the lost man chronicles
the daily chronicle
a thoroughly exhausting Thursday
Although Thursdays rarely seem to distinguish themselves amongst The Seven, today’s Thursday effloresced differently. For it was a full day, one filled with reaffirming conversations and a bit of sparkling adventure.
As usual, I woke up early. But only this time it was slightly earlier than usual, at 4 rather than 4:30, because I wanted to work out and then catch the earliest bus into the City, so that I could languidly walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and watch the sun rise.
At 6:15 I stepped onto the A Train and rode the rickety jalopy until High Street where I stepped off and ran up the stairs. As anticipated, the promenade was poetic to say the least, and left me feeling animated with ineffable awe.
For the wonders I saw made me feel both free and stymied. Because although I was thrilled to be amidst them, I was equally frustrated, knowing I would be unable to capture it all with my words—the wavy Vs for gliding birds, scavenging hungrily as gulls diving for scraps from the Fulton Fish Market on the piers below; the brilliant green and gold buildings reflecting upon the shimmering water of the Hudson; the sound of light bouncing off skyscrapers, stalwart pillars bursting and basking in the sun; weary commuters whooshing all around and young go-getters running by; roaring taxis racing, chasing moneyed dreams into the heart of the mad city I call home—sure enough it was an exhausting and exquisite deluge of shiny detail that plundered my senses, and flooded me with feelings that I was lucky to be privy to such elusive splendor.
At the end of my stroll I descended into the bowels of the metropolis and rode the 6 train six stops up to work.
Much the day was passed in an office coma. The highlight was a heart-to-heart with my boss behind closed doors about a colleague who we concurred had suddenly become oddly and boisterously impudent. Her impetuous mood spurred her to blurt strange things like “No, I won’t do that!” aloud to our boss, a few times, in front of others. My boss and I agreed that this was not only inappropriate behavior in the corporate environment, but it was demoralizing, a detriment to our team, and not good for subordinates to hear.
An astute friend of mine later surmised that the boss and the sassy colleague in question were either having or had had a love affair. It had never occurred to me, but it was quite possibly the missing piece to the puzzle. I could easily imagine how she might feel self-righteous and emboldened by being spited by this once-was intimacy outside the office, if it were true that is.
Ultimately, I granted them both the benefit of the doubt though, and reverted back to my belief that the emotional outbursts I’ve witnessed over a number of years, sufficiently demonstrate that it is a deeply rooted problem, unrelated to any romantic spillover entre these two.
After lunch I made a round of calls to musicians I was trying to hire for the upcoming Holiday Party I was planning.
One of the more delightful conversations I had was with Ms. Camila Benson, a Brazilian chanteuse who was listed on the MTA’s Music Under New York program as a performer of the Bossa Nova. She was a firebrand of sorts and rivaled my mother in regards to her ability to blather ceaselessly.
As soon as we began conversing in Spanish she tore off on a tangent about her night with a raucous horde of Mexicans, enthusiastically elaborating that that she made an immediate connection with them, but could not explain this inexplicable bond of visceral understanding. I responded, “Es que corremos con sangre Latino” (latin blood runs through us all, roughly translated), to which she responded with more detail about the revelry of that steamy evening.
Since she did not have any pending gigs where I could watch her perform, we concluded our chat by agreeing to meet later that afternoon at her place, where she would give me a private performance.
She met me at the door to the apartment complex in a flowing golden bathrobe that made her look like a sheik and she immediately engaged me with a tone that made me feel as if we were still having the conversation of a few hours ago. Lamenting her living situation, she feistily bickered “There are too many rules around here. You’ve got to sign-in and sign-out for everything. Just too much bureaucracy.” It would soon become clear why she struggled with the residential ordinances, as I would soon hear all about her former days as a troubadour, a vagabond of life, a nomad who was a wife to the world.
She apparently lived in a senior citizens home, because the receptionists not only looked like big, mean nurses, but the few people slowly coming in and out fit the profile. Moreover, after noticing the fliers with big capital letters for upcoming events that were posted everywhere, I was sure I had landed in a place where old folks come to roam and eventually, die alone.
As we rode the elevator I was compelled to once again apologize for imposing upon her at the last minute. She smiled and replied rather graciously, “Oh no, en Nova York one must take every opportunity she can to perform,” and with that, the doors opened onto the 15th floor.
As we approached her apartment door, Camila somewhat surprised me by revealing that she was just three years shy of eighty. She actually looked like she was barely eligible for social security, and her vigorous demeanor made her seem much younger.
She lived in a tiny studio about ten-by-ten square feet—just enough for a bed, a file cabinet, two book shelves, a small water closet, two storage closets, a kitchenette with cabinets, a sink, an oven, and a little floor space to place her feet. In all, it was about the same size of my office den at home, the smallest room in the house, apart from the bathrooms.
