“Happy Hour”

These are  some of the results from the program I loving called “Happy Hour”.

Happy Hour

Happy Hour

I was able to visit and perform for  a local Alzheimer Care Center.

My first visit (Which I found to be one of the most beneficial to both clients and staff) began with a tour of the facility. I saw Day Rooms in all 3 wings.

In the first Day room, residents were watching a movie and all greeted me with a “Hello”. They were headed to the Dining room for other musical entertainment.

The second Day room was filled with family members, staff and 7 or 8 residents that seemed to be in various stages of focus.

I started with some songs and a health care  assistant started with hand clapping. Within a half hour, people were dancing and singing. A joyous time, music can change the energy of a room; relieve stress in clients, family members and staff.

I was asked to visit a patient’s room and  I was told she never comes out of her room.

When I arrived at the door I saw a woman sitting in a chair watching television.  I went in with my guitar and asked if I could play a song for her.

She said, “Yes”.

The TV was turned off and I started playing. She started moving and grooving in her chair then she got up and started to dance like she was on stage. Staff came to the door, to witness the “Happening. The woman invited the staff to join in with the dance.

The health care assistant signaled me to come outside the room. I continued to play and she followed me out of her room to the Day room on that wing. She continued to dance. I played a couple of more songs down and then I was asked to visit a room at the end of the hall.

A patient was on Hospice. He was an older man on oxygen and asleep. He had 4 family members at bedside. I stood at the foot of the bed and sang “Old Bones”” The Torch” and “Happy Trails to You”

It was surreal and special.  The family thanked me. I left and felt that the very first “Happy Hour” was a success. What a difference and hour can make !

The second “Happy Hour” was in the Big Room (Dining room). Clients came in from all three wings. Wheel chairs, walkers, canes and escorts. The staff had seated them in a theater style setting. I stood in the corner and did more of an impromptu show.

There were approximately 30 -40 clients in attendance, including my dancing friend who never comes out of her room.  Although they seemed to be engaged with my songs and a polite audience, I felt I got more interaction in “the smaller houses”.

My third time there, I played the Garden. Again 30+ clients and staff gathered around under the awning. Some of the clients remembered me from last month.

We were up close and personal. More clients sang and people danced. A truly “Happy Hour” for all.


Like a Brand New Baby

Just Marjy and Me

Just Marjy and Me

One of the rewards of working with a seasoned audience in an aged care facility is meeting “Living History” and the most famous people you’ll never meet.

I was recently working in a secured facility and met a man who was 102 years old. A class Act.  He and his wife came to this country and did a juggling routine that brought them through the vaudeville circuit and many nightclubs and circuses. They played the Ed Sullivan Show.

I mentioned I was from Boston and he asked if I had ever been to Blinstrub’s Village ( a night club that opened in the midst of the Depression 1933 and destroyed by Fire in ’68. ) Every one played there from Frank Sinatra To the Everly Brothers. I had the pleasure  of seeing Frankie Valley and the Four Seasons there . .

“They were very good to us there – They would feed us.” He grabbed me by my shoulders and said, “It’s so good to hear an old comedian!”

I’m not too sure if I should take that as a compliment, but I will.

I told him he looked great for a hundred and two and I asked “How do you feel?”

He replied ” Like a new baby! I have no hair! – I have no teeth!  And, They just changed my diaper! ”

And he called ME an old comedian.

Ooh La La (Or, Clowning in Paris)

Eiffel Towe

I once had the opportunity to work in Paris. The fact that I spoke no French was not a problem, as laughter has no accent.

Working with the clowns at Le Rire Medecin, I learned that they had a different approach to hospital clowning. Where we used magic, they used music. The clowns over there could make and perform all types of music–they could play or sing everything from Mozart to the Spice Girls.  When the clowns decided to play music for a young patient, they would shut off the TV upon entering the room so that the youngster could hear it clearly and enjoy it.

Another difference between the American and French styles of compassionate clowning was that the Parisian clowns tended to do more verbal improv than circus-type routines. For them, time was no factor and they would take as long as it took to do their work. The French clowns also used more buffoonery, assuming roles of high and low status. They tended to sort themselves into kings and commoners or bosses and workers instead of the doctor theme some of us use here.

The French clowns were also very open about sharing or using their props. They allowed the smaller children to hit or squirt them with squirt guns. The use of sexuality becomes a good  distraction as is a powerful magic trick with adolescent children.  The use of a squeaker in a bra of a female clown is very funny and shocking!

