The Wild One
The "TGIF" syndrome doesnít mean much to us these days. The end of the week, the letting go of responsibility, isnít as distinct as it is for people in nine-to-five jobs, younger people who have to just hang on and bear down to make it through the rest of the bossís time. Children, looking out through school windows plastered with pictures of birds and houses and sunshine, at the outdoors, full of birds and houses and sunshine, force themselves (with help from first the teacher, then the boss) to concentrate on the task at hand for yet a few more hours until freedom. These days, Saturday is just another day with its prioritized task list and schedule to meet. Yetómaybe itís old memoriesóthe end of the week sometimes catches us like a chance meeting of eyes with a stranger, passing in a flicker but full of gut-tugging possibility, awakening for a moment the wild one inside.
I had dropped Judith off at the car dealerís clear across town at four oíclock and threaded my way back home through the Friday traffic. Maybe itís not a big city, but Ann Arbor has its own version of rush-hour traffic that leaves one washed out and impatient. So glad I donít have to face it every day. The courier van was sitting in our drive when I returned home, waiting with a package for Judith, more work that would blur for her the distinction between the "work week" and the weekend. I left my car at the curb and signed for the package. "Have a good weekend," he said as he backed out of the drive.
So I marked the end of the day by sitting on the couch reading the newspaper spread out over the coffee table. The dog sat at the front window, watching for something to happen outside that might stir her interest.
The doorbell rang, and Becky, one of Judithís clients, came in with an armful of envelopes that she needed to run through the postage meter and drop in the mail before she could let go of her "work" and return to her home and three teenagers and dinner and dishes and laundry and chauffeuring and hours sitting at the computer at home, all of which made up her weekend of freedom from the job. When she came out of the office with her letters, I looked up from my paper and leaned back. "All done for the week?" I asked.
"All done for the day. Now I have to go home and make dinner for some unknown number of kids. You think Judith will be back soon? I donít know if she wanted to talk to me about that job, or not."
"I just dropped her off at the car dealerís. I think she was going to make one stop on the way home, so she should be here any minute." I looked unseeing at my watch. "Have a seat. Would you like a glass of wine?"
"That would be wonderful." She flopped gratefully into the big chair.
I would have preferred a glass of beer, but we were out, so I dispensed two glasses of wine from the five-liter box in the refrigerator. We sipped and made small talk about kids and dogs and traffic, and by the time Judith came through the door I was relaxed. "Wine?" I asked after she and Becky had greeted each other with a short burst of job talk, full of code words and "hereís where things stand" statements that make up most of the conversations between working associates on the job.
"Iíd love it." She followed me into the kitchen and returned with a couple bags of chips and pretzels. The three of us sat at the dining table munching, talking and sipping wine. The tension of the work world was fading, even though much of the conversation still hovered around projects and work relationships. By the time Becky stood up and excused herself with words about hungry teenagers, Judith and I were feeling pretty mellow. It was with obvious effort that she finally brought up the subject of dinner.
"Itís Friday," Becky offered as she put on her coat. "Go out to eat."
"Oh, I donít feel like going out into that traffic again." Judith refilled her glass. "What do we have out there?" she asked me. She has this way of asking questions of the world, or maybe of herself, that I feel compelled to answer, even if my information on the subject is no better than hers.
"Thereís spaghetti," I said. "We have canned tomatoes. Thereís tofu in the refrigerator. We could make a sauce."
"Okay," she said, "letís do it. In a minute. I just want to sit for a minute." Judith leaned back in her chair as Becky slipped out the door with informal good byes all around.
Usually at the end of the day, I have to force myself to think about preparing dinner. Even though Iím hungry, my mind doesnít want to focus on another task. Going out to eat is sometimes more hassle, but I donít have to think muchójust put on coats and leave. But on Fridays, a lot of other people have the same thought, or non-thought, and restaurants are jammed. Iíll admit, the old days had something going for them, when I would come home from work to smells of dinner cooking, and pour myself a martini and read the paper before my wife would shortly announce, "Itís ready." The years of self-sufficiency since those days havenít completely reversed my mind-set.
