The Concert-
Going Life
Last Thursday, my friend Maureen and I made a successful foray into the cultural life of downtown. At 6:00 PM, we snagged discounted senior tickets for the Symphony concert later that evening, then adjourned to a nearby gallery, where an art opening provided us with free before-concert snacks. To prevent any art-lovers from overindulging in the snacks, the gallery cleverly displayed one of the ghastly sculptures of Dale C., a local eminence whose inspiration comes directly from the stories of H.P. Lovecraft; one look at his writhing, many-tentacled glass nightmares and the viewer's appetite flies out the window.

At the concert, we left our $8.50 seats and slipped into empty $100 seats in a first tier box, as usual. I have developed a knack for spying out and occupying empty expensive concert seats, as well as some facility in talking my way out when caught in the act. One time, we actually found ourselves seated directly in front of Dale himself, the creator of the hideous glass sculptures; when his one baleful eye fell on us, we fled to another box.

This time, as soon as we sat down in the box Maureen complained that water was dripping on her head, and we discovered that a kid was playing with a water-filled rubber ducky right in back of and over us. By good fortune, the program consisted entirely of modern music, so the urchin, the rubber ducky, and their mother all left after the first piece. Animals are strangely prominent in my concert-going experiences. One time, as we entered the auditorium we noticed that a couple ahead of us were going in together with their dog on a leash. I don't remember the program, but perhaps it included excerpts from Handel's "Il Pastor Fido." In any case, I didn't hear any comments from the dog during the performance.

Still another time, the concert began with Sibelius' "The Return of Lemminkainen," the last movement of the "Four Kalevala Legends." After its rousing conclusion, Maureen (who is enthusiastic but far from knowledgeable about classical music) leaned over to me and confided that the music had evoked for her a clear picture of all the lemmings hurtling over the cliff. I replied sotto voce that Lemminkainen, the dashing hero of Finnish folk mythology, was not generally pictured as a small, suicidal rodent, or a parade of them. I further suggested that we continue this discussion in a whisper, in case there were any ethnic Finns seated within earshot.

I found myself chuckling about this exchange a few times as the evening progressed, and then, toward the end of the concert, I completely lost it. The final pieces were four gloomy Russian orchestral songs, sung by a very bulky local soprano who wore an ample dress reminiscent of the Wenzel Big Bear Family Dome tent. Somehow, the lugubrious Russian music, the soloist in her camping tent, and the image of the Finnish lemmings hurtling over the cliff, all came together in my mind, and I fell into a fit of uncontrolled giggling. I couldn't stop. Everyone sitting around us looked daggers in our direction, and Maureen hastened to explain to them that her companion was of diminished capacity.

Speaking of diminished capacity, the Johns Hopkins University advertises a new bulletin on this very topic, including such helpful bullet-points as:

  • What weight gain can do to your brain. (page 5)
  • Nutritional supplements to prevent dementia: Are any worth a try? (page 12)
  • Not-so-trivial pursuits to keep cognitive decline at bay. (page 18)
  • The dangers of antipsychotic medications for people with dementia. (page 30)
I expect to place an order for this bulletin just as soon as I take my daily dose of nutritional supplements and anti-psychotic medications. Trouble is, I may forget the whole thing in the next five minutes. This problem of increasing forgetfulness is due, I guess, to the way I have been overloading my brain lately. Since retirement, I have dedicated my time to an intensive program of self-education in the liberal arts. These have included the art of sneaking into expensive concert seats, the art of stacking the cards when dealing hands of poker, a review of my rusty French, the acquisition of a halting knowledge of Swedish, and, to top it all off, ten years of wrestling with the mysteries of PowerPoint. Far from keeping cognitive decline at bay, I can report that these pursuits more generally knock my cognitive abilities into a cocked hat.

A session of trying to edit things in PowerPoint, in particular, reduces my brain to a fleecy state closely resembling spongiform encephalopathy. On better days, fortunately, the condition is no worse than Korsakoff's Syndrome (axis 291.10 in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the bible of psychotherapy mavens), which permits me to go here and there despite the hallucinations. When I can find my way to a concert, I can even move up to Rimsky-Korsakoff's Syndrome, with its characteristic uncontrolled giggling. But if I keep up all this mental exercise, I fear that before long I will barely be able to find my way to the concert hall, let alone to the expensive seats up there in the first tier box, among the nightmare glass sculptors and the rubber duckies.

--- Dr. Phage
Send us e-mail


Go Home

Go to the most recent RALPH