I sit on a bench in shady cloisters and stare at the young woman with the ipod. I can’t hear the music she is playing. There are no dance moves. She does not so much as tap her foot. No body movement whatsoever. She is disturbing no one. But her presence annoys me and I don’t know why.
I imagine it’s because she may be keeping secrets. What is she listening to? is what the voice in my head keeps asking.
She sits beneath the shade of an elm tree with her eyes at half mast and a slight smile on her face. A pad and a pencil rest in her lap, but she has yet to write anything.
I am reading Kurt Vonnegut’s A Man Without a Country, as close to a memoir as we will ever get from the man. But I can’t get past the first sentence without having to look up and see if anything has changed in the young woman’s demeanor.
Nothing. She is as serene as a lounging angel. Not a care in the world. No sign of a day ever lived in anguish.
Is this what annoys me?
I go back to Vonnegut and manage to get through the first sentence: ‘As a kid I was the youngest member of my family, and the youngest child in any family is always the jokemaker, because a joke is the only way he can enter into an adult conversation.”
I was never a jokemaker. My younger brother Harold was the jokemaker. “Why can’t you be more like your brother?” Uncle Louis said one Christmas. ”Your always so serious. Get your nose out of those books and have a laugh.”
Harold got the Rubber Soul album that Christmas. I got Gray’s Anatomy of the Human Body. It’s what I wanted. I needed to know how the body worked. I was going to be a doctor. I made that decision when I was twelve. I was in the hospital having my tonsils removed. In the next bed was a boy who was riding his bicycle on a day when the weather was not quite in his favor. He never saw the car behind him.
He was in a body cast and feeding through a tube. The boy’s doctor walked in and spoke to the boy and his parents. His talk was warm and soothing. He assured them that all would be well. The boy was in the best of hands. I wanted to be that man.
At twelve years of age Harold was going to be a Beatle. I told him all the spots were taken, but he said they could use a good piano player. He would send them a tape. He recorded his rendition of Fats Domino’s Ain‘t That A Shame on Dad’s reel to reel tape recorder and sent it to Capital records in California, care of The Beatles.
He never did hear back. But up until the night of John Lennon’s death he still had a dream that someone had listened and would get back to him.
He swore to me that wintry December night that Lennon used his arrangement of Ain’t That A Shame on his Rock and Roll album.
We were having beers and playing nothing but Beatle songs on the juke box. I told him I believed him. We sang Norwegian Wood and cried a little. He because of a lost dream. Me, because when he got that Rubber Soul album I memorized every word of that song. I was fourteen-years-old and that song seemed so adult. Far removed from the juvenile joy unleashed in I Want To Hold Your Hand two years earlier. I was born too old for my own good, I thought.
I suppose we all need a good dream like Harold’s. He’s a psychologist now. I never thought he’d have it in him. He always hated to listen to anyone’s troubles. “Loosen up and stop your crying," he would say. “Tomorrow’s another day." Maybe not a bad motto for a psychologist, after all.
I remember the young woman and look up from my book, but she is gone.
Maybe she’ll be back tomorrow. I’ll bring some more fruit and an extra glass.
Maybe she was listening to the Beatles and we will find a common ground discussing Norwegian Wood and did the character in the song really burn down the house as revenge for having been led on and made to sleep in the bath?
Maybe not a good topic to bring up at a shady cloister. I'll seek Harold's advice. He'll no how to loosen me up.
And when I awoke
I was alone
This bird had flow
So I lit the fire
Isn’t it good