation. My masterful plan of action was to grin, nervously whistle, and then casually cover the the turn key with a large book. Fortuitously, a large male nurse happened by, thus preventing what was destined to be an exact reenactment from a scene of Dawn of The Dead, but with dentures.
There was never a shortage of narrowly avoided cataclysms on the social worker’s scene. I was once instructed to deliver a patient to the young adults’ psychiatric unit where she was to be held indefinitely. We walked into the unit together and were greeted by a doctor who addressed the patient formally with a handshake. He then turned to me and began to speak to me in a much slower and louder manner. Though I felt this was strange, it was not until he turned to me and said, “Have a seat, Laura”, that my heightened panic set in. I began repeating “I’m not Laura, she’s Laura” in a frantic tone while pointing vigorously in the real Laura’s direction. Naturally, all of my anxious and idiotic behavior only confirmed that his original assumptions were correct and it was I who would be staying for a nice long visit. Eventually, identification was shown and the nearly tragic misunderstanding was evaded, but I cannot help to think how differently things could have gone had Laura played her cards right.
My time as a social worker has long since hit the happy dust trail, although I still get a taste of it every once in a while in my present position as an art ‘gallerina’. May I present the case study of Mr. Smith, an artist whose paintings we sell at the gallery where I work. He is, shall we say, a tad ‘unique’ in character. Though I can’t quite pinpoint what he specifically suffers from, my professional diagnosis would be schizophrenic/autistic/aspergers/crabby-pants syndrome.
Mr. Smith is nearly ninety years old, but is still staunchly committed to painting and yelling the stories of his paintings at me, while demanding to be fed hard-boiled eggs. My most recent encounter with the feisty egg-lover was when he came in the gallery to deliver his latest painting, and as an additional unexpected bonus, a woman was with him filming a documentary showcasing Mr. Smith’s quirky talents and steadfast belligerence. Upon entering the gallery, Mr. Smith demanded that I hold up his painting while he told the story of the scene pictured in it. Basically, this consisted of Mr. Smith barking out descriptions like, “THE BOY WAS WEARING BLUE PANTS” followed by him yelling, “SEE THE BLUE PANTS?” I then politely answered, “Yes, I see the blue pants.” he in turn screamed, “WHAT?” I again answered, this time much louder, “YES, I SEE THE BLUE PANTS..” This type of interaction continued until the ‘story’s’ completion, upon which he broke into the song, “Take Me Out To The Ball Game”, which incidentally had zero to do with the painting.
I would like to point out that my restraint in this situation was beyond impressive. I did not have an uncontrollable laughing fit nor did I collapse to the floor and wet my pants. I also refrained from giving Mr. Smith a merited and long overdue knuckle sandwich.
I shall leave you with a lovely song by Lisa Germano, a truly talented solo artist who has a rare and delightful way of making harsh, sad and dark sentiment sound breathtakingly pretty (a skill that could really come in handy).