Recently I made plans to visit my cousin Vinnie, a policeman in North Carolina. We’ve always most certainly been quite a colorful combination of characters since we were kids. An old girlfriend of his once said, decades ago, that he and I speak another language entirely.
Last Saturday morning Steve drove me to La Guardia Airport in Flushing so I could get onto the 10:40 a.m. US Airways non stop flight to Raleigh. If all had gone according to the way it was planned out my time in the airport would have been relatively short and even somewhat enjoyable. The flight should have only taken about an hour and thirty five minutes.
Upon arriving at my terminal though, I got some very bad news. The woman behind the counter at my gate insisted that my flight would have to be delayed for at least six hours due to technical difficulties beyond anyone’s control. Everyone knows how restless and frustrated I get when I’m subjected to this kind of ordeal. Of course, thanks to my life’s being the nut house that it is, neither my primitive cell phone nor my digital camera is working either so I can’t even take advantage of them to pass the time.
After my having calmed down a bit, and come up with the presence of mind to accept my sorry lot, I pulled my trusty copy of James Joyce’s “Ulysses” out of my bag and began yet another pointless attempt at reading it. Bloomsday is coming up in the middle of this month, I reasoned, so the very least I could possibly do, having always been such a total bookworm, is to take advantage of the occasion to try my hand yet again at plowing through a day in the life of Leopold Bloom, Joyce’s protagonist. My mind inevitably wandered as I dwelled on the fact that Joyce and Virginia Woolf were both born in 1882 and died in 1941, and that both Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway” and Joyce’s “Ulysses” are set on a single day in the middle of June. “Ulysses” is set in 1904, on the day during which Joyce and Nora Barnacle first met. “Mrs. Dalloway” is set in 1923.
Eventually I needed a change of pace so I walked slowly to the nearest concession stand and got a small cup of cappuccino. Having always been quite a compulsive clock watcher I alternated incessantly between sipping my drink and keeping track of the time. Outside the windows I could see Citi Field and Flushing Meadow Park. Being at La Guardia always reminds me of when I was a kid in Jackson Heights, when being so close to Flushing Meadow and Shea Stadium was a perfectly normal reality of my life.
By the time I finished my drink an entire whopping hour and a half had passed since first I showed up. My mind continues wandering inevitably. I have a flashback to the autumn of 1981 when I went to North Tonawanda to visit relatives, including Vinnie, for Thanksgiving. Jazz singer and musician Cab “Hi De Ho” Calloway was on the plane. One of the nice things about international airports is that one never knows who will show up. Even though I didn’t get a chance to see anyone famous this time around, I was surrounded, as always under those circumstances, by quite an eclectically garbed assortment of characters from all over the world.
Of course, I kept on trying to remind myself, this would have been quite an exceptionally interesting self-contained world of its own with everything going for it, if only I could have come here under nicer circumstances. The fact that I was stranded, though, was really starting to get me crazy. I couldn’t even take some nice pictures or call somebody. At least if I could have done something like that I could have felt a bit more comfortable. Unfortunately when I’m nervous and frustrated I become quite visibly tense and conspicuous. I can imagine what other people there must have thought of me. I know it would have been quite an interesting surprise for Vinnie if I could have made the trip. By the time my six hours was up, though, I was so annoyed I left the airport and came back to Long Beach.
If there’s one thing I absolutely can’t stand, and quite bitterly resent, it’s any unwelcome unnecessary noise. I can’t stand any kind of noise in general anyway but at least I’ve been able to resign myself to the kind that’s unavoidably necessary by definition. It wouldn’t be realistic for someone to hang around an airport or construction site and to cuss people out for being too loud. Over the course of my lifetime I’ve always had quite a razor’s edge relationship with sound. This is also true in my dealings with language, the written and spoken word. Nothing impresses me anywhere near as much as well written and well performed music, or when someone writes or speaks articulately. When,however, I have to be subjected to something that’s poorly written or spoken, played or sung, it gets me crazy.
For as long as I can remember I’ve always been compulsively articulate and very conservative. Whenever I either hear, or read, something that’s either inarticulate or of a left wing ideological slant it makes me cringe. Language should be used solely as a vehicle for the conveyance of the truth and not as a means of promulgating an ideological agenda. Besides that I’ve always been quite prone toward getting all my tenses, cases and other linguistic proprieties entirely in order. Everyone knows about my notoriously hypersensitive nerves. For approximately the past two decades we’ve been bombarded with cell phones. Ever since I was a kid I’ve never been able to stand the telephone anyway. I not only don’t like the sound of its ring, or having to talk on it. I can’t even stand to be in the company of someone who’s talking on the phone. Now that each and every single one of us has a phone in his possession at all times it’s quite a major chore for me to attempt to accept it. I’ve never been able to understand why cell phones are considered acceptable in churches and libraries. In the old days, churches and libraries were considered places where peace and quiet was mandatory. Now phones are allowed. A couple of months ago, Mary Anne, Steve and I went to see “Madama Butterfly” at Lincoln Center. I couldn’t help noticing that when the people who are in charge there say cell phones aren’t allowed they really mean it, and patrons respect that fact. In churches and libraries, though, the people in charge claim that cell phones aren’t allowed but they don’t bother to enforce it and everyone leaves his phone on, thereby subjecting the rest of us to endless unwelcome noise. Throughout my life I’ve always been subjected to people with very loud voices, as well as bad music and flagrant misuse of language. I can still remember, from when I worked at Citicorp Retail Services in the late 1980’s and 1990’s, a representative example of the unbearable impact that noise can have on me. When I was working in the Sales Processing department with Sal, Carole and Yolanda, Miz Kitti, Doreen and Kimbley, there was a department within earshot of ours where the employees were unbearably loud and unruly. They literally yelled, and even laughed hysterically for no reason, all day long. It was quite an unbearably torturous experience for me. Unfortunately it turned me into a nasty, anti social little creep. I got very bitterly angry and resentful. There appears to be something about unwelcome noise, and a poor command of language, which I truly find entirely unbearable. I’ve always really liked to consider myself quite good natured, a jolly good fellow. When I have to deal with noise, or with someone who’s inarticulate, though, I truly am subjected to quite a torture treatment. My ability to accept it and to maintain my cheerful side takes quite a beating. I’ve tried all sorts of ways to maintain my cool but it’s quite a frustrating problem. By now I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve learned to accept the simple facts that it’s a loud inarticulate world, and that all I can do is to try, as politely and as firmly as possible, to convince people to be a lot more respectful of others, both by being a lot quieter and by speaking and writing a lot more articulately.
