A quiet and mundane breakroom. Tiled floors with standard wood-varnished cabinets. A simple place that lets anyone in to rest -- at least, employees only. And even then, it's simplicity alienates me. I can't rest here. I can only cease my labor. Distress and monotony. Just some quiet from the storm of a thousand steel presses operating at maximum speed.
Thick, tinted windows surround this room. There's a constant pattern of droplets from a brief shower ten minutes ago. The skies are dark and the clouds are furrowing their gray brows. Inside this trap-box for 13 more minutes before it's time to take orders and bow on command.
There is a wilted flower in a pot making one last dying stretch to get sunlight through the blackened glass. Nobody's noticed.
Perhaps seconds away from a deep, unconscious sleep, and a sound from the city reaches up and strikes the window of our humble breakroom. Someone's playing a trumpet down there on the streets. I lean closer, but you can't see straight down from the tenth floor. It was just a momentary burst, a few fluttery notes played to the voice of the wind.
What was that noise? Who did it come from -- who was it looking for? Why did it stop? For the first time in my company's history, the workers acted in unision, all slowly edging closer to the windows, regardless of what any other might notice, each seeking to identify and discover that source of such tempered inspiration. Where did that sound go? Did it stop?
Another three notes blow from the trumpet, each holding onto the sound and then gently releasing it. There is a genius at work outside these humble walls, and a few lucky souls in this breakroom were privilege to this concert. But this person must be so far away, and our windows far too think. There's another pause. Did they stop? Did our hero forget about us?... Several more tunes are eked out with the brass instrument, only after the world's musician had a few, necessary moments of meditation and inner reflection. And, as these notes continue to grow and bind their melody and rhythm together, my soul is floating.
I gave my heart to that trumpeter. But before I can jump through the window to become one with the original inspiration of all of man's good and loving acts, the breakroom soundsystem belches out this high-pitched, ear-shattering ring. Break's over. And then we returned to our place of laboring -- a world of repetitive, rote, and unmelodic noises.
Why couldn't they break the glass? Why couldn't those ear-catching bass-hits and those rhythmic tones reach up, ball their fists, and shatter the windows of that humble breakroom? We were entranced. If only we were smart enough to realize it was commanding us to crack the glass, to throw ourselves against those confining restrictions. For those few moments of our existence, we were one with the farthest reaches of the experience of the individual -- the greatest expression of the will to hold true communion with all conscious beings. One or two sharp pings from the announcement system, and our hearts release the blood, allowing us to pick up our feet and carry ourselves to our manned positions.
Just one hour and forty five minutes before it's time to be released from our holding cells. One hour and forty four minutes. Yeah, no problem. My mind shuts down, my body ceases to carry stimuli to my soul, and the surrounding world has left me completely disinterested in life. There are no trombonists or trumpeters around to lift me off my calloused feet, to bring light and vitality to the unexercised regions of the brain, to loan me their ideas on the social experience, and maybe, to let me know that society is big enough to make them feel completely alone. Nobody who's imitating the lifelessness of high-intensity machinery will stop to tell me that these concrete posts, these metal sidings, these inanimate ceilings and unenthusiastic floors make them feel trapped by their own experiences, by their resentments, by the way they've built themselves to react and to feel -- the little human mechanisms we develop, foster, and eventually rely upon for all of our interactions. Nobody here will let me know how intimidating a top-down social organization makes them feel. Nobody here lets me know how alone this society can make them feel. And then I, like the others, become truly alone, surrounded only by my multiple personalities and their pathetic attempts to compartmentalize the different aspects of my life. Oh, Icarus, I feel like your father... and I'll never be able to let go of this feeling.
One hour and thirty six minutes remaining... One hour, and thirty five minutes remaining. Oh, godless universe, why did you curse me to this dismal land with their painful understanding of force and coercion. I just need to turn off my brain, if I am to make the pain go away. One hour, thirty four minutes. One hour, thirty four minutes. One hour, thirty three minutes.
The bell gives a screech. Every worker drops their grip and releases the pent-up blood from those overflowing and stuffed capillaries With all the downward thrust of liquids throughout the body, the feeling is like you're about to drop dead. Your poor aching body did only just enough work to collapse and die out on the floor. To the winds of our universe, just like nothing. But now I've got fourteen and a half minutes, to pretend like I'm sleeping and not enjoying it. Break room time. Ugh, a second afternoon break -- that means two more hours when we get back from break before we can go home. That'll make it a ten-hour workday at least.
Clip-clop, clip-clop. The hushed noises of shoes can be heard throughout this deluded hallway. And as I pass the elevator shafts, that noise creeps in. It eeks past the corners, it oozes through the edges of these walls. It hums with the wooden frames of some unimaginative and artificial pictures, a seagull and ship. The trumpet's tones ripple and glow through the dead air. My hairs recoil and straighten, my mind comes to a focus, and my heart opens. The jazz player is here again. I push the elevator button, impatiently awaiting my next ride out from ten floors up. Fourteen minutes of breaktime left.
