I smiled as we approached the corner. Ahead of us in the dark night was the circular shaped building I had always wanted to enter. I had seen it years ago, I had watched couples walking towards its wide open doors, I had seen the warm yellow light of the interior cast into the street, the people inside, just beyond the thin window panes. Now I would be that vision for another curious girl, in another car, as she passed down Van Ness on her way towards nowhere. The imposing size of the symphony hall took up a good chunk of the city corner with its massive cement walls and long, rectangular glass windows which offered a fractional slice of its inner vibrancy to the world as a silent gift.
Once inside, we walked up three levels of carpeted stout steps to the outer narrow lobby that wound along the outside of the auditorium. Between the outer lobby and the inner chamber was another narrow curved hallway. Every hundred feet along the interior wall was a door that led to the deep auditorium. On the outer wall were doors that led to the exterior lobby and to the long flight of stairs that would take us to the street. The inner hallway was lit along the outer wall by circular shaped lights that seemed like crystal covered portholes that fragmented the daylight into a kaleidoscope of shapes.
We followed the usher down a row of deep narrow stairs to our seats and I experienced the slightest bit of vertigo as a looked at all the tiered seats below us. The auditorium was arranged like posh rice paddy fields that descended into the wide-open space surrounding a smooth wooden stage with built-in tiers for an absent symphony.
A few rows away I watched two girls approaching and recognized myself…but wasn’t I here? In this chair? “Those girls have my same hair,” I said smiling. “I have no interest in talking about your hair, just be here with me.” I fought back the tears that sprang up, the machine feeling slightly reprimanded. My stomach felt a little queasy. I took a deep breath in, beginning in the stomach and then filling the space of the chest…VAHHHHHHH, my mind said in movement with the breath. KAHHHHHHHHHHH, there was no movement, just the holding of air. When I could not maintain the pressure any longer, I released…DEEEHHHHHHHH. Without anything left, I held and maintained silence within. The murmur of the room was loud. There were words coming from the people behind us, they were loud, their words came in and out without understanding, I recognized the sounds, the words, but I didn’t latch on, they went through me like clouds. VAHHHHHHH, my mind said in movement with the breath. KAHHHHHHHHHHH, there was no movement, just the holding of air. When I could not maintain the pressure any longer, I released…DEEEHHHHHHHH. Without anything left, I held and maintained silence within. The woman in front of me was reading a newspaper, there were photos of a beach. On the tier below us and towards the center of the room, was a man standing by the entrance to the balcony seats. He was wearing a black tuxedo and a bow tie, his hands were clasped in front of him, as though waiting for a command. VAHHHHHHH, my mind said in movement with the breath. KAHHHHHHHHHHH, there was no movement, just the holding of the air. When I could not maintain the pressure any longer, I released…DEEEHHHHHHHH. Without anything left, I held and maintained silence within. Across the space of the great wide auditorium, there was another man, dressed in a similar tuxedo, he stood silhouetted against the illuminated rectangle behind him, the open door. VAHHHHHHH, my mind said in movement with the breath. KAHHHHHHHHHHH, there was no movement, just the holding of the air. When I could not maintain the pressure any longer, I released…DEEEHHHHHHHH. Without anything left, I held and maintained silence within.
There was a pretty girl with long hair several rows down, a man with a pony tail just a few seats from me on the left…he reminded me of someone, but his beard was much too trim to be an exact match. The voices behind us peaked into a raucous chorus of laughter. Then the lights dimmed and the room was full of applause as a man in a suit introduced the three band members of the quartet. As the applause peaked with enthusiasm at what was coming, a man stepped onto the wooden stage. He was thin, slightly frail, in a suit that, from our distance, looked maroon. The musicians gathered in their appointed positions. The young drummer went to a slightly raised platform and sat on his stool, gathering the two wooden sticks in his hand. The guitarist nestled his instrument on his lap and beneath his arm and found a comfortable place on a tall stool. He reclined against it, not exactly sitting. One of his feet remained on the stage, the other balanced on the rung of the metal stool. The bassist stood behind his instrument, he put his arms around it, about to dance, about to show her a good time. He was ready, in his black pants and collared black shirt with the top two buttons undone. And then the man in front, the man described to me as a living legend, a demigod among the mortals. He stood closer to us than the rest, just a few feet in front of the bassist and guitarist who stood across from each other, the drummer was a few steps back but centered. The four of them made the shape of a square cross.
