On Friday I saw Harold. He will be 80 in March. He’s a physicist and an emeritus professor and that’s not his real name or field. (Other than those 2 details, what follows is true). Harold had gotten my postcard about my new office and called to schedule a session. In his voice mail he spelled out his name as if I might have forgotten him since the last time I saw him in February. As if!
I seem to have a flair for hitting it off with clients who are old and smart and creative, and, for some reason, men in particular. Psychoanalysts have labels for these things and I think their word for a therapist’s feelings for a client is “countertransference.” My plain old English take on that? Although no one is supposed to admit to favorites —favorite children, favorite nieces, favorite clients— when I look at a day’s schedule and an old man’s name is on it, I am happy. There, I admitted it.
Harold was referred to me by Lou, my anatomy teacher in massage school and now-colleague, and, incidentally, another favorite person of mine in the world. (I am, in actuality, an equal opportunity favorite-er). When Lou made the referral we’d spoken, briefly, and I’d asked, “Anything I should know?” She said, “Not really.” And then, as if an afterthought, she added, “Don’t play new age music. Just classical.” I laughed. That wouldn’t be a problem.
Harold isn’t as talkative as some of my older clients but over the course of 4 or so sessions we’d had several interesting conversations and he had commented on my music almost instantly. I passed the good music test, apparently. At the end of this past Friday’s session he asked what had just been playing and I said, thinking he’d meant the last pieces, “That was Yo-Yo Ma playing Bach.”
“Was it all Yo-Yo?” he asked. He said Yo-Yo as if he knew him personally, and for all I know, he does. One never knows. Especially around here.
“No,” I replied, “various. I can show you the playlist if you want.” Then Harold reminded me that he can’t stand that new age music they play. I laughed and said I understood, that it drives me crazy too. To which he said, “You know, that’s what they play in loony bins.” I said, “Really? As if that’d help!” I didn’t ask him how he knew that. And I didn’t tell him it’d been so long, going on 20 years now, that I no longer remember the music they played. What I did tell him, though, is that I haven’t played new age music since last spring.
I’m not sure why but new age music makes me want to jump out of my skin and scream. This is, of course, not a good thing for anyone to feel, but certainly not a massage therapist who is supposed to be, if anything, helping her client feel calm and comfortable in their own skin. One day last spring I decided never to play music I don’t like again. It was high time and my decision came, quite easily, thanks to another smart, older gentleman client, whom I’ll call, Edward. I hadn’t seen him for a couple of months and, quickly, he asked me, “What’s new?” “Oh not too much,” I replied, trying to keep the focus on him. But he wasn’t satisfied. “C’mon, what’s new?” And then, realizing that by answering openly I was indeed keeping the focus on him, I told him of my most recent crush, a Norwegian girl-band named Katzenjammer. “Want to hear them?” I added, on a whim. Of course he did.
During that session we listened to Katzenjammer and Leonard Cohen and I also played some tango, knowing how much Edward loves his tango classes. At some point I thanked him for the wonderful music, to which he said, “it’s yours!” We laughed and then I admitted to him that I just couldn’t stand that new age stuff and that if I heard the sound of another fake waterfall, I’d surely have to jump out the window or kill myself. To which he replied with the most obvious question of all time, “So, why do you play it?”
As Edward walked out the door that day he turned around, looked me in the eyes, and said, “From now on, only music you like.” And then, in case I hadn’t heard him the first time, he said it again, raising his hand and, as I recall —though this bit may be an embellishment of my memory for effect— shaking his finger emphatically: “Only music you like.” That was the day I went home and made three playlists: (1) classical, the one Harold heard. (2) Tibetan singing bowls and Buddhist monks chanting. (3) Jazz, folk and world music. Not one of my playlists included fake waterfalls.
This Friday, before he’d even taken his coat off, Harold asked me if I’ve been writing. (Ever since I sent “Leonard Cohen, please don’t ever die,” to my mailing list last winter, he asks me about my writing). I replied, “Yes, I have, certainly more than the last time I saw you.” He smiled, then told me that as he gets older, and especially lately, more prose-y bits are making their way into his physics papers. (Yes, he said “prose-y.”) He went on: “I think I’m trying to say goodbye.”
Ah. That’s when I bowed: I nodded my head slowly and replied with the only thing that rose up in my heart, silence. Later, about half way through the session, seemingly out of the blue but not really since I’d been thinking of his words pretty much the whole time my hands moved over his body, I asked him: “Would someone who does not understand physics at your level understand the prose-y bits in your papers?” “I think so,” he replied.
He’s coming back in 2 weeks. I hope he brings me prose-y bits.
~ * ~
P.S. Here’s Katzenjammer in a live version of a favorite song which includes a favorite line: “She’s a lonely young girl, she’s the sister of the moon / her heart is like November though she wants it to be June / Larger than life she’s standing there so tall / There’s a note with her name and it’s hanging on the wall… : Play, my darling, play!“ (The video quality isn’t the greatest, but I hope you’ll enjoy it anyway. Notice how those girls never rely on anything fake, and certainly not fake waterfalls.)