Groundlevel. Some chief executives of the company take their time in exiting the building noisily and slowly, as though it was part of their job description to impress on others the fact that they're social and taking a two-hour lunch break. If only I could work seventeen and a half hours per week for a one-hundred grand plus salary, then I probably wouldn't need to micro-manage the satisfaction value of every second spent of my fifteen minute break. Oh, by the way, that's thirteen minutes left.
Finally at street level and in a new jungle. Monoliths of concrete form into places of home and work, filling the vision of every city dweller with varying shapes of gray and white. These slabs of inanimate life are eroding too slowly. Streams of leftover rainwater slowly find their courses through the unleveled surfaces of these stone and cement concoctions. A single swift motion of one of these obelisks, and a horde of nasty, loud, violent machines crash through a still air, only to be stopped by the orders of another obelisk. At first, I am assaulted by the noise of a thousand gears pumping, churning, and squelching to completely different accelerations and mechanical designs, only to hear these snarling beasts tear and groan to bring their massive bodies to a stop, as though the sounds they were making indicated they were all suffering a miserable pain. I blink, and the monstrous juggernauts lunge forward in a single, unobstructed motion, taking the pounding and grinding of their small factories to the city's other neighborhoods of concrete. But before I can track and follow those animals of metal and plastic, a new herd roars in, shaking my attention with as much force and velocity as those that had just disappeared around the corner. Twelve minutes and fifty five seconds remaining.
I open my ears to the city's countless victims of noise pollution. In a quiet and unapproachable tone, I take in the breadth of every sound. There is something beautiful calling my soul amongst this endless war of sounds. Even my heart pumps its blood at a softer beat, to help my mind better distinguish the audio of the city's struggle. There are screams, made by human and machine, by animalkind and the community, that perpetrate my thickened skin. I am listening to these bridges weeping, to these train tracks begging for companionship, to these skyscrapers that can't look anyone in the face. I am listening to the precepts of human civilization, quarreling with themselves over the bargain made in exchange for the social contract. There are many quiet and ignored corners of this metropolis, and for the first time in too long, I am listening to something that runs too deeply below the city.
There! That's the noise! The trumpet! The beat of a musician with an open hat on the curb, asking for decency from these reinforced barriers, pleading for just a moment from the people who inhabit the places between these walls. I'm hearing this person; they are coming from the north. My first impulse is to run, to break through anything that might keep me from the flowing melody, but before I can force myself into that mode, the tones ask me only to listen. Several more build up from those I heard inside work, each carefully picked from the instrument's limitations, and yet landing exactly on the only note that could possibly follow. I'm in the concrete jungle, and just around the bend, someone is making music as a part of their social experience. I am infatuated and drawn. Nobody has ever spoken to me in a language like this before. Twelve minutes left, as I make my way in the direction of the source of this rhythm.
Cracks and holes endlessly fill the canvas of these poor sidewalks. Street lamps and parking meters appear as though they painfully blossomed and grew from tiny breaks in the surface of this concrete. They are the rebel vegetation and unstoppable vines in a jungle dominated by flat and rigid planes; and for all that can be said about them, they don't appear, behave, or respond any differently than the brothers and sisters they have in the other abstract life forms to this ecosystem. Cigarette butts, stuck pieces of gum, the newspaper waltzing with the wind, the paper-cup turned garbage that wafts from the driver's side, vehicle window, the gulls pecking at a trash bag and pulling remnants of food through a suffocating plastic -- all of these just the hints and hues by this city's painter. In the substance of this acrylic mixed with thinner, a figure crashes through this unfinished dream of perfect social harmony. That figure is me. One lone belch of color and vitality against an unseemly and never properly mixed gray, hooked and pulled by this trumpeter. My ability to refuse the art and impulse of my musician friend is like the ability of a shadow to evade being cast against the fencing of private property from an outdoor, motion-triggered light. My social understanding and reactions are no different than the laws of hard science. To determine the outcome, one must only know these laws and the variables at hand. I am convinced that the trumpeter is not just a person of music, but a fully self-taught scholar of sociology, psychology, and history. This is someone who has laid down their soul next to the stream of human consciousness, taking in every pulse and beat as though it were something to be held closely, comprehended, and cherished.
