Slaughterhouse Serenade: A Doo-Wop Quartet Doesn't Help a Crappy Day

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:54

    On the train ride back into Brooklyn, I knew they would make an appearance. They always did. They only appeared on the worst of days, on days when I had reached some kind of nadir, but on those days, they appeared like clockwork?a three-piece mariachi band, who would stroll through the train car, playing guitars and singing the world's saddest songs in a language I could not understand.

    They became my own personal Greek chorus there for a while?but again, since I never knew what the hell they were singing about?all I knew was that it was all very sad?I never came away with the slightest idea of what I might be able to expect next.

    They disappeared after a while, this train-and-misery-bound magical mariachi band, right around the time the paper moved its offices uptown and I stopped answering phones for a living. In a strange way, I missed them. At the same time, however, once I stopped answering phones, days like those I used to have at the front desk became rarities. Until yesterday.

    The Beasts had kept me up most of the night, yelling at ghosts I'd never see and banging their heads against windows, so after an accumulated three hours of sleep (in 10-minute snatches), I headed into work already grim and scratchy and limping hard off the left heel, which was giving me trouble again. I had been applying the necrifying agent suggested to me by a doctor, but all that seemed to be doing was dissolving my flesh, leaving everything even more raw and painful.

    The phone started ringing not long after I first got settled in, peeled the lid off my coffee and lit the morning's fourth cigarette. And it kept ringing so long as I sat there, just like the old days. Except this time I knew that every time it rang, it was somebody who wanted to talk to me. At least in the old days, I could just pass everybody (and their myriad silly problems and complaints) off to someone else.

    It was lawyers, mostly, it turned out?and editors and more lawyers, all of them passing along various bits of bad news. Around me, voices were raised and stayed that way, and in front of me, the work kept piling up. And the phone kept ringing.

    "How about we make them all astronomers?" one editor suggested to me in frustration, after having talked to a lawyer himself about something I had done. "Every one of them, every character, will be an astronomer. And then you can write an epilogue, where all the astronomers get together and build a giant telescope, and take turns looking at the moon."

    He was joking, but the more I thought about it, the more I was beginning to like the idea.

    Other lawyers called to tell me that I had to write letters to other people, informing them that my lawyers were indeed my lawyers, so they would pass along some paperwork that would allow my lawyers to definitively give me some bad news?which was just speculative bad news at this point. It's all so damn alien to me.

    People called to complain to me about things over which I had no control. Other editors called to give me other pieces of bad news. And around me, voices rose and rose and rose. It was just like the old days again, and I could feel myself getting buried.

    By the end of the day, my body was numb, all except for the left leg, which was alive with shooting pain every time I put any weight on it. With regrets, I called Morgan and told her that I thought I was going to have to skip getting together that night, and head straight back to Brooklyn. So at a little before 5, without having accomplished half of what I had wanted to, I slowly slid my coat back on and limped out of the office, then limped down the street, then limped onto a train. At least I didn't have to drag a heavy gray mailbag along with me.

    Much to my amazement, I actually found a seat on the train, slid the magnifying glass out of my bag, along with the large print (though not nearly large enough) edition of Samuel Beckett's first novel, Murphy. It had to be Beckett after a day like that, I guess. Of course of late, it's only been Beckett. Things were all right for the moment, even if I couldn't concentrate or focus my eyes on the already-blurry words in front of me. The only sentence fragment I was able to decipher was, "...the sleep of pure terror. Compare the opossum." That struck me as unduly profound at the time, and I made a note to remember it. Still, I gave up on trying to read any further in order to figure out just what the hell Mr. Beckett might've meant by that, and put everything away. That done, I just sat back and waited, my eyes dim and sore and worthless as the rest of me.

    I don't know what stop it was when they came aboard. One of the bad stops, I'd guess. It doesn't really matter. But the moment I heard something, some voices, from the other end of the train, I knew that I was in for it.

    It wasn't the ghostly mariachi band this time, no, even though that's who I would've expected?but it was, I believe, their replacement in the realm of cheap symbolism.

    You've probably seen them at one time or another yourself?the doo-wop gospel quartet. I have nothing against them, personally, but they're the last group of people you want to see when all you want to do is weep from exhaustion and frustration.

    "Oh, Jesus Christ," I muttered aloud, as they headed up the aisle toward me, their voices bright and lively and full of some friendly religious fervor. Everyone around me seemed happy to see them?the other passengers were smiling broadly and nodding their heads and digging in their pockets for change.

    Then the quartet broke into their rendition of "This Little Light of Mine." Ever since I was a kid in Sunday School, I've hated that song, though I can't say why; it just always irked and saddened me. This time around, the quartet helped me hate it even more by changing the lyrics.

    God's the one who got you up this morning!, they sang cheerfully, as if this were a good thing, I'm gonna let it shine!

    "Well," I muttered aloud again, not caring who heard me, or what they might have to say about it, "at least now I know who to blame for everything."

    They marched past me to the other end of the train, smiling, singing, collecting more change than I've ever seen any train performer collect in a single pass, while my weariness deepened and my mood slipped from dirty yellow to flat black.

    When the train reached my stop, I hobbled off, dragged myself up the stairs and limped slowly home, where I opened the first of that evening's several beers. Several, maybe, but not nearly enough.

    At 4 the next morning, one of the Beasts?the retarded one?started banging his head against the window again, while the other one?the evil one?poked one of her little white paws into my open and snoring mouth, extended her claws and sliced open my tongue neat as can be. I knew then that I was in it for a while. I should've just kept my damn fool mouth shut when they sang their stupid little song.