International Writers Magazine :Dreamscapes
"Oh, what great fiction I will mold from such terrible misery..."
-- Jim White
A quiet and mundane breakroom. Tiled floors with standard wood-varnished
cabinets. A simple place that lets anyone in to rest -- at least,
employees only. And even then, it's simplicity alienates me. I can't
rest here. I can only cease my labor.
and monotony. Just some quiet from the storm of a thousand steel presses
operating at maximum speed.
Thick, tinted windows surround this room. There's a constant pattern
of droplets from a brief shower ten minutes ago. The skies are dark
and the clouds are furrowing their gray brows. Inside this trap-box
for 13 more minutes before it's time to take orders and bow on command.
There is a wilted flower in a pot making one last dying stretch to get
sunlight through the blackened glass. Nobody's noticed.
Perhaps seconds away from a deep, unconscious sleep, and a sound from
the city reaches up and strikes the window of our humble breakroom.
Someone's playing a trumpet down there on the streets. I lean closer,
but you can't see straight down from the tenth floor. It was just a
momentary burst, a few fluttery notes played to the voice of the wind.
What was that noise? Who did it come from -- who was it looking for?
Why did it stop? For the first time in my company's history, the workers
acted in unision, all slowly edging closer to the windows, regardless
of what any other might notice, each seeking to identify and discover
that source of such tempered inspiration. Where did that sound go? Did
Another three notes blow from the trumpet, each holding onto the sound
and then gently releasing it. There is a genius at work outside these
humble walls, and a few lucky souls in this breakroom were privilege
to this concert. But this person must be so far away, and our windows
far too think. There's another pause. Did they stop? Did our hero forget
about us?... Several more tunes are eked out with the brass instrument,
only after the world's musician had a few, necessary moments of meditation
and inner reflection. And, as these notes continue to grow and bind
their melody and rhythm together, my soul is floating.
I gave my heart to that trumpeter. But before I can jump through the
window to become one with the original inspiration of all of man's good
and loving acts, the breakroom soundsystem belches out this high-pitched,
ear-shattering ring. Break's over. And then we returned to our place
of laboring -- a world of repetitive, rote, and unmelodic noises.
Why couldn't they break the glass? Why couldn't those ear-catching bass-hits
and those rhythmic tones reach up, ball their fists, and shatter the
windows of that humble breakroom? We were entranced. If only we were
smart enough to realize it was commanding us to crack the glass, to
throw ourselves against those confining restrictions. For those few
moments of our existence, we were one with the farthest reaches of the
experience of the individual -- the greatest expression of the will
to hold true communion with all conscious beings. One or two sharp pings
from the announcement system, and our hearts release the blood, allowing
us to pick up our feet and carry ourselves to our manned positions.
Just one hour and forty five minutes before it's time to be released
from our holding cells. One hour and forty four minutes. Yeah, no problem.
My mind shuts down, my body ceases to carry stimuli to my soul, and
the surrounding world has left me completely disinterested in life.
There are no trombonists or trumpeters around to lift me off my calloused
feet, to bring light and vitality to the unexercised regions of the
brain, to loan me their ideas on the social experience, and maybe, to
let me know that society is big enough to make them feel completely
alone. Nobody who's imitating the lifelessness of high-intensity machinery
will stop to tell me that these concrete posts, these metal sidings,
these inanimate ceilings and unenthusiastic floors make them feel trapped
by their own experiences, by their resentments, by the way they've built
themselves to react and to feel -- the little human mechanisms we develop,
foster, and eventually rely upon for all of our interactions. Nobody
here will let me know how intimidating a top-down social organization
makes them feel. Nobody here lets me know how alone this society can
make them feel. And then I, like the others, become truly alone, surrounded
only by my multiple personalities and their pathetic attempts to compartmentalize
the different aspects of my life. Oh, Icarus, I feel like your father...
and I'll never be able to let go of this feeling.
One hour and thirty six minutes remaining... One hour, and thirty five
minutes remaining. Oh, godless universe, why did you curse me to this
dismal land with their painful understanding of force and coercion.
