By Thunder Faultline
It had been quite some time since I had been “to the symphony.” I hold myself relatively faultless for this seemingly shocking lack of culture. For, like most of us in this modern era, I am extraordinarily busy . . . on occasion. Most often, I seem to be doing almost nothing but breathing (as my ex-wife told me, first with a note of wonder and pride, which gradually turned to a vague disgust, then, worst of all, a numbness tinged with half-pity). In actuality – and this was difficult to communicate to her, not that she cared – in these periods of relative inaction, every cell in my body was racing around, not unlike a shell-shocked World War II platoon preparing its bloodied, stinking foxhole for the next enemy attack. We (my cells and I) were not always living in terror of some real or imagined attack; often, we were in a state of busy hopefulness, preparing for, “The next Big Thing.” (What, exactly, this “Big Thing”
was, I could never get my cells to explain coherently; but it wasn’t just me, my ex-wife had similar problems getting cogent information out of my cells.)
This state of seeming inaction was tens of times more exhausting than what most people consider “work,” as I’m sure you can imagine (if, indeed, you possess an active, “healthy” imagination; if not, I would be happy to lend you some of mine, as I have been told many times that I have too much of it). So, I am often thoroughly wiped out, and merely clicking a button to change the channel on the remote control requires such effort that I have often fantasized about having a Sherpa to help me with these Everest-ian daily chores.
Then there was the question of money. Or, better put, the statement of money: You don’t have me. This is not to say that I dislike it. I truly cherish it, as many would a visit from a hummingbird or a rainbow that suddenly splashes across a gray, gloomy sky. I adore the little, unexpected visits that money makes to me, but of course I don’t rely on them.
A similar, unexpected blessing came recently, when my gruff neighbor pounded loudly on my door; upon my answering, he angrily informed me that he was too agitated to go to the symphony, thrust a ticket in my face and demanded that I go in his place. When I shyly told him that I was flattered, but that I had not money to reimburse him, I looked up from my coy glance just in time to see his ham-fist, which struck me neatly on the forehead and knocked me to the floor.
Struggling to compose myself, I staggered to my feet and with a bow graciously accepted the ticket that he had flung at me, and apologized for offending him by mistaking his gift for a business transaction. “You didn’t offend me!” he cried. “I just felt like punching you. And now that I’ve done it, I must say that, like the great majority of my interactions with you, it was deeply disappointing. You didn’t do a damned thing to defend yourself and fell far too easily; I had a crafty follow-up combination all planned, but now why bother?”
I started to interrupt but he slammed the door on my face; I’d had doors slammed on my face plenty of times, but never before when I was INSIDE. This left me vaguely disquieted, but I was shaken from my morass by his snarling words, “Now wash the blood off your face and get down to that blasted symphony!” as he stomped away.
I feared that he would kill me, if I didn’t go. I’m not particularly afraid of death, but I was curious to find out who would win that contest show I’d been following for the last several weeks. I’m not excluding the possibility of life after death, but would such things be revealed? And, if they were, would they get lost in a torrent of really important meanings and information?
I find this life effervescent and inscrutable, let alone the one to follow. So I prepared myself as best I could and headed for the symphony hall.
The first sign that things would be trying were the seating arrangements. My seat was smack in the middle of the hall, the perfect distance for audio and visual pleasure. However, I had to wedge myself in between a gargantuan bodybuilder whose forearm smashed into my neck every time he coughed (and he was “a cougher,” that dreaded species) and a gorgeous young woman with extraordinary amounts of pinkish flesh shooting out of her bright yellow dress (which, likely, was crafted for her a hundred and fifty or so pounds ago). The dear lady suffered from allergies, and looked at me with embarrassed sympathy every time she sneezed, which would expand her personal zone sent my violently up against the bodybuilder’s granite shoulder.
By the time the musicians began warming up, I was bruised, battered and bewildered, a state that was, in turn, just a warm up for what was to come. Suddenly, a wave of garlic, onion and jug-wine shot across my face, along with the words, “Nothing like last Nineteen and Ninety-Two,” ruggedly whispered into my left ear. I vainly attempted to turn to see who was addressing me, but could only see the blur of an angular old man’s face above the body-builder’s shoulder. “Pardon?” I whispered in the direction from whence the voice originated.
“They could really warm up, back in Ninety-Two,” came the raspy voice, on another odorous wave. “Not like this slop.” I began to apologize for not doing a better job on keeping up on things, and therefore not having an appropriate response – but I was interrupted by a cracking sound and a sharp groan. I realized the crack was the bodybuilder’s elbow impacting several of my ribs, and the groan had leapt from my own throat. “No talking,” with a charmingly girlish that I must say surprised me. I attempted to apologize but couldn’t, for lack of air.
