In morality, psychology/psychiatry, sociology on August 14, 2012 at 12:53 am

There follows an article I wrote last spring (October 2011) on the sudden death of my friend Calvin Enting, aged 82, who lived in a second-floor unit in Kingsway just up from the St Luke’s mall, Auckland. Not only the timing of Calvin’s death, but the manner of it, was shocking — simply keeling over at the dining table after a few mouthfuls of food at Crossroads Clubhouse, Grey Lynn, having been invited back for his favorite Thursday roast one lunchtime. The seeming laxness and slow-motion movement of the ambulance attendants absolutely baffled and concerned me — making me realize how helpless we are at the mercy of the qualities of the individual ‘professionals’ who tend to us.


     I got to know Calvin well only after he was ejected from Crossroads Clubhouse (for falling outside the Auckland District Health Board target age group). You had to admire how he stood up for himself, rallying lawyers, MPs and Age Concern to his cause of clinging on to his rights. Who, as a still fit and aware man, wants to be discarded and consigned to the company of sedentary and mentally failing people?

He was normally garrulous but on down days was querelous. So I had a pretty good idea what I was getting into when he started inviting me round with Paul G, Chris R and Alan M to watch the rugby with him on Friday or Saturday nights. I’m not a great fan and I told him I would only come if Auckland was playing. So Auckland vs Bay of Plenty and some others turned out to be convivial occasions over pizza, potato chips, soft drink and his cups of tea. When he went off on me one day I wasn’t around to hear it. He’d phoned the Clubhouse five times on Monday morning complaining that I’d stolen his pizza on the Saturday night — which was literally true. I’d stolen it back, lifting it on the way out the door because he hadn’t used it in the two weeks since I’d brought it. Only he thought I’d snuck back into his place and raided his freezer — Nope, not that desperate for pizza. We were soon friends again.

One day I took a book off his shelf that featured every rugby name internationally up to 1976, which suited me down to the ground as that’s about the time I began to lose interest in our national sport: the year the All Blacks collaborating with Apartheid by touring South Africa. Every name I mentioned he knew something extra about them — where they worked (it was the good old days before professionalism), family circumstances. He was proud his dad had been chairman of the South Canterbury Rugby Union. Calvin’s living room was festooned with memorabilia from his Boys Brigade days in Timaru to his service medals. He showed me his discharge papers from the Air Force once, and knew I was interested in 20th Century music so offered me loan of a book on jazz greats of the 1930s and ’40s.

There are two that will stay my most vivid memories of Calvin. One was when he phoned on what turned out to be the last Saturday of his life asking me to take him to Psych Survivors. I warned him it was down steep stone steps at Pt Chev Beach — but age didn’t stand in his way. Yet by this stage, feeling more and more isolated in the community, he was grateful even to get out of the house. I know he appreciated Piri Ratana especially, who would go around some weekends to cook him a really good meal. I think Piri must have shelled out for these meals, as Calvin looked after his money.

The second memory is of Calvin approaching me at the Clubhouse dining table his last day — he attended religiously for the Thursday roast lunch under special invites back to the premises. This was less than an hour before he collapsed. Out of the blue, he announced to me that if he “made it through to December” he would receive a “$2,000 bonus”. I had no idea what this referred to but as he walked away I shouted — there was no question in my mind — “You’ll make it! We’re all cheering for you!” Very strange how things turn out.

Last and foremost, thanks Alan McMaster, Clubhouse’s own St John’s Ambulance veteran — who could show the young incumbents a thing or two about urgent response. No spring chicken but always highly motivated and a ball of fire on cue, Alan sprang into action for Calvin — relaying his vital signs through Stephen to 111 over the phone: “Tell them he’s Status 2, and I want them here, like, yesterday!”

Calvin could’ve had no better surroundings to go out on, knowing he was among friends with a caring professional at his side. He was a great character of the kind you don’t see among recent generations, with a great many touches of colorful eccentricity, and I can’t help but feel the world is less interesting without him.     — Gaz

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