Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Immaculate Journey - A Short Story by Don Robertson

Immaculate Journey
A Short Story by Don Robertson (1993)   

     It was a beautiful summer evening as the plane slowly circled for a landing at the Newark airport, then gently touched down. They year was 1993. I was here for a job interview with the largest security alarm company in the United States. As I stepped from the plane, the remembrance of the New York City area swept back as if it had only been yesterday. But it had been twenty-five years since my two-year hiatus in the Great City.
     I walked into the gate area, looked around at the passengers scurrying in every direction, and I smiled with the knowing that I had returned. I knew it from the flow of men dressed in London fogs and finely cut tweeds and the carefully dressed women scurrying to make business appointments. This scene contrasted obliquely with the still-fresh memories of the slumbering Old South and its magnificent civil-war city of Richmond, Virginia that I had only left an hour before… that magic land of enchantment where the sparkling faces of old Southern blood, the rich warm plates of greens and grits and the friendly greetings from strangers had perpetually surrounded me. I looked around for assurance. Yes, I was actually here in the Great City, or next to it at any rate: the city where cold winds froze the quick and impatient faces of the busily scurrying crowds, and where the finely clothed people in blacks and browns and tans mingled sans acknowledgment alongside those who lived in the streets and in the public bathrooms. Somehow, however, it was all-perfect: a journey from land to land, from people to people.
     Among the crowd of faces gathered around the gate I saw an unknown man holding up a large white cardboard with my name emblazoned on it in large black sharpie letters. The recognition of my own name dancing above the ocean of unknown faces gave me a start. It was the man from the alarm company, sent out here to the airport to pick me up. I had seen men like him at airports before, holding up signs that were meant to attract the attention of unfamiliar people, but I had never imagined that I would one day see my own name on one of those signs.
     I moved through the crowd to the man and introduced myself. We shook hands politely. The man led me out to his car while busily explaining what would be in store for me during my interview scheduled for the following morning. The company was looking for someone to help set up a network of computers across the country.
     I climbed into the front seat of the man’s nondescript black sedan. He started the engine and we began moving out into the huge airport lot where he had parked. 
     We hadn’t moved more than 300 feet before we were entangled in a great throng of automobiles that were also attempting to make their make way to the parking lot exit gate.  As more vehicles began pushing their way into the expanding mass of departing autos, a thick traffic jam created a gridlock. After a few minutes, a dozen lanes of traffic were completely stalled. I realized that it would take this mob of cars at least a half hour to get to the gate that was clearly visible ahead. The man from the alarm company muttered a few cryptic words, and then we just sat there quietly, stalled in traffic, trying to find something to say to each other.
     After about five minutes, an angry panic overtook the motorists, and soon a chorus of drivers, impatient and exhausted, began laying into their horns, a few at first, then gradually more and more. In a few minutes every driver in every stalled car was angrily pounding on their horns, and thus arose a crescendo of blazing automobile horns – a chorus of vented frustration. This confirmed it! I knew that I had returned to the Great City!
     The following morning at the alarm company after meetings with the management, I moved on to the computer work area where I exchanged tired computer war stories with members of the technical staff, their pained faces filled with deep lines of frustration and complaint.
      When my interview was over, my friend Mike, whom I hadn’t seen for many years, and who had recently moved to a town nearby, came to pick me up. According to plan, we would venture into the heart of the Great City together. 
      Mike and I had known each other for ten years. He was perhaps the smartest computer programmer that that I had ever met.
      I waited for Mike in the parking lot outside of the alarm company building. Wanting him not to miss me, I stood prominently in the lot where I was certain he would see me when he drove up. A cold, gripping wind blew across the asphalt and I was pleased that I had remembered my insulated ski parka.
      It wasn’t long before Mike pulled into the lot just ahead of where I was standing, but instead of driving up to greet me, he parked his car at the entrance of the building, got out of his car, and then began walking up to the front door… even though I was standing in plain view in the middle of the parking lot just ahead of his car. I realized that this was just like Mike not to notice me standing there.
     "Hey Mike! Mike! Mike!"
