I’ll tell you why I didn’t commit suicide after lunch. Hilarious.
I heard a piano playing in my head, like sitting in a piano bar but the piano bar was sitting in me. That was rare because my neurons play songs with words all the time, or even scat, or humming, or whistling, but not instrumentals. I was hearing all the classic head tunes (see, hilarious) like Unforgettable, Moon River, My Funny Valentine. Whoever was playing loved Satin Doll because it came up over and over again. That’s the first thing. You don’t jump until the set is over. Musicians hate it when people up and leave during a set, especially in winter what with the coats rustling and all that disruption. There was a string base playing sometimes and then it was gone, the instrumentals I mean. Singers must have come back from their break. Played a lot of guitar back then but I don’t hear guitar in my head. Should have stuck with the piano.
I was in my office.
Radiators hiss in old buildings. When I bought the antique clock I thought it would be calming to have it mark time in the lobby, bells chiming on the hour. During lunch, sitting there trying to compose my thoughts, trying to compose that damn memo, it became irritating. I opened the door and halted the pendulum. Tall clocks are antiques and decorous, but there was something more about having it in the lobby – craftsmanship. As a kid I made money with my back; hauling boxes, shoveling, sweeping and all that. Whatever I could find. Then, I became a craftsman. Worked in a leather shop making belts, pouches, very cool leather hats and assorted items. Worked my way up to having a walking foot heavy-duty sewing machine. I could sew shoulder hide with that thing. Awesome machine. Started making clothes because it was the natural progression a craftsman takes, always experimenting with the tools, pushing the envelope, sustaining innovation and responding to disruption with new approaches.
Did it with music, too. Went from being a musician on stages to playing and singing in the studio – commercials, sound tracks for video. That led to my own advertising company where I specialized in spot radio. Craftsmen evolve, sometimes in the wrong direction. I was soon doing print, purchasing media, the works. Back, craft, brains. It’s a natural progression and there I was, sitting in the office, exhausted with a half eaten veggie Subway foot-long on the table, vinegar chips mostly gone, radiator hissing. Jesus. The only thing worse than a piano in your head is the silence of an empty building. I had to restart the clock.
Guys spent their lives training to build mechanical clocks. I/O erased them. Actually, many lives were spent, one on top of the other, generations of clock makers. It’s what we did, what we are still built to do, but it’s gone. They’re all in the ground, those guys, like the guys who could tie knots, navigate using the stars and all that. That maple wood clock enclosure that stood in the lobby, housing for all that craftsmanship, hell I don’t even know where it is anymore. Must have sold it.
I read somewhere that writers and novelists fuss over the first sentence or two of whatever they write. They frigging memorize the first sentences of others and use that in bars. I think it’s crass commercialism to be honest, and I should know. I was in advertising for God knows how long. They obsess about the first lines because they want to sell their work. I don’t blame them. Editors and agents have all the power and no time. You don’t grab them in the gut? You’re sunk. But I’m not a writer or novelist. Maybe that’s what saved me. I was stuck on the ending of my note.
I had, “Sorry for taking flight …” or something stupid like that, trying to make it funny. Wasn’t working as a parting line.
We are, all of us, trivialized by move away from craftsmanship. It’s all brains now, cognitive this and that. If you haven’t been in the lobby on the main floor recently, take another look. Someone did all that. Italians mostly but some Greeks came here too, 30s or 40s – barely speaking English they spoke with chisel and stone. Who does that anymore? We quit buying the best we had to offer because humans are expensive. That’s the root of modern and post-modern design no matter what people tell you.
Craftsmanship is all about the hands. Fewer and fewer of us touch, bend, and mold things anymore. The craftsmen of the day are imitators – animators, programmers, robotics engineers. That’s a hell of a craft as I think about it, fabricators, guys that rebuild motorbikes, but mostly it’s machines building machines in service of machines. People are becoming redundant. When I operated a belt stripper it worked for me. Now I work for an algorithm owned by one of those guys in the penthouse suite on the top floor. Guy’s a real prick. Has his own elevator.
Do you recall the view from that office way back then? What am I thinking? Of course you don’t. I was twelve-stories up. I could see the river, the railroad station—brickwork, cobblestone pavers—but that’s not what I want to say about why I didn’t commit suicide after lunch. Doesn’t have much to do with anything. I’m way off the mark again, not even being humorous let alone hilarious.
The streets were decorated for Christmas. The elevators were all locked down. The building was silent except for hissing and the clock. Actually, I’ve always been alone so what’s new, but then, and now, I’m just not the type to dance around the office for a while, or eat popcorn and cry into a towel. The walls were so thick it wouldn’t have mattered if I did.