One full city block down, and the melodic hum of the jazzist only grows and extends. Eleven minutes remaining for my time in the free world. A large pride of well-dressed professionals noisily and carelessly make their way towards me, lawyers and managers, civil magistrates and supervisors, accountants and aids to the king. Engulfing the entire sidewalk, as we meet at our diverging points of direction, they split, envelope me, and in a few moments, I emerge from the chaotic mass of people. It was human spontaneity in its most well-developed form. It felt like I heard a thousand conversations about restaurants, profit reports, and ivy league colleges. Released from the paralyzing enigma of group dynamics, the voice of the lone trumpeter pulls me in even deeper. Their notes have become more hesitant, more contemplated, but they are holding for much longer. The individual is crying out to the endless rows of windows, appealing for an audience. "Please listen to me," they're asking, "Part of my life crumbled to pieces, and these are the only words I can use to talk, and these people of the inner city are the only ones I want to listen." I'm rushing to find this person. Perhaps only one or two more blocks. My feet start to ache and I'm starting to sweat. The weather's cold and unforgiving. They're still calling me. A security guard eyeballs me, and does a mental check to rate my speed compared to the height of my legs. "Damn," he mutters, "Not going fast enough to qualify as 'running from the police' by the US Supreme Court. Just a few more miles per hour, you sonovabitch, and I'll have the legal right to shove your face into the street with a boot in your back, all under the lawful pretenses of public safety." These skyscrapers and office buildings are not merely caves, empty warrens completely barren of all forms of culture and civilization. They are the catacombs where these vicious trolls and unearthly daemons reside. They are the dwelling places of an inhuman source of evil. On occasion, they will storm individuals walking outside, drag them inside, and detain them in holding pits for months or years. Some are even tortured and killed. And these security guards, they are nothing more than an appendage to this monstrous, incalculable evil. We all know what goes on, but we just look away when it happens to someone else. It happens in the most open and public places everyday. Based on the rate of observation, one has more grounds to discount the theory of gravity than they do to discount the theory of power, authority, and coercion.
Ten and a half minutes left. An obelisk gives me the order and I cross the street. The sounds of the brass tinker have vanished, they have faded and collaged into the stormy and unwelcoming clouds. I'm standing on the corner of block 99th east and block 179th west in this urban center, and my trumpeter has left me. They have left our concrete slabs, our metal platings, our marble sidings. They sang their song, let a passing world have some quick glimpse into the soul of a musician with a little bit of pain. Perhaps it was just a song that everyone has heard too often, bellowed on a nightly basis from rooftops and tenement windows. I hope I wasn't the only one who noticed. I hope I wasn't the only one who was listening. Maybe the musician wasn't real. Maybe I was only hearing the grind of a streetwashing car blended to the pump of a sanitation truck. Maybe these days and days of twelve hour shifts with two and a half hour commutes was truly destroying my mind. Maybe these stirrings of violent imagery and guilt-driven hate are more than just the casual emotional disturbance, and it's just possible that the constant stress of being servant to an unrelenting master has destroyed all the good left in my heart.
I watched a disposable, paper cup float down a stream of runoff rainwater. Nine minutes left.
And then a burst from the west -- that noise strikes again. It's very close. I start trailing in the direction of the notes. The calling is as strong as ever now. There are metermaids and well-dressed housewives with their dogs, the youth who are distracted by their society and their station in life, the loud crowds of obnoxious sports fans pouring forth from the bars and taverns. The infinite wisdom of the animal world would either flee from these things or painfully maul them to death, but as a human, these are merely small, finite obstacles. I make my way through all of the conversation, the curses and praises, still holding on to the end of the last note from the jazz player. It is pulling me into the source; the force is bringing me downstream to the riverbed. My entire worldview is changed just by these melodic hums and brass personalities, this inspired and eternal language of the musician. I'm more willing to accept and recognize the good parts, more able to sympathize with and understand the dark parts. I feel like an individual who has emerged free from the thousands of years of civilization's ideas, of monarchy and patriarchy, of militarism and persecution; their bigotries and prejudices have created slavery and tyranny in every content of the globe, but I am free from their influence on my mind. Eight minutes and fifteen seconds left.
I make the corner, turn, and stop. There she stands. The great musician is in my presence. Her horn must be an abstract concept to reality, a theory of shape and movement that philosophers can never agree upon. At her feet, there's an open case, now carrying some change and a couple dollars. She's wearing two well-worn, run-of-the-mill shoes, jeans that are one size too large with a black belt keeping them on her waist, and a green t-shirt with some white imprint that had been faded and made unreadable by numberless washes. A hemp strap wrapped over her shoulder and a black cap. Her skin was dark, her eyes were green, and her hair was long and wild. A small birthmark on her neck. Her tones and rhythms were even greater and clearer now, and now that I was able to watch her, I could hear something completely new and even more powerful. She was strong, bold, confident, and beautiful. Seven minutes and forty five seconds left.
A casual step towards this wonderful and inviting body, lured and appealed by the soft, melodic, irresistible hums of her trumpet. I wanted to tell her that I understand why she's playing, that I've felt the same way too about decaying buildings, that the apparition she could conjure from her music would be powerful enough to destroy this city in one swipe. How young she was yet she could play with such strong vitality and grace. I'd have written and performed a sonnet for this musician, but I wouldn't want to interrupt such consciousness-expanding rhythms. Though I couldn't name one single composer she was silhouetting, I felt like she was grabbing and taking measures from different symphonies and songs, melding and blending all of human experience in music into this one street-corner performance; or maybe she was grabbing and pulling these tones out of the sky, inspired by the constant and unnerving air of the evening, driven by a sense of speaking to the deepest and most involved parts of the mind. I dropped a dollar into her instrument case and she smiled. Six and a half minutes remaining. Just about enough time to get back to work without being late. I bid her farewell in my own silent ways and trek back, slowly releasing my delicate grip on her harmonic melodies, saying goodbye to her music.