     Mike was the most spaced-out guy that I had ever known. I used to ask myself “Should I really be hanging out with Mike?” His appearance was always so extremely unkempt, and the things that he would do and say embarrassed me when we were around other people. More than just “typical nerd,” he was the ultimate mega-nerd. He was unkempt and spaced-out… the kind of person that people stared at in public places. His large, shabby frame, deep booming voice and glassy-eyed stare made him stand out in a crowd like a sardine in a goldfish bowl. Mike didn't try to be different… he just was, and it seemed to me that he would never realize the extent to which he was so much different from ordinary people, the stereotypical mold that we are all supposed to fit into, the mold that I, like Mike, never quite wanted to accept.
     But I had not allowed myself to be embarrassed by Mike’s manner and appearance. Mike was alone in the world, and everyone that knew him talked about him behind his back, but that was no reason for me to reject him.
Mike and I were searching souls, finding our way around in an alien swam of life, and we had an amazing number of interests in common. Besides both being computer geeks, we both loved trains and classical music. Mike’s father was a musician, and Mike grew up loving the classics. During his teen years, he played upright bass in a small symphony orchestra. When we weren’t talking about the inner workings of computer systems, we were talking about the great works of classical music.
      I too could have been an obvious nerd, but not as extreme as Mike. Fortunately, I had learned how not to appear out-of-place, and Mom and Dad had carefully indoctrinated me with the social graces that were required in accepted society. However I was much closer to this strange man than he was to the many people that I grew up with and with whom I had absolutely nothing in common -- those people with perfect manners and diplomacy. Mike was that raw self-contained uncut diamond that somehow made its way into the world unchanged. It was OK. I could love and accept Mike, and somehow I knew that this was just a part of my acceptance of myself.
     We had already made plans on the phone. Mike would pick me up. He would drive us to the bus station, and we would venture into New York City together.
     Stepping into Mike’s car, I glanced into the back seat. It was covered with a thick layer of empty food cans, bottles, papers and other refuse. “Mike’s recycling,” I guessed. I looked for a place on top of the pile of trash to put my briefcase, and then I deposited it there. Mike made no apologies. This was probably normal, I figured. As I slid into the front seat, the soles of my shoes   crunched on the thick layer of sand and dirt that covered the floor.
      Mike was a sight! His hair long and unkempt, his face marred with great patches of hair that his razor had missed (I wondered what Mike thought about while he shaved), his trouser tops were partly folded over his ancient, worn belt, and his shirttails were partly pulled out, partly tucked in. Mike’s teeth appeared unkempt and unattended to, and I wasn't certain if he had recently bathed.
      Mike started up his car while talking loudly about his experience finding the alarm company office. We then headed for the bus station. There we boarded a bus for the trip under the Hudson River into New York City.
      Seated in the bus, Mike rambled on, his deeply resonant voice extemporizing on the various subjects that were most interesting to him. He was always completely unaware that everyone on the bus could hear every word that he spoke. And his conversation was never impetuous or emotional, and he always spoke with determination, as if each point that he made was an important and substantial underpinning to some great knowledge. Careful and exacting, he would never say "a large amount of " if he could say "fifteen-and-a-half of," or “between twenty and twenty-one percent of.” If subjects that he was referring to had specific names, he used them, and when he talked about purchases that he had made, he always specified the exact amount that he had paid for them, to the penny.
     “Ah!” he would say, pointing his index finger upward in a grand gesture.   “Perhaps you are referring to Nielsen’s Symphony Number One in G Minor! About twenty-four measures from the end there’s a G7 chord that leads to the C Major section that closes the work!”
      Mike’s loud, monotoned, exaggerated, precise and deep-toned monologue continued to drift out to all of the passengers in the bus, and I wondered what the others thought about this strange man and his exaggerated and precise soliloquies. I noticed people seated nearby glancing quickly in our direction to see for themselves just what kind of creature might be making these strange utterances. In a subtle effort to suggest to Mike that he could speak a little softer, whenever I spoke, I did so in an exaggerated whisper, but Mike never took the hint.
     During a pause in one conversation that had begun with a discussion of classical music, but had then transmuted into a discourse on how the Houston Automatic Spooling Priority Program issued pre-allocated calls to its system subroutines while in protect-key zero, I looked around at the various people seated quietly on the bus and studied the hard, New York faces – the faces of the tough down-trodden people who daily braved the fierceness of the Great City and who existed on that pounding energy that all of the people of this powerful magnet of a city thrived on. Then I turned and looked out the window to witness the spires of Manhattan Island looming before us as we passed through the rusted refuse of the surrounding New Jersey landscape.
