(Sunrise over the Black Sea in Constanta, Romaina by Moise Nicu.)
“If you would be so kind
As to help me find my mind,
I wanna thank you in advance….”
–Percy Mayfield, 1950
Like most Americans, I lost an hour’s sleep over the weekend. Nobody asked me about it. I didn’t have a chance to vote on it. In spite of a lousy winter, shoveling snow, and dealing with car problems and Internet and phone problems, and feeling overwhelmed trying to remember if it was ISIS or ISIL or IS or DAESH or one of the Real Housewives of New Jersey who was trying to do me in (and take civilization down in the bargain)… I couldn’t catch a break, wound up with a serious sleep deficit—and that one more hour pushed me over the brink, so I fell asleep in the office, slumped over my desk, crashing into my little vase of petunias.
“Harumph!” boomed Mrs. Anderson, clearing her throat above me, about six inches from the timpani of my eardrums. “Corseri!” she reverberated—“In my office!”
So I entered the sanctum sanctorum. There was her MBA certificate displayed on the wall—the paper escutcheon from some obscure university, granting her the right to hire and fire.
“This is the second time this has happened in the past year!” she boomed again.
“The last time was also daylight saving time?” I volunteered.
“That’s no excuse!” she reverberated. “You think you’re pretty special, don’t you? Do you know, there are hundreds of people who can do what you do, who can replace you like that?! (She snapped her imperious fingers!) “Do you know, there are people in India who can do what you do for 1/5 your salary… and we’re going to be shifting our operations over there any day now. And after we’ve got them under our thumbs over there, we’ll replace them all with robots who will do the work for peanuts! We’ll get the Indians to build the robots that will replace them!” She laughed. It was a horrible, eldritch sound. “You’re fired, Corseri! Get out!”
So I cleared my desk of the vase with the petunia and I wandered out of the office. And no one dared look at me, for fear they might be next. I wandered into the street, walked a few blocks, past the Starbucks and the MacDonald’s and the Dunkin Donuts, and I was flashing on Mrs. Gitlin, my 4th-grade teacher who had given me the gold star (and told me my future was promising) for the little composition I’d written about “My Pal, the Policeman.” And I tried to understand how it had all come to this, how everything had turned around.
I heard loud music coming from a boom-box. Yeah, one of those big, old things people lugged on their shoulders back in the 60s. There was a tattered blanket on the sidewalk and people had thrown some coins and a couple of dollars on it, and before it there was a small, slender black man with an Afro, and he had a baton and was conducting “Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony,” like he was Beethoven himself, as though he had composed it himself, with the pummeling chords crashing through him like the sea, and then the soft violins soothing him and soothing the listeners.
And the other listeners met my eyes, and we shared this moment. “It’s Afro-man,” someone told me softly, reverently. “No one feels the music like he does.” And a dozen strangers swayed with the violins and their hearts pummeled with the crashing chords.
But, a couple in one of the stores didn’t feel the music. They wanted to talk business; so they called the cops. And, before the symphony was over, one arrived and told Afro-man to move on, but he was rapt in the music and wouldn’t move, just struck the air with the baton for the crescendo and put his fingers to his lips for the pianissimo.
The cop called for back-up and soon 3 squad cars and 6 more cops arrived. And one of the cops hated blacks and hated “fancy” music, and when Afro-man lifted his baton, the cop figured it was a weapon, and he shot Afro-man 6 times. And then another cop shot him 6 more times, and then Afro-man was lying on the sidewalk, bloody and dead, as the music ended and the cops handcuffed his corpse.
Then I wandered some more. My head was reeling. “The times are out of joint,” I said; or, somebody else said it—I wasn’t sure anymore whether I was talking or something in my head was playing a bad movie. If only I could get back the lost hour, I thought, then everything might make sense again: even the robots in India might make sense, and I’d figure out if it was ISIS or ISIL or IS or DAESH or the Real Housewives that was trying to do me in.
But there was no getting the lost time back, nor getting back to Mrs. Gitlin in the 4th grade, nor to anything pristine and innocent and maybe even holy.
Then the wormhole opened. I’m not sure how it happened. I had wandered into the street and the yellow cab hit me and I was turning in the wormhole. I was like Jimmy Stewart in “Vertigo,” spinning round and round, in love with Kim Novak, and trying to figure if she was who she said she was and if the world made any sense at all and whether it mattered.
And then I saw the Light, and the Light said, “Welcome home.”
It was my father’s voice, only calmer, deeper, more resonant. And then I saw Mose Allison, like an angel at the piano, and he was singing:
“If you would be so kind
As to help me find my mind,
I wanna thank you in advance….
Know this before we start,
My soul’s been torn apart.
I lost my mind in a wild romance....
My future is my past,
My memories will last,
I’ve learned to love the days gone by….
I lost my mind in a wild romance….
And I thought that it had all been like that: that we had all lost our minds in a “wild romance” of life on a whirling, little, momentary planet of might-have-beens and should-have-beens.
And I wept. And understood.
Gary Corseri has performed his work at the Carter Presidential Library, and his dramas have been produced on PBS-Atlanta and elsewhere. He has published novels and collections of poetry, has taught in US public schools and prisons and in US and Japanese universities. His work has appeared at Cyrano’s Journal Today, Uncommon Thought Journal, The Greanville Post, The Village Voice, The New York Times and hundreds of publications and websites worldwide. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.