Just then, the Conductor walked on stage, an entrance first indicated by a wild burst of applause as we leaped to our feet; and by “we,” I mean that the sudden upward motion of my two neighbors involuntarily rocketed me out of my seat, throwing me forward and knocking my chin into the back of a tiny, frail-looking but surprisingly- (as it turns out) hearty elderly woman. Catching my balance, I patted her on the back lightly and began to profusely apologize, only to have her brush me away with a somewhat regal half-wave that somehow deeply hurt my feelings, signifying I was nothing more than a speck of lint. Though my chin had landed forcefully in the square of her back, you had to look hard (and I did, of course) to notice that she merely threw back her shoulders slightly, as if shrugging off a gnat. Her attention, as was everyone’s, was squarely focused on the impossibly elegant Conductor, looking like a cross between a count and a bullfighter. He wore a tuxedo with tails, and his hair flared below his strong shoulders in much the same manner. I rushed to join the applause just as acknowledged the ecstatic noise with a half-nod and smile. Looking back, I’m sure everyone else felt the way I did: He is smiling at ME.
Just as suddenly, the smile disappeared, just a moment before in a movement of dynamic geometry he turned his back on us. It was the last we would see of his severe but majestic face we would see for quite some time. The musicians suddenly quieted as he squared up with the podium. I expected a series of graceful movements, of course he would start with some small, charming direction, then with gentle but firm force increasingly challenge these brilliant musicians who had dedicated their lives to re-creating the music that for ages had explored every corner of human existence, from the inimitable (until they came along) feelings of first love to the unspeakable (though playable, thanks to them) horrors of war.
Instead, he shrugged.
The Conductor merely twitched his perfect shoulders . . . and then leaned forward on the podium, flipping up his tails just-so as he removed from his back pocket a rolled-up publication, which he apparently began to read. Rehearsal notes? Thoughts on the composer? The night’s program, at least?
Though I was some distance away, I daresay it appeared to me to be a comic book. In any case, he relaxed into a slouch, assuming the pose of a late-night subway conductor.
With a frightening surge, the violins screeched into the void, taking advantage of the lack of supervision with wild notes that turned the beautiful hall into a moonshine-fueled Kentucky burn-the-barn-down party. A thumping reverberating through our seats could mean only one thing: the percussion section was not happy. As the slow thumping of war notes rose, the violins silenced each other, exchanging pleading looks.
But it was too late. A husky, middle-aged percussionist left his drums, slowly walked toward the violins with the glassy-eyed, far-off gaze of an alcoholic approaching the bar. The war beats growing louder and more urgent, we tensed as the violins shrank back in their seats at the approach of the husky percussionist. He seemed harmless enough, and we relaxed slightly at his easy manner . . . maybe he just had to use the rest room?
He did, but only after, to wash the blood from his hands – as he wheeled suddenly and planted one drumstick directly in the heart of a gorgeous, Asian violinist, then shifting his weight and wheeling across his body like a boxer delivered with his left hand a drumstick into the temple of a tanned violinist whose white hair was suddenly a shock of red. Without a word, the two leaned forward, still clutching their violins.
I felt a spray of regurgitated garlic and onions and broccoli (a new addition, curiously). “He used to be able to take four of them,” the expert commented, with his now-familiar scorn. “But now . . .”
There were the kind of gasps you might expect, but they quickly silenced, and were replaced by applause that was tentative at first, then respectful and finally booming. I was shocked! For some reason, I turned my head to the right, seeking sympathy from the lovely lady in the too-small dress. She seemed to sense my distress. “At least they went doing what they loved,” she whispered. A gentle, soothing wave washed over me, then dried as she crossed her eyes; I looked away, deliberately leaving her purpose – comic relief? Mocking? Schizophrenic—vague.
Then it hit me – how stupid I was being! The Conductor would surely take matters into his authoritative hands and stop the pending rout. I looked with more joy than hope toward him . . . only to feel somehow disgraced at the site of him, hunched over on his podium, not even reading the comic book anymore, likely sleeping. The musicians were for the most part now loafing away. The cellos were passing around a bottle of rum, the oboes were shooting dice, the clarinets were playing frightfully aggressive game of “touch” football with the horns and, most horrifically of all, two trumpet players had surrounded a harpist and were kissing her neck and cheeks and lewdly touching her; she playfully pushed them away, but her coyness only made them more persistent in their perversities.
The only music was coming from the flutes, who were playing what I took to be a fast, light-hearted spoof of a funeral dirge.
I’m not an emotive man, nor a forceful one, nor particularly decisive. Yet the passivity that dominates my existence suddenly vanished as I felt a very unfamiliar surge of pure, raw rage pumping through my blood. If no one else was going to do anything, well by all that is good I would take action! I whipped out the limited-call, out-dated phone that I rarely use and, ducking down slightly, dialed 911. An operator promptly answered, and asked what my emergency was. “I’m at the Symphony,” I whispered, struggling to control my quivering voice, “and the most awful things are happening—
I got no further. The weightlifter suddenly snatched the phone from my ear, snapped it in half, actually bit into the dialpad part of it before throwing it to the ground in disgust. He waved a program in my face. “ABSOLUTELY NO CELL PHONES!!!!” it clearly stated. I looked around to try to gain support for my predicament, and maybe with my pleading eyes encourage someone farther away from the muscular mammoth to attempt a call . . . But the disgusted looks and shakes of the heads raining down on me made it obvious they were fully in the camp of my destructive neighbor, and that I was indubitably in the wrong. Shame soaked into me, making me clutch at my chest, for some reason. I looked down and fumbled for words of apology—and just then the twin tubas let loose with powerful musical bombs that shook the hall. After the initial blasts that rocked us back on our heels, they tore into such low, elongated notes that they twisted our bowels around. I heard a baby screaming in pure terror down a few rows to my left; looking over to offer some sort of soothing glance, I immediately noted: THAT’S NO BABY, THAT’S A GROWN MAN!