     "This is the armpit of America," I announced suddenly to Mike as we passed layers of junked cars and taxis in the rusted-metal graveyards that lined the sides of the road and I watched the great factories belching steam and smoke into the air and the weary impatient hard-faced drivers clutching the steering wheels of their cars as they rolled alongside us.
     Mike had been living in New Jersey for only a few months. His rented home was located just over the river from the Great City, yet he hadn’t yet attempted to visit there. He told me that a girl that he knew from work had gone into New York City one night and had been beaten and robbed. Mike’s face twisted into a frightened and anxious intensity as he spoke about this sad adventure, and I realized that had I not come for the interview with the alarm company, Mike would probably have never ventured into the city, the fear was so strong in him.
     I then realized that it was going to be my job to escort Mike through the great gates into the very bowels of the Great City, to introduce him to its finer points, those that I knew so well from my two years of subway travels to every nook and cranny of discovery, from the garment district in lower Manhattan, the “Village” and “East Village” and up to the border with Harlem at 110th Street, a border that I, even during my brave years of New York City habitation, was afraid to cross after the incident in 1967 when I had left the D train at 125th Street, walked up the stairs from the subway station to the street corner, and saw over a dozen black men loitering idly on the corner, dressed in long filthy overcoats, looking for drugs or money, obviously wiped out on heroin, their fire-red eyes gazing off into some other place. Therefore, when Mike and I stepped off the bus at the terminal in downtown New York City, I began tending over him like a mother hen. After all, I was the worldly elder brother, here to lead this virgin child spirit through the many dangers and pitfalls of the Great City.
     Tender and protected, Mike inhabited a world of computers and classical music. His only other involvement was with a group of people devoted to the teachings of a discarnate personality called Seth. There were few people that Mike could fully converse with, and he had very little worldly experience.
I began preparing Mike for the Great Journey.
      "You must always be on guard in New York City,” I told him. “When I lived here I was always aware of every movement around me. You’ve got to be really careful and continuously be on guard, watching all around you, including your backside. You can’t forget where you are. Someone can lift your wallet without you knowing it, or stick a gun in your side. I’ve had it happen to me!"
     I felt Important in my role as the Knowing One.
     Mike followed me cautiously as we stepped out of the bus into the Port Authority Bus Terminal on West 42nd Street, and into the glittering underground pedestrian tunnel lined with shops. 
     The tunnel was bustling with crowds of people, all in continuous, purposeful movement, some pressing and shoving slightly. I watched the men with their long, thick wool overcoats and leather briefcases quickly pressing onto their destinations, always with an expression of importance of mission, and time. They weaved impatiently around other casual groups of shoppers who joked amongst themselves. 
     There were castaways everywhere, panhandling, lurching. You had to be careful not to have a confrontation with one of them, I told Mike as we made our way through the tunnel that would lead us to the entrance of the New York City subway system. 
     Mike, overcome by the magnificence of this new spectacle, suddenly forgot about his fear of the city and now was like a child in a newly discovered playground, unaware of the ever-present dangers. Open and vulnerable he gingerly bounded through the underground pedestrian tunnel. Meanwhile, I noticed a raggedly dressed black man wearing a torn overcoat lunging into the path of the finely dressed young lady who was walking briskly in front of us. It was clear to me that the black man was insane. Memories returned to me of insane people that I had seen so many times living in these tunnels that catacombed the bowels of The Great City, underneath the tall buildings and the feverishly honking automobiles. The ragged man focused his attention on the young woman, and then he began babbling incoherently, pointing to a bag of popcorn that she was eating from.
     "Raggagagagagaga...gagaga," he said.   
     When the young woman became aware of the man, she became instantly stunned. Instinctively, she thrust the bag of popcorn out to him in a manner that pleaded for him to take it, to rid herself of him. The man took the popcorn then turned and hobbled away. I didn’t know what Mike was looking at or thinking about, but I could tell that he hadn’t noticed this incident at all. Perhaps Mike was lost in his own perfect world of thought, or perhaps he was fixated on the many little shops… nooks and crannies of excitement and fun. I looked at Mike’s strange, pudgy face, and at his shirttail half pulled from his trousers, and his continuous boyish grin.
     Mike was having a wonderful time walking through this exciting world. I was with my friend, and we were in New York City! Here was the excitement, the discovery, the pressing on of the great teams and throngs of humanity that dispersed into so many different directions, determined and confident, while others who had been chewed-up and spat-out by the system had given up all hope and just lingered with no destination, mingling.