The way they entertained babies was interesting. I observed the clowns performing in the nursery of the hospital. In the hospitals where I have worked in the U.S., we typically heard, “They’re too small for clowns, they don’t understand.”

On the day I observed the clowns working the nursery, there were 8-10 crying babies. The staff and the clowns didn’t seem to mind at all and just went about their business.

One of the French clowns who had an accordion would start by playing one high note, then one low note —  just to see if he could get a response. Once curiosity kicked in, another clown would start with bubbles. Then they’d do a little dance to make it more visual. They took the time to thoroughly entertain the babies, and one knew they succeeded because the crying would stop and the babies would signal that they didn’t want the clowns to leave. 

They used few or no props, as opposed to some of us who haul bags, pull carts, golf carts, trailer trucks, wagons, etc.

I was able to show them that the classic circus clown skits still work. In a little dance routine, three of us got into a “butt kicking contest” with the same clown getting kicked no matter in what order we stood. It wasn’t violent, and it played well with children big and small.

Just as it is in children’s hospitals here, reality was never far away. One day, we asked a teenage boy what grade he was in school, and his startling reply was, “I chose to get cancer instead of working hard at school.”

Now I know why I do this work.

Grock, the great master clown, once said, “In order to know humor, one must know life. Good and bad.”

Lyrics – Old Bones

Old bones inside an old raincoat

Old bones inside some ole shoes

Old friends from the hotel

stop by to wish me well,

They keep me up to date

on all the old news.

Sometimes I have me a whiskey  ( Binky, or Geritol  age appropriate )

Then I fall asleep in my chair

Then I dream that I’m a man  – much younger  than I am.

I bet by now you think that I wouldn’t care.

But I love life  and I’d do it again

Though I might not be

much more than I am.

Just to turn back the time and let my life begin

Oh Ya! I’d like to do it again.

Old Bones, but Young at Heart

I was working with one of my colleagues down in Sarasota, Fla. We were on rounds in the local hospital,and had been invited into the room of a man who was dying. His daughter thought it would be nice if we visited him. Maybe we could sing him a song.

In our conversation with her, we learned she was very proud of the fact that her dad had made his living as a professional musician. He played for a lot of the “big “bands. He even played at the White House for a couple of Presidents.

When we approached the bedside, he looked as if he were sleeping. I leaned down to speak softly in his ear, explaining who we were and asking if he would like us to sing him a song. He said,”I would like that.”

The only song I could think of that was appropriate was “Old Bones,” the same tune I had sung to a 3-month-old baby who was also on end-of-life care.

As we crooned, the man’s body started to twitch and convulse. Our first reaction was that he was having a seizure or this was it! The End. As we continued singing, his daughter called out, “Oh my God! He’s dancing!”

The staff came running. No one could believe it! So many tears were falling we almost had to get a mop.

After we finished singing, my partner offered the man a kazoo. With what little breath he had, he started jamming with us. We played  “5-Foot-2” and “Please don’t talk about me when I’m Gone.”

A special moment. A special time. A special place. You’re never too old for clowns.

Dad, Where Are Your Teeth?

I’m in the Intensive Care Unit of the hospital. The man who is laying there with all the tubes, wires and machines around him is my 79 year old father, Larry.

I stand beside the bed trying to figure what is going on. This is a man who was never sick one day in his life, but now he is doing battle with emphysema.

I have the uncomfortable feeling that he’s failing.

As I hold his now-soft hand, his index finger taps nervously against mine.

Tap-tap‑tap. STOP. Tap‑tap. STOP. Tap-tap-tap. STOP.

If I didn’t know better, I’d say he was sending an SOS.

Though he is unconscious, I know it’s time for amends to be made and to tell him I love him.

He was proud of me and often told me so. I was the youngest of three and the only child who showed an interest in music. His father was a music teacher from England and all his siblings played music. Music is well said to be the speech of angels.

I remember; when I was a kid, going to my Aunt Wilma’s house after church on Sundays and having family sing‑a‑longs. She was a great piano player and actually played background music for silent movies.

Dad played the violin and I played the ukulele and banjo.

I believe that vaudeville, burlesque and circus entertaining is in my genes. Although whenever I told my father that I wanted to entertain or play music, he’d say, “Get a shovel. Get a good job. One that has benefits and a retirement plan.”

