Thursday, May 12, 2011
Waking up with a start, I moved to the brightly lit window and looked down at the street below. A heaving moon hung low on the horizon, illuminating the avenue in flat, pale blue light, giving the street the appearance of a featureless escapement. Gone were the milling crowds; only a few hobos were in the vacant lot across the street huddled around an oil drum fire.
Diagonally down the block I could see the lights of some sort of basement jazz club: four or five perfectly square windows at the sidewalk level casting a yellow jaundiced light across the concrete. Leaning closely against the window pane I the heard the tinny upper register of a piano, and the regular patterning line of a stand up bass.
Quickly dressing, I left most of my bills on the dresser and quietly exited the room.
On the street, I turned and immediately entered the club. The doorman, taking some money from me, cast a look of unmitigated fear and revulsion my way. I sat at a small table at the rear of the club, partially concealed by a support column on one side and a busted radiator on the other. The chair groaned as I eased my bulk down.
The club was mostly empty, only a group of hard core patrons, mostly black, dedicated aficionados, no doubt, sat in a semi-circle around the small raised stage platform. The band was a quintet: a saxophone player in a black pullover sweater, goatee beard, soul patch, with a square beret perched rakishly over his shaved head. The bass player was in a dark suit with a thin black tie was clean-shaven, handsome, his unnaturally long fingers were moving in a blur over the neck of his bass.
A trumpeter stood at attention next to the bass, tapping out the beat with his foot, waiting for the sax solo to conclude. The drummer, hammering out a rhythm with his snares, was concealed by the white stage lights, along with the piano player, which were set too far forward on the stage, casting a long shadow over the sax player, the bassist, the trumpet. The music was a subtle, syncopated, urban jazz, which seemed to mimic the qualities of human speech; a series of murmuring voices communicating at the level of a stage whisper… then escalating…
No wait, it was not the music…. the murmuring was from a clump of dark figures on the sidewalk. I could see their booted feet and their dark trousered ankles. Occasionally one would stoop down and peer in the window. More feet gathered… more mumbling, more murmuring….
The noise from the outside grew to such a fevered pitch that the music stopped. The small jazz crowd stared at me: black stares without comprehension, as an unknowing, eerie calm had settled uneasily over the cellar club.
“What the hell do they want?” asked the sax player in the pleasing sing song cadence of the professional jazz musician.
A small black man, the person seated most immediately near me in the club, a man who was so minute in stature he inhabited that ambiguous margin between dwarf and standard-sized person, pointed a stubby forelimb at me, and in a pint-sized modulated voice said:
“It’s that block headed freak they want!”
The entire club patronage stood up to examine me. Their faces were in deep shadow; their forms were concealed by the bright light of the stage, etching their outlines with bright halos, concealing their expression from view.
Then, they seemed to advance toward me as a single phalanx of moving light and dark.
I stumbled out of my seat and climbed the chipped concrete stairs to the sidewalk.
Figures, faces, and clusters of figures and faces loomed in the dark night (the moon had set, the sky was illuminated by pale yellow lights from the faulty dim streetlights), they surrounded me on all sides, pressing around me, trying to crush me…
Breaking through the circle I commenced a slow monster movie sprint through narrow side streets. The crowd behind me had grown more numerous, more boisterous, and had somehow gathered up torches. Running down an alleyway, hopping ungracefully over urban debris, the mob was fanning out, trying to encircle me, cut off possible escape routes.
I lumbered along, emotionally fearful, but as usual my thought process was calm and lucid. As a maze dweller by choice and as a life long vocation, I knew well how to solve even the most perplexing spatial puzzles. My heavy strides led me back to Broadway. I saw my elongated and sliding shadow on a chipped brick wall as I rounded the bend and I seemed to lose the crowd forever.
I slowed down, adjusted my pace for the main drag. But it did not seem to help: faces came out of the darkness, stared, gawked. I stumbled. The amazement of it all! I fell off the curb. Laughing, jeering… a mob, an uncertain direction. I was the American scape-goat, a new breed that absorbs the sins of the crowd sponge-like to a terminal absorption. I was climbing up a fire escape toward a blinding white light…
Emerging, the light dis-enveloped me, and warped and wrapped around my eyes like a halo as it retreated from its near strangle hold on my face and neck.
I found myself back on the street. Much to my surprise, the neighborhood people were literally running amok. They were crashing storefront windows, carrying various and sundry merchandise into the surrounding darkness.
Streetlights had been busted out by bricks and stones, but a few bulbs still dangled from their broken casings, dim but operative. People were ignoring me now, even thought I walked rather obviously down the center of the street.
A police cruiser drove slowly down the block, impotent to stop the melee, they merely shined their mounted spot light on the shops and storefronts, momentarily capturing a looter in mid-booty acquisition, a radio pressed close to a jiggling jogging body, a couch being carried away by a family, the father and son on both ends, the daughter and mother collecting the cushions. Over the boulevard, several old men were collecting watches, chains and pins from a pawnshop window. Shards of glass glistened and crunched underfoot as I moved on.
As I neared the Vandemark brownstone, I noticed a citrus orange glow down the block, on the shopping stretch of Broadway. Broadway was ablaze. A car swerved around the corner and struck a feral dog that was crouching so low to the ground I did not notice it until it was already dead. As I opened the trick latch on the side basement panel and slid into the cool dark of the cellar, I realized it was a fruitless apocalypse. No final reckoning would be tallied. No judgment on cosmic scales. Just a very local, parochial rearrangement of goods. And a very secular search for bald revenge.
I clicked the latch in place, and the pleasant smell of Vandemark history wrapped around me like an encompassing warm blanket as snug as a womb.