I just need to turn off my brain, if I am to make the pain go away.
One hour, thirty four minutes. One hour, thirty four minutes. One hour,
thirty three minutes.
The bell gives a screech. Every worker drops their grip and releases
the pent-up blood from those overflowing and stuffed capillaries With
all the downward thrust of liquids throughout the body, the feeling
is like you're about to drop dead. Your poor aching body did only just
enough work to collapse and die out on the floor. To the winds of our
universe, just like nothing. But now I've got fourteen and a half minutes,
to pretend like I'm sleeping and not enjoying it. Break room time. Ugh,
a second afternoon break -- that means two more hours when we get back
from break before we can go home. That'll make it a ten-hour workday
Clip-clop, clip-clop. The hushed noises of shoes can be heard throughout
this deluded hallway. And as I pass the elevator shafts, that noise
creeps in. It eeks past the corners, it oozes through the edges of these
walls. It hums with the wooden frames of some unimaginative and artificial
pictures, a seagull and ship. The trumpet's tones ripple and glow through
the dead air. My hairs recoil and straighten, my mind comes to a focus,
and my heart opens. The jazz player is here again. I push the elevator
button, impatiently awaiting my next ride out from ten floors up. Fourteen
minutes of breaktime left.
Groundlevel. Some chief executives of the company take their time in
exiting the building noisily and slowly, as though it was part of their
job description to impress on others the fact that they're social and
taking a two-hour lunch break. If only I could work seventeen and a
half hours per week for a one-hundred grand plus salary, then I probably
wouldn't need to micro-manage the satisfaction value of every second
spent of my fifteen minute break. Oh, by the way, that's thirteen minutes
Finally at street level and in a new jungle. Monoliths of concrete form
into places of home and work, filling the vision of every city dweller
with varying shapes of gray and white. These slabs of inanimate life
are eroding too slowly. Streams of leftover rainwater slowly find their
courses through the unleveled surfaces of these stone and cement concoctions.
A single swift motion of one of these obelisks, and a horde of nasty,
loud, violent machines crash through a still air, only to be stopped
by the orders of another obelisk. At first, I am assaulted by the noise
of a thousand gears pumping, churning, and squelching to completely
different accelerations and mechanical designs, only to hear these snarling
beasts tear and groan to bring their massive bodies to a stop, as though
the sounds they were making indicated they were all suffering a miserable
pain. I blink, and the monstrous juggernauts lunge forward in a single,
unobstructed motion, taking the pounding and grinding of their small
factories to the city's other neighborhoods of concrete. But before
I can track and follow those animals of metal and plastic, a new herd
roars in, shaking my attention with as much force and velocity as those
that had just disappeared around the corner. Twelve minutes and fifty
five seconds remaining.
I open my ears to the city's countless victims of noise pollution. In
a quiet and unapproachable tone, I take in the breadth of every sound.
There is something beautiful calling my soul amongst this endless war
of sounds. Even my heart pumps its blood at a softer beat, to help my
mind better distinguish the audio of the city's struggle. There are
screams, made by human and machine, by animalkind and the community,
that perpetrate my thickened skin. I am listening to these bridges weeping,
to these train tracks begging for companionship, to these skyscrapers
that can't look anyone in the face. I am listening to the precepts of
human civilization, quarreling with themselves over the bargain made
in exchange for the social contract. There are many quiet and ignored
corners of this metropolis, and for the first time in too long, I am
listening to something that runs too deeply below the city.
There! That's the noise! The trumpet! The beat of a musician with an
open hat on the curb, asking for decency from these reinforced barriers,
pleading for just a moment from the people who inhabit the places between
these walls. I'm hearing this person; they are coming from the north.
My first impulse is to run, to break through anything that might keep
me from the flowing melody, but before I can force myself into that
mode, the tones ask me only to listen. Several more build up from those
I heard inside work, each carefully picked from the instrument's limitations,
and yet landing exactly on the only note that could possibly follow.
