I lost a karaoke friend last week. A man who always listened to others sing, who applauded others’ effort, who loved a wide-range of music, and who, himself, was shy and awkward standing in front of others and therefore generally sat at his table and sang his Tony Bennett or Spanish songs. By his gentle ways, Bobby made karaoke non-competitive and simply about a love of singing and music. They found him dead in his bathtub with the shower running.
I met him through karaoke where I go in Albuquerque to sing on Thursday nights. A few years younger than I, he was retired from a 30-year career with IBM and enjoying his retirement. As a young Latino in New Mexico he sang in a band, but like me, got away from singing as a career-minded adult. Bobby was generally first in the Thursday night karaoke rotation because he was ‘first’ at Sunset Grille & Bar, his favorite hangout.
Bobby’s surprise death reminds me of the fragility of goodness and what a sweet gift of aging it is to reach that place of self-awareness where those coming into and out of our lives can be welcome teachers. The quiet, non-assertive ones are the best instructors. Like Bobby, they teach by what they ARE, not by what they say.
Bobby and I shared a mutual love of sports cars and hats, so I knew Bobby was already ensconced inside when I saw his little red roadster Mercedes SLK 230 Kompressor in the parking lot and I’d anticipate the “hat” he’d be wearing. Sometimes a newsboy cap, sometimes a baseball cap, occasionally a panama gentleman’s hat or beret — always a hat he wore indoors and out, often different, always a part of this man and his sense of himself.
I remember complimenting his hat one night and mentioning The Men’s Hat Shop in downtown old Albuquerque as a fun favorite store to browse. “Oh, I love that store!” was his reply. Two senior men, by way of a hat fetish, instantly in touch with the ‘Boy’ still inside them.
I miss you, Bobby. We were two old singers laying it out. I’ll sing one of your favorites, Tony Bennett’s “I Left My Heart In San Francisco”, for you on Thursday nights. Thanks for coming into my life, if only briefly, in our ‘Sunset’ chapter. Your non-competitiveness and strong sense of yourself were a joy to me. You showed me gold in you and where to mine some in my own soul.
Here’s to you, Bobby! You’re done singing in the shower at home. Belt it out where you are now, drowning out those harps. Sing it because you own it!
I hope somewhere along those streets of gold you find the ultimate hat shop where you are grinning from ear to ear trying on fun-crazy hats.
Joseph Harvill, Scottiephile