A WHITER SHADE OF PALE

for Louis C.K.

whiter-shade-of-pale

painting, John Hawkins

What’s that expression describing the condition of someone stuck in a long run of bad luck they can’t break out of? It’s not, if they didn’t have bad luck, they’d have no luck at all, though at times that one feels like it fits. . . Whatever the case, I sensed mine was going to change when out of the blue I met this beautiful young woman. She was, without exaggeration, awesome. So extraordinary looking, in fact, I didn’t have the guts to speak to her. Fortunately, she took the initiative. And it instantly felt like we had known each other forever. Though I’m not even sure I believe in reincarnation anymore, when I say forever I do mean not just this life, but in past lives. And future lives I can’t even imagine yet.

Despite that little glitch in my belief system there was no way I could have denied the depth and breadth of the old familiar feelings I had with her right there in my face. When she stopped fiddling with her iphone and looked over at me, we locked eyes, and without saying a word out loud, she transmitted “You Again” into my head with one wry little smile. For whatever it’s worth, that scared the shit out of me.

Even if it is fate that brings you together there are more than enough combinations of circumstances out there, that can make sure the centre of Kismet will not hold: You’re both married to other people, at the ripe old age of 23 she’s dying of a rare incurable disease, at 53 you’re not so hot yourself; scared shitless the IRS is moving in on you and freezing your bank account while getting a court order to look for your rumored Jamaican stash. . .and it could be worse, especially if you let your imagination run wild trying to pull yourself out of the hole by naming the seven basic plots on some lame game show variation of Wheel Of Fortune. . .Not that I could remember anything like this ever happening to me before. Not even back in my glorious stoned youth, a time when even turds in punchbowls sometimes talked back. But even in those wild and wooly days I knew the difference between what was real and what was hallucination – which, when it happened, always seemed to happen during downtown parties or raves, not in the encapsulated world of a staid midtown elevator. And not with – Ye Gads – Elevator Muzak as a soundtrack for my life.

Luckily the elevator was fairly large, and not particularly claustrophobic, despite three others in there who all appeared too hypnotized by their phones to notice, or care about anything else. For whatever it’s worth, most people are so protective of their space they hardly ever come out of their bubbles and look at anyone else on the street anymore, much less in a contained space, unless they’re patently on the make. Though they’ve definitely proved it kills, I’m not a big fan of mobiles replacing cigarettes as the major addiction of the day, though I’ve got to admit, after most of us quit smoking, cells definitely removed the awkwardness of what to do with your hands. In the old days, people occasionally snapped their fingers as they checked out the action, as opposed to constantly looking down into their palm puds as if they’re doing something really important, like playing tic-tac-doe with themselves. Is this an improvement? Would you call it progress? Or just another detour? I’m not sure, myself.

On first glance, these three were a pretty nondescript group, but when I check into the next level of awareness and focus I tend to materialize faces-in-the-crowd out of their background invisibility with movie star profiles to give me a handle on who’s milling around me: The first one was easy; she was a tall thick regal sexy black woman who, without stretching it, looked a lot like Queen Latifiah. The second was a short Jewish accountant type who was sort of a Woody Allen gimme, without the glasses. The other one was so WASP bland I had to strain to even keep him in a body. If you looked as closely at him as I did though, he could have passed for a tall, balding Priest-with-bad-breath, the type of character what’s-his-name used to play. You know. . .the great character actor . . . who was once a cop on tv. . .in. . .I think. . . something set in San Francisco. . .with the son of the guy with the great comic book hero chin who played Spartacus, before he became an even bigger star than his old man, after breaking-thru as the older cop’s younger partner. . . And way before that the Priest actually played the role of a Priest in On The Waterfront, or something with Brando I saw on late night cable again just last week. It woke me up in the middle of the night – 3 or 4 a.m., I can’t be sure. I was still too discombobulated to remember what was chasing me through my dreams, much less what was on the tube. Usually it was The Late Show, but even in his last week on the air, the commercials between Letterman’s monologue and the first guest almost always knocked me out cold. Usually when I woke back up Dave was just thanking the musical guest or it was over and I either got up to piss or just hit the remote and changed the channel or turned off the tv before rolling back over to face the phantoms trying to lure me back home in dreamland. But I couldn’t just cut Brando off in the middle of a monologue, so before I knew it I was watching his infamous “scum sucking pig” explosion on a young Sam the Lion (years before he got his Best Supporting role in The Last Picture Show).