I'm in the concrete jungle, and just around the bend, someone is making
music as a part of their social experience. I am infatuated and drawn.
Nobody has ever spoken to me in a language like this before. Twelve
minutes left, as I make my way in the direction of the source of this
Cracks and holes endlessly fill the canvas of these poor sidewalks.
Street lamps and parking meters appear as though they painfully blossomed
and grew from tiny breaks in the surface of this concrete. They are
the rebel vegetation and unstoppable vines in a jungle dominated by
flat and rigid planes; and for all that can be said about them, they
don't appear, behave, or respond any differently than the brothers and
sisters they have in the other abstract life forms to this ecosystem.
Cigarette butts, stuck pieces of gum, the newspaper waltzing with the
wind, the paper-cup turned garbage that wafts from the driver's side,
vehicle window, the gulls pecking at a trash bag and pulling remnants
of food through a suffocating plastic -- all of these just the hints
and hues by this city's painter. In the substance of this acrylic mixed
with thinner, a figure crashes through this unfinished dream of perfect
social harmony. That figure is me. One lone belch of color and vitality
against an unseemly and never properly mixed gray, hooked and pulled
by this trumpeter. My ability to refuse the art and impulse of my musician
friend is like the ability of a shadow to evade being cast against the
fencing of private property from an outdoor, motion-triggered light.
My social understanding and reactions are no different than the laws
of hard science. To determine the outcome, one must only know these
laws and the variables at hand. I am convinced that the trumpeter is
not just a person of music, but a fully self-taught scholar of sociology,
psychology, and history. This is someone who has laid down their soul
next to the stream of human consciousness, taking in every pulse and
beat as though it were something to be held closely, comprehended, and
One full city block down, and the melodic hum of the jazzist only grows
and extends. Eleven minutes remaining for my time in the free world.
A large pride of well-dressed professionals noisily and carelessly make
their way towards me, lawyers and managers, civil magistrates and supervisors,
accountants and aids to the king. Engulfing the entire sidewalk, as
we meet at our diverging points of direction, they split, envelope me,
and in a few moments, I emerge from the chaotic mass of people. It was
human spontaneity in its most well-developed form. It felt like I heard
a thousand conversations about restaurants, profit reports, and ivy
league colleges. Released from the paralyzing enigma of group dynamics,
the voice of the lone trumpeter pulls me in even deeper. Their notes
have become more hesitant, more contemplated, but they are holding for
much longer. The individual is crying out to the endless rows of windows,
appealing for an audience. "Please listen to me," they're
asking, "Part of my life crumbled to pieces, and these are the
only words I can use to talk, and these people of the inner city are
the only ones I want to listen." I'm rushing to find this person.
Perhaps only one or two more blocks. My feet start to ache and I'm starting
to sweat. The weather's cold and unforgiving. They're still calling
me. A security guard eyeballs me, and does a mental check to rate my
speed compared to the height of my legs. "Damn," he mutters,
"Not going fast enough to qualify as 'running from the police'
by the US Supreme Court. Just a few more miles per hour, you sonovabitch,
and I'll have the legal right to shove your face into the street with
a boot in your back, all under the lawful pretenses of public safety."
These skyscrapers and office buildings are not merely caves, empty warrens
completely barren of all forms of culture and civilization. They are
the catacombs where these vicious trolls and unearthly daemons reside.
They are the dwelling places of an inhuman source of evil. On occasion,
they will storm individuals walking outside, drag them inside, and detain
them in holding pits for months or years. Some are even tortured and
killed. And these security guards, they are nothing more than an appendage
to this monstrous, incalculable evil. We all know what goes on, but
we just look away when it happens to someone else. It happens in the
most open and public places everyday. Based on the rate of observation,
one has more grounds to discount the theory of gravity than they do
to discount the theory of power, authority, and coercion.
