The following article was published in the May 3, 2020 issue of Universal Digest and is reproduced here with permission.
Small quotes are permitted along with full credits to the authors from reviewers and researchers.
Copyright, C, 2020, Steve Erdmann and Ed Smith
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It was the quiet little chirp of the wren somewhere outside the house that first caught his attention. Like some vague feeling pricking the top of his body hairs ever so lightly, the incessant chirp from that little brown feathery body perched on the tree limb outside the bedroom window kept infiltrating his mind.
Peaceful. Yes, it was very, very peaceful, restful, and gracious. He lay motionless underneath the linen sheet he used as a blanket. His face, a smooth lineless continence of tranquility, and his mind somewhere between the darkness of his dream-world and the dawning of the first rays of daylight beaming through his bedroom window and bathing him in a brilliant white.
A fly lazily buzzed to and fro about the man’s face. Like a miniature household servant come to wake its master, the fly landed on the man’s head. When it crawled from his head onto his arm skin, the man instantly perceived it was there. He squirmed beneath the sheet. The insect took to flight, circled about, and gently, very, very gently, landed near its previous landing spot, urging the master to arise.
This time the man stretched his arms, turning slowly about in the bed. He blinked for a moment, glancing out the window, realizing that it was time to once again start a daily routine. He momentarily closed his eyes, allowing the caressing sunshine to rest upon his features.
He was amused at the melodious singing of the little bird outside. He smiled. Then he lazily moved his legs to the edge of the bed, and like a mighty Zeus emerging out of the surface of the sea, he slowly vacated the bed, pushing himself like a bear just awaken from hibernation.
The housecoat felt warm and comforting about him, but the floor was ice cold, making him give out a sigh of relief as he put on his slippers. He pulled the strings to his robe tight, secure, and shuffled off into the kitchen; there he perked the coffee till short puffs of steam came out of the spout. Every now and then, a few drops would sputter out of the spout and dribble down into the flames below, making a hissing sound. From the range a warm radiance spread out into the kitchen in ever-widening ripples. The small old-fashioned clock hung over the hovel of the sink and pantry, and the sweeps of its stubbly pendulum seemed to say ‘hello, hello.’
It took some effort to control his memory of those frightening nights in the dark bedroom with no sound, no children noise, no words, just the flashbacks of the divorce courtroom and the horrid masquerade of reality that came true before his eyes when the so-called legal system turned black into white and the memories of brighter days into dank dark desertion. Many following nights he fought the dysgeusia and copper taste of fear and flight anxiety attacks until those more stable moments when they would disappear now and then. This morning seemed to be one of those.
Next came the sizzling beacon and the crackle of the frying breakfast sausage, slowly, slowly making the morning whole as bits of reality, as churning mechanisms seen in household appliances, flashes of electricity through the grey matter of the human brain, all going into operation as one coordinated, smooth picture. He thoughtfully meanders through his breakfast.
Socks; warm; skin-fitting; the latest pair bought. New trousers; freshly creased. A leather belt with sleek sheen; followed by a white shirt; high collar to cover his long neck. Soon followed were pearl cuff-links; the tie; a nice charcoal color to match his pants. No wrinkles in pants: new.
Like a sculptor of marble, his personal appearance began to take shape. Each movement of his hand brought with it a snug packing of the clay in the imaginary statue. Shirt tail whipped in, straight and even; tie-knot, tight and in place. His short hair groomed and styled.
The man tapped the top of his dresser to show pride in his creation, another accomplishment in the early morning serenade of awakening.
Click, clack, click, clack, click, clack: the rhythm of someone’s shoe taps could be heard faintly outside in their hurried walk down the sidewalk. Too industrious, thought the man, but still permissible; the announcer on the radio spoke in serene, low monosyllables; short, musical statements in a base voice; evenly pronounced and not harsh. The announcer was saying that it was going to be a beautiful autumn day, and the temperatures might reach a pleasant 75-80 degrees this Halloween. Don’t put away all your summer clothes, the announcer is saying; you might want to wear them still today. The man smiled to himself and nodded in agreement. Let’s see, wallet? Money? Credit cards? Notebook? Bus pass? Handkerchief in pocket? All here.
