Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Is She On To Me? ... Chapter Eleven

Chapter Eleven


Sitting back in the taxi I try to relax.  Try not to concentrate on Mom’s mistakes, I tell myself.  I distract myself with one of my last rides in New York which was quite different from this.  I felt exhilarated.  Thought, “I’m back!”  Of course I resisted hanging out of the taxi window and shouting it to the yacht club, as we whizzed along the East River, FDR northbound—my usual route to Nanette.  Joy even overrode my terror of the narrow winding lanes.
I figured, maybe I’ll shout it on the way home, when that driver maneuvers his way through the typically taxi-tight Times Square.  Under fabulous lighted signs promoting famous personalities like David Letterman, television stations like the MTV studio and chiseled male models in boxers, the leisure seekers, composed of tourists and native New Yorkers, will excitedly crowd the brightly lit streets clueless that their future fashion advisor glides through their midst.

But I didn’t shout it on that last NY ride.  Instead I dreamed; floated blissful and steady.  A hot-air balloon in a fashion fantasy.  Just how long before my name reached the status of those famous designers whose top models were splayed across massive billboards exhibiting their wares? I wondered.  My face I mashed against the window looking out and up.

I reconsidered; . . . did I really want to just design a line of clothes?  For the new wardrobes for Nanette restored my desire “to individualize.”  If I must say so, I produced exceptional outfits for each girl peaking Nanette’s belief in my talents.  Hands prayer-like against her lips, blond head bobbing, she showered me with praise.  Paid me royally.  Even the actresses—doubtful about a newcomer, though themselves newcomers—enthusiastically conceded, hands up, when I demonstrated how fabulous they’d look in splashes of colors they once thought unbecoming.  Now they proclaim me their fashion guru.

Even today I think: My creations may help catapult the girl’s careersIncredible.  I surprised myself.  I did this while bridging roller coaster highs and lows.  And yes, like I stated often, the money was great, but the quality and success of my work propelled me down an emotional aisle for my … “Oscar.  Presented for costume design,” they’d announce.

Speaking of Oscar, imagine famous actresses like Halle, Jennifer, and Jolie desiring to debut Diamond’s Designs at the Academy Awards or a bit more casual for the Emmys—“Pinch me.”

“May I?” the taxi driver asked.

Surprised, I answered, “I’m sorry.  I was dreaming.”

That told me to, “Wake up, Diamond.  Enjoy today and its successes today.”

Okay, I will, I promised.

Then, devoid of garments in route to Madison Square Gardens to celebrate I settled back and planed my performance.  A dual affair: A salute to dreams—the achievement of them.  And a ‘Farewell to the Season’ concert; since the weather had already grown cool.  After the show I’d pack away my saxophone till spring.

I set-up near the escalators under the Gardens.  I played the subways beneath all of Manhattan.  But the arena above that particular spot made it rather magical.  As if the next day’s headlines might read: Jazz Melodies Mysteriously Mellow out the Madison.
My music.  Who knew?  Maybe one day they’d ask me to play the Gardens.

In the meantime, I commenced my mini-concert coat-free with my back relaxed against a subway pillar.  The blouse’s smooth silk stroked my skin.  While I warmed up some commuters feigned disinterest with little side-glances.  Or maybe they were disinterested, I hadn’t played in weeks.  I practiced lively little ditty’s common to most people—commercials, show themes, etc.  Then, after regaining my groove, I moved on to some of today’s popular jazz artists.  You know: Wynston, Kenny G, Najee, Candy. . . . It all came back.

The commuters caught my rhythm sitting on the cement staircases or leaning against stone pillars of their own.  No longer staring into the distance.  Gone, their usual pacing and chatter, feet lightly tapping.  Newspapers?  Held not read.  Little children amazingly silent and still stared awestruck into my living, breathing saxophone.  But then . . . at that precise moment they dissipated.  Faded right into nothingness.  For the saxophone and I had found our zone.

As one, she existed as a melodious extension of my body.  Weightless she felt in my arms though I held her for hours.  Warm—her notes, despite cold keys and metal frame caressed by my fingers.  And her sounds?  So smooth through teeth and lips vibrating against the reed.  No.  Discomfort didn’t exist.  Though that was the longest stretch I’ve ever played.  Because I WAS THERE!  In the moment.  In the domain of pure bliss mesmerized by the long alluring tones cascading via my sax into the otherwise unusual silence of the subway tunnel.  I felt my body swaying effortlessly, even gracefully, with the melancholy rhythm.  My senses soared with the sheer enjoyment of music reverberating back to me like the trills of songbirds lyrical and ethereal.

My music! . . . My back freed from the pillar arched with my saxophone pointed towards the ceiling suspending the last high note; inwardly I noted; that was not my swan song. . . Next year, I promised I’ll still have reason to return.

I finished—the back of my hand caught perspiration from my forehead and lip.  My body felt loose
and lucid.  I then became aware of people applauding.  I bowed a slight bow, very appreciative, for Native New Yorkers rarely applauded me in the subways—though the donations they left helped pay many a bill.  The tourists were another matter.  They fed my ego from the beginning.  Kept me inspired.

