Monday, April 6, 2009

Purple Velvet?

This week, Vegas days have been warm, sunny, open-all-the-windows weather – perfect for a trip to the park (except for a few days of wind and dust that kept us indoors). As George and I walked back to the car one day, my attention was drawn to an elderly man in a tan newsboy hat who had a shaggy brown dog at his side. He walked from the parking lot and motioned for his dog to jump onto one of the concrete pilings that line the sidewalk every four feet or so. After obediently jumping onto the first one, the dog turned to the man who stood silently by him. Then with a wave of his master’s hand, the dog jumped onto the next concrete block, and then onto the next one. Down the length of the walkway they went, the man silently motioning the dog to jump ahead, then back a few, and forward again in a sort of choreographed jumping dance.

By this time, everyone on the path had stopped to watch the show. Jumping from one concrete block to the next wasn’t easy; the blocks were only about eighteen inches wide, and he’d wobbily balance himself after each jump while keeping his eye on the man in the tan hat.

At the end of the path the dog was commanded to jump onto a huge landscaping boulder, which he did, and then he teetered on top while the man gave a “stay” command. Then the man turned his back and just walked away. And walked. Twenty feet. Forty feet. The dog just sat and watched the retreating plaid shirt. The crowd near me began to marvel at this dog’s poise. After walking over sixty yards away without even one glance back, the man finally turned and gave a hand command, causing the dog to fly off the rock and run to his side. They walked away around the bend of the path and out of sight.

I thought about the man as I drove home afterward. It was obvious that he did this for attention, and he reminded me of Ralph, an 80-year-old man with flowing white hair who often showed up for my shows at the Venetian when I worked there as an opera singer a few years ago. Ralph came to at least two shows a week in complete Renaissance attire – from his embroidered jacket down to his colored tights. My coworkers thought he was crazy, but I talked to him and he seemed to be harmless as he sat in the audience in his costume, swaying and clapping to the music.

On the days I worked at the Paris Hotel, there was another man who came into the casino at least once a week with his dog, Happy. Happy was a smaller version of George, and he sat quietly in a stroller that was emblazoned with his name, allowing his elderly owner to push him through the casino and stop occasionally for the women who would ask to pet the cute dog.

I ran into Ralph in his costume at the Venetian the day after I first met Happy, and I happened to tell him about my conversation with the man who pushed his dog everywhere in a stroller. “Why do you think I do it?” Ralph asked me, gesturing to the green Renaissance costume he wore that day. Before I could reply, we were interrupted by a tourist family who asked him for a photo. I stood and watched Ralph smile and talk with the people before they headed off again.

Ralph’s blatant acknowledgement of why he wears his costumes was a relief to me. He wasn’t crazy - he was just an eccentric old man who liked attention and knew an easy way to get it. Just like the man with the dog in the stroller. And the man at the dog park whose dog performed tricks for passersby.

If I am lucky enough to get to “elderly” status, I wonder what I’ll do for camaraderie. Will I be lucky enough to have children who live nearby and drop by for visits? Will my husband still be with me to keep me company? Will I still have a social life to keep me busy?

Or if life doesn’t go according to plan, will I stay at home alone, or will I get out and demand attention? Honestly, I’d rather be eccentric than lonely. I can see myself in yards and yards of purple velvet…

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