The early morning sunlight covered the kitchen as if the radiance were bathing the room in a baptism of rejuvenation. The strong aroma of fresh coffee intermingled with the brisk, mystic smell of men’s cologne, and he further imagines a bathed lady that equally had sensually dabbed her body with perfume. He grabbed his well-blocked hat out of the closet, sitting it on his head: no, he suddenly decides, he would not wear it today. He finally reached for the knob of the front door and summoned his courage to leave his day-dream environment behind. It was a Halloween holiday and one that he hoped would not be matched.
Bright morning sunlight still shone through the door Venetian blinds reminding him of similar recollections of himself as a little boy playing with neighbor children on sun coated sidewalks back on Castleman Avenue.
Opening the front door, he is slightly taken aback by the heavy drone of a big truck that seemed to emerge out of nowhere, blocking his view of his direct neighborhood. Its big red letters seemed to immobilize him until the heavy vibration of the truck was gone.
The man collected his thoughts, shifting his chin as to try to straighten his collar, dislocated by the sudden appearance of the truck. Instead, he fidgeted the knot of his tie with his fingers; smoothed his coat along its sides. As he headed for the sidewalk, he briefly glanced back to his house, bathed in the golden hues of the morning sunlight. A sparrow landed on the steps before him, twisting its head side to side, ogling the oncoming giant beside him. Then it darted away, blended into the glare of the sun.
At the bus stop he tasted the fresh, crisp air with its underbelly of autumn decay. The acrid smell of the chemicals at a nearby paint factory seemed disjointed from the smell of the close evergreen shrubbery. The bus stop was attended by two talkative ladies, both projecting their respective, strong perfumes. They wait for the bus too, he thought to himself; such staunch, middle-class ladies; the salt of the traditional America; Conservatives dressed in their placid best; such a no-nonsense color for an overcoat; PTA, Ladies’ Solidarity, and Bible-reading grandmothers. See how they chatter, gossip, the man thought to himself, tending to the world of everyday events?
“That’s what she told me, yes indeed…” The one lady spoke energetically.
The bus is coming. The doors hiss open.
“I’ll be, Marriene, she didn’t?” the other exclaims as they climb aboard.
“Yes, yes she did…the bitch!”
“No,” the man thinks, and slumps his head to look at their shoes, “I didn’t hear that remark on this quiet morning of autumn.” There is a lullaby of barking dogs and teenage laughter in the background. No, he thinks to himself, it was not our all-American grandmothers who said that.
As the door hissed shut, the voices of the two quarreling grade school kids fighting over a bicycle could be heard on the steps of the nearby church.
“Get your god-damned foot off the peddle or I’ll break your god-damned, son-of-a bitch….”
The back seat of the bus is warm, almost hot from the rays of the sun. He nestles in the bough as if a cold bird into its nest. He glances out the heavily smudged window, looking beyond the lipstick smears and obscenities drawn there sometime last night. He blinks hard, pretending that it is only a momentary obstruction. He can see the expressions on the motorists below the window, which is all that matters to him.
When the bus reached Elm Street at the intersection of Genevieve, he had counted some twenty ‘families’ driving in autos. He instinctively knew they were families because of the three or four children between the back and front seats. Mom sat almost statuesque by her “daddy” at the wheel: he, holding a cigarette so very authoritatively in his fingers, or her placing one hand on her husband’s knee, as if to signify her claim to ownership. Sometimes, the pose would change from car to car, and when it was a car that carried adolescent boys and girls, the scene sometimes changed dramatically; the teenagers would hug tightly, entwining their limbs as if to squeeze every drop of intimacy into each other. Her hair would lie on his shoulder; another’s hair would lie on his chest. But when he saw nothing but a blanket of smooth, flowing velvet, the strains of which made a shining blanket across the boy’s lap, his face went flush, and then red. He turns his gaze quickly away from the window, his pulse racing higher.
At the intersection of Sydney and Spring the bus jerked to a stop. Four fuzzy-headed teenagers bang at the door, rudely with impact, not waiting for the driver to release the door hydraulic-pressure. The man noticed the bus-driver’s face was mysteriously nonplussed and emotionless to the outburst.