Nor Judithís. She cooks more often than I do. Or, at least, she plans meals more than I do. We usually share the work, though, cutting up vegetables and setting the table. For some unknown reason, if itís a stir-fry weíre having, I usually do the stirring and frying. I love the smell of fresh garlic pressed over hot olive oil. Since we donít eat meat, meal preparation doesnít revolve around the timing of broiled steak. If we arenít tired or rushed, the vegetables go into the wok in a certain sequence, and the sauce is prepared ahead of time and poured into the sizzling pan at just the right moment.
That evening, it was casual, to say the least. I set the kettle to boil for the pasta, and Judith rummaged in the refrigerator, wine glass in one hand, for suitable additions to the sauce. Then she disappeared into the living room, with "Whereís Pink Floyd when we need him?"
In a moment the sonorous and thudding beat of very loud rock filled the house. The primitive animal inside was beginning to stir. We worked in the kitchen, swaying (at least internally) to the music. Iíve wondered for years what there is about Pink Floyd that reminds me of church music. Maybe itís the long notes, or the gut-feeling of crying that permeates their songs, or the particular kinds of chord changes. I donít know. Certainly, most of their pieces could be played on a pipe organ. Iíve asked a number of musicians, people I would expect to be able to respond, "Yes, of course, itís ..." and go on to enlighten me with a technical explanation of harmony and key and all those things they learn in music theory. But no. They never have the foggiest idea of what Iím talking about. Iím beginning to think that I hear something that nobody else hears, even with my tinitus and high-frequency hearing loss that shuts me out of conversations in groups and busy restaurants. Or maybe itís a gut-hearing, or a resonance in my bones. Whatever it is, Iím mesmerized by their music. Itís perfect backgroundónot musak background, but that dark red cloud of sound that envelopes you and permeates every space in your senses while you focus your attention on a last little stub of marijuana, breathing the sweet smoke while you mind flows and beats with the music and everything in your world is amusing and wonderful and the colors in your mind are brilliant and three-dimensional.
And their words are plaintive and angry and sad and full of isolation, and yet somehow ring so trueó
By the time we had finished preparing the pasta, the wine was gone, so I retrieved the gin from over the stove and a bottle of bitter lemon from the refrigerator. We sat down to our dinner still full of the music (we did have to turn it down a bit, sitting directly in front of the vibrating speakers) and the feelings released by alcoholóno, more than just feelings, awareness. Our heads were finally turned off. Computers and deadlines and expectations and to-do lists were all gone. The pasta was wonderful, full of tomatoes and big chunks of mushroom and heady with garlic and olive oil. Even the tangy lemon and quinine and gin sharpened our taste buds between mouthfuls of spaghetti. And the cloud of music filled us up. Judithís shoulders never stopped moving, swaying sensuously; she was lost in her own awareness, the throbbing Wild One inside moving, moving.
My Wild One is pretty tame. Yes, I move with music like that, but mostly the movement is inside my head. I let it pulse over me, and I feel it through my bones. Outside Iím mostly still. Alcohol doesnít change thatóactually, we hadnít had that much to drink. I was completely relaxed, but my head wasnít fuzzy or tight. The clutter was just gone.
She stood up, her shoulders still swaying, and cleared the dishes from the table. Then she sat down in front of the loudspeakers and let the music engulf her. I sat still, watching her move.
As the pastoral pealing of "The Division Bell" faded, we melted like warm wax onto the floor, soaking up the silence in the vast mind-spaces that had been so swollen with music. She moved over next to where I lay, and put her head on my shoulder. I traced her hairline with my fingers, then rested my hand on her warm brow. We might have slept for a few moments. Time didnít exist.
Donald Skiff,March 11, 1995