      We finally arrived at the entrance to the subway. Mike knew nothing about the wonder of the New York City subway system. I remembered the many hours that I used to spend riding trains everywhere, just for excitement and discovery. But Mike never had the time to explore as I had done. He was so wrapped up in his job that there remained little time left for himself. His was a life of cold, colorless work, then home to his plain, white-walled rented apartment where his belongs were scattered and heaped everywhere: a living room full of classical music CDs spread from wall to wall and dozens of printed music scores propped open halfway and spread out on chairs, tables, and on the couch.
      At work, Mike’s life was one of daily miracles, feats performed by the fact of his computer genius, always sailing beyond all mental barriers where people rarely ventured, grasping the intricacies of the inner workings of computer systems with little difficulty and with great relish, speaking carefully and distinctly of control blocks, pointers, protect keys and process control units with glee, sometimes ringing his hands with excited contentment as he explained their complex inner-workings. But sadly, I was certain the company that Mike worked for paid him little for all of this.
      Mike’s soul was warm and his spirit was always enthusiastic and inquisitive. Life had not dragged him down: everything was continually fresh and new. Whatever mental situation he found himself in became worthy of his full attention and support and time, much while life continued on around him. Mike lived within, and his soul and childlike spirit was beautiful and clear.
      Having arrived at the entrance to the subway, I resumed my instructions.
      "Mike, we need to stand in line to buy tokens."
      That was something that had not yet become apparent to Mike. I enjoyed my role as Big Brother and Protector.
      But while we waited in the short line at the token booth, the black man with the popcorn suddenly reappeared, pushing himself into the sphere of the people who stood in line in front of us. I, the ever-vigilant and worldly Elder Brother, was about to alert the unnoticing Mike, but before I could say a word, the crazed black man began veering toward us. First he looked at me.
      "Gagagaggaaaaagaaaaa," he said, as he lurched toward me.
      I looked straight ahead, ignoring the menacing figure, a tactic that I had always used to ward off people like that. I hoped that Mike would mimic my tactic, but glancing over at him, I quickly realized that he hadn’t noticed either the approaching figure or me. Suddenly, the crazy man turned on Mike, who started to freak out! The man lunged abrasively forward and began babbling loudly at Mike, pushing the popcorn bag into Mike’s terrified face.
      This caused Mike to really come apart! "No... no... What do you want? What do you want?" he managed to stammer.
     The token window became available and I hurriedly paid for our subway tokens. I told Mike to hurry, to follow me, but instead Mike stopped to buy his own token.
     "No Mike, come, I have our tokens already. Hurry! "
      Mike had become so nervous and perplexed that didn’t know what to do or say. "Go away. Go away!" he cried to the strange lurching, babbling figure, "Go Away!"
     I inserted a token into the turnstile and pressed through as quickly as possible, wishing that the cold metal bar would release sooner than it did, to get me and my unassuming ward into the protection offered by it, where the man, and the other dark, tormented faces congregating outside of the turnstiles, could not follow. But Mike was still frantically pleading in a perplexed high-pitched tone of voice with the man and his bag of popcorn.
      "What do you want? Go away!"
      "Come on Mike. Come On!" I pleaded.
I reached over and inserted the other token and Mike finally stepped through the turnstile into safety. Soon we were aboard the underground train, zipping through its darkened tunnel.
      Looking around the car at the desperate dark New York faces, I realized that I was beginning to become re-acclimated to the intense energy that this city both created and thrived on at the same time. The night before, after my arrival in Newark, this intense energy had effected me strongly, making me feel like waving my arms and jumping up and down with nervous excitement, but by now, I had allowed myself to relax, untightening my muscles, allowing my arms and legs go free, so that the energy could rise up in my body to arrive at the top of my head where it pulsated, making me fell really, really high.
      Continuing to look around at the faces in the subway car, I was shocked as I studied them. Visions of a gloom-filled cavern filled with dark underworld creatures of the night came to me. I told Mike that the car needed a blessing. I shut my eyes to let energy flow out, something I knew how to do. In fact, I had been able to do this kind of energy work for longer than I had known Mike, but I had never discussed it with him. It was not the kind of thing most people could understand, even those that talked on and on about Seth, the discarnate being, as did Mike.
     As I concentrated the pulsating energy in my body, I could feel the light radiating out and into the train, then into the dark caverns of the underground tunnels, up into the streets, and into the buildings above.
