Thursday, October 23, 2003

Every Day Is a Little Song

Arvo Part
John Cale
We're out of

That was the chant in my head this morning. Every morning, my wife wakes me up, since she is far more reponsible and diligent about the little things like being awake than I am, and I stagger out to the kitchen. We have breakfast while listening to NPR, dutifully rolling our eyes or expressing deep-seeded moral outrage when the President or Arnold Schwarzenegger is mentioned. Interaction is somewhat minimal, as we are slowly coming to consciousness. One of the daily tasks apportioned to me is the pressing down of the French press coffeepot. This, for some reason, seems to require Herculean strength and the patience of Job. You must exert tremendous force on the plunger, which will crawl downwards at the rate of a tree sloth who's not got anything on his schedule that day, until it reaches ground zero and your somewhat cloudy cup o joe is ready.

I should mention that the reason we have to use the French press is that I broke the Krups machine's carafe when I tried to do something silly like washing it, and we have yet to get a replacement. This was over six months ago. It used to be that you could go to Macy's and buy a replacement carafe. Indeed, when I was a humble coffee-slinger, we sold the carafes in the café, and got a lot of business from the clumsy faction of society. Now, you have to order the replacement carafe online or get Macy's to order one for you.

Do you care about this? You should, because it starts with the carafes, man, and ends up with outpatients not being able to get their insulin. Macy's is killing diabetics is what I'm saying.

Sorry. that was a little off-subject.

The chant thing is what I'm really talking about here. Every morning I get these little thoughts, like this morning when I thought how nice it would be to take an Arvo Part CD to work, so I could get all minimalist while I write the company newsletter. The problem is that I forget these little ideas with astonishing regularity, so to remember, I have to chant the words just under the current of conscious thought. So I was droning "Ar-vo Part", "Ar-vo Part" like some crazy symphony cheerleader or something who won't shut up during the quiet bits of "Tabula Rasa" and feels it necessary to lend encouragement to the first violin.

I got a little distracted with the internal chanting when some pedantic portion of my mind wanted me to add the umlaut or dieresis thing over the "a", hence Arvo Pärt, and pronounce it correctly, like PAIRT. The first portion of my mind argued that pronouncing it "Part" was better for the cheer-chant rhythm. The umlaut camp responded with accusations of xenophobia and insinuations that perhaps I just wasn't smart enough to use more complicated punctuation. In the end, no decision was reached, and since the chanting was only internal anyway, both parties were satisfied by adding the dots and leaving it up to my discretion whether to pronounce them.

Then, out of nowhere, I suddenly felt a deep desire to hear John Cale's "Fragments of a Rainy Season". I don't know why. Maybe it was a particularly Welsh quality to the sesame bagel and cream cheese this particular morning. But now I had to add two more syllables to the little song in my head:

"Arvo Pärt John Cale/Arvo Pärt John Cale/Arvo Pärt John Cale"

I had a little cadence going now. I imagined legions of sweaty masses like you see in Biblical epic films and gladiator movies banging immense kettle drums and chanting it in a voice one thousand strong.

This image stuck with me throughout my morning shower, shave and gel-action, until I wandered to the kitchen to make sandwiches for the wife's and my lunches. I folded little slices of meat and slathered healthful mayonnaise to the strains of the mighty chant. And then, a sudden blow! A rabbit punch from out of nowhere: We were out of tomatoes! "I have to remember to buy tomatoes at the store today", I thought, "or surely the Earth will be consumed by fire."

Arvo Pärt!
John Cale!
We're out of!
Arvo Pärt!
We're out of!

This was getting complicated. And I hadn't even put my socks on yet. I completed my pre-work duties, including chasing the cat around the house, and made it to the car. Then it struck me that I had left Arvo and John inside in the CD cabinet. What the hell good was my stadium full of drum-players doing if I didn't even remember what I was supposed to do? Pondering the unknowable workings of the brain, I ran back in to get the CDs. I have a little CD carrier that holds maybe 30 CDs, which I take to work every day. I always chastise myself for not changing the selection in there enough. I seem to end up with the same little core of work-music again and again.

Anyway, I manage to select a couple of CDs to replace with Arvo and John and I 'm ready to go.

Theoretically, I should now be able to remove the "Ar-vo-Pärt-John-Cale" portion of the chant, but I can't! I'll forget the tomatoes if I do. The rhythm will be lost! The center cannot hold! So now I'm stuck with the full chant until the tomato objective is achieved.

As I pull out of the garage, The Clash's Sandinista starts up in the stereo. The first song is The Magnificent Seven. Soon I am singing my little chant to the tune of The Magnificent Seven. But I am too easily distracted. I have overdone the coffee this morning and my mind leaps from one tangent to the next:

Magnificent Seven...Seven Samurai...Yul Brynner...Westworld! You've got to remember the tomatoes!....Samurai...Kurosawa...Yul Brynner...The Toy Dolls...I should have grabbed the Toy Dolls CD...The tomatoes! Don't forget!.....Nellie the Elephant...

When I arrive at work, the chant becomes too multi-faceted, with syncopated rhythms dealing with every little thing I wanted to remember from my morning drive to work. Now along with the legions of drum players, there is a children's choir singing the more fluid notes, holding the notes for long periods of time and clutching candles in their hands like some terrible Night Ranger video. The camera zooms and pans. Colors flash, and the words appear on the bottom of the screen like a karaoke machine.

The chant drones in my head all day, keeping me company as the hours drag past, until finally on the way home I make it to the store.

I forgot the tomatoes.


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