Sometimes we need to be gently but firmly reminded that life is not of infinite length. I’ve been chugging along in my syncopated rut for over three years now, paying no mind to the leaves falling off the trees and the hairs falling out of my head. At the end of the last publication cycle I was ripe for such a guided epiphany. One morning I awoke to discover I had floaters—and I do not refer to the utility reporters who drift from department to department to tackle all manner of jobs on a paper. (I’m the guy who does that on this paper, and I don’t think I’d float. I’m more of a water-treader.)
No, and for no particular medical reason, I discovered I had a left eye full of cobwebs and fog. The fog has now lifted, but the cobwebs remain. I’ve just about made friends with them. And like most constant companions, they have the potential to grow wearisome but they have much wisdom to impart. I’m used to being irritated by things and people in general, so their presence in my field of vision is no great imposition. Rather than yelling at them to leave me alone, I’m heeding what they have to tell me.
Some people stop and smell the roses. Not only do they smell them, they take pictures of them and put them on Facebook. Then they command everyone else to “like” and “share” them. Good people do so. Sometimes they’re not roses, they’re cats, or sunsets—or worthy causes, or home truths. I’m a terrible person. I don’t “like” or “share” anyone’s roses or cats or sunsets or causes or philosophies. Mostly, I’m trying to get past all that stuff to find information about the musicians I report on.
I haven’t been able to smell the roses because I haven’t slowed down enough to see the roses. I could attempt to focus on them as I speed past at sixty miles per hour, but I’d probably just rear-end the car in front of me, rather than careening around it as the driver paused to appreciate the view. I usually manage to keep my temper, but I might shout, “If you want to smell the damn roses pull over and get out of the car and smell them! You’re in my direct path and I have places to be right now!”
My cobwebs are the ones now telling me to pull over. Okay, I had that coming. I’ve stopped and I’ve pulled over. And there they are—the roses. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do here. I feel rather like an idiot. I know there must be people who can get the most out of this moment—mustn’t there? But I’m just not getting into it. Yeah, they’re pretty, I guess. They smell okay. And there are people who actually make a whole big deal about doing this? There was even a song when I was a kid, “You Gotta Stop and Smell the Roses.” Well, I don’t feel like singing. What’s wrong with me?
The cobwebs are patient. They’re not going anywhere. They remind me that leisure is an acquired taste—which is something I used to know. I used to be able to listen to a record and savor each nuance of the music even as my mother was pounding on my bedroom door screaming at me to do my homework, or get a job. Instead, I’d write a song, or a poem, or a letter to the editor. I felt a twinge of guilt that I wasn’t bagging groceries for an honest wage, but on I would scribble and strum.
Since I’m typing this at three-thirty in the morning, racing against my printer’s deadline, this may not be the best time to bring up those roses. The cobwebs allow for this—and only intermittently occlude my vision. But when I’ve finished this essay—and the layout of this issue—I’m inclined to take instruction from them. This past month, when I know I really should have been hard at work, I paused to play a record and take a deep breath.
In fact, I had to do some rearranging of furniture last week. This hard labor was toward the end of enjoyment and relaxation. I moved the magnificent 1926 Victor VE 8-30X Credenza I acquired and restored last year into the living room. I had been so music-deprived (despite publishing a music newspaper) that I was overcome with emotion playing the appropriate-vintage shellac records on it. Even Helen Kane had me weeping. If emotional constipation is a thing, then records are my prunes.
Ultimately, I had to make room for the Reginaphone music box we bought after being smitten by Larry Karp’s Thomas Purdue mystery series. Karp was a music box enthusiast as well as a devotee of ragtime, and his Purdue books go into detail about the machines. His non-fiction book about music boxes is called The Enchanted Ear, and we were enchanted. The machine itself—a combination disc music box and phonograph—is incomparably enchanting.
My cobwebs are pleased to see that I’m all getting this through my thick skull. They may hang around a few weeks (or months), leaving only when they’re convinced that will I pause in my haste to savor the ephemeral joy when roses—or records—appear.
It might happen.