      "I have mastered this environment," I thought. "I have actually come to New York City and I am alive with energy, and I am happy instead of being pulled down by the vibes, as had always happened before.”
      For the first time, I was giving out a dose of light instead of getting depressed and nervous from the intense vibration of this immense city. Oh, the warmth of the Universe filled me and I loved it all. Nothing would bring me down now!
      Slowly I reopened my eyes. Mike was rattling on about something, perhaps about the man with the bag of popcorn. I realized that Mike wasn’t aware of what I was doing, working with the light. The act registered somewhere in his memory, I was certain, to return some day when Mike was ready to understand it. Child-like Mike, without the barest ability to let down his barriers – he was brilliant, carefree, childishly happy, and unapologetic.
     Deep within the bowels of Greenwich Village, we arrived at our destination. When the doors of the subway car opened, we stepped out onto the platform. Once we had reached the street, I immediately felt at home in this city that was unlike any other, a world of its own… the world of "make it or break it" and the City of Great Extremes. I loved the pulsating life, Times Square, Greenwich Village, the So-Ho. I loved the throngs of people that constantly filled the streets, the mixture of rich and poor, old and young, and the many nationalities. I loved the excitement and the streets lined with many unique shops.
       New York City was too unique to have become assimilated into the rest of America, lined as it was with boring, repetitive shopping malls and fast-food restaurants, its sleepy suburban people dulled by watching too much television. As I looked around me at the buildings and the clamoring multitudes, I realized that New York City would always be the same. Yet it was dirtier and crazier now, and there seemed to be more of that frantic, hyper-energy that provided the fuel for everyone, the energy that I was now continually transmuting into the light that kept lifting me higher and higher. Maybe I was the only person on that street at that time who knew that this energy was a separate force from the people, the autos, and the buildings; separate from the warmly-dressed elegance of wool in East-coast browns and blacks, and the tweeds, and the lurching, lunging faces of the dark figures of the street.
     Our mission in New York City was clear; we had planned it carefully from the start. We were going to conquer Tower Records: the greatest repository of classical music in the known universe… and it lay just ahead, maybe a few blocks away. I had told Mike about this great treasure many times before during our phone conversations, and now I, the Initiate of The Great City, was going to share with Mike, the novice, the knowledge of this great archaeological find.
     As we set out on our journey through the streets, Mike was fascinated by everything: the cars and buses, the old brownstone buildings, the traffic lights, the taxis, and the curbside cafes, where elegantly dressed people hurriedly gulped down coffees before their train rides home. We browsed at newspaper kiosks, looking over the dozens of magazines and newspapers, and when we arrived at an intersection, we stopped to look down the side streets.
     Peering down one of these streets, I noticed a used-record shop. I pointed it out to Mike and suggested we check it out. Mike agreed. Perhaps this would be a place where I would find some of the old records that I had been searching for for so many years: treasures that might be hiding in the back of some bins, behind some obscure country artist or lounge singer. As someone who was always searching for treasures of music, I felt that it was always important to check.
     This illusion snapped, however, when we opened the door leading into the shop. Walking into the store, we were instantly overwhelmed with a very dark energy that permeated the place, and with the evil death-metal music that was blaring from multiple speakers. Racks of LP records of so-called alternative music lined the walls, and one bin after another were filled with albums with grim, dark covers, black backgrounds, pained faces twisted into bizarre expressions and weird, ugly messily scrawled dark titles intended to shock and announce the dark music contained within. I looked up at the clerk who was busily stuffing money into the cash register. Half of his head was shaved, the other contained an unkempt nest of hair painted day-glow red. Rings and pins protruded from various places on his dark, wan face and onto one of his ears was a set of over a dozen small silver rings. He was dressed entirely in black embellished with silver chains and spiked metal bracelets.
     The place reminded me of the dark stores in San Francisco that I used to go into to fill with light when I did spiritual work there. Some of these places had been occult ritualistic supply shops where séances were conducted in the back rooms. The proprietors used to fly out of those back rooms after a few minutes when I was doing this light work and scream at me, telling me to leave and never come back. 
     “Every time you come in here you fuck up the vibes!” they used to shout.
      Looking around the shop in dismay, Mike was shocked. "I'll bet there isn't a single classical record in this place," he announced naively.
     We both knew he was right. The place was grim, the yellowed walls and dark albums awash with colliding colors and drug-induced titles describing every conceivable aberration of nature: Crucifux, The Fagpackers, The Anal Toungelashers.