“Thanks Pop!” said the tallest boy; he had to bend his neck to keep from scraping his head on the bus ceiling. All but one paid their fares; the last stood momentarily defiant before the driver, his fists clenched straight down to his sides. Not a word said, just a stone-cold stare between the two. Without paying his fare, the shortest of the four swaggered his way back through the aisle, much like a bully burst through the saloon-house door. The four arranged themselves along two larger side-seats; they extended their legs out into the aisle, punching each other with furious deviltry, revealing gaping holes in the sides of their jeans. Squeals of hysterical laughter riveted the bus, but no one looked except the man who manufactured a prolonged gaze that eventually contracted a wall of hateful wonderment from the gang of boys.
“Anything wrong with you, Pop?” the tallest queried.
The man just gazed on. Slowly, oh so slowly, his lips moved in a quiver. “No,” he spoke softly, “no,” he said again even softer. He turned back to the window, gazing on the churning smoke from a chemical factory’s chimney. He tries to mentally close his ears to their obscenities; instead, he concentrates on those long, thick vapors that churned in and around themselves as they circled upwards, higher and higher. He will keep his gaze on this until the factory falls from his range of vision, hoping that peace and tranquility will be restored and this invasion of civility would be over.
The crowd builds on the bus as they near the downtown area; so filled that the man can barely see the “No Smoking” sign towards the front of the bus. It has become laden with the cigarette smoke from unconcerned passengers. The aisle has become jammed with men, women, and children, each holding tightly on some nearby artifact, such as a pocket of a mother’s coat, or the sweat-lubricated chrome seat handle.
Splat! Splat! Splat! Three shaggy-haired grade schoolers race out towards the middle of the street, bogging down traffic which nearly brought about their injury: from their dirt-stained hands are thrown three MacDonald’s restaurant hamburger sandwiches. The guts of these missiles ooze down the glass panes in a sickening avalanche of garbage___as sickening as the vulgar retorts off the lips of the three boys rambling back to the curb. Motorists impatiently honk at them. The youths signal obscenities at them and rush off laughing wildly and indifferent. No one looks, other than the drivers who nearly hit them; everyone seems unconcerned.
The bus begins to stop and start in aggravating jerks, descending deeper into the city traffic. The heights of buildings begin to grow taller as the bus creeps deeper into the interior of the city metropolitan jungle. Peculiar taps and nudges are felt by the man as the mass of humanity closes upon him. The rock-like bulge in the pocket of a grey-haired, well-groomed man next to him is suddenly removed by that man, revealing itself as a bottle of Johnny Walker whiskey. He watches as the imbiber caresses the bottle containing the putrid-smelling liquid to his quivering lips, small drops travel down his chin and dangle from his cracks in his face. No one stares at the swigged performance and the bottle is quickly replaced unconcerned back in a coat pocket.
The man begins to feel suffocated. He sees his destination two stoplights away. Suddenly the surroundings don’t seem the same. It looks peculiar, almost as if a scene in a dream where quasi-shapes and half-familiar sights appear. But its strangeness might seem like some sort of ‘home,’ only if he could safely make his way through the limbs, human bosoms, and torsos to the exit.
Slowly he begins to nudge his way through the “meat factory,” and he begins to visualize racks of butchered meat hanging from hooks. Bad breath followed next by a sweet candy-smelling perfume. The smell of mothballs from a jacket recently removed from summer hibernation. He steps on someone’s shoe; he gets cursed. A newspaper flares up into his face as a pedestrian turns a page during the person’s transit-reading.
The plunging, hissing sound of the air compression of the door appears as a welcoming gateway into cool, fresh air. He bounds out into a conveyor of sidewalk pedestrians that, even here, nudge and shuffle him; but he doesn’t mind as he hopes he has obtained new freedom.
He bustles through the revolving door, shoulder to shoulder with customers, into a drone of sounds, clinking coffee cups, and incessant monkey-like chatter of the crowd. The smell of the latest perfumes, colognes, and sweet milk chocolate are from the nearby counters. Perfumes that drip off of dark, lovely skins that zip by in micro-mini-skirts and colorful pantsuits; meaty scents that one could almost be tempted to bite into.