Her quaint space was adorned with a pantheon of Gods and spiritual icons which she had gathered along her eclectic journey through life: her friends included Vishnu, Buddha, a crucified Christ, and some Japanese rocks to represent Zen. She also had a large picture of a waterfall hanging above her bed, with a white noise maker in the corner to audibly complement the photo. I asked her about them and she responded, “Mijo, I’ve performed in 72 countries, and everywhere I’ve been, I’ve relied on the local gods for guidance.”
She asked if I wanted “Un cafesinho, te o un trago de tequila.” I replied I didn’t want to impose upon her and she insisted I have something, for it was not a bother. I bent like the reed and said I would have whatever she was having. Following her lead I added, “Cuándo en Roma uno debe beber como los dioses…”
Although we conversed mostly in Spanish, hers with a Brazilian twang, mine with the occasional stop-and-go that is evident of a pocho whose sputtering makes you feel like you’re in the passenger seat trying to teach a teenager how to drive, we bantered without pause. Most of the time I was truly unconscious of any misunderstandings or babbling break in the conversation, as I was delightfully lost in the wonder that we were blathering away in the first language I ever learned, and perhaps the one I love most of all. It is also the one that often seems to mystically connect me with those people who have the fire of life in their hearts. Moreover, I was tickled by how we sprinkled everything with words and phrases and proverbial wisdom from other tongues as well, for anytime liberal polyglots get together it seems quite natural to mix it up—pulling from, borrowing, burrowing, digging, and spreading it all across like Nutella on warm toast.
As we each sipped she went on about how all her life she’s been alone, never married and no kids, But! she was perfectly happy to be a soltera. She had lived a life that’s full and has had friends like jazz emissaries Slide Hampton and George Benson, performed with the late and great Tito Puente, and even once opened for Frank Sinatra. “So, how could life be any better?,” she squealed.
Sporadically, throughout the 45 minutes we spent together, she brought out clippings, lots of old photos, and promotional fliers announcing her performances. Although huddled together in a couple of photo albums, all of it was fairly disorganized, and it became obvious that she was not only the star, but her fly-by-the-night manager as well.
Moreover, it became clear that the spotlight was fading, which is not to demean her talent by any means, for she smoothly demonstrated otherwise to me. Yet, by the looks of all the faded square 110 film photos, her hey-day had been, was gone, and it was—thirty years ago. She’s survived and spiritually thrived since then upon a world-wide tour irregular gigs, and even recorded a few CDs in the process, but it all panned out into a free-flowing stream that never stood still, regardless of how quiet she seemed on the surface.
After fifteen minutes or so she asked how much time I had, and I shamefully relayed that I only had about twenty minutes left. She responded, “Well then I must play for you,” and stepped over to her closet to take out her acoustic guitar. She then sat on her bed, while I sat two feet away in a lonely chair, and she began strumming and humming melodically.
She sang like a siren. Her medley of songs ran a lively and lithe gamut of languages including Spanish, Portuguese, French, Greek and Italian. Without any airs whatsoever, she said she continually had to learn songs in other languages because “Otherwise, mi amor, it gets really boring, you know, playing the same old song over and over again…and I’ve been playing a very long time…” This triggered an impulsive jump to her file cabinet wherefrom she pulled out a charming black and white photo of her as an attractive 19 year old with a guitar and a standing microphone, poised smiling in a short poodle skirt before the kind of camera that makes you think of American Band Stand.
I was not only impressed by her worldly musical talent, but her suave dexterity, the soothing vibrato and a composed performance were all also equally beguiling—especially considering that she played as if she were in her prime, even as thousands of others her age were being tucked away into nursing homes, to sulk alone and waste away over time at this very moment.
As she plucked away and scat extemporaneously, I sat contemplating her life. I wondered where she had been, how many men, how exquisite her freedom was to wander, how happy was her sweet liberty, and the wanton gypsy ways that earned her freedom whenever she was in a bind. I likewise pondered how she had enjoyed escaping the ennui, the pleasures of not having to endure the standard pain and suffering of others like me, who were hopelessly chained to their mediocre lives.
Albeit others might hastily conclude that she had little to show for such a multi-splendored and full life, those people rarely look beyond the surface of anything. They are either running too fast through their own lives to take the time to delve, to wonder and question and delight in the answers, or are just happy to ride upon ignorance and all the prejudices they have picked up along the way.
I wanted to tell her that she was an inspiration to me in so many ways. But I resisted this bit of sincere flattery, for I had already ladled the compliments upon her in a myriad of other ways. Besides, even if I was amazed and felt I could express myself freely with her, as both a fellow artist and Latino, this was a business call and I could not allude to any promises or commissions or commitments until I had massaged the financial powers that be and loosened up the CFO, just enough so that she might shake some cash from the corporate till. I was utterly aware that since most of these musicians do not operate with a business license, doling out the Benjamins as greenback might present a problem. Because any deals with anybody off the books is a blatantly a breach of corporate policy.
However, I know all too well that there are always exceptions to the rule. And I was personally funded by a wealth of confidence, sincere exuberance and personal due diligence, so I was ready to stroke and knead and ply wherever need be and whenever necessary. Moreover, it was the invigorating, reaffirming interactions with people like Camila that propelled me forward with the exuberance to make it happen, regardless of the obstacles.
