Two men making their way through life without any women in it.
“God bless you and your family; have a wonderful day.”
The mantra was part of him now. He’d said it hundreds of times daily for how long, he couldn’t tell you. Pan-handling in front of Pike Place Market was the most proficient career choice for Edmund. He set his own hours, enjoyed the fresh sea air coming in off the bay and had the opportunity to interact with a wide variety of interesting people who crossed his path as he blessed their comings and goings.
The streets of Seattle were Edmund’s ministry; his place where God resonated most powerfully. Whomever you believed your God was, is or would come to be, he was there to speak to you about that!
“How many people out there break the cardinal rule of judgement? Did you know that is a cardinal rule you shouldn’t break? Unless, of course, you’re God. Then, of course, you can break that judgement, right?”
It was in these moments that angels descended and danced around him while birds chirped and thunder hailed the truths emerging from his lips and heart in the middle of the market on a Monday morning. He would ask you for money, bless you anyway and go forth in life breathing, being, and watching you walk by trying to pretend you didn’t see him.
“Is there something that all of you expect me to do?” Edmund would ask “ ‘cause I’m not sure what it is. God bless you and your family; have a wonderful day.”
People flowed around him like water, diverging them as if he’d put his staff down and parted the ocean of humanity that surged ahead, bent on consumption like a swarm of locusts. Every once in a while a person would be caught up in an Edmund eddy and swirl about him as he caught them in his kind gaze, enraptured by his radical acceptance of who and what they were; thin, fat, rich, not-so-rich…and so it went day in day out for time eternal.
Edmond pressed on this day with his teachings and pan-handling, taking the souls passing him by as simply part of the whole process when a woman – middle aged, plump and unremarkable – approached him, caught in his vortex.
“Excuse me ma’am, do you have a dollar you can spare. If not that’s ok God bless you and your family and have a wonderful day.” His smile was full and kind on his face and then she took out a twenty dollar bill; clean, crisp and green as a verdant garden. She held it out to Edmond and smiled back at him. For a moment they looked at one another as though life-long friends. He took her money with gratitude equaling the generous act in which it had been given. Their heads bowed together in what first appeared as prayer, or was it a secret incantation of healing? Their voices spoke softly such that no one around could hear them any longer; hushed tones pulling you in closer in a market full of chaotic enterprise. Silent they stood, smiles lingering upon their lips. She wordlessly whispered her secrets to him and he took her confessional into his strong, street savvy arms, removing the pain she’d been carrying for far too long. For the exchange of a $20 he had released a lifetime of her anguish and she hugged him, joy oozing out between their embrace. From the corner where I stood witnessing the whole exchange it appeared that she’d given up something huge, that he’d absorbed a massive tumor of her grief. A bird chirped in the distance, the woman’s countenance expanded. Her face lit up in a radiant glow and all within a breath of a moment caught in your chest, she was a wholly remarkable woman in her full beauty and strength of being.
Edmond, the pan-handling preacher of Pike Place, raised his arms in an act of sanctification.
“Holy Mother of whatever God you choose to believe in…heal this sister of salvation and forgive her every iniquity in this world filled with thieves and liars. She is an innocent among the guilty, a survivor among the fallen, a triumphant warrior standing in the face of every obstacle. Bless her and be blessed BY her!”
The pair fell to their knees weeping for all the hurt in the world. Traffic stopped, people paid attention, birds began their incantation to heaven, lifting them up in a thunderstorm of emotion. Cascadia rose and fell shattering the earth then leaving it to settle into its new pattern on the shaken surface while underneath tectonic plates continued slowly colliding. Awareness reset itself. Truth prevailed once more over bull-shit reasonings of an unremarkable life, forcing back relentlessly absurd ways of being. Social norms folded back in on themselves, lost no more, appropriately sourced within the center of her authentic sense of self.
The woman rose from the ground, brushed the dirt from her skirt, adjusted her bra and walked on confidently. Edmond stood in the place he always stood watching the people he always watched when his eyes fell upon me.
The ground I stood upon was not the same as it was half-a-breath ago.
- Music in this audio piece is composed by Peter Michael von der Nahmer, performed by musicians and singers from the Aspen Music Festival – audio capture from the corner of Pike and First in Downtown Seattle June 19, 2017. All permissions cleared including this picture I took of “Edmond” – he was cool with it.
Author’s note: Waiting to catch the Light Rail to the Seattle airport I had time to spare and enjoy the last bits of my long weekend on the West coast when I heard this guy doing his thing on this corner. There was, indeed, a woman who came up to him, gave him money, talked with him for a while, and hugged him repeatedly. This interaction fascinated me as he looked so tough and she looked so unlikely to be hugging a homeless guy on the street so I riffed on the scene I had just witnessed and came up with this story. With a four-hour delay at the airport I set Mike’s music, Angel’s (parts 1-2), to my audio capture using the Hokusi audio editing ap in my phone. MMN
What happens in the middle of the night when a couple of angels run into a goat, a cop, a vet and a rabbinical student in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn?
