One of the many books my daughter and I enjoyed reading together when she was little was The Bike Lesson, a Berenstain Bears adventure. It still makes me laugh.
Small Bear gets a new bike; Papa Bear teaches him how to ride it. Papa has a series of exaggerated, comically illustrated mishaps, like hitting a rock and catapulting himself onto the roof of the house, upside down, his head in the chimney. Small Bear gamely rescues his dad after each lesson goes wrong. Then Papa says to his son, “See? That is what you should not do. Now let that be a lesson to you.”
That line has become a standard in my household after an obvious blunder.
And it’s the line I thought of recently when I observed a visitor to an assisted-living facility where I was playing. His behavior was one big demonstration of what not to do.
He was middle-aged, strutted in like he owned the place, and plopped down at the lunch table of three women, right by the piano. I’m sure one of those women was his mother. But after an hour I still had no idea which one, because he didn’t interact with any of them.
Instead, he took out his reading glasses and got busy on his cell phone. Head down, distracted. He stayed that way. I played my usual genre—mostly standards for the 1930s and 40s—and the three women around him sang and chatted about the music as they ate their minestrone soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.
The women tried to involve the visitor in their conversation, but they just couldn’t compete with that cell phone.
Finally I got to Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia on My Mind.” At last, the visitor seemed to tune into the music.
“Wow, these songs are old timers,” he commented. “So are we!” I heard from the residents around him. He went back to his phone.
That guy missed a wonderful opportunity to talk to his mother and her tablemates about the music: What it meant to them, where they were when they first heard a particular song, what memories it brought to mind.
He needed only to set aside his phone and start with three simple words: “Tell me about…”
Paulette Bochnig Sharkey