Sidenote: I don’t seek friends (neither grandpa nor I had a lot of friends). I had Johnski and he had Smitty. Other than that we only had acquaintances.
The day before I didn’t commit suicide I worked until nearly 11:30 p.m. I got up the day of at 6 a.m. and left you at home in your new pajamas with the blue feet, and mom in bed hoarse as a goat. It was a Sunday. You never even saw me that night but I watched you sleeping for an hour or so, just sat there with you like I did often enough. Didn’t sleep at all as I recall out of stress. Returned to the office, 22 miles each way, back to work because it was expected of me. So many projects there wasn’t much time at all.
I an urge in me that flares up from time to time, like mom’s colitis. It’s a thing in me that I cannot understand, that used to have an impact but doesn’t any more. It’s Danny Boy, Sirens, the creative spirit. Call it what whatever, it’s important to tell you about these things because I believe in the genes and what gets turned over—cliché of the father’s sins and all that. I just have to talk about it with you, from a distance like this, from about fifteen years away, because between us we fail to talk. We share AvPD or something. Who cares about the label, just that this all get’s a voice.
There is this story I should tell from sister Norma. There’s a picture of the three of us in the hall – Norma smiling, me in a frigging tie holding you. You can’t be more than a year old in your little blue China outfit. Really cool. Norma’s gone too, now. But she told me about her neighbor in California. Dude had Alzheimer disease and told sister that when it got bad he’d commit suicide. I don’t blame him. Best for everyone. Sister was torn up about his frankness, said she understood but then he did it. She was visiting in Michigan at the time. Sister liked the guy but called him atheist, as if that were the reason he would do such a thing. Grandpa talked about euthanasia all the time in the end. He told me Christians are in denial about existential pain. He got screwed out of a dignified end going for the surgery but what can you say. Life gets interrupted. Anyway, I’m off the tracks again.
Why didn’t I commit suicide? I didn’t want to. There are always arguments to surrender an incarnation. I get the urge all the time and have since first grade. I was in Denver, first grade, and realized that the religion we were in wouldn’t allow me to see movies. Zeke was going to see Mickey Mouse at the theater, on the big screen he said. Didn’t even know what that meant for sure but he made gestures. Sounded incredible. His mom was good with it but for whatever reason I wasn’t allowed to go. I stood in front of the clock in the kitchen, clock over the sink, hands ticking away, big knife to my chest thinking when the big hand gets to the one, and then to the two, and the three, but obviously I didn’t do it.
I haven’t thought about doing myself for a long time. When I do it’s always to get away, not ever trying to get to something. I use Buddhism instead. In craftsman mode, innovating my way forward has always been the very next thought after suicide. Actually it goes like this. I’m pissed or broken, think about a cigarette, think about suicide and then get busy uncovering a solution. It’s a totally messed up system, worn paths that must have been learned way back in the recesses of consciousness. Except for the cigarette part I probably had that pattern even before first grade.
Someone did jump from that building though, the janitor. One day he jumped from the top of the frigging building and landed on a car or a truck or something in front of the main entrance. He lived. Did it in the middle of the day and I couldn’t get into the office for like an hour until they had him in the hospital and cleaned up the scene. 16 floors, nearly every bone in his body bashed to hell, but he survived. Car broke his crash just enough. I knew the guy, talked to him sometimes. We live secret lives. It’s beyond us what takes over. Just like it’s beyond me to know why I laugh at your baby pictures. I have a nice black and white one on my monitor, you resting that big grin on your forearms looking right into the lens. I love how kids belong.
Back to the story. I didn’t stand in the window with one leg in and one leg out. No one called up the concrete and glass face of the building, the music didn’t stop, I didn’t feel transported to some crazy special place, and I didn’t bounce like a rag doll on the street. Grandfather didn’t do it, Dad didn’t do it, your uncles didn’t jump, I didn’t commit suicide and neither will you. It’s just a thought that will visit from time to time like an indicator on a dashboard. The thought just means try something new. I get all kinds of indicators; I want to smoke again, be in Varmland or on the beaches of Lake Superior, or sit cross-legged on a patch of sand in the temple garden in Rochester as the sun rises. Suicide is just a region of the brain, like any other, and the brain is vast – something like 100 billion cells? More than there are stars in the universe someone said.
I promised that this story would be hilarious, but I got off the track. Sorry for that. It happens. Let me make up for it with this joke I found at theoatmeal.com: “What did the psychiatrist say when a man wearing nothing but saran wrap walked into his office? He said, I can clearly see you’re nuts!”