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Posted on 2004-12-03 09:47:17 by Denver

Comfortably Numb


I was killing time before my date, trying to read "Defeating Darwinism" in the half-light of the fading evening sun, my body wedged in a crevice of a Central Park rock pile. The rock's lip topped a grassy knoll bordered by whizzing bicyclists, inline skaters and joggers on a Park thru road. Children chattered in the nearby grass. I closed the book - my thoughts uncoiling- thinking of the last time I had sat on this particular rock- Layla and I had smoked a joint here three years ago, right after 9/11. The freighted silence- as if the next thing that was said would be shatteringly significant - didn't alleviate the awkwardness between us. The memory transported me somewhere else - I was not lying on the southern fringe of Central Park, under the shadow of Trump Tower- I was squeezing between her crowded thoughts about Islam and Democracy, thinking about the preconceptions I'd had and the direction of our culture. The long notes of family and faith played out under her melancholy discourse. Then suddenly, the vibration of the cell in my pocket interrupted my reverie in those ancient days.

This time Cecile was early for one our dates. She was on the phone circling Carnegie Hall looking for the main entrance.

"Where are you D? I'm standing on seventh avenue and fifty sixth. It looks like the entrance is here. But I'm not sure. You didn't tell me the entrance was on seventh."

My scalp itched and my breath tasted hot and sour.

"I dunno Cecile. I'm pretty sure the entrance is on fifty-seventh. Why don't you walk around the corner? Or try to get in there. I don't know. Look for where all the old rich people are walking into the building."

"How far away are you?"

Jesus Christ, I thought, it's not even seven o'clock!

"I'm T minus four minutes from impact."

Cecile and I were going to Carnegie Hall to see the Expo 2005 AICHI Global Harmony Concert of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" conducted by Yuuki Kaburagi. Kaburagi was hot; he'd just finished a recording project with the Tokyo Philharmonic and Acid Mother's Temple. When a friend called and offered me the tickets gratis I graciously accepted. Cecile wasn't familiar with the music of the Temple or the baton wizardry of Kaburagi. She had never been to Carnegie Hall. I don't think she was curious about the art or the building. It was just another date with the honest man with that pesky, murky wage earning capacity.

Our seats were a mile high in the "center balcony" - from my perspective everyone crossed the stage like a tiny, stunned, tuxedo-clad insect attached to a puppet string. An All-Asian chorus featuring geriatrics and four year olds and a black opera singer were the only signs of relief from the bland European concert hall visual iconography. I could understand very little of what happened over the next hour and a half. There was a lot of singing that seemed like yawning and some sawing on classical instruments. Dissonance. Loudness. Softness. I recognized some of the music from a violent Stanley Kubrick film I'd seen years ago. Here's what I understood to take place:
Someone was singing lyrics written by Frederick Schiller that went like this-

Be embraced, you millions.
This kiss to the entire world!
Brothers! Above the starry canopy
A loving father must dwell


I only know this because the lyrics were written in the program. Cecile stared impassively at the tiny figures, fighting boredom. Our brains were not wired to receive this kind of information but we both just both sat there and took in the numbing classical drone. Thank you Yuuki Kaburagi and all the symphony conductors, patriarchal western culture warriors, composers, musicians, programmers and especially the rich bastards on the Carnegie Hall Board- can I have another? Yes you shall you punks- here's more

Do you bow down, you millions?
Do you sense the creator, world?
Seek him above the starry canopy!
Above the stars he must dwell.



The experience of sitting five hundred feet in the air in Carnegie Hall's 2800 seat Isaac Stern Auditorium watching a Beethoven concert should have been exhilarating - like riding in a hot air balloon over a musical explosion- but instead it was another nauseating reminder that we were constantly repeating the same time consuming gestures that signified cultural curiosity. Was this her life? Going to bad theater and musical events and gobbling down rich food and drink and celebrating friends and acquaintances empty birthday rituals at downtown tapas bars? Wasn't it time to move to the hills? Farm the land? Make soap and toothpaste and vodka in wooden buckets?
One thing was certain. Cecile was not going to move to the hills with me. She was not going to find religion. She was not going to stop vegetating in front of a television set on the weekends. So why? Why did it really turn me on when she walked into a room? Her fashion- she wore pink and neon green shawls - had originally been an indicator of mainstream simplicity - but had slowly become super hero capes stretching over her limbs revealing a seductive midriff, back and shoulder blades. She had terrifying naked electric curves and smooth dark expanses my tongue wanted like ice cream. I think Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek was the first woman I ever had sexual thoughts about. Cecile was the only other woman besides Uhura of whom, despite having no first hand knowledge of their naked body, I had recurring masturbatory fantasies. Perhaps this was because I was being exposed to them both at some distance and with frustrating infrequency. It didn't make sense to me. I wanted to sleep with her. I had groped her body on the dance floor on several occasions. I had discussed the methodology, talked about the positioning. But she had withheld this from the recipe of our relationship. Was this a strategic maneuver on her part? Each night I impatiently canceled thoughts of our matrimonial bliss and gave her snakes, wings and warts in my midnight portraiture as I rolled myself to sleep week after week on clean white sheets in my queen sized bed in Brooklyn. Her limited availability, her expensive cocktails, her efficient telephone operator personality on the other end of the line. On the phone we had probably spoken three paragraphs in three months of dating. Conversations lasted longer with telemarketers and homeless people on the street. She had put me on hold the first time I ever called her.

