An entire decade is quite a long time, so I can’t remember precisely which specific day since 2004 may have struck me as the most hectic of all. I can most certainly think, though, of a few days since the end of last year that have been among the top contenders. During the course of last December I went one day with Steve to St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City, New Jersey, with the intention of spending the day there, and then going to Union Square in Manhattan to do some Christmas shopping. Because all the bathrooms in that entire section of New Jersey were out of order that day, though, everyone was sent home very early. We then went to Union Square. Somewhere around that part of the year Mary Anne, Steve and I, along with the usual collection of friends and cousins, went to Manhattan on Friday and Saturday nights one weekend. The first night was to see Madama Butterfly at Lincoln Center. The second night was to see a tribute to Woody Guthrie in Greenwich Village. Each night was quite an exceptionally nice time but I was quite frustrated, for the same reason I was so worn out when we went to New Jersey and Union Square. I’m not used to all that exercise. We spent a lot of time on trains and subways, walked constantly and each day lasted very long into the night. Everyone knows how weird and uncomfortable New York trains and subways are. I made the mistake of standing for a while on one of our subway rides. That was quite a nasty experience. In a very real sense neither the trip to New Jersey and Manhattan, nor the trip to only Manhattan, was all that big of a deal. What made each trip quite a hectic frustrating experience, though, were all the irritating problems that went with it.
Having studied classical and baroque mandolin and guitar for ten years under the best professors at the New England Conservatory of Music I knew I was ready. Here I am, though, playing a duet, Weiss’ “Fantasia In C minor”, at Lincoln Center with Professor Ennio Baggiagalupe, a student of the great Segovia. Now we’re only practicing backstage but soon we shall be forced to face an audience of snooty longhairs. Baggiagalupe, the Maestro, is such a merciless taskmaster. The ticking of the clock is too loud and slow. There’s no turning back.
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.
One weekend last month Steve, Mary Anne and I made two consecutive trips to Manhattan, one on Friday and one on Saturday. On Friday at around noon, Mary Anne and I took the Long Island Railroad into Penn Station. After a brief subway ride we met Joel. We three got something to eat at a small local diner. After we finished I, always having been such a compulsive bookworm, went over to N.Y.U.’s nearby college bookstore to hang around while they had an important meeting with someone they were supposed to see. Later we met Steve who joined us after his having gotten out of work. Then there was yet another meeting with an architect and his friend, a Jewish woman from Canada, who owns the company that’s in charge of the circumstances they were involved with. After it was all over we visited Joel and his wife Andy at their apartment. After a while Mary Anne, Steve and I went to Lincoln Center to see a production of Giacomo Puccini’s opera “Madama Butterfly”. I have several opera C.D’s but unfortunately I can’t even remember the last time I saw an opera. Steve got the tickets from his friend, Father John Mullen, S.J., whom I accidentally met while on line at Lincoln Center’s men’s room, when he asked about my St. Peter’s Prep sweatshirt. Because I’ve never felt comfortable among strangers I sort of expected to have a hard time getting used to having to deal with all the new people but it didn’t bother me so much. I was entirely worn out by the end of the night though because of all the trains and subways, combined with the seemingly incessant walking. Because it had been quite a long time since my last subway ride, I had forgotten how nightmarishly cramped and uncomfortable they are. By the time the night finally ended, we had been subjected to a full thirteen hours worth of all this activity. On top of everything else, on our way back to Long Beach, a woman on the train threw up in the car we were in. The next day there was yet another trip to Manhattan and we all went to a play in Greenwich Village. That time we drove. We left at around 6:00 p.m. We saw “East Towards Home”, Billy Yalowitz’ story of the life and times of folk singer and musician Woody Guthrie, told from the point of view of a young man growing up in a radical left wing Jewish socialist environment. It’s set in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Of course we all know about my notoriously intense lifelong opposition to both liberalism and socialism. I thoroughly enjoyed the music though. Mark and Laura, and Mary Anne’s friend Lisa, were there with us. After the play we all went to a really nice Indian restaurant. As with Friday’s trip I was yet again forced to deal with many strangers and a lot of walking but I somehow made it. At least on Saturday the day started much later and we didn’thave to be bothered with public transportation.