Part of my job is dealing with people who lease the space for their own purposes.
As we were getting ready to open a show, I haven’t been in the shop much lately, or enough .I was in the shop, actually using a power tool. I really enjoy the process of making things…but that has become a permanent staccato of interruption and balance with the other demands that life puts on me. I march across the lobby, yet again leaving an unfinished task.
He was conservative. I don’t remember the shirt, but the pants were a tee-shirt version of sweatpants with lace up active shoes. His hair was plastered back, and I could see the comb tracks. He was older, but when you hit 40, even if you still act like you are 25, everything becomes relative. He had a leatherette 9×12 folder with about 7 or 8 pages of various notes. He was left-handed but his handwriting leaned to the right, in neat, even script, and was slightly feminine.
He wants to do a show with a single pianist and sing operatic Italian 16th century love songs. “These are the most beautiful songs I have ever heard.” He drops some names of stars he has worked with.
The business and producing talk is redirected into the lessee’s hands, my boss wishes him well. I time this stuff now. I wait until he needs to be listened to and then the story begins to come out. I’m definantly getting the idea this is not about renting the space, it is for him, not for me.
It comes out when I give him my phone number. It is a 773 area code. He says, “do you live there?” I ignore the question and ask if he has an email and he says no he does not own a computer. He refuses to have one. If his hands are touching any keys, they belong to a piano.
Then I decide to engage in the conversation.I say, no, we bought a house out by the dunes. It’s quiet, change of pace. I still go into the city for work. He smiles. He asks if we have a piano, and I say yes, a Baldwin Grand.
He has been forgetting words. As if he is making things up. I cannot figure out if he is losing it, has always been this way, is an introvert /artist type. If he is the last type, he is for real. If he is any of the previous, it will be one more deterrent in my day.
Yes- the Baldwin. It’s upstairs in the Art Gallery. He is now mentioning charities he wants to donate to as we are going through the gift shop, and not paying attention to the fact I have to tell the women behind the counter we are going into their space so that he can test out our shared building’s piano.
They wave us on.
He sits down and flips up the lid.
He proceeds to play the out of tune grand piano so beautifully he bring people out of their offices
. The music begins so quickly it is as if I am falling into it. I realise how much I have become tuned out to. He stops abruptly and closes the lid. The women in the gift shop say “that piano never sounded so good.”
I realise I am crying and too tired to pretend I am not. He says” I think the Humane Society..it was my wife’s favorite. I lost her on January ____ , she died in my arms on the way to her favorite chair in the middle of the night. She had congestive heart failure and never told me. She was taking medicine for it.”
He is not emotional in the least, and stops talking about it completely. We go to see the theatre. He loves it, except for the upholstery. We go out in the lobby and he heads to the washroom. I wait, He says not to go anywhere.
And then it gets weird. He turns on his heel and says, “Come here, come on.” He is asking me to follow him into the men’s bathroom into broad daylight. In half a second I assess what I have to lose. I am a tough girl, and would either yell or do more damage if things went south. I follow him. There are no other people in the men’s room.
He says'”Sitze!” in Italian, asks that I sit on the bench. I realise he wants to sing in a room that is more acoustic than the theatre. He lift his hands and begins to sing. I am stunned. The last time I have been this amazed by a voice was in the back of a small black box theatre at school. I could not do anything other than listen on the day in college, and I cannot do much else now. He sings the Italian love song for his wife in the men’s bathroom, for someone to hear that does not know him. The singing stops, and I am aware of the environment, the stalls, the urinals, the fact that I am so moved I am crying. I am hyperaware this is all very inappropriate. I say “You win…” and laugh and so does he, for the first time since I met him.
We exit the bathroom, me crying, him smiling. I make the mistake of saying “Thank you!” in front of a woman who works in the building showing rooms for rentals. She gracefully ignores the entire thing.
A couple of things here. This guy did not look like he was carrying a bag of talent. He made his entire living as a professional vocalist. He looked like an older guy with a hunched back and a pretty sad serious face. You would not see the laundry list of Carnegie Hall, and other professional concert halls he had raised his voice in by taking in his tired demeanor and sensible shoes.
We go through life so carefully. Day by day we attempt to do all the right stuff…because it does matter. How many times do we reach out and grab someone and share something beautiful? How many people take the things they were born with that seem ordinary to them, hide them under the everyday drudgery and only revisit them from time to time? These gifts should be our main source of interacting and a frame to build our entire life’s structure around.. It seems to me, we spend more time putting our “light” under a bushel than we do sharing it. We decide later, until there is no later. This man in his seventies most likely not fully in the happiest state of mind went out of the ordinary and proper to share a 400 year old aria in a public bathroom with someone he did not even know.
If there were excuses to remain sad, to hide behind all that had befallen him, he would not have sung. Instead: he found a reason to sing out of thin air in the middle of a day where I had lost all ability to feel. The chance for these moments to never happen in the isolation we create around ourselves is excellent. To crave a box because it is safe limits us. Pain does not always mean gain but it’s transformative properties are powerful. Transformation through joy alone – whatever your discipline is, is a great blessing, and the opportunity to be in that state should not be denied. Joy is not thoughtless. It is concise, and full of the energy of life. It is not a free ride or an experience. It is THE experience and can be accessed without the help of anything other than being brave enough to take the chance of being embarrassed. out of place, and failing miserably.
And it is these experiences are usually in the most unlikely of places.
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