Arts Everyday Living: Beyond the Tunnel-And Vaudeville, Too-Dave, the Master of Ceremonies

First Installment, April 12, 2023—Although based on real events, all names are fictitious except for Sarah and a few others.

Beyond the Tunnel: the Arts and Aging in America was published some thirty years ago, based on my experiences bringing art appreciation and the cultural resources of the art museum to older adults in the Washington, D.C. community through my non-profit organization Museum One, Inc. The world has changed since then, sometimes for the better, other times not so positively.

The concept of the tunnel was based on an actual nursing home I visited frequently in the 1980s. The facility still exists although it has been turned into an assisted living facility that I hope has been modernized.  Yet, the tunnel is  a state of mind, representing the ageism that continues to permeate our society. Ultimately, Beyond the Tunnel is simply a story—human and I hope, enduring—as well as a reflection of  our society and ourselves.

The next chapters are about my quest to bring the vision of art to other Sarahs living in their tunnels.




And Vaudeville Too

Chapter 17

Dave, Master of Ceremonies & Chief Emcee

Dave was our master of ceremonies and chief emcee, our aging Ed Sullivan with a George Burns voice, our flamboyant host and flawless promoter. Born on the 4th of July, the same day as independence and George M. Cohan. Dave was a survivor of vaudeville and its traditions—the stand-up jokes and magic routines, tap dance exhibitions, and dog shows. An old trouper, verging on 80, waiting to book the next act.

Dave, as coordinator of leisure programs, regarded Friendship Senior Apartments, as his private theater and personal Broadway, filling its meeting room nightly with a carnival of entertainment.

“L-a-a-dies-s and gentle-men-n,” he’d drawl in his barker imitation. “Now…back by popular demand…..” pausing dramatically, then charging upward to a hearty decibel, “the one and only Joan Hart, art historian! Not only is she erudite….but entertaining. Guaranteed….believe me…all you newcomers in the crowd. Why just last month she wowed us with Rembrandt and tonight returns to us again with…an artist you all know…Vincent van Gogh!”

“You know,” Dave had confided to me after my first lecture, “I had no idea,” he hesitated, weighing his words, ever the diplomat, “that you would go over so well with everyone. Not that,” he added tactfully, always careful not to offend, “art history isn’t interesting. I thought most people would like the program. But you know, it was really entertaining…you were entertaining…a real ham…and I mean that as a compliment, believe me. But you were also knowledgeable and…and…e-e-ru-udite-e,” he stuttered. “I’m sorry-ry-y, sometimes it’s hard for me to pronounce certain words after my stroke…but, er-u-dite,” he repeated correctly, proud of his verbal discovery, allowing every syllable to flow, caressing each sound.”Er-u-dite.”


Friendship Senior Apartments and its residents seemed different from the other tunnels in Ward III. Its name Friendship suited—like Dave, a symbol of good will, vitality, and perhaps most cherished commodity of all, fun. An apartment complex of five modest stories, it was constructed a decade or so ago as a government housing project. Its subsidized status had been considerably camouflaged by a comfortable brick exterior and pleasant interior, reminding one more of a snug college dorm than an institution. Although managed by the Episcopal diocese, its occupants were clearly interdenominational. Educations, professions, and backgrounds varied as well, with age and income the only unifying factors.

On the surface the residents of Friendship Senior Apartments continued to function in the community, maintaining a life-style of self-sufficiency and independence unknown in the women’s tunnels. Simple advantages perhaps—the possibility of running an errand at a local bank or purchasing groceries at the corner Safeway—but indisputable signs of freedom and mobility.

Dave had arrived at the facility shortly after his wife’s death and his own recent stroke. “I was a bachelor most of my life, until I was in my fifties,” he told me one night as he drove me home from a program. “And then I met my wife. She was a widow, you know with two children…and I was a confirmed bachelor, never wanted to settle down. But we decided almost immediately to get married….it just sort of happened,” he stammered slightly, still moved by the miracle of it. “At least I had ten wonderful years with her. You can imagine I was pretty low when I moved to Friendship…with her death and the stroke, too. But then they offered me the job of leisure programs coordinator, and things began to pick up again. It saved me really.”

Dave’s career had been checkered: a radio announcer, salesman, sportscaster, theater manager, even a dog trainer, bringing his performing dog free to charity events and children’s benefits. It seemed his hodgepodge of occupations had prepared him for this final position which though strictly volunteer, he approached with the dedication of a professional.

He was a perfectionist in his job, planning the calendar months ahead, allowing for minimal error in conflicts or changes. An otherwise charming man, he could be the despot of schedules, passing harsh sentences on any transgressor: lateness a misdemeanor, cancellation a felony, no shows life imprisonment.

“No, no, absolutely no,” he arbitrarily announced, when I asked him if he could switch my starting time from 7:30 to 7:00. “Not everybody’s back from dinner or they’re still watching the news. You’d lose a lot of people that way!”

Or if I suggested an evening other than our usual Wednesday, he opposed it just as vehemently. “No, no, that would never work. That’s bingo night, and never, ever, do I have anything to compete with bingo.”

Above all, the audience and its reaction was the supreme gauge of success, as if Dave were endowed with an inner applause meter. “Did you hear the clapping tonight,” he congratulated me enthusiastically after a particularly successful program, happily sharing my glory.

Or, if the reception were closer to lukewarm, Dave would analyze the response with me, diligently seeking the underlying reasons. “Well, I tell you…you gave a great lecture tonight, but you know, the subject didn’t quite appeal…and today’s been kind of hard on everybody. They went on a big trip in the afternoon and people are very tired.”

Numbers counted as well. Dave’s programs sometimes drew up to 100, especially musical performances, while my art appreciation sessions averaged 30 to 35.

“Don’t worry,” David often consoled me. “A lot of people love your programs, it’s just that you attract a more…let’s say…serious group. But you get a lot of repeaters…that’s what  counts because most of the programs with the big audiences are one-time spectacles.”

But I was still one of his stars, along with Rembrandt, Monet, Van Gogh, Michelangelo and O’Keeffe…..




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