Towards the middle of the department store floor he is held back by a swarm of people gushing from the escalator. They branch off in all directions, leaving him huddled in one spot. He timidly walks towards the ‘up’ escalator. “Can’t do it,” he sneers at himself, feeling the latest pangs of motion sickness from the gasoline smells that escorted his bus ride. He couldn’t stand that fight at the top of the escalator steps. Resigning himself to the task of getting more fresh air, he wipes the perspiration of his forehead and bounds through the crowd to the farthest exit.
“What the hell?” indignantly queries a husky man who attempted to crowd the same revolving door with the man, who, in the growing depths of nausea, smiles back at him in apology, allowing the husky person to command the door. The man waits patiently until no one wants to use the portal, then he ventures outside.
“Daddy, daddy, be so good to me,” blurts the large Walkman radio swinging from the hip of a Negro with shinning leather boots and a large sombrero hat. “Baby! Baby, do it to me now! Baby…..”
“Chick, com’on, doll, cause you the biggest love bun in the block, dat why,” giggles a sleek, sensuous Negress secured lustfully to her boy-friend’s arm. Metallic loops dangle from earlobes beneath bleached, blonde hair; her buttocks brazenly protrude from the rim of her skin-tight red ‘hot pants.’ On they stumble – “Daddy, you won’t make a move on me, doll….”
“Gum? Anybody buy gum?” churns the words from a twisted mouth of a Paraparetic, cane in hand, tin cup in the other, limping along at a snail’s pace. “Gum?” he pleads to around him careening by him in a river of flesh, “Want to buy some gum?” He shakes the battered tin cup, the coins forlornly jangle. One man instantly searches his pocket for loose change. The crippled man nears him, only a few feet away, “Gum?” “Here you are,” the pedestrian reassures the cripple, reaching for the tin cup.
Down the cripple goes! The earth turns about him and he suddenly finds himself being scuffled by boots, shoes, and sandal-ed and nearly bare feet. Someone leaps over him as the crowd momentarily rearranges itself to make room. A blur of bodies – one, two, three young girls in hipster garb race down the street into the maze of humanity onto the next block. A few feet away from the girls moving on in express, the cripple churns his neck about, searching the passing crowd, looking for a helping hand. His cup with money is now a lost companion. He is unable to say anything but the words he has memorized, drilled, and forced him to learn in month over months of repetition: “Gum?” He extends his hand pleadingly to the astonished and indifferent people that pass on by. The cripple slowly, painfully, arches his back and uses the cane to resurrect an upright stance. The atmosphere about the par paretic becomes a cubicle of woman’s nylon against nylon and feminine deodorant, pierced by cigar smoke blown in his face.
“Move on! Move on, damn ya!” A group of jelly-bellied conventioneers have flanked the sidewalk, almost arm in arm, as if the front line of an infantry sweeping the battlefield. Racing backwards in faltering steps, the cripple extends one hand over his head, waving it to keep balance and also seeking Samaritan assistance, only to find him in the animal-like huddle at the “No walk” sign at the corner.
The sweet and putrid smells of perfumes and after-shave fragrances cascade over our traveler, as he finds himself hurdled into the mass of flesh, clothing, and the gut of the mob. Perspiration begins to trickle down his cheek, his nose itches from the threads of sprayed hair belonging to a fat, chunky female shadowing him. If only he could turn around and attempt to see the fate of the crippled man.
“Go!” instructs a skinny boy, knees black with dirt glaring below the rim of his stained shorts. The boy’s hair flops about his eyes like the mane of a St. Bernard dog. He drags his mother by the hand into the crowd of street-crossing pedestrians unfortunately blocked by a negro boy and white girl standing immobile in the middle of the traffic: the boy is passionately kissing the girl, holding her back into the cradle of his arm, and with the other fondles her breasts, and then, in snake-like fashion, rushes his hand under her short-shorts seeking the crease in your buttocks. No one stares; no one looks. They gush around the two like foaming water around jagged rocks in the middle of racing water in a stream.
The man is carried along, stumbling; stepping on feet, careening through ‘out-flung’ newspaper pages, till he locates the curb and with a heave, lifts him onto the sidewalk.