That day the admiring crowd filled me like helium.  Caused me to smile as wind-blasts pronouncing two opposite train’s speedy arrival tousled my hair.  The shrill of horns increased on both sides of the platform.  Echoed through the tunnels.  Numbed coherent thoughts.  Everyone scampered to the platform’s edges.  Quite a few dropped money into my case as they brushed past, nodding and voicing approval.

“That was fantastic,” said one fellow softly as he dropped a five-dollar bill onto the velvet lining.  He left me with a wink.  And a cute little girl all bundled up in a pretty red wool coat sporting a black collar pulled her mother by the arm over to me begging; “Please mommy!  Hurry!  Give me some money to put in there,” she demanded pointing to my case.

The woman said, “That’s a switch,” fishing around in her pea-coat pockets.  “Usually her money’s ‘for me, me, me.’  I guess you really impressed her,” she confided, laughing, as she handed the child some change to drop in.  The little girl did this with a big snag-tooth smile.

While they waited to enter the train I heard the child ask, “Mommy, can you get me a . . uh. . Mommy, . . .what’s that she was playing?” looking thoughtfully up at her mother.
“A saxophone, honey,” she answered with a light directional hand on the little girl’s shoulder, keeping her close.  She did seem like one inclined to wander away.

Positioned in front of her mother she asked, “A saxyphone?  Can you get me a saxyphone, Mommy?” as they squeezed into the car.

“We’ll talk about it, dear,” the woman answered, turning around and shaking her head.  Our eyes met between packed bodies and she smiled mouthing the question, “What have you done?” as the doors shut between us.

I laughed as the train receded; depositing a platform of scurrying people.
That’s what I’ve missed!  Laughter.  It felt great.  Unfortunately, the opportunities lately are rare.  Here on out, Diamond, I tell myself, don’t squander the moment.
I remember thinking, . . Funny, in her—the little girl, I saw me.  Once Madame took me to watch a man playing the saxophone.  Like this little girl love came instantly.  However, unlike her, I had no choice—the piano was chosen for me.  The sax was not an option.  Everyone in my family played it: Madame, Mom and Seneca.  I love the piano, but the saxophone is my heart.  My individuality.  And my secret.  My alter ego.

Anyway, wrapping up, my nasal radar detected a person of spirits.  Nothing unusual considering one surfaced wherever I performed.  The distinct odor of foul flesh and soiled clothing mingled with alcohol intensified along with shuffles and gasps as people, shielding offended nostrils, parted Red Sea style to permit full passage to me.  I stepped to the other side of my case.  As the elderly man staggered, then teetered towards me his head bobbing puppet-like, I prayed he wouldn’t veer too close to the platform’s edge.  I wondered; do they have a six-sense about these things?  Because I never heard of fallen drunks on the tracks.  I wondered . . . they would make the news too, wouldn’t they? . . . . Surely they would.

Watching that one sway before me, I attempted to ease away without offending him.  Though my nose seared in outrage.  Yes, I believed in everyone’s freedoms, including their right to free expression, but I sometimes wondered where they thought their rights ended and mine began.  In this case, my right to breathe freely.

After disassembling my reed, I gathered my pay.  Pocketing it as if he were invisible.  Thankful for a draft.  After gently placing my saxophone in its case and flinging on my coat, I hoisted my sax over my shoulder and smiled ‘good-bye’ to my gentleman friend.

Finally he spoke, slurring.  “Poca . . .hiccup . . .hontas,” he said pointing an unsteady finger at me.  “Never knew. . . hiccup . . injuns . . . .play.”  Then he wobbled away.
Again I laughed, turning to leave—but, . . .Oh!—those familiar black eyes.  He was back.  The same tweed coat stranger from three weeks ago.

“I don’t know.  In that brown suede trench with your dark hair you could pass for Pocahontas, except her eyes were probably black and wasn’t her hair straight? . . . .But I love your curls. . . . By-the-way, you rocked!” he said, readjusting his leather backpack after brushing thick chestnut curls off his high forehead.

“Thanks,” I managed, thinking, coincidence or Houdini? . . .TwiceHe must be headed to the Gardens.

“I’d hoped you’d be here so we could talk,” he explained.

Hoped I’d be here?. . . .Looking for me, . . . here? . . . I’d never mentioned to anyone my plan to play there.

Curiosity strong-armed my anxiety.  “Why’d you think I would be here?” I asked. “Who are you?” the subway crowd building my confidence.  “Are you following me?”

“No, no!  Just give me a sec; I can explain. . . .Maybe we can get something to eat?” he suggested.  A wicked mischievous grin attractively dimpled the corner of his mouth.  “After that awesome performance you must be starved.”

A flatterer and perceptive or just plain hopeful? I wondered.