The man in front picked up his saxophone, beside him was a trumpet and violin. This was Ornette Coleman. There was silence as the applause died. The men on the stage held the silence with us as well, then burst into a frantic bout of noise. I was immediately lost. The sounds seemed to slap me in the face, moving fast, repeatedly, hitting me again on the other side before I had time to completely fall over. It felt like a storm. A big messy storm. I heard my brain say that I couldn’t hear them. I wondered if it was the room, but wasn’t it designed with acoustics in mind? Was it me? The CD I heard earlier in the day sounded clearer…I thought of my mother saying there were better Italian restaurants in LA after she returned from Italy. The piece abruptly ended and I clapped along with everyone else. The second piece began more slowly, a little more moody and seductive. I focused on the drummer, then closed my eyes to try and hear him moving with the other three.
I opened my eyes, I looked slightly to the right and saw him holding her hand. Immediately my body tensed. He was not touching me. I let the breath come into me slowly. NO, No. Do not fuck this up. Breathe. Pay attention to the music. The sound of the saxophone was high, seeming to screech. I closed my eyes. I listened. Yes. The bass. I like the bass. I tuned in. Song after song passed. Then I noticed that his hand was on her knee. His other hand rested on his left knee. I brought my knees closer, I tried to position myself close to him, so that his hand would come casually to mine, but it did not. When the song ended, he leaned over with a smile and gave me a kiss. I smiled, wondering if my eyes revealed my thoughts.
I watched the drummer, whose shirt was showing signs of dampness. He was a monster, tapping, moving, striking, there was so much variance, then I listened to the bass, I tried to hear it, I closed my eyes and tried to find it through the melody and the violin and the drums. But then I looked over at her knee, and I saw his hand there. “I just cannot do this. He really does love her more. He really does. I never spend the night, and he loves her more. It is always like this. Always. Oh my god. Ok.” I let out a sigh. A tear began to form on my right eye. I took a long deep breath, I felt my chest. “May the result of this small sacrifice be for the benefit of all beings everywhere.”
BAIIIoooooo….Ornette called me back with his saxophone. Come back, listen to me. I closed my eyes, I listened. It got deeper. I felt sleep tugging at me and I fell deeper into the sounds. It seemed to get louder. Was it me? The song ended and he leaned in again and gave me a kiss. His smile was bright, he was having a good time. But why wouldn’t he touch my leg? “He really loves her more. It is just so simple.” A long deep sigh. The drums…the bass…his hand on her knee. I looked at the filled seats around me, the bodies, the shape of the theater. I felt myself in the auditorium. I felt myself as a body. “Do you always want to be like this? Do you want to remain trapped in this body, in this realm? In this fucked up mantram that cannot let you pay attention to the music?” I didn’t. I knew that. Each one of these thoughts was the jealous machine that just couldn’t believe it was loved despite its foibles. I closed my eyes again. My head was moving. I realized I was bobbing to the beat of the bass… was that right? I wondered if I did this often, I wondered if the drummer had his own rhythm, if there were multiple beats to bob to. My head moved and I heard the screech of the violin enter. I tried to listen to the melody of the guitar, but it seemed the most buried. Then there was a fast little melody of the saxophone, then the response of the guitar, only slightly higher, then the response again of the saxophone, now higher than the guitar, it went higher and higher three times. I smiled, hearing it, happy that I had. “His hand, her knee.”
And then the three musicians quieted slightly while the guitar rose. I heard him clearly. Then the guitar faded while the bass became the center of attention. “Oh no. It’s over. It’s ending. I spent so much time begin jealous, I didn’t spend enough time listening. This little life is over. I wasted so much of it. I am here in this auditorium, I am here, in this body, I couldn’t focus on what was here, I spent so much time focusing on what was not happening. What I wanted, what was being fulfilled, what wasn’t. I wasted the life. If I don’t stop the habit, I will really be looking back, if I am lucky, sixty years from today, thinking the same thing.”
And then it was over. The lights came on and we walked out into the cold air of the night, staring from the balcony to the lighted citadel on top of the capitol building.