He has come to rest near a restaurant; he presses his radiant face on the cold panes of air-conditioned glass and closes his eyes to decide as to if he should go inside and find a seat. The smell of gasoline has found him again, like a phantom from bus to sidewalk, sidewalk to sidewalk, and like a developing nightmare, nausea is created in his stomach. He notices a scratch on his hand and he reaches into his pocket fumbling for a handkerchief and he dabs his wound.
“Get your Raw World News here!” shouts a tall, thin boy, his hair draped over his head and shoulders from the rank humidity as if someone poured a bucket of water on it, and continued to soak every strand, progressing down his cloths as if to pull them to his feet. The man expected to see this happen but was suddenly alarmed to see the boy’s bare feet. Instead, the boy’s clothes stubbornly hung on to him as he shouts, “Raw World News, here. The only original people’s militant-pagan review in the city! Raw World, here! Raw World!”
A lady with two cardboard boxes under each arm and a bag lodged underneath her chin, stops to examine the front page of the newspaper: it is a photograph of Lillian Swan, number one militant libertine giving a close-up of her middle finger extended upward in protest; the headline reads: “Country Must Change, or Else Die!”
The lady wants to maneuver herself so she can turn the page of the newspaper, but –wham! – knocked from her under the barrage of street-people, the swarm carries her parcels, being kicked heedlessly, down the sidewalk, some people divided in attention by a commotion back up the street where the Paraparetic had been knocked down, others intent on seeing the colored boy and white girl, now engaged in actual fondling on the corner of the street, both laying prostrate to one side of the nearby trash container as a ring of people jealously guard their sensuous privacy.
“Hey! My boxes!” shouts the lady, trying to fight into the swarm. “Out of the way, damn it! My boxes! Oh!”
Pressed into this incongruous activity, the man slides nervously along the cold glass storefront till he meets the end of the building. The side of his face is caressed by a gentle breeze flowing out of the nearby alley across from him and just a few feet away.
“Take it, damn it! Take my purse!” cries a whimpering voice from a mascara-streaked face of an old whore held at gunpoint. The man leans to one side to get a better view. He barfs slightly, swallowing back the vomit as he fights the sickness of carbon monoxide poisoning. From the record shop across the street, through its overhead loudspeakers, booms the beginning of Schubert’s Symphony No. 8, the Unfinished Symphony.
“Here! Take it!” The whore holds out a fist of money and jewels that drip from the sides of her hand. Her watered eyes plead to the snub-nosed revolver held directly at her face. “Oh, God! Take it!”
Why no one investigates the alley, the man wonders as Schubert’s symphony progresses into the allegro moderato. He notices the prostitute staggers towards the gunman, moaning, “…no, no….”
Bam! Bam! Bam!
The symphony hits a peak as everyone crossing the alley stops and stares as if an unfortunate ‘intrusion’ was forced upon them. And like cattle turned out of a gate, they stampede into the narrow passageway. Symphony No. 8 begins its slow dirge, its whining andante con moto, and as if synchronized with the pulse of actions comes the sirens of police cars that burst around the street corner: revolving lights flashing, brakes squealing, as squad cars nearly careen into the middle of the people in the alley. The people dash to the sides of the buildings to keep from being hit. The crowd immediately closes back in about the officers slinking out of their cars and into the murder scene.
The man barfs again. He realizes he must move to a clearing near the bus stop area. He staggers to the bus sign, leans his head on a cold metal pole and shuts his eyes as he focuses on nothing but the low dirge of Schubert’s No. 8. “Bus, come on, please, come on!” he begs inwardly. “I want to go back home,” he mumbles to him, “back, back home.”
Hiss! As if by his direct command, a miracle, the smell of bus-rubber surprises him, and the bus doors open before his face. Pushing, lunging people force him up the steps, the driver, oblivious that the man did not attempt to show his pass as he was nearly knocked to the floor. The man quickly grabs a chrome seat handle and pulls himself into a nearby seat of the bus. Thankfully, he lodges his head on the pane-seal of an open window that someone created despite the air-conditioning. Schubert has gone into his dramatic allegro con brio. Once again, a police officer squad car careens around another corner. The bus driver impatiently honks for the crowded street to clear so he can be on his way. The bus inches a few feet….stops….inches a few more….stops….to ward off his stomach sickness, the man holds his handkerchief over his mouth. “I must concentrate!” he pleads to himself. “Concentrate on that glorious ending of the 8th, that allegro con brio.”.