As I stand at his bedside, tears are pouring down my cheeks. I look around at the powder- blue walls and an IV pole with some sort of pump that reminds me of a cross between a parking meter and a tape recorder reel. The TV above his head reads like a Dow Jones stock exchange report. I think to myself, “Should I buy or sell?”

His loose-fitting nightgown hangs on him, so I can see the wires stuck to his grey-haired chest. I look at his face. A small yellow tube is inserted into his nose. A large corrugated tube fills his mouth. Surgical tape holds them both in place. There is rhythmic song from his breath and the beeping of the machines that have become a part of him. It reminds me of my playing music with my family as a kid.

I stare at him and say, “Dad, where the hell are your teeth? You look terrible!”  I look in the drawer of the night stand but, they are not there.

Its getting late and its time to go. I stop at the nurse’s station and get one of those fluorescent pink sticky notes. I take a $5 bill from my wallet, fold it, place the note on top of it and write,

“Dear Larry, Thanks for the teeth. Love, The Tooth Fairy.”

Back in the room, I lean over the bed to give him a kiss and I slip the bill and the paper under his pillow before leaving.

That night, my father had a complete turnaround. They took him off the machines and were cleaning him up when a nurse found the money.

The room was full of laughter and joy. My father placed that money along with the note on the refrigerator back at the homestead, and told the story to everyone who visited. Miracles do indeed happen.

The Greatest Dream on Earth

"Giddy Up!"

Long before I went to work for the Big Apple Circus Clown Care, I visited “in clown” at what I would call a terminally ill hospital. There was a lot of  longterm care and Hospice. Most of the patients were near death, and as you can imagine, it was a very difficult place to be.

I was to entertain in the day room. I really didn’t know what kind of material was going to work in this situation. Some of the patients were intubated and attached medical equipment. Everyone spoke quietly and all you could hear in the room were clicking noises and steady monotonous beeping sounds from heart monitors, plus the heavy breathing sounds like Darth Vader was in the  room.   Many were paralyzed and could only communicate with the movement of their eyes and eyelids.

So I pulled out some magic tricks. Much to my mortification, one lady’s favorite response to each stunt was to call out,  “Couldn’t you just DIE?”

“My God! Please, lady, don’t say that!” I thought. Most of the patients in the day room were quiet and serene. They had all accepted their misfortune, made peace with their fate and were ready . . .They didn’t laugh at my performance. They just took it in.

I have often wondered, when witnessing situations like this, why God allows it to go on.

Now I think I know why. I have received more strength from a person who was dying than the strongest men in the world get by pumping iron. This strength has grown into hope, and a belief that I might someday be able to comprehend the world a little better. In the meantime, it has taught me to be understanding and accepting of the not-so-pleasant things life throws my way. It revealed a heartstring I never knew I had.

Back to the story:

After I finished performing for the patients in the day room, the staff asked if I could visit some of those who had been too ill to leave their rooms. So I was taken to the second floor, where the patients all had respiratory problems. At the nurse’s station, they told me, “You must go see May. She used to be in the circus.”

As I walked into May’s room. I saw old circus posters everywhere. Gorgeous, antique posters. And there was tiny, fragile and feisty May, enveloped in one of those big oversized chairs you see in hospitals and nursing homes. She had oxygen tubes in her nose, but when she saw me in my clown gear, she brightened and said, “I’ll get my things!”

The nurse tried to calm her down.

“No, No, May . . It’s O.K. They just came to visit you.”

May was excited and she kept exclaiming, “I knew you would come for me! I knew it!” I think she thought we were there to spring her out of that place.

I didn’t know which circus May traveled with, but I did find out what her act was—she was an equestrian high diver. Yes, you read that correctly. She would dive off a high platform, on a horse, into a pool of water.

I can still see the twinkle in her eye as she looked at me.

“That’s a lost art,” I  said. “I don’t know anyone who can dive horses.”

Then she gave my hand a squeeze, looked at me right in the eye and confided, “I think I can still do it. But I believe the horse is dead.”

Later, while looking through a book of old circus posters, I spotted one from the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The picture was of a young girl standing next to a white horse. It was captioned “May Worth – The Greatest Bareback Rider Of All Time!” 

The Greatest Show on Earth. 

I never did know the patient’s  last name.

The greatest Dream on Earth.

God bless you, May.