Ten and a half minutes left. An obelisk gives me the order and I cross
the street. The sounds of the brass tinker have vanished, they have
faded and collaged into the stormy and unwelcoming clouds. I'm standing
on the corner of block 99th east and block 179th west in this urban
center, and my trumpeter has left me. They have left our concrete slabs,
our metal platings, our marble sidings. They sang their song, let a
passing world have some quick glimpse into the soul of a musician with
a little bit of pain. Perhaps it was just a song that everyone has heard
too often, bellowed on a nightly basis from rooftops and tenement windows.
I hope I wasn't the only one who noticed. I hope I wasn't the only one
who was listening. Maybe the musician wasn't real. Maybe I was only
hearing the grind of a streetwashing car blended to the pump of a sanitation
truck. Maybe these days and days of twelve hour shifts with two and
a half hour commutes was truly destroying my mind. Maybe these stirrings
of violent imagery and guilt-driven hate are more than just the casual
emotional disturbance, and it's just possible that the constant stress
of being servant to an unrelenting master has destroyed all the good
left in my heart.
I watched a disposable, paper cup float down a stream of runoff rainwater.
Nine minutes left.
And then a burst from the west -- that noise strikes again. It's very
close. I start trailing in the direction of the notes. The calling is
as strong as ever now. There are metermaids and well-dressed housewives
with their dogs, the youth who are distracted by their society and their
station in life, the loud crowds of obnoxious sports fans pouring forth
from the bars and taverns. The infinite wisdom of the animal world would
either flee from these things or painfully maul them to death, but as
a human, these are merely small, finite obstacles. I make my way through
all of the conversation, the curses and praises, still holding on to
the end of the last note from the jazz player. It is pulling me into
the source; the force is bringing me downstream to the riverbed. My
entire worldview is changed just by these melodic hums and brass personalities,
this inspired and eternal language of the musician. I'm more willing
to accept and recognize the good parts, more able to sympathize with
and understand the dark parts. I feel like an individual who has emerged
free from the thousands of years of civilization's ideas, of monarchy
and patriarchy, of militarism and persecution; their bigotries and prejudices
have created slavery and tyranny in every content of the globe, but
I am free from their influence on my mind. Eight minutes and fifteen
I make the corner, turn, and stop. There she stands. The great musician
is in my presence. Her horn must be an abstract concept to reality,
a theory of shape and movement that philosophers can never agree upon.
At her feet, there's an open case, now carrying some change and a couple
dollars. She's wearing two well-worn, run-of-the-mill shoes, jeans that
are one size too large with a black belt keeping them on her waist,
and a green t-shirt with some white imprint that had been faded and
made unreadable by numberless washes. A hemp strap wrapped over her
shoulder and a black cap. Her skin was dark, her eyes were green, and
her hair was long and wild. A small birthmark on her neck. Her tones
and rhythms were even greater and clearer now, and now that I was able
to watch her, I could hear something completely new and even more powerful.
She was strong, bold, confident, and beautiful. Seven minutes and forty
five seconds left.
A casual step towards this wonderful and inviting body, lured and appealed
by the soft, melodic, irresistible hums of her trumpet. I wanted to
tell her that I understand why she's playing, that I've felt the same
way too about decaying buildings, that the apparition she could conjure
from her music would be powerful enough to destroy this city in one
swipe. How young she was yet she could play with such strong vitality
and grace. I'd have written and performed a sonnet for this musician,
but I wouldn't want to interrupt such consciousness-expanding rhythms.
Though I couldn't name one single composer she was silhouetting, I felt
like she was grabbing and taking measures from different symphonies
and songs, melding and blending all of human experience in music into
this one street-corner performance; or maybe she was grabbing and pulling
these tones out of the sky, inspired by the constant and unnerving air
of the evening, driven by a sense of speaking to the deepest and most
involved parts of the mind. I dropped a dollar into her instrument case
and she smiled. Six and a half minutes remaining. Just about enough
time to get back to work without being late. I bid her farewell in my
own silent ways and trek back, slowly releasing my delicate grip on
her harmonic melodies, saying goodbye to her music.
© Punkerslut - August 2008
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