Silence is Golden

The first movement of Sam’s daily atonal symphony always began with a buzzing alarm clock, momentarily silenced by his palm, which wouldn’t work on the garbage truck grinding down the alley behind his apartment, its diesel engine shaking the walls; the familiar whirring of hydraulic pumps raised steel lifting arms into place, screeching into steel cradles, tearing at his ears like fingernails on a chalkboard, leaving him cowering in bed, hands over his ears to muffle the bang, bang, bang of the dumpster being emptied before the cacophony reached a crescendo,  warning Sam to sprint for the bathroom and reach the comparative quiet of the shower before the 140 dB climax, played by a passing train engineer on his air horn, blasted him into quivering submission on the bathroom floor.

The second movement was performed in the kitchen by his wife who, apparently aware of the completion of the Allegro behind their apartment, began the clamor of Andante as soon as Sam sat down at the dining room table, her unwilling audience; bam, bam, bang, bang, went the pans, expertly wielded by Nona, her voice asking about his flight to Florida, perfectly timed to be understood between the microwave humming, beeping, the electric teapot boiling, adding its bubbling tones to the bedlam; the radio announcer shouting to be heard, despite her having a background role–the arrogance of some musicians.

The Minuet or third movement was usually performed in a vehicle, either Sam’s car, a bus or a taxi, but it would be different today; longer than usual, it would incorporate the efforts of musicians waiting along the route to JFK airport, where a new group of performers would add their discordant notes to Sam’s auditory nightmare.

Sam was accustomed to the formulaic beginning of the face-paced Scherzo; as always, it started as he descended to street level with loud cars accelerating into the morning, joined by a motorcycle engine hitting 9000 rpm; accompanied by blaring horns, the sirens of ambulances, fire trucks, and police cars, the apex arrived on cue; trash cans dragged by sleepy residents, scraped against the sidewalk–fingernails on chalkboards–profanities hurled at God and each other indicating the beginning of the Trio, making Sam wonder which dissonant instruments would join the Trio today as he climbed into the taxi, smiling as the first guest performer flew over in a helicopter, its spinning rotors marking the start of the interlude.

The neatly dressed and shaved taxi driver, speaking unintelligible English, was not a guest performer, but the splash of the tires through puddles, windshield wipers scraping on dry and mud-smeared glass, indicated that the second performer of the Trio was the rain and its aftermath; the taxi radio emitted semi-human sounds, barely understandable in the turmoil of the third movement; the final instrument turned out to be a pile driver that drove an auditory spike into Sam’s brain; thud, thud, thud, went the machine until the light turned green and the Minuet could resume.

Sam imagined the travelers rushing through the terminal as dancing to the third movement, now being played by the public address system; voices talking over each other, none of them intelligible, warned of the consequences of unattended baggage and cars, departing flight gate changes, gate agents looking for standby passengers going to Milwaukee or London, FAA rules with respect to carryon baggage; newscasters on TV monitors mumbled news designed to promote a sense of aircraft safety as silent golfcarts rolled by, beep, beep, beep, just like the dumpster and the piledriver; the background supplied not by cellos but by thousands of shoes echoing off the stone floor of the terminal.

The Finale began when Sam was seated in economy class, next to a middle-aged woman who was apparently meant to perform with her annoying, manly voice, asking him personal questions, making him want to get off the plane, cancel his business trip to Clearwater Beach; but he didn’t do that, instead he played the conductor, nodding at her monotonous comments, keeping time with the crew talking indecipherably through the public speakers which his neighbor apparently was unaware of; like the last violin of a sonata, she finally stopped talking, giving way to the slamming overhead bins, the final pleas of mercy from babies, hydraulic motors screeching, ventilation nozzles blowing full blast like a tornado, jet engines howling, screaming, takeoff, bumping, flaps up, more hydraulic whining, wind howling just outside the metal skin, headphones playing unintelligible sounds against background hissing, volume wide open, only hearing half the words, shrieked announcements warning of landing, welcome from flight deck, bang on touchdown, brakes screeching, thrust reversers deafening, more screaming hydraulics, motor high pitch, servos low pitch, start-stop, start-stop, whirring, brakes complaining, wait to get up, silent engines replaced by a quieter humming; his neighbor silent, her performance complete.

Sam suffered through the very long fourth movement in today’s atonal symphony, and finally found himself alone on a stretch of sandy beach.

Laying on a chaise near the palm trees well back from the clamoring of the breaking waves, Sam listened to the fifth movement, Adagio, a very slow movement played by a breeze rustling in the palm trees, birds singing, not too close, a distant car horn, not a train horn to be heard; the musical instruments of civilization could never be silenced, and Sam didn’t want to quiet the atonal musicians for eternity, but he did like to hear the fifth movement sometimes.

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