Franz Schubert: destined to obscurity: the Symphony in B Minor (Unfinished), which speaks from Schubert’s heart. Two movements and a half-finished scherzo were completed in October and November 1822
(click on this space [perhaps double click] if white space, the YouTube item will appear)
“Out of the way, you bastards!” commands the bus driver, his voice barely discernible in the zombie-like rows of people compressing the aisle of the bus. Finally, the jerks of the bus combine into longer, smoother flows, lasting at least the length of a block. “Oh, the pain!” The insufferable ache in the pit of the man’s stomach fights an epitome battle against a world of the intertwined smells of perfume, cigar smoke, gasoline fumes, bubble gun and whiskey breath. “Move! Please, move bus!”
Bam! Bam! Bam! The man again visualizes the smoking tip of the revolver in the murder scene, and that blank stare that appeared on the prostitute’s face, her pupils suddenly becoming dilated, and her mouth suddenly twisted and contorted. The contents in her hand dripping out onto the ground, much like the spreading blood from her stomach.
At Spruce and Murdoc, the man opened his eyes and peered out the window to discern a row of broken-down tenements, the small front yards with foot-high weeds and grass and a barely visible walkway. In front of the paintless fence were two toddlers, caked with mud and crying profusely. Once again, the man laid his head on the sill of the window, feeling the violent vibrations of the bus through his skull; rough, yet comforting enough by providing some distraction to his physical displeasure.
Broadway and Juniata: large beads of sweat drip down his check. He dabs them gently with his handkerchief. “Just a few more minutes,” he assures himself.
Ahead, he sees his bus stop creeping up. Painfully, he lifts himself up and pushes forward around a rather obese woman who looks at him rather amusingly. When the bus jerks to a stop, the man practically falls out of the door, but catches a low tree limb to steady him.
After dodging the reckless, perusing traffic, he glances over to the nearby church steps, only to see the broken, bent body of the bicycle the two boys had argued over earlier. In the distance, he could hear the ferocious barking of his next-door neighbor’s dog. Only minutes away; he prays for strength.
Agitated, he jabs the key into his front-door lock; drops of perspiration fall upon his fist, only to be shaken off by the tremble of his hand. The door crashes back against the vestibule wall as the man feverishly staggers into the kitchen, slips to his knees, but stands once again and staggers to the bathroom.
For a moment, it was as if the explosion of the revolver had also become the pounding of the divorce court judge’s gavel: Bam! Bam! Bam! He remembers the firing of the revolver again to the back-ground music of Schubert’s Unfinished 8th, crescendo to a loud ending: he falls before the commode and lets out a heavy heave of vomit into the bowl.
As an accessory to this bizarre symphony, comes the very real chirp of a wren outside the bathroom window, not unlike the one that the man began his morning with:
A peaceful chirp, very, very peaceful.
The Grand Quantum Being is aware of this man’s events, and the Spark Streaming of the Being’s grandiose Mind, beyond any Positronic Computer, greater than any Quantum Algorithm, that Mind knew for eons the next stage of atomic arrangement that will take place in this man’s life. He constantly told men and humankind that they had ‘freedom,’ but it was a lie! That life will continue instantaneously, more keenly scrutinized as microbes in water would be by some ethereal microscope, hiding and masked in some infinite complacency, behind the shadows of time, across the gulfs of space, beyond the blending of colors, vibrations, any singing of the Strings, any Logic Gates, as it was performed in the beginning (and ever will be) since It called Itself the “The Word.”
- Sylvia Hoeks in Alcon EntertainmentХs sci fi thriller BLADE RUNNER 2049 in association with Columbia Pictures, domestic distribution by Warner Bros. Pictures and international distribution by Sony Pictures Releasing International.
As well as:
Steve Erdmann – Independent Investigatory Journalist
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Franz Schubert: destined to obscurity: the Symphony in B Minor (Unfinished), which speaks from Schubert’s heart. Two movements and a half-finished scherzo were completed in October and November 1822
(click on this space [perhaps double click] if white space, the YouTube item will appear)