The painful tuba notes stopped as abruptly as a window being slammed shut. The flutes also zipped it, and we all realized at once—The Conductor was at work! We trained our gaze on him, and realized he had dropped the comic book and had his two elegant, almost effeminate arms raised in the air, all ready for action. But what would he do, first?
Amazingly, he screwed his torso severely, so that his arms and gaze were steeled directly on the baby-man’s row! He gave the most infinitesimally small nod, and the baby-man’s terrified crying dried up instantly. Opening up his left hand slightly from a fist was apparently a signal, as seats 24 to 6 in row AA stood in unison. A very casual sweep of his right hand, and they began to clap in staccato fashion, perfectly in rhythm. But what looks of fear, they all had! As if they would be shot at the slightest of slip-ups . . . Instead, after what seemed to be an eternity yet was likely only a minute, two at the most, with a dismissive wave The Conductor instantly silenced them, and they all sat back down as one. Several hugged each other surreptitiously, tears could be seen streaming down the faces of others, one old man simply collapsed, after being drained physically and mentally by the ordeal either dead asleep or just dead.
The hall tensed; “Oh God, please don’t let him pick my row,” a middle-aged woman in a puffy pink dress moaned from approximately Row Q. I turned my head just in time to catch her red-faced husband pinching her violently while he gazed ahead in feigned casualness.
My reflexive movement caused me to entirely miss what The Conductor’s next motion was, all I know is that there was a curious noise behind me and the heads of my neighbors’ turned at 30 degree angles over their left shoulders. I did the same, and saw about twelve rows behind me six people standing and tapping furiously on their phones. The noise was at first strange, even worrying . . . but then undeniably musical. “Is that – Mozart?” I heard someone desperately whisper. “No!” came the loud whisper of – who else but the pedant behind me, leaning forward furiously to answer. “It’s Mozart . . . –esque!” he proclaimed, jutting a finger in the air triumphantly. Personally, I found it Beethoven-ish, but dared not correct him.
The phone-players stopped playing suddenly and sat down; someone started to applaud, then others joined politely, then it was a thunderous ovation that I proudly took part in. I remember worrying that we had not acknowledged the staccato clappers, losing myself in the thought as I myself applauded . . . Until a sharp elbow from the muscleman next to me caught my attention. Perhaps already knowing – and dreading – why he was doing this, I nonetheless turned to him innocently. And I could tell that, though he was looking somewhat behind and applauding the phone section, he was giving small hints with his eyes for he to look forward. I did, and instantaneously saw The Conductor pointing directly at me with the baton in his right hand, while simultaneously making a cupping motion toward the large woman on my right. “All right, let’s do this,” she said to me with just half a look, just before she turned away from me, bent forward and, in an unusually graceful motion, hiked up her yellow dress.
I knew what I had to do, cupped both my hands and laid into the sensationally fleshy rump sprouting from her soft pink panties. Fortunately (could The Conductor have known this?), I had been a drummer in the high school marching band, and attempted what I remembered to be a strong, tasteful beat. “Faster, he wants it faster,” hissed the now-seated body builder. “Yes, faster,” I heard the subject of my percussion insist. I stole a glance at The Conductor and, indeed, he was giving me the baton. I threw my cautions to the wind and began pounding away, going for a pan-African, aggressive beat. “Good,” my drums in a yellow dress groaned. “Good . . .”
I honestly don’t remember how it ended, I just remember sitting again, with sweat pouring down my face, nodding slightly to acknowledge what seemed to be quite appreciative applause.
The rest of the impromptu concert was a blur, and I don’t recall what happened or even how long it was until the SWAT team rushed the stage from back entrances.
I later heard that The Conductor had his license revoked and was exiled to third cello, the murderous drummer reached a plea bargain and was sent to the state hospital for the criminally insane, the phone section is contemplating some sort of lawsuit and the Symphony was allowed to continue only after paying a hefty fine to the City.
As for me, I married the woman in the yellow dress, and many, many times she insisted I repeat “my great performance.” I happily did, though the notes lost their thunder as she did weight; after seeing news reports on the dangers of obesity, I prodded her to shed some of her girth. I even worked two jobs, to pay for a membership to the City’s most exclusive Club. At first she was hurt, though I truthfully insisted I thought her fleshiness was absolutely gorgeous, and that I only had her health as my motivation.
There is a happy ending to this story. She lost one hundred and twenty-five pounds, and last I heard was living blissfully with a hot yoga instructor from the Club.
With her hefty membership fee no longer a concern, I quit my jobs, and returned to my state of uneasy expectation, waiting with dread for the next Big Thing to come along and demand my participation . . .