I’ve always liked to consider myself quite an easygoing fellow. In my high school yearbook people both gave me credit for having been so good natured and complained of my having been too much of a pushover. It would make me happy to know that to this very day I’m still exceptionally flexible and good natured. It’s always been very easy for me to be that way when the question that’s being dealt with is as easy as an argument over round or square pizza. Unfortunately life’s problems aren’t usually that simple. I’ve always enjoyed peace and quite to the point of bitterly resenting any kind of people or circumstances I may have to deal with where things are entirely too loud. I’ve really been known to lose my temper in an environment where excessive noise becomes a problem and I can become quite aggressive about it. I honestly believe that no one should have to bother with such an intrusion and I’m quite especially tough on anyone who isn’t careful with his cell phone. That’s one of the areas where I not only show absolutely no mercy whatsoever but I even push things entirely too far, punishing the Scylla of excessive volume with the Charybdis of quite a display of nastiness. Another area in which I can be inordinately tough is whenever there’s any debate about anything relative to the culture war. As everyone knows I’ve always been quite the arch-conservative. I tend never to budge even slightly in my dealings with liberals. The questions that are dealt with in any debate of this nature are literally about life and death, freedom and control. This also ties in with my resentment of being treated unfairly in general. If I see I’m being pushed into a corner, and expected to accept insulting treatment, or to be begrudged my rightful due, I get quite infuriated. You can call it affirmative action if you want to. It’s still reverse discrimination. I see the spurious arguments and revisionist history the liberals expect us to put up with as analogous to what any manipulator does. A major part of the problem with liberals is that they barge into every move people make and leave nothing alone. Everything from language to food is considered within the purview of their obsessions. My excessively stubborn streak is a part of my life in which I have quite a lot of growing up yet to do. Having read “The Living Flame of Love” by St. John of the Cross, and Dostoyevsky’s “The Possessed” a few times over the years I should suppose by now I can recognize that the problems that get me crazy in my dealings with other people are the things I most frequently can be most guilty of.
For over seven and a half years I lived in the borough of Wyoming, in Luzerne County, in northeastern Pennsylvania. Because of my never having owned a computer during that time, I was in the habit of going daily to the Wyoming Free Library on Wyoming Avenue, next door to the Methodist church, close to the Eighth Street intersection. I soon became a part of the library’s collective peresonality and image. In most respects it was quite a very nice friendly environment frequented by a cast of decent likable offbeat characters. My one grudge against the people there was that they appeared to have had absolutely no respect whatsoever for the need for peace and quiet. I grew up in an environment where the obligation to maintain strict silence at all times, in both public and school libraries, was considered utterly sacrosanct, and the older I get the more I resent noise. There was a certain very nice family there, who showed up regularly, who really bothered me in this respect. Ultimately they were quite the likable friendly bunch. They were always so nightmarishly annoying though. The husband and wife showed up at least a few days a week, often with at least one of their kids. They were entirely too loud and talkative. Although there were signs in the library that specifically forbade the use of cell phones on the premises that rule was never enforced and they took every possible advantage of it. One day a few years ago I happened to have overheard a cell phone conversation between the father and one of his sons. The son had been sent to jail for either drinking, drugs or some equivalent offense. I can’t remember which it was. All his father did on the phone, for the course of quite a very long time, was yell and complain, and make explicit references to the specific problem. Besides the fact that excessive noise has always made me crazy, the subject matter of the phone call was hardly the least bit fit for public consumption. Predictably I cringed and got frustrated. It’s a confusing predicament to have to be in. Do I politely affect a couldn’t-care-less smirk and shrug? Do I give someone like that a mean nasty smirk, which I tend to do spontaneously? I’d always recognized that these characters were very much on the colorful side anyway but this was entirely ridiculous. I became so resentful and frustrated. His behavior showed an utter lack of prudence and tact. This wasn’t even an isolated incident. He and his wife would frequently say things, within earshot of others, that drove me crazy. The constant airing of their dirty laundry in public made me feel uncomfortable because I’ve never really looked forward to hearing all those private personal things about the dark side of strangers’ lives. Especially since they were always so very charming and friendly with me, it got me crazy. I knew they weren’t really bad but their tendency to be so loud and to let their guard down in public was enough to drive me entirely out of my mind.