“…Dante describes the soul of a man as coming from the hand of God 'weeping and laughing like a little child,' and Christ also saw that the soul of each one should be a guisa di fanciulla che piangendo e ridendo pargoleggia. He felt that life was changeful, fluid, active, and that to allow it to be stereotyped into any form was death. He saw that people should not be too serious over material, common interests: that to be unpractical was to be a great thing: that one should not bother too much over affairs. The birds didn't, why should man? He is charming when he says, 'Take no thought for the morrow; is not the soul more than meat? is not the body more than raiment?'”~ de Profundis, Oscar Wilde
All this time, in the intermittent transitions between the scenes of the day, I continued to read and fawn over the luscious prose and wisdom of de Profundis. I had begun reading Wilde’s jailhouse lament, a sorrowful treatise about the importance of suffering and clarity it bears at lunch and this passage in particular poignantly reinforced what I had learned while being engaged by Camila.
At twenty before 7 I left her to meet a friend for a foreign flick at the Angelica. We had agreed on a compromise of tastes, and decided to watch a French film entitled Red Light.
While in transit, I continued to read de Profundis and made many notes of the passages that piqued me, the ones which I fully “understood,” and which soothed me with the reaffirmation that I live well, creatively, and by my own accord.
Perhaps more importantly, I was not only inspired to write by these words, but I also was moved to impart them, to pass them on to a dear friend, just as they were shared and therein made a sincere friend of me.
I arrived at the theater at 7 sharp. My friend had been adamant about meeting there on the hour, and so at 7:30 every minute, and eventually every moment which passed, made me conscious that he was evermore tardy. I did mind waiting as much as I minded being hungry while waiting. For although I was rightly prepared after ten years of having had waited for him, I had also erroneously set other expectations. We had agreed to meet at the ticket window, after which we would speed off to eat at Two Boots Pizza around the corner. Accordingly, I forewent snacking to stifle the pangs and was beginning to feel the emptiness of not eating since noon.
Meanwhile, as I paced atop the steps, a young man with finely waved silver hair coyly approached, plying me with an explanation that he was seeking to fulfill an assignment for a class he was taking at NYU and was required to ask of strangers “What do you think of when I say ‘gender’?”
I paused for a second before answering, immediately knowing exactly what I wanted to say, but just no how to say it. “Mmmm, to distinguish between the sexes.” He repeated my words, I confirmed with an “uh-hunh,” and he ran away, bidding a fading farewell and “thank you” with a shy smile as he descended the stairs.
Although seemingly valid, the whole incident seemed slightly strange to me, because not only was he likely in his late thirties and dressed in a suit, and thus did not look like a student, but he also did not have a pen or pad to write down what I said. He also gave me a certain “look,” that look that borders on a predilection with a hint of affection or affliction of desire, the affectation that you are indifferent to the interaction, one which hides that you are actually afraid of moving toward fulfillment, of wanting without the courage to ascertain, and kicking yourself after you have blamed temerity for not living by the seat of your dreams.
At last and alas, my friend showed up panting. I told him, “Quit the huffing-puffing I ran to get her act, and let’s just get the tickets and go eat.” He readily acquiesced and profusely blathered his excuses, which I at-no-point actually listened to.
The pizza rightly hit the spot. I had two slices: A Cleopatra Jones—sweet Italian sausage, roasted red peppers, onions and fresh garlic, and a Mrs. Peel—a square Sicilian with roasted vegetables, fresh garlic and bread crumbs. In addition to the carbo-rich coma I was prone to, we induced ourselves into an alternate state so that we might better relate to, or rather tolerate, the wa-wa-wa of franco cine-art noveau and what we anticipated would be another snub-nosed attempt at being profound in some strange way.
Needless to say, we were not disappointed.
For Red Light was no exception to the standard French film, with its standard cinematic shticks and the cinematic motifs that slowly draw out a scene of universal resonance to show “how profound” the director is, with an I-don’t-know of insight that fancifully exploits what it is to be human, but which most of us simply do not have the faculties or talents to express.
It was also quite amusing to watch what they considered to be theatrical suspense, which essentially consisted of a long-winded conversation between a couple traveling in a car, one that showcased the common comic-tragedy inherent to all relationships that are driving full speed ahead toward the end of their longterm.
Perhaps the most entertaining part, was when I realized I was watching what culturally constituted a French nightmare, as the protagonist was being accosted by a badly-dressed drunk Brit who was trying to chum him up in textbook French with a mangled and mad accent.
A long hour in, I began to doze and had an incredibly difficult time keeping my eyes open. After getting up to splash cold water on my face, I concluded it was time to go and upon returning to my seat relayed to my friend that I was leaving, and that he would have to tell me how it ended later. Truth be told, I couldn’t care less.
I caught the 10:45, and was in bed by 11:15. Thoroughly exhausted by this exciting Thursday, I was asleep and dreaming of Friday by 11:30.
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