Saturday, May 22, 2010

Lost Ghost In The City Of Light

And joy suddenly stirred in his soul, and he even stopped for a minute to take breath. "The past," he thought, "is linked to the present by an unbroken chain of events flowing one out of another." And it seemed to him that he had just seen both ends of that chain; that when he touched one end the other quivered.

When he crossed the river by the ferry boat and afterwards, mounting the hill, looking at his village and towards the west where the cold purple sunset was now a narrow streak of light, he thought that truth and beauty which had guided human life there in that garden and in the yard of the high priest had continued without interruption to this day, and had evidently always been the chief thing in human life and in all earthly life; and the feeling of youth, health, vigour --he was only twenty-two-- and the inexpressible sweet expectation of happiness, of unknown mysterious happiness, took possession of him little by little, and life seemed to him enchanting, marvelous, and full of lofty meaning.

--Chekhov, "The Student"

True stories from another Friday night:

Earlier --I suppose it was about 11 o'clock-- I was out wandering the empty sidewalks of my quiet neighborhood with my dog when we encountered a young man --I suppose he was in his early twenties-- coming towards us down the block. From a considerable distance I could hear him bellowing, and noticed also that he was swaying wildly on the sidewalk and tossing his arms and head around in a spastic manner. As the distance between us closed I could clearly make out the music thrumming from the earphones clamped on his head, and the words he was alternately yelling and chanting in a quieter voice that still retained hints of a good deal of frustration and perhaps, it seemed to me, resignation. As he brushed past us he appeared to be utterly oblivious to our presence. The song he was listening to and singing along with was Eminem's "Lose Yourself."
You better lose yourself in the music, the moment
You own it, you better never let it go
You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow
This opportunity comes once in a lifetime yo

This, I thought, might have broken my heart a little bit.

Later, after we had gotten home and I had settled in on the couch with a book, I had the windows open and I heard a man singing across the street. The voice was clearly stationary, and yet carried beautifully. I peeked through the blinds and saw the older fellow across the street sitting on his front porch and smoking a cigarette. This is a man who has been slowly but resolutely painting his house throughout the more than three years I have lived here. Every day, it seems, weather permitting, he is out there scraping, painting, and moving with almost comical slowness up and down ladders (I have never seen a man ascend or descend a ladder more slowly). During the winter months I never see him. He is one of the half dozen characters on my block who have introduced themselves and welcomed me to the neighborhood on multiple occasions during my residency in this house. Each time I have been both too courteous and too embarrassed to inform these people that we have met before, and that I have for quite some time now considered myself a neighbor --if not, apparently, a particularly memorable one-- of longstanding.

At any rate, it was this fellow I heard singing. It was after midnight, and he was clearly trying his damnedest to do a passable impersonation of a crooner. His voice, I thought, had character. I listened as he made his way --interrupted by occasional brief fits of hacking-- through a song I know well and own many recorded versions of, "Some Other Time":

Where has all the time gone to?
Haven't done half the things we want to
Oh well, we'll catch up some other time.

This day was just a token
Too many words are still unspoken
Oh well, we'll catch up some other time.

This also, I thought, might have broken my heart a little bit, and was what led me to dig through my collections of Chekhov stories for that quote at the top. Which these days always breaks my heart a little bit.


  1. Re that Chekhov quote: I've always wondered, sir, where does one take a breath? And do we, in fact, take our breaths or is that one of death's little daily chores?

  2. "The wrong way is endless." --Bert Hellinger