Yes, I was starved.  And, I admit to a slight curiosity about his identity.  I don’t often meet young men dressed this well.  His attire: charcoal gray wool slacks and a soft black cashmere pullover under the tweed coat.  Very classy.  And again he smelled great.

But above everything, I wondered: Why this strong desire to talk to me?  So the warning flesh crawls still creped along the back of my neck; insisted on knowing; how did he even know how to find you?  And for that matter, how does he know anything about you?
Because he held that trump card—my personal information, it took only a second more of hesitation before I claimed; “Sorry.  I really need to get home.  Thanks for the offer.”  My was voice slightly acidic, lacking the last week’s desire.  Toting my saxophone case and bag I merged with the throng in line for the escalator.
He followed.

I boarded.

He did too.  So my knees began to quiver.  My bladder threatened release.  “Look,” I said in a harsh whisper glancing over my shoulder as we ascended, “I don’t know who you are; but I don’t mind saying you’re making me uncomfortable.  If you don’t stop following me I will make a scene.”
“Please don’t do that,” he said with his serious face near level to mine.  It allowed me to breathe in peppermint freshness.  “It’s not necessary; I want to expla—.”


I spun around to this new deep voice resembling . . . .Seneca? which rose from the bottom of the escalator.  It drowned the stranger’s, voice---.


This possibility further fused my blouse to my skin.  Anxiety, an intense heat.  An inferno in my chest.  And it was loud—my heart’s pounding.  The erratic thumps vibrated dangerously crazy like that wild jackhammer in a greenhorn’s grip.

Behind me a sea of hazy faces, which the back of the stranger’s head eventually barred from view.  Yet, I craned to see beyond him and them all.  My fingernails dug into the hard rubber handrail.  Somehow, I remembered to refocus, shifting my load, in time to manage the top step without tripping.  However, a hand on my elbow quickly propelled me through passersby to the curb.

In awed silence I wondered: What right did he have to move me along?

“Diamond, your father,” he shouted.  “I’ll flag down a cab for you.”

Who Was this man?  Why did he think he knew Seneca?  And just how did he even know that I wanted to escape?

I was stuck, his grip sliding to my hand, tightening.  But I found myself dragging against his lead.  Searching the people exiting the escalator, somewhat lost mentally.  I couldn’t explain: Who worried me more?  The man beside me or the man I once called Dad?  A man in a black leather coat, his hair a long lightly streaked ponytail, black and silver, swinging as he scaled the stairs.

 Angry people protested as he frantically waved his arm, still shouting, “Diamond!  Diamond, wait!” 
My initial immobilization caused by the question: what’s going on? was freed by reality.

“Yes!  Get me a cab!” shrieked from my lips—though still intrigued . . . What did Seneca want?
Heedless of obscenities escaping the mouths of people he shoved aside on the sidewalk the young man darted from underneath the Garden’s marquee into the streets.  Breaks screeched.  Then he yanked open the taxi door.  Adrenaline helped me toss my load into the cab.  I quickly followed it; spun around as he tried to enter.  With one knee on the seat, I shoved hard against his chest, unbalancing him.  Stumbling backwards, his arms a windmill, he suddenly regained his footing; but I reached out, shutting the door, shouting, “Hurry!  Pull off!” to the driver.

He did.  Horns blared.  And we sped away.  Out of the taxi’s rear window I noticed the young man’s surprise.  He stood outdone on the curb, the dazzling lights of The Gardens camouflaging the actual growing darkness of the evening.  In a second, Seneca appeared behind him.  Though the young man and Seneca stood inch-for-inch toe-to-toe, Seneca, in his anger swelled above him.  Stunned, I watch Seneca spin the man by his shoulder as a frenzied crowd encircled them.  Their heads grew distant as changing lanes and cars lengthened the visual gap between us.  But the conflict was a total eye-opener.
That’s right; that’s him! I thought.
Last month, like that other day, this same young man wrestled with Seneca outside a jazz club.  A club somewhere there in Manhattan.  Which one I couldn’t remember.  Not with shakes making even my suede coat useless and coughing spasms rattling my brain.  But that episode with Seneca I saw; remembered clearly.  There was wet darkness.  It intensified the drama as it drenched us—this stranger, Seneca and me.  Occasional claps of thunder jarred me, while lightning flashes effected a ghastly dance between those two.  But then I fled its finale.

As I again flee, the memory of that night has coughs drawing on the pit of my stomach, stripping my throat’s lining.  Though turning away from the scene, I was again grateful to the young man, but sad, horribly sorry for the trouble I’d caused him.

“Where to, Miss?” asked the driver.

“Brooklyn Heights,” I managed, rummaging through my bag.  “Please hurry.”

At home I’d be safe.  That home was my refuge.

Yet one last glance behind had me debating: Should I go back?  My brain’s throbbing propelled me forward.

He did help me; I should go back, I moaned, while tossing back a couple of pills; gulping the bitter liquid.  But I settled back for the soothing of my throat.  Giving the driver no further directions, I chose to wait on the results.