Remember how I said I was an easygoing sick person?
We may want to reevaluate that statement.
My head thrums on, as it has since Friday; and the illness itself has settled in my ears.
It’s an isolating thing, having the world’s volume turned down. There is no outward sign of my temporary affliction. The world talks on, oblivious to my inability to hear it; and I’ve become accustomed to shouting “What?!” at people whose faces are in front of mine, lips moving.
It’s really quite charming.
See? Isn’t that lovely?
I walked to Target yesterday over my lunch hour, cocooned in the cotton-bunting of semi-deafness. A childhood of recurring earaches and short-lived career as a court reporter has made me rather good at lip-reading; and honestly, as long as someone isn’t expecting a response from me, I don’t mind the silence.
Strike that. I didn’t mind the silence.
Because there, up in the skyway between the City Center and Target, is the new recorder player in town.
Remember the recorder?
The recorder – also known, in my day, as the “flutophone” – is introduced to the children of the U.S. somewhere around fourth grade. It has a thin, reedy, yet piercing sound. Well-played, one gets the impression that the harp player about to join in is just around the corner, that perhaps a massage is imminent. Played poorly, it sounds like a panhandler with high hopes, and, perhaps, a tin ear.
Of all the things I could hear clearly today, it had to be the guy with the recorder.
To compound the pressure building within the confines of my skull, it wasn’t even the “old” guy, he of highly embellished and off-key, year ‘round renditions of “Three Blind Mice” and “Away in a Manger” but a “new” guy, a strikingly well-dressed young man in a Daniel Boone fur hat (complete with raccoon tail). Swimming in cologne – Drakkar Noir, if my nose can be trusted – he stands in the skyway leading in to Target.
He is playing “Frere Jacques”, also known in The States as “Are You Sleeping?” Unfortunately and yet to his inventive credit, it appears that he has only ever heard the opening sally:
Are you sleeping?
Are you sleeping?
From there, he repeats. And repeats. The “morning bells” in the next stanza do not ring, nor will they ever. He is doing his best to make it soulful, trilling the life out of it in a flurry of excitement and fumbling fingers. The little cardboard box in front of him has a five- and a one-dollar bill in it. He lifts the recorder up, aiming its bell to the ceiling, his cheeks puffed out.
He is Dizzy Gillespie. He is Al Hirt. He is someone who knows “Frere Jacques”.
Head pounding, I am just inches from giving him a dollar to stop playing when store security comes out, asks him to move along. It’s all very civil, and he moves to the other end of the skyway, where he can now aurally assault the people going in and out of Macy’s.
The Skyway Arts live on to squeeze another dollar out of an unsuspecting public; and I move blithely forward, the trilling notes of the recorder fading behind me.
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