Sunday, August 17, 2008

Something About Time

In spite of the fact that it's a month that commemorates some awful times in my life, I love August. (The month of March has traditionally also been a bad one for me, but I have none of the same affection for it.) August is, to my mind, the most beautiful time of the year in New York City. This sounds completely unreasonable, because it's usually the hottest time, the time when the dirtiness of everything stands out in stark relief in the sweltering haze, and the time when the city is overtaken by European tourists; for me, personally, it's also often been a time of loneliness and bereavement. And yet it's also beautiful: I love the way that the hot breeze is punctuated with the fragrance of whatever green things strive mightily to grow in the city, and the swell of cicadas that rises up from every patch of grass, and the solitude and quiet that can be found in the most unexpected places, even on the busiest streets, at certain times of the day.

In August of 1989 I moved into the first apartment in which I lived completely alone. It was in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, which is now quite chic, but then was not (though I used to see Spike Lee around from time to time; he was very short). I was reeling from a devastating breakup, and in my confusion had forgotten to have the electricity turned on in the new place, so my first night there was shaping up to be a dark one, alleviated only by the seven-day bodega candles I'd bought at the corner deli and placed around my tiny bedroom.

I was working as a waitress in a restaurant in the publishing district where a jazz pianist, an elderly black man who must have been on the scene for decades, played on Monday nights. One slow night a few days before my move (August is the slowest month for the restaurant business in New York), he played a tremendously beautiful song that I'd never heard before. I couldn't stop him to ask what it was, because a jazz pianist, as the only musician, has to keep up a steady flow of music, segueing smoothly from one song to the next. At the end of the night I saw him start to leave, and I abandoned my tables and ran out the door after him. "What's the name of that song you played?" I asked, humming a little of it.

"I don't know," he mused. "Something about time."

On that very dark first night in my new apartment, I plugged in my tiny black and white countertop television, and, by some kind of electrical providence, it came on. And, amazingly, it came on to a woman singing the song I had just heard played a day or two earlier at the restaurant. It was the Fred Astaire movie "Royal Wedding," and the song was "Too Late Now," sung by Jane Powell, who plays Astaire's sister, in a scene with Peter Lawford. I was astonished, and I knew that there was a God who loved me and who had a sense both of humor and of proportion. He had allowed only one source of electricity in my apartment to remain active, not one that would give me full light, but one that would play me that beautiful song. (I was to live in darkness for many more years, a darkness partially illuminated, indeed, by the beauty of song.)

The song, by Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane, is sung by Jane Powell in the scene from the movie in the video link above.


Fallen Sparrow said...

We shadow each other, it seems, you and I. I'm reflecting on August myself, and stunned by the changes, historical and personal, that have taken place in this most tempestuous, beautiful, and brutal of months. Perhaps it is the foreknowledge of fall, of the end times, that causes us to burst forth in such violent and urgent of ways.

Pentimento said...

I want to chronicle a few of my memories before I leave New York, too.

My favorite place in August (most times, really) is Wave Hill - have you been there? I'll miss it.

Robot Boy said...

Remember when I lived with you there, wench? You were grumpy at times, but always charming.
Proust cleansed his memory while he was still alive. He had more courage than a lot of fighters.

Pentimento said...

You can be sure I've been thinking about that a lot, Robot Boy. In fact, I was going to mention our times, but the post was already long enough. Maybe in a supplemental post.

I've been remembering the map of Brooklyn on the wall, and how we associated each neighborhood with a different musician and a different writer, but I can't remember any of the associations - can you? I remember how you tried to make me read Moby Dick and even tried reading it to me; how you tried (without much success) to keep me on the path of virtue; and the infamous day that we walked by the fish market and saw a sign that said, "We have clab" [sic] . . .

Are you saying that men (and women) are compelled to fight in order to excorcise their memories?

Pentimento said...

As Baudelaire said, Robot Boy, "J'ai plus de souvenirs que si j'avais mille ans."

Pentimento said...

OK, I just remembered that I used to make you leave the apartment so I could practice my voice, and you had to write out on the staircase. Sorry about that.