"Cecile?"
"Is this Denver? How ya doin'?"
"I'm, uh, well, how are you?"
"Good. I'm at work. What's goin' on?"
"I, uh, well, I'm just giving you a call. It was sure nice to meet you."
"Yeah. Hey, Denver, can you hold?"
Then proceeded four minutes of faint conversation of which I could hear bits and pieces-
"Yes, I'll get you the jpegs of that."
"No. Take that out. Take that out."
"Yes, I'll be flying in from Detroit that day."
Eventually she got back on the line with me and we made arrangements to meet for a drink.


Her phone etiquette was a little strange and she wasn't much of a conversationalist. I did most of the talking. She was perfunctory. Direct. Straight forward. She wasn't sharing the details of her life with me either- whatever those were. For instance, her advertising agency was supposedly working on John Kerry's campaign- the strategy he would employ to communicate with African American voters- but after that was mentioned weeks ago I heard nothing else. She was always very pessimistic about his chances but I couldn't decide if this was based on any inside information or a general naive gloom within her community about Kerry's election prospects.

She had been living in New York City ten years longer than I had but she had no idea where to get a drink in any neighborhood outside of Soho. So after the concert I marched us into Hell's Kitchen searching in vain for a theater bar where comforting theatrical types would be plopped on the stools drinking cheap beer. On fifty fifth and eighth we walked into BB's Irish pub and found seats at a raised cocktail table where we ordered drinks and fried and battered calamari (Cecile once again throwing her cholesterol caution to the wind) and I tried hard not to watch Terrell Owens and his Philadelphia Eagles teammates destroy the Minnesota Vikings on the sixteen television sets coating the walls. But it was impossible. John Madden's voice overwhelmed us. And in the third quarter TO broke the game wide open with a seventy yard touchdown reception. He squatted in the end zone and did a wing flapping Michael Jackson-esque glide and then ended it with a salute to the Armed Forces who were fighting in Iraq. Cecile cleared her throat and I tore my attention away from the celebration. It was clear she had been thinking about something.

"So how long are you going to temp at Citibank?"

This flashed out of nowhere and I had to match it with equal precision.

"Until the end of the year."

"Then what are you planning to do?"

"I am going to go to law school."

"Law school? You've never mentioned that before."

"No. I've been thinking about it for a while though."

"I don't see you as a lawyer."

"You don't?"

"You've never spoken about it before. What is it that makes you interested in becoming a lawyer all of a sudden?"

"I've always been interested in these things- justice, regulation, the
Constitution. I think there's a real struggle to keep our civil liberties intact. I think I would be a good lawyer."

"I could maybe see you as a legal aid lawyer."

"A legal aid-?@!? I'm not gonna be a legal aid lawyer! They don't make any money. I'm gonna make a lot more money than that!"

Cecile's lips moved into a smile. She never blinked.

"I feel like I'm being grilled here." I said, "Like I'm being given that marriage quiz that you gave me on the first date we ever went on."

"I'm just trying to figure out what your plans are."

"Yeah, well, I told you."

"Yeah but you told me you were a writer when I met you. Look. I just want you to know where I'm coming from. I'm thirty-two. I want to get married soon and have a baby. I don't want to be an old saggy mother who is trying to raise a young child. I want to be a somewhat youthful mother. And I don't want to be with a man who can't provide some sense of security for that. who doesn't have a plan for how he is going to provide for a family. I can take care of myself. I own a place to live. I have a good job. But I need to know that the man I am with is interested in being a provider."

Something in her words tested me, countered the vague ambiguities and multiplicities that I placed such a value on. She was a market fundamentalist. She worshiped at the altar of personal consumption and financial security. I realized that I was drawing closer to religion each day I lived in New York City- because it supplied a set of alternative values, including discipline, that served as a counterweight to the materialism so prevalent in every square foot of the media saturated world I lived in. I could have become a successful lawyer twelve years ago who resorted to fiscal healing and retail therapy in pursuit of fulfillment. But I didn't. I had allowed theater and artistic freedom to become my religion. Because they introduced competing claims. They injected a tension that compelled me to think outside the box and allowed me to avoid fundamentalisms of my own. How refreshing to spend these hours inside the box slugging it out with a fundamentalist. It was a test, a challenge, but I hoped I wasn't joining her in a prison of the soul.

"Listen, Denver, I have to tell you something."

"What?"

"I.I was in Detroit last week and I had to test drive a new model of the SUV on the account we're working on. And I'm a terrible driver. I really am. Anyway, I was in the car with my boss and a director at their company and I drove into another car."

"You did?"

"Yeah. It totalled it. I didn't hit the brakes when I should have. I hit the gas. And I ran right over this little, I don't know, Toyota or something. And there were people inside. They weren't hurt. But their car was crushed. I really did a number on it. And the thing was, I didn't feel anything. The people got out of their car and they came up to me and told me they didn't have insurance and you could see their car was just demolished. They weren't really injured but they had been inconvenienced. Or their lives had been disrupted. Or something like that. They were talking but I couldn't really hear them. They were just very upset. And I apologized but I just didn't feel anything inside. I was like, numb."

"Numb?"

"Uh huh. I've been having this feeling for a while."

"You have?"

"Yeah. It's kinda scary huh?"

"Yes."
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