For some reason, until then, I always remembered this riff being the one where Brando’s noble outlaw goes off on the corrupt Priest, who was Carl (with a K) Mal…den — who obviously wasn’t a Priest in this one, but Brando’s ex-outlaw partner, turned even more corrupt Sheriff, who busts Brando (who’s ironically in-love with his step, not biological, daughter), so obviously I was watching One-Eyed Jacks, a real plot-twisting, taboo-filled, faux Shakespearean cliché of an old Western stinker (Brando actually directed after Kubrick bailed) that I loved as a kid, because it was so cool. Or seemed like it was cool then. But who knew what cool would look like in the future then? Hipsters today are almost the last thing the hipsters of yesterday would label cool then.

Surprisingly, style just doesn’t travel that well, though of course essence does, no matter what it looks, sounds or dresses like. I can always tell the difference between real and a bandwagon of lemmings, and this young woman was so real you could roll out the carpet of good intentions all the way to Hell for her. If I told you who she looked like you’d have a handle on my primal attraction to her, for sure, but you’d probably jump to the wrong conclusion too. Despite the necessity of physical attraction, recognition on this level is more about pure and simple energy than looks per se. And if you don’t believe that, let’s just say she’s a tall short long blonde brunette who’s working to become a model dancer actress star, like all the rest, and leave it at that for now. If you have to have something deeper, something more substantial to get-you-thru-the-night, you can say she moved to New York as an Au Pair, because it was the best way she knew to support her true passion of Conflict Resolution Negotiation, which she’d devotedly been studying since she was just a lonely teenager growing up on her grandparents farm in Iowa, hoping that one day she would be able to help bring everlasting peace to the Middle East before they blow themselves and the rest of the world up over who’s got the biggest God. . .

If that platitude-laden description sounds over-the-top, even for one of Boss Trump’s beauty pageant bimbos, can’t you just picture how a rag like the gossip mongering junior high school Post would respond to her bio if they found out we were together? I can just hear that scolding tch, tch, tch ooze out of their superior Morally Correct tone as they not so subtly begin mocking me and every other older guy who ever left his once loyal but now embittered-vengeful wife for a younger woman. No matter what the complexities of the breakdowns in the relationships in question actually were, none of the guys they go after are ever granted any more of a leg to stand on in their daily put downs than O.J. or Arnold or that Governor who got caught with his socks on. Guilty, or not, the insinuation is always the same too, but no matter what they say about me, I’m no killer, cheater, or dirty old man. And I’m sure this young woman is nobody’s traitorous ex-wife, their maid or a hooker by-any-other-name either, so I don’t want her reputation besmirched for being with me, under any circumstances, whether or not she’s the second coming of Marilyn Monroe, Madame Curie, Amelia Earhart, or any other of the great heroines from the-back-pages-of-history. For all I know she could’ve been any of them, or each and every one of them, even, incongruously, another meth-cranked Eva Braun, or just a regular nobody, without me knowing who she was, or exactly who she is at this very moment, outside of a ravishing young woman embodying the energy of the great love of my life, throughout time, standing there right in front of me. Again. In a different body than I could remember ever seeing her in before. . .

I may not have known much about the long-term particulars of reincarnation, for sure, but the ache in my heart felt like it was going to split me in two. Without leaning too much on the teachings of dirty Siggy Freud, let’s get real here; as much as her being any of the aforementioned women in history goes, it felt like if I turned the screw inward instead of out to the world, she could have been my Mother just as likely as she could have been the sister I always wanted but never really had, or God, You get to forgive all Your own dirty tricks You Big Bully, if she doesn’t feel like the pissed-to-the-bone-of-abandonment daughter withholding her own daughter from her estranged father, though whoever she was, or is tomorrow, I did feel with absolute certainty that this would be my last chance not to blow it with her. Though I didn’t exactly know what to do with that realization. Or how not to blow it – since up until this point I’m sure blowing it was the only thing I’d ever really been any good at.

Every time I got the opportunity to break Joe DiMaggio’s fabled 56 game hitting streak, so to speak, I whiffed with the wood sleeping on my shoulder waiting for a better pitch. I made a silent vow that this time would be different. But despite my resolve I’m not sure how deeply I really believed I could overcome those tired old-patterns implanted in me by my parents’ built-in-resignation they were destined for life to pass them by without a fight. If there were ever two people I didn’t want to be like, and was like in more ways than I care to count, it was them, so there was no denying I was frozen in an old familiar fear that she’d get off the elevator before I could find the courage to say anything, much less say the right thing. And sure enough, the moment I thought about her getting off, the elevator stopped and she started to get out.

I still couldn’t think of anything to say – in fact, I was totally blank – but I wasn’t going to let fear stop me like it stopped them, so I dropped to one knee, blocking the door in front of her and the three other startled passengers, and out of desperation surprised even myself when I opened my mouth and started to sing along with the Elevator Muzak – some toned-down version of a Jackson Browne song I’d probably unconsciously sung along with under-my-breath hundreds of times before, whenever I’d heard it in the background on the radio.

