Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Dick, The One-Legged Opera Singer

It is once again time for Mama Kat's Writer's Challenge . I have already written about most of the prompts, and as a mayor,  if I decided to write a letter to all the people who annoyed me in the last week I'd never get done. So what I have chosen to do is modify prompt number 1 to read
1) Tell us about a stray animal you took in.
The deletion of that one word is critical. It means I can write about Dick.

The Story of Dick, The One-Legged Opera Singer

When I was a graduate student, I often spent a pleasant Friday afternoon drooling at the wonderful array of equipment in the local stereo and record store. Yes, it is true, there was once an age when music was sold on a mythical material called vinyl and entire stores were dedicated to selling audiophile stereos. No TV's, no computers, no ... The normal watering hole for the grad students and professors was across the street, so I'd get to the store an hour or so before the weekly watering hole event to drool and dream. With the passage of time, I became a friend of the stereo store manager and would help customers with information if he was swamped. In return, he offered me discounts on equipment I could not otherwise afford as a poor graduate student.

One Friday as I was drooling and dreaming of a particular tuner, I noticed a very distinguished looking  gentleman acting very confused as he stared at the array of stereos lining the walls. The only other thing that stood out about the gentleman was that he was on crutches and was having issues with the crowded aisles of the store. Since the manager was tied up with another customer, I asked him if there was something I could help him find. It was like I had opened the gates of heaven. His entire face lit up and it was clear he felt that someone had just thrown him a life preserver. He was "just looking", but he hoped to get a system he could listen to his opera records on. He introduced himself as Dick and we talked for a bit waiting for the store manager to get free. I gave him some advice about what to look for and then  introduced him to the manager. I never figured I'd ever see the Dick again.

Several weeks later, Dick once more wondered into the store and immediately sought me out. We talked for a bit and decided to get coffee next door so we could talk in peace and quiet. Stereo stores at the time were noted for playing loud rock and roll, usually several different songs at the same time. Not a good place to attempt conversation. As we talked, the subject of Dick's opera fanaticism and my own stereo equipment fetish came up. After a bit more discussion, it was clear that I knew as little about opera as Dick knew about stereo equipment. So a deal was struck - I would attempt to educate Dick about stereo equipment and Dick would attempt to teach me a bit about opera.

One of the San Francisco classical radio stations broadcast a weekly show that featured operas from around the world (if memory serves me right, it was produced by the Met). So we made the arrangement that Dick would come over to my place and act as a docent for the opera and then we would talk stereo stuff for a while.

I still vividly remember the first Sunday meeting. The opera was Massenet's Thais . Dick's commentary was like looking into a whole new world. I had never listened to opera before, but with Dick's insight it was entrancing. The combination of the music and Dick's scene by scene description of what was happening on stage and what the motivations of the characters were and ... was simply stunning. It was great! In fact, I felt a bit like a piker, exchanging my dry technical knowledge for this panoramic vista of art and music.

Over the course of the next few months I learned a tremendous amount about opera and Dick learned enough to buy the stereo he wanted. But even more interesting, I learned Dick's story. He had been an opera singer with the San Francisco opera. That explained his in depth knowledge of so many operas and the particular stagings. He had been there and sung in some of them! He had been involved in an accident involving a car and a street car, resulting in the loss of his leg. That had ended his on stage opera career, since as he put it "there aren't many roles for a one-legged tenor in all of opera." So he had moved to the university town where I met him and gotten on with his life, giving voice lessons.

So the next time you see someone looking confused and lost, adopt them. The stray you take in may open up whole new vistas for you.


  1. I thought it was going to be a humorous post with the whole "Dick the one-legged opera singer" thing, but it really WAS Dick, with one leg, who sang opera---and it ended beautifully. Bravo for friendships, long and short, that change us for the better! Very well written!

  2. Great story. I believe we have something to learn from everybody.

    My husband is a opera buff, so I have learned a lot from him, but unfortunately I'm still not a big fan. When he is listening to a CD or watching an opera video, I often ask him, "Which woman dies at the end of this one?" I confess I do it to annoy him. He claims that men sometimes die at the end of operas ----but then has to admit a woman usually dies, too.

  3. (Came over from Mama Kat's Workshop) :)

    Aw, this is such an adorable story! What a great friendship that grew from a meeting so coincidental. :)

  4. I really enjoyed this and many people would not have taken the time to help him and definitely not to get to know him. It shows a lot about your character!

  5. What a great friendship story! Thank you for sharing it with me... ;)

  6. It's great to see compassion. I loved your story, and I'm glad it turned into a wonderful friendship.

  7. This was a really great story! My personality tends to be open to these type of people (I once held a homeless man's hand in a park in San Franciso for half an hour while he told me his life's story) but my husband is so paranoid and security conscious that he won't let me "reach out" to those who don't fit the norm. I guess it only takes one time for things to go bad but, deep down, I believe in the inherent goodness of people.


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