      "I'm going to bring in some light," I told Mike.
I drew in a full breath, held it, then gave out a short, quiet stream of air as I visualized a glowing blessing of light leaving my body, and I then felt the strong light fill the place and I remembered again… "Getouttahere, you fuck up the vibes!" from years before, but this time nothing was said.
     "Let's go, Mike," I said quickly.
     Shortly, we arrived safely and triumphantly at our destination: Tower Records: The Citadel of Great Treasures in Greenwich Village. I had wanted to see this fabled store for years. It would be the largest record store that either of us had ever visited! I had heard about it from pilgrims who had been fortunate to come here and lived to tell me about it. I knew that it was three stories high, and that it contained stores within stores: completely enclosed sections for different genres and collections of genres. The ground floor was dedicated to the music of the Great Unwashed: rock and roll and alternative music. But the floors above contained a separate store for Jazz, a separate store for blues and gospel music, one for country, and… a separate store for classical music.
     We pressed our way through the panhandlers who littered the front entranceway and entered the first floor.
     "Follow me Mike," I called, making certain that Mike was safely behind, watching for possible attacks from the panhandlers. As soon as we had passed into the store, we were instantly assaulted with ear-shattering, angry, violent music. Mike looked horrified.
     “If this is like the Tower Records stores in the Bay Area. They play the music pertinent to the section that you are in,” I announced to Mike, who could not hear a word that I was saying because of the deafening sound.
     We made our way past the checkout stands where stoned young clerks with painted hair and exaggerated dark costumes waited on customers who were queued up with their handfuls of CDs. We pushed our way through the first floor, weaving through throngs of people browsing through yet more strange and twisted album titles, while the negative, nerve-shredding, drug-induced music blared from gigantic speakers overhead. With a sense of urgency, we muddled through the outer part of The Temple, making our way toward the Sacred Ark at the center.
      Once we had pushed through the crowds of people that filled the first floor, we mounted the stairs to the second floor. I assured Mike that solace from the shredding discordance awaited us. Then I flung open the door to… The Classical Room.
     "Behold!" I cried. 
     The classical room at Tower Records in Greenwich Village was grander and more magnificent than any record store that we had ever seen before. Sweet strains of a romantic violin and a symphony orchestra filled the air, and personable men stood behind the counters. It was the Great Repository Of All That Was Good And Pure, here in the midst of the nearly uninhabitable jungle of Lower Manhattan. We beheld All for a few minutes in amazement.
      Mike’s face was alight with radiant delight… his eyes sparkled like a child’s peering into the greatest of toy stores for the first time. We stood still, drinking in the sight of rows upon rows of classical compact discs that this “store within a store” had to offer, and scanned the overhead signs describing the various sections, and then we each headed out on our own separate missions to seek out the areas that were most important to us. I was immediately drawn to the classical music videos. FARG DOG
      I was amazed! The classical video VHS format was still fairly new. Only a year before, there had been only a few titles available in stores that I had visited in other cities. But now before me was a wall lined with shelves of opera and symphonic videos. I immediately began to scan the names of the composers, looking for 'O' for the French composer Offenbach, hoping to find that for which I had longed for the past forty years: my favorite movie Tales of Hoffmann, a 1951 British film adaptation of Offenbach's opera.
     Mom had taken me to see Tales of Hoffman film when it was first released and I was only nine-years old. I fell completely in love with it. That Christmas, Grandma gave me the LP recording of the soundtrack, which I cherished and played over and over again. Ever since those precious days of my childhood, I wished I could watch my favorite movie again. When videos first began appearing on the market, I wondered if one day it would be released on video, although I viewed that as highly doubtful, and despite many trips to various record stores, I had never found it.
     I continued to look through the composer names: Mendelssohn, Menotti, Monteverdi, Mozart, Mozart, still more Mozart, O… Suddenly I saw it: “Offenbach: The Tales of Hoffman.” It was here! I recognized the picture on the cover. It was from the movie that I had not seen for so many years. Finally the movie that so affected me in 1951 was available for me to watch again. Some soul had cared enough about something so obscure to re-release it, and here it was in The Citadel!
     I grabbed the video and headed out into the store to find Mike… to show him this newly found treasure.
     I discovered Mike pouring through rows of CDs, while in his hand he rapturously grasped several titles that he had also probably thought he would never find anywhere – obscure works recorded on some unknown Eastern European label, no doubt.