Oh won’t you pay
Just a little bit longer
oh bees, bees, bees
pay just a little big longer

The Queen looked down at me, reached in her purse, took out a dollar and dropped it on me. “Get yourself a monkey and some sheet music, bitch.”

Ok, obviously I’d never really paid that much attention to what the lyrics were to a lot of songs I sang along with every time they came on, like, for instance, say, something like A Whiter Shade Of Pale. Those opening lines – We skipped the light fandango / Turning cartwheels cross the floor / I was feeling kinda seasick / But the crowd called out for more – didn’t remind me of her per se, but like a déjà I couldn’t quite grab hold of the vu to, reminded me exactly of where we were at that moment, though I’d never experienced anything like it before. I had no clue what that song meant, but every time I heard it on the radio it was so familiar of something I’d never experienced before I didn’t realize it had to be a prophesy, a vision of what was coming in the future, and now that future was here! But I wasn’t singing it now, was I? I couldn’t believe I was singing the wrong fucking song at the right fucking time!

I should’ve been singing, “She said there is no reason / And the truth is plain to see / But I wandered through my playing cards / And would not let her be. . .” but obviously I was singing along with Jackson, not Procol Harum now, like some pre-programmed alien robot from a different dimension. Every time I heard certain lines of certain songs in the background it felt like it was a message being transmitted to me in code from my home planet headquarters. And every time I sang along I let the transmitter know, “Yeah, I’m still here and on the job – whatever that job is?” I just didn’t know more than that. But there was no doubt no matter what I was doing or thinking at the time, it seems like I always came in and sang along on those lines – probably to let them know the transmission had been received.

Are all those lines that involuntarily come out of our mouths without thinking part of some larger cosmic crossword puzzle? And if any of us ever figure out what they mean will we have the answer to life’s most befuddling question and win some sort of cosmic lotto that has the gall to explain Why we’re here instead of there, when it would have made more sense the other way around? Most of the time I was operating on pure muscle memory, not thinking at all, just kicking in on cue and letting the words come out of my mouth. But this time was a totally different proposition, and I was doing it wrong! The most I could hope for at this point was that I had the essence of what I was singing down so cold she couldn’t help but emotionally understand what I was trying to communicate to her.

Sayyyyy you willllllllllllllllllllll…
Pay one more sooooooooooooouuuu. . .
People, just payyyyyyyyyyy,
a little bit longerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

The Priest patted me on the shoulder, and dropped his card at my feet. “Forgive him, Father, he knows not what he sings.”

Oh, your mother won’t mind,
And your father won’t mind If you spend the night with meeeeeeee. .
Bees, bees, bees. . .

It took the Woody guy to put things in perspective. “Take it from one who knows from personal experience, you haven’t got a prayer, Eugene.”

just pay, a little bit longerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. . .

“Vanity, vanity, all is vanity, Shecky,” the Woodman besieged me again. “Get yourself a hearing aid before it’s too late.”

But I couldn’t stop. Quit was no longer in my vocabulary. As she started to move around me to get out of the elevator, I sprawled out in front of the door and sang out, “Bees, bees, bees, just pay—”

“It’s PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, JUST STAY!” she snapped, throwing her head back and flipping her golden tresses over her shoulder, with a scolding, “I’M ONLY 12, MAN!” Then screaming, “I WANT TO GET ON WITH MY LIFE!

“You’ve got bees in your bonnet!” the Queen erupted. ”Timing is only half of everything, bitch. Obviously your tuning fork is in an alternate universe. But if you’re trying to get on CSI, I think you’re going to make it.”

“Unfortunately, this is not going to end well, Humbert,” the Woodman intoned as he buried his face in his hands just as Starsky & Hutch showed up and rushed me.

By the looks on the cops’ faces as they cuffed me, if there hadn’t been witnesses there, they probably would’ve pounded me into ground round, just for the hell of it.

To his credit, the Priest spoke up in my behalf before anything worse could happen: “Some people think the Crucifixion only happens to other people on Calvary. They better wise up and get State Farm protection before it’s too damn late!”

“I don’t want to press charges,” Lolita said to the officer grilling her. “I haven’t got time for this. . .I’m already late for Kabala class.” But it was too late to stop the wheels of justice from spinning. . .too late to stop the chimes of karma from ringing. . .

Though she kept insisting she didn’t want to press charges, ultimately she had to give Starsky her name and number before he agreed to let her get on with her life.

“We’ll call you to identify him,” he told her, while out of nowhere his partner put me in a choke hold as she backed away from the elevator waving bye-bye.

Starting to black out from the lack of air in my lungs, I realized not all my luck was bad. Then I saw stars, for real.

 © 2015 Mike Golden

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