An R rated fantasy, that’s what.
So Monday night I sat amid giants & idols like Missy Mazzoli, Beth Morrison, Royce Vavrik and David Devan; producers of contemporary opera in America – women & men spearheading the future of this medium for the rest of the world to follow. If you can imagine what a flea hovering about your head must feel like as you swat it out of the way, well, I was that flea Monday night
sitting in the Peter B. Lewis Theater underdeath the Guggenheim museum – only difference was I wasn’t buzzing around anyone’s head. That would have been weird. I was a well behaved flea who didn’t get in anyone’s ointment or march defyantly around the rim of anyone’s coctkail glass. I’m taking the metaphore too far…I am not a flea, I am a human being and if there is any great difference, truly, between a flea and a human being it’s that I make meaning of things where the flea does not. In fact I am unable to not make things mean things but that’s a story for another day.
So there I was, a virtual flea, listening to giants discuss the creation of a new opera, Breaking the Waves, that premieres at Opera Philadelphia next week. I paid the equvalent of a good seat in the Family Circle at The Metropolitan Opera on a Saturday night to listen to a select number of chamber pieces – performed by the amazing lead cast & musicians – and hear the composer, librettist, conductor and director discuss their process. Why would I do such a thing? Wouldn’t the value have been in networking like crazy and leave with at least one good contact? That is what a flea would have done.
That is not why I was there. At another time I will do that, probably yes, but this was the beginning of a grand adventure that I’ve been working my way towards for the better part of five years.
Attending the Works and Process event made manifest (even for just a tiny fraction of a moment) what I have been saying I want…to be a librettist and be part of the modern opera movement. I did have one interaction with a person-of-note (nobody mentioned here thus far) that didn’t go so well. We chatted a bit and when she asked me what I was doing there I blurted out “I want to be doing what they’re doing!” pointing at the stage filled with empty chairs and music stands. She quickly ended our conversation and I sat in my seat feeling the sting of having been swatted out of the way. I deserved it. Did I show up to this most intimate of opera events unprepared? Well, yes I did. I went in there with one intention; to fully immerse myself in the Society of Amazing Peole who Produce Opera for a Living. SAPPOL – and damit that’s exactly what I did!
Back to giants and idols: Being Jewish, I have learned that idols are bad, bad things to be shunned and avoided at all cost. I can and do ascribe to the principle that bowing down to a piece of brightly painted clay begging for salvation, or a new job, is something rediculus and potentially damaging. But then I went to the dictionary to broaden my meaning of the word.
- Word Origin of idol from Late Latin īdōlum, from Latin: image, from Greek eidōlon, from eidos shape, form – courtesy of dictionary.com
So breaking it down, an idol is basically a mental image or a physical shape or form worth one’s time to comment on. An idol stands out, an idol is attractive, an idol is – ultimately – unrealistic. So if I want to be doing what Royce Vavrik is doing, for example, and doing it in my own way and at my own pace then his status as an idol really morphs more into that of a model, a suggestion of what I could be some day. I admire the work he does as a librettist and I know he puts one foot in front of the other as he walks down the street. He just happens to be WAY further down the street than I am. I feel as though I keep starting even though each foray I take into the world of opera seems to bring me ever closer to the vision I have; perhaps there is nothing but starting from wherever I happen to be right now…hmmmm.
What’s my point here? So inspired as I was after Monday night I went back to investigating Master’s Degree programs in musical theatre. NYU being the logical place to look (‘cause that’s where Royce Vavrik went…probably when he was 25!) I got all excited all over again reading all about the program, how they put composition students together with playwriting students – colleges are starting to catch on about this medium called Opera – and then I read “applicants must be full-time students.” And I stopped. Here I am, 52 years old now, working a full time job ‘cause I have to, ready and so able to take this program on with more gusto and passion then I ever had as a 25 year old and I simply cannot fit my square-self into the NYU round hole: what I am is more of a hexagon, really.
And so, this realization brings me back to the idea I launched at the beginning of this year – to make my own course of study and stick to that course building my vision block by block by block.
The Mott Academy of Writing Librettos fall semester has officially started!
Ps. When I make it across the pond one of these days to visit family in Chichester I will make a point of dropping in on a coffee house near Dorset named Amid Giants & Idols.
Assignment #5 Write a scene about a moment of crisis, slowing and/or speeding up time for dramatic effect. If possible, have the location play a role in the crisis. Night time … Continue reading Setting, Pacing & the Structure of Time/Place in Theatre: Abduction of the Chibok Women of Nigeria