     An hour passed quickly, and finally we both agreed that we had found all the music that we wanted to buy, and it was time to leave. We paid and left the room. On our way out, we stopped in front of the large section labeled "New Age Music" and I remarked to Mike: "Here you stand with one of the founders of this genre of music, and look what it has become." 
     "Is your music in here?" Mike asked.
     "No, not any more. It used to be. I remember people telling me that they were selling it here in this store,” I said. “But I have nothing to do with this music now. It has become something other than what it started out to be.”
     I paused for a moment. 
     “Look at this," I exclaimed as we walked over to a rack.
     I pulled a random CD from the bin and turned it over to reveal the photo of the musician on this keyboard album.
     "This they call new age music, the spiritual music of the next millennium, and look at this guy who created this supposedly sublime music!"
      Mike laughed. I had made my point.
      We looked at the picture of the musician, his face dark with pain and anger, and his mouth twisted into a frown.
      "New age music has become a travesty. Look, here in the “S” section, there is nothing for Klaus Schulze, the father of modern electronic music! You can't find his music anywhere, and it was he who started all of this... or at least the electronic music part."
      They made their way back down the stairway, through the first floor with its pounding, jarring discords of abysmal punk music bouncing off of walls, past the homeless beggars populating the area around the front door, and out into the street. We then breathed a sign of relief to be out of reach of the cacophony that jarred our energies and twisted our auras.  
     The air was crisp and clear and the neon lights of the cafes and stores lighted the street that was filled with crowds arising out of the subways, looking for something to do.
     Mike, perhaps now reflecting on the circumstances of his friend who had been beaten and robbed, pleaded to get back home and away from this unfamiliar environment. We descended into the subway, boarded a train, found a seat, and then listened to the train as it charged into the night though its maze of tunnels. We were both quiet. I mused about the short trip, wishing that I had more time and money to spend here. I really didn’t want the job in New Jersey, big alarm company or not, and had accepted the interview anyway, really just to get the opportunity to visit Tower Records.
     The train stopped at each station, discharging passengers as others entered. I looked over at Mike seated beside me, reflective and quiet. Mike then began talking… carefully… with his strong baritone voice.
      “I found it interesting that there were sixteen different recordings of Mozart’s Don Giovanni in there. I wonder if they all use the same edition of the score. I compared the overall timings and there was quite a difference between one recording and another.”
     I nodded my head. I was really uninterested in these details.
     “Which CDs did you end up buying?” I asked Mike.
     “Oh,” Mike said proudly, “I bought some amazing titles.” He opened his little yellow plastic Tower Records bag, and then carefully and deliberately explained to me each title, and the reason why he had purchased it. The reasons were varied. Perhaps one opera he wanted to study to find out if the composer treated his arias in the same manner as other works that he was familiar with. Another title he had purchased because it used an earlier version of the score, and he wanted to hear the ending. It was always some logical reason, because Mike was a very logical person! He liked to count the number of measures in various pieces, then talk about why one was longer than another, or how the composer used thirty-two measures for something in one part of a piece of music, and forty-eight in another, or he would compare various works to analyze the way that the endings were presented. All of his observations were always very analytical. These kind of discussions really didn’t interest me, but I always nodded in approval when Mike talked. For me, music was all about feeling.
     We arrived at the bus terminal stop on the subway and departed the subway car. As we re-walked the tunnels, I noticed that many of the homeless people were now asleep. I also noticed that Mike was paying particular attention in case another incident as had occurred earlier should take place.
     When we reached our bus, we climbed aboard and waited for it to depart. I was glad to be leaving the intense vibe of the city that night, and glad that I had not let it effect me and bring me down, but sad also because there was so much more to do in The Great City and so much to see! The bus pulled out with a jerk and moved out into the night. There wasn’t much to talk about now.       Mike was tired, and so we quietly passed through the darkened junkyard of New Jersey back to Newark and the parking lot where Mike had left his car. After finding it just as we had left it, I climbed back into the front seat, my feet crunching loudly as I stepped into the sand and trash covering the floor. Mike then drove me to the Newark Airport.
     Soon I was airborne, observing from my window the great expanse of electric light show below. I looked down at my lap at the few wonderful treasures that I had rescued from that place, and I thought again of my friend Mike.
     Wasn't life great?

© 2002 & 2016 by Don Robertson

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