Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Blue Haze.

As the familiar sound of quiet surrounded the radio station, and in the moments before the next track played, Maxwell thought of the previous night's events.

Maxwell had the night off.  And what a night it would be.  When it was all said and done, he felt that the neighborhood had decided to drop acid and take a wild trip.  Her name was Catherine. "Just Catherine," she said.  Maxwell was surprised to see her at O'Harley's since she worked at Joe's.  Max actually preferred Joe's because it was less crowded.  So when he saw her there, he decided to joke a bit and act like he was going to try and pick-her-up.  He knew that she'd be drinking gin and he laughed as he tried to make a pass at her.  She was startled at first, but played along.

They talked and laughed about stupid things and people all crowding in to bark at Rick for a drink.  He was clearly overwhelmed. But after a while, Maxwell got tired of shouting and suggested that they head to Joe's, but they never made it there.

As they were leaving the bar, Maxwell could smell spray paint in the air. They passed a few people who, as if they were hypnotized, stood staring at the graffiti. He was about to say something to Catherine about it, but she touched his arm and said, "Maxwell, before we go to Joe's, I've got to take care of something."

"Okay, sure."

She walked quickly toward Herbert Johnson road and turned the corner. As soon as Maxwell saw the blue man, he stopped in his tracks, but Catherine kept walking and stood on the sidewalk at the corner of the asylum. She stood just in the shadow, but her shoes caught the edge of light. Maxwell slowly walked toward her.  He wasn't sure what he should watch.  The chaos of the scene, police, or the fire department, or people with their iPhones pointing up at the man jostling one another to get the best angle, or Catherine, standing deathly still in the shadows.  Maxwell decided to keep his distance from both.  He switched from one scene to the next and thought he saw Catherine muttering something right before the blue man jumped into the big, blue beyond.

Maxwell didn't see him hit the ground because of all the people trying to get it on their phones. He felt sick, but Catherine suddenly appeared next to him and said, "Let's go.  This is craziness."

Maxwell felt as if he was swimming up stream as he tried to follow Catherine away from the swelling crowd.  There was blue everywhere.  Maxwell became disoriented as he looked down at the countless tracks from shoes that had stepped in the blue paint.  People were brushing against each other and smearing blue randomly on one another.  He stumbled and fell against a wall that smelled of fresh graffiti.  When he opened his eyes, Catherine was gone.

The track had finished. As he reached to change the record, his sleeve revealed a spot of blue paint on his wrist.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The blood of Christ, Charlie Lemon, and the dead of night.

Maxwell stood in the doorway between the back room and the radio studio and looked down at the man on the couch.  He muttered a bit, his leg twitched and then he lay still.  The ringing phone didn't disturb his sleep.  Tonight the phone was ringing left and right and the requests and people were, in a word, crazy. Maxwell put on an extended set because he didn't want to answer anymore calls.

He had basically carried little Charlie back to the station.  By the time Charlie collapsed after the fit of singing and dancing around the church "revival" fire, Maxwell needed to be at work.  Nobody seemed to pay any attention to the collapsed guy, so Maxwell simply lifted him up and put him over his shoulder firemen style. He picked-up the guy's bag and started walking.

He was making good progress, but Charlie suddenly woke-up and demanded to be put down. Maxwell obliged, but as soon as he put him down, Charlie swayed and started gibbering something.  He sounded like the church people talking in tongues. Maxwell thought it was amusing.

Then Charlie stood stalk still and said, "We KILLED him, you know."

"What?"Maxwell's eyebrows rose and the smile disappeared.

Charlie stepped closer, looked both directions and softly said, "My mother and me," he swallowed, "we killed him. He was a crook, and we had had enough." Charlie's eyes told Maxwell that he was standing there, but he wasn't there.


"Pappa. The old man." Charlie was whispering by that point. They were standing in the alley. The night air seemed to be holding its breath. Maxwell could smell the smoke from the next corner.

"Charlie, I know we just met, you've probably just had a bit too much of the blood of Christ."
"I'm Charlie, Charlie Lemon. I never saw any blood. My mother made it go away, and then she went away." Charlie then snickered as if he remembered a joke. "And then I went away.  Far, far away." He gestured and then his arm just dropped.
"Dude, you should stop talking now.  I don't know what the church folks slipped into the punch that was passed around, but you clearly are out of your mind." Maxwell reached out and touched him on the shoulder and it was as if the spell was broken. Maxwell barely had time to catch Charlie before he hit the pavement.  As Maxwell lifted him back onto to his shoulder, he grunted. It felt like Charlie had gotten heavier somehow. "Come on, little man, time to get you on the couch."

The set was almost over, and Charlie turned over so that he faced the back of the couch, muttered something else and was still. Maxwell took another sip of his coffee, turned and went to answer yet another phone call.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A man at the counter, Led Zeppelin, and time on his hands.

    The two AM to five AM shift at the radio station allowed Maxwell the time to think about things. He had put on a long set of tunes and had stepped to the big window to watch the snow falling. The station was empty except for the night cleaning crew.  Actually it was just an old man who swept a bit and cleaned the one toilet. The old man usually was on his way out when Maxwell arrived.  Ralph said he was waiting for his wife to come get him and because of the snow, she was late.
     Watching the snow made Maxwell remember the night he got this job. He had worked other jobs, living modestly and saving money when he could.   He sometimes took time off to take a break and travel. Living at Dreamwood Terrance had made it easy to save money and he had just returned from a trip to Greece when he happened to be in the diner late one evening and the radio was playing a jazz tune.
     After the song was over, the DJ went  through the list of songs, and to Maxwell's surprise, the DJ misnamed 4 of the 5 songs he played.  The last one song was Miles Davis' Milestones, but he said that the song was a Charlie Mingus number, Goodbye Pork Pie Hat. The DJ wasn't even close.