August 22, 2011


Four times (on three different days) I tried to listen to my favorite piece by the German modernist composer Helmut Lachenmann.   And each time Lachenmann's otherworldly orchestral textures were shattered by incessant ear-piercing shrieks of a bluejay sitting on a tree next to my house.  Naturally I hated the bird for its anti-modernist heckling, but also for bringing back memories of an even more annoying creature I once encountered on a half-empty mid-afternoon train I was riding back into the city some years ago.

That creature was a scruffy middle-aged man whose routine was to stop in front of a passenger, bark Whaddayawant! at the top of his lungs, wait for a second or two with his head bobbing slightly, then move to his next target and repeat the whole thing all over again.  And again.  And again...    

I am neither a patient nor a friendly man, but on that subway train I had extra reasons not to feel chummy.  I was hungry because I had skipped lunch.  I had not smoked for a couple of hours.  I still had the rest of the day ahead of me, filled with waling sirens, screeching buses, roaring helicopters, bone-rattling jackhammers, and – the curse of curses – all those people stacked on top of one another in their tiny, perpetually dark, poorly ventilated apartments.  And in addition to all that I had to endure this psycho's endless Whaddayawant!...  Whaddayawant!... Whaddayawant!...

At first I felt absolutely certain about what I want:  I want to rip the fucking larynx out of the guy’s throat and shout “Hello there!” into the open end of his windpipe.  That felt good, but not for long because my next thought was: You want to perform involuntary tracheotomy on a stranger, and you call him a psycho?

By the time the psycho worked his way to where I was sitting, I wasn’t angry anymore.  It was obvious that the man was exactly where he belonged, that this city was his, not mine.  I even briefly wondered what would happen if I were to respond to his Whaddayawant! by telling him the truth:  A cigarette and a shot of bourbon.  Would his gaze suddenly go far, far away, to the time when people actually talked to him instead of only asking him questions like Have you been taking your medication? or Can I see some ID?  Would he return from that faraway place as a dignified, cultured man on his way to see the Lucian Freud exhibition at the Acquavella Gallery?  Or would he more likely pull a screwdriver from his pocket and stab me in the head?

In the end I did what every subway rider does in such circumstances, which is to become intensely interested in the topological properties of empty space just in front of one's knees.  The psycho stood next to me for a second, then moved on, barking Whaddayawant! at a few more passengers before taking his survey of humanity's desires to the next car.  As the sliding door closed behind him I realized that what I really want - more acutely, more desperately than anything else - is to pack my things and get the fuck out of this noisy, smelly, grimy, miserable city.

Two years later I did just that.


sasha said...

Mmmm A sad indictment of city living!! Going from a place like London town (filled with its own share of desperate, selfish, myopic humanity) to the open pastures and tiny villages of the countryside always puts in me mind of Beethoven and the pastoral symphony expierence..Somehow that seems to say it all..The radiant beauty always hits home harder when one has come far from the maddening crowd..I kinda sense that for the folk living out there its just a place they call 'home'..But the city with its cultural riches and madness still has its attractions and its where I choose to call home..Nice one Boom..Keep up the good work from wherever you dwell.

RonanM said...

A hilarious moment of truth. It's funny how the messenger is often so heavily disguised that it takes some reflection to hear the message.

Glad you did.

Anonymous said...

Hey, man... be cool! Can't you see that the bird loves Lachenmann too ? He also has good taste for music and sings together. Thanks for all posts. Greetings from Brazil.