I found myself
upon the brink of grief’s abysmal valley
that collects the thunderings of endless cries.
— Dante

Condy, Nicholas, 1793-1857; Old Man Smoking

The night was calm. I trudged into the apartment with a burrito and some brown ale. My cold was on its way out, yet my head still felt like a balloon. I enjoyed the burrito, savoring each bite and washing it down with the ale. My head was in such a state that noises amplified – chewing and swallowing, swishing and gulping from within; a cat scratching a couch and distant sirens from without. Everything seemed to enter my head through the five byways of my senses and simply bounce about for awhile, as if wandering in a snow-globe. Luckily, there was no one to overturn this snow-globe, and when I finished eating, I decided to read a magazine article silently. Later, I chatted with my grandmother, listening to her ninety-year-old yet animated voice. Then, I did something I rarely do; I decided to watch a movie.

Cracking open another ale, I dimmed the lights and eased open my laptop into a position so I could lay back and view its screen. It was Ground Hog’s Day, after all, a good excuse to indulge. I am the only man in the world who feels a twinge of shame at watching a film and who views the act as a sort of guilty pleasure. But I won’t feel shame about feeling shame, and anyhow, I was fully entrenched in the movie, when I heard the most ominous and blood-curdling racket. It was more menacing than sirens, more harrowing than a lady’s scream, more obnoxious than a dog’s bark or a baby’s wail. It was just as, if not more, soul crushing than the noise of traffic: than the noise of engines, horns, tires – the noise of Efficiency and Hurry and Death. Far more terrible than this, for my whole body quaked, my old bones rattled and knocked against each other. So loud. So near. The beating sounded like Satan’s wings in the pit of Hell—thump! thump! thump! It resounded on and on. It seemed to grow nearer with each second. It was my neighbor’s rap music.

*

I don’t consider myself a complainer. Or, I believe I am improving in this major flaw that I have. But recently I have taken to complaining about my neighbors’ music, and I have become something of a noise policeman at my complex. There is a reason Dante and Milton emphasize the noise of Hell. There is a reason that most depictions of paradise are relatively quiet. There is a claustrophobia that comes with loud noises—specifically the racket of rap and heavy metal. Music is fundamentally a thing which one should listen to rather than merely hear. It is not primarily background noise. To appreciate the art, one must actually stop and listen. And at a certain volume this ceases to happen. At a certain volume, one feels cornered. He can’t think straight.

Music is fundamentally good. Good music, the best music, is almost as much about silence as it is about noise. Notes are placed, quite literally, onto silence, the foundation. A concert hall is a very silent, peaceful place, so that those in attendance can listen to the music. And when they are done, they get up and scurry about. A rock concert is a stifling den of noise and clatter, fit for mosh pits where men spin in circles. It is not surprising that the humans at such events resemble those shades stuck under the ice in Dante, barely able to move as Satan’s wings thump them to death.

*

With these self-righteous thoughts brimming, I paused my movie, kicked off my slippers, and put on my sandals. I’ll find these rabble-rousers, I thought. I’ll complain on ’em first thing in the morning. I don’t care if these rapscallions know its me either! With a furrowed brow and head ready to explode, I left the apartment. To my utter surprise I saw a very short Asian man in my entryway. He wore a t-shirt, but his neck was wrapped in a scarf, making his neck look very fat and his head a protrusion, much like that of a baby’s pacifier. He leaned over the guardrail, gazing toward the noise and smoking a cigarette, when I entered the entryway. I must’ve had quite the scowl on my face, for the man looked at me in horror, as if he half-expected me to attack him. He immediately spoke, almost apologetically.

“Hi, I’m Toro. I just moved in two weeks ago.”

Something close to a thousand questions bounced around my head. Is he part of the conspiracy? I thought, probably intensifying my scowl. But I took a different route.

“Hey. Do you know where that noise is coming from?”

“Huh? Oh, I don’t know. Over there somewhere, I suppose.” He pointed in the obvious direction, and it seemed he was not an enemy but a comrade. “When they do that, I just have to come out here and join them.” He took a drag on his cigarette, and I looked at him in dismay. Join them? I thought. Those rascals? Join them? Something, I know not what, but something perhaps like shame must have been carried along with his words. For my cold, cranky heart slowly melted as I looked at this man, puffing on his cigarette and enjoying the racket. Never in my entire existence had such an idea occurred to me. Here I was, in my all my righteous indignation, and there he was, in his silent and peaceful acceptance. Well, I did not know exactly what to do, so stunned I was. Stupefied, I placed my elbows on the railing and spoke.

“Maybe I should… Maybe I should take up smoking.”

“No. No, you shouldn’t.”

“You’re right. But it’s rude isn’t it?”

“Yes. Yes, it is.”

“I was trying to watch a movie. Couldn’t hear a thing.”

“What movie?”

Grumpy Old Men.”

He said he had never heard of it, and we ambled our conversation around to our homes.

“So you moved in two weeks ago?”

“Yeah. I’m from Nepal. Know where that is?”

I furrowed my brow like an idiot, and he explained it to me.

“Mt. Everest, you know?” Right. I did know, and I apologized for my ignorance, blaming it on the music. I asked him about work and school, and we chatted for a bit as the music blared. After a few minutes the music died down and ceased. We stood there for a moment, looking at nothing in particular. The night was very pleasant and now all that we heard were the usual sounds of sirens, babies, and airplanes. I heard Cephas banging around in his apartment and yelling at his cats. I thought I would tell Toro about him, but checked myself. Cephas’ neighbors should experience him firsthand, I thought. Eventually, the music started back up as well as our conversation.

“So Kansas City is in Missouri?” he asked.

“Well, it’s confusing. It’s in both. There are two cities, though its really just one city. I’m not from Missouri, I’m from Kansas.”

“Oh. Do you go back often?”

“At Christmas,” I said, sadly.

“Oh, you’re a Christian?”

“Huh? How’d you know?”

“Well, you go home for Christmas…”

Sadly, I had not made such a connection. I explained that most people who celebrate Christmas probably aren’t Christians. But I actually was. I mentioned I was rather devout.

“I’m Hindu,” he said. “I’m not devout. We have something like three million gods. One for the sun, the moon…”

“Oh. Like the Greeks. I don’t know much about Hinduism, but for the reincarnation thing. My sister’s Buddhist, I guess.”

“Yeah, in Nepal, our Hinduism is mixed with some Buddhism.”

This only complicated matters more for me. He mentioned something again about having a million gods, and then I interjected.

“Yeah, we simplify all that. We have just one God. But, I guess we complicate it too. You know, the Trinity.”

“Yeah, the Father, Son, and Holy Father, Holy…”

“Ghost. Right. Three in one. One nature, three persons. Very confusing.”

“Yeah. I think all religions are virtually the same. They all want you to live a good moral life.”

“I would agree they do, but Christianity is a little different. You have to believe certain things are true. Like the Trinity. You can’t just be good and deny that. You can’t just be a good person and believe in three million gods.”

Whether I offended him or he simply had finished his cigarette, Toro decided to turn in. We said good night, and I returned to my movie, much more at peace than when I had left. The music had ceased now for a bit, and I was nearly in a happy mood despite it all. But then it did return, and like a cold spirit it entered my body and iced over my heart. I finished the film in a huff, and the next morning I promptly complained like the grumpy old man I’m slowly becoming.

Broom Snow
The Jolly Mariner – Rochelle Avenue
Las Vegas, Nevada
February 3, 2017

Painting: “Old Man Smoking”
By Nicholas Condy
Oil on Canvas, 19th C.

_____________________
*Thus begins Part II of The Gambler, which will essentially be a continuation of the same old rambling, yet without numbers.

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