Over the past year, I have spent a great deal of time trying to understand music – what a scale is, why certain tones sound good together and others don’t, etc. I’ll be writing about all that as soon as I get used to my new keyboard layout, but meanwhile, here is my first musical composition! I wrote this using Acoustica Mixcraft, a very good music program ala Garage Band.

Opus #1 for 2 Cellos in C Major

This morning an old black woman say in front of me on the train. She smelled wretched; she had what my friend Mark had once called “a geriatric smell.” I did not move from my seat, mostly because there was nowhere to move to. I felt short of breath, as I frequently do, but the woman’s cloying smell was overwhelming and I could not catch my breath. I tried to just read my book, in which Thomas Merton was describing his surroundings on Perry St. in Greenwich 1939:

The air outside my window is quiet, and light hangs among the leaves and is soft and blue and warm. In one of the next houses I could hear pots in a kitchen, and water running from a tap, and I can hear the voices of kids. … This sunlight, this warm air, the sounds of the kitchen, speak of God’s goodness and His mercy. I can sit here all day, now, and think of that, and ask God to show me everywhere more and more signs of His mercy, and His goodness, and to help me regain my liberty. Peace.

Merton would later take vows as a Trappist monk.

I was breathing only through my mouth now, something I am unaccustomed to doing as I am so often short of breath. I chose not to complain within my mind to an imaginary listener, but instead to begin writing down my experience. This too was a change. As the train pulled in to Glenside where I work, I considered remaining on the train, to extend my experience. I chose not to, however, and went to work.

This is an excerpt from the first draft of a book I am writing. I am publishing it here, side notes and all, only at Pat’s insistence that he could not stand to be bored.

As I left I could see, between the tops of the brownstone canyon that was 43rd Street, the full moon peering in, and it seemed to me it had appeared just so I could notice it. Now was the moment I had been waiting for since I moved to New York, though truly I had waited since I was sixteen, or even younger: the moment of walking away. After ten o’clock the streets were quiet (by Queens standards, anyway), though the wind made a dull din in my ears. On my back was a book bag, not a hiker’s pack or even a rucksack, and a thin sleeping bag with a broken zipper tied to the top (with the rope Brendan had eye-knotted for me – see p. xxx.) It was the twentieth of March (year 2002) and winter was only halfway out the door; you could feel that at any moment he might come back in to grab his hat, and then linger for another bout of small talk with his exhausted and increasingly impatient hosts. And nevertheless, my only protection was a few shirts and a blue work jacket of the kind people wear in garages, with someone else’s name on the breast. “Ben”, I think. When I saw that big full moon I smiled, as I always do when I am delighted and alone. It was a sign. (See “Chasing the setting sun,” p. xxx). At the end of the very long block, I turned left onto 34th Ave. I had made this walk every day, even on most weekends, and now I would make it for the last time. At the end of the long block I turned left, and walked three blocks north to the R stop on Steinway St. I looked into the bodega as I walked by, caught a last glimpse of the Indian clerk/owner. [I would miss the $1 pint-bottles of Rebel Beer] I waited at Steinway for a few night motorists to clear the broad [for the East Coast] road, and crossed to the sidewalk that was both at the top of the subway stairs and in front of the Goodwill, donations for which, as usual, littered the area near the door.

I’d found many valuable scores in front of that store, including the best cookbook I ever owned,and Ben’s work coat. For some reason, maybe just habit, I took a look [by the light of the street lamp] at the night’s offerings, though I could not imagine what I could find there that would be valuable enough to warrant the carrying. I had sworn to leave the city by midnight, but everything was going my way, I felt; I could take the time. Such things were there as generally populate a thrift store: undesirable knick-knacks, books no one would ever read, women’s clothing over a decade out of fashion and plain ugly at that, children’s shoes. a black coat lying in the middle held a sliver of promise. The coat was heavy in my hand, certainly wool, about waist length. It may have been a woman’s coat, but it fit me just fine. I knew this was a sign; this coat had a meaning – that joy is a path, and your first step on that path is followed by others. This the universe saw fit to tell me before I even left New York. I left Ben’s garage jacket right where I found the wool coat, and took off as fast as I could down the subway stairs, deciding exuberantly and suddenly that I really ought to hurry.

I snatched my wallet out of my right front pocket (where my wallet had lived for at least ten years) and extracted my monthly train pass, an unexpectedly wasteful purchase this particular month. The air was warm and dank; I had not appreciated how pleasurable the chill of the wind was on my face until I was standing on the subway platform and everything felt still. The R train came quickly. After three stops, when we were shuttling beneath the East River, I started sweating, and unfastened the three large buttons of my very warm and rather unwieldly new vestment. I got off at Time Square and walked the one block underground to Penn Station. Like a bird I was flying, like one of those pigeons that happens into the train stations; for the hundredth time I read that Norman B. Colp poem, and I flew right in its face:

So tired
If late
Get fired.
Why bother?
Why the pain?
Just go home
Do it again.

I flew right into that picture of a bed – smack! And I laughed even if my head was bleeding.

A river was coming from the sky over Baltimore, and all I could do about it was stand arm bent with my thumb out, hold in my other hand a cardboard sign that was being rapidly devoured, and hunch against the downfall with my face twisted into a constant wince. The traffic light changed behind me, and the cars all started moving again. The exit where I stood was a major nexus connecting downtown to everything outside it. It was a wonder I wasn’t arrested. But then, what police officer would get out in that wet and that midday dark – the clouds were black as coal – just to shoo away a vagrant who was already clearly intent on taking his leave of the place? So I might have thanked the rain, but obviously I had no such thought. The only salvation I could understand at the time was a car stopping and letting me in. I would drop the sign, hoist my pack from the ground, just pick it up as-is with the garbage bags covering it, dash to wherever my savior was and say, “Thanks, where ya headed?” I imagined it over and over; just one car out of the dozens passing every minute, that was all I needed. I thought it impossible that not one would stop, the odds being what they were. What are the odds? A big number, a big number. Big. I thought about the flux, this enormous flux of people out of the city. It covered such space – one side of the road to the other for every road leading out, as well as the whole interior of downtown Baltimore, and outward to countless suburbs, and even to places beyond that, places in “just Maryland.” How, then, could I be left out while standing only a few feet away?

The constant wet cold had advanced an inch into my flesh, and the persistent pelting sound of drops hitting my poncho, often right next to my ear, was all I could hear. I began to talk to myself. “I’m so cold, I’m so cold … God, I’m cold. I’m cold … fucking rain, why won’t the rain fucking stop … why won’t the rain fucking stop … why won’t the rain fucking stop … I’m so cold … come on, pull over … just pull over, come on pull over, pull over …” Suddenly I was thinking about God, and at the same time my voice was getting louder, as though his whole problem was that he couldn’t hear me. Deaf God. “God, please make a car pull over, please make a car pull over. At least just make the rain stop, God please just make the rain stop. God please make the rain stop.” I was yelling at this point, and I believe I cried, but the rain – and God, so help me – balked at my demands.

After an hour in that cruel storm I was having spells where i thought of nothing at all. I would also shiver uncontrollably for minutes on end. “Fuck, fuck … fuck.” I passed an entire hour more in this way, my consciousness moving in and out, never reaching the point of true lucidity. The cold had possessed my body whole, and my voice was rolling on under its own momentum like a juggernaut. In a moment of grace I realized I was ranting, and I stepped away from myself and saw the scene as though I were driving one of those cars leaving town. I saw a man, young or old I couldn’t tell, hunching over ina cheap, transparent plastic poncho, holding out his thumb and screaming wildly to no one, a large lump on the ground next to him covered in garbage bags. I realized that all the suffering could stop if I found somewhere else to be. So I picked up my pack – garbage bags and all – and wandered until I found the Greyhound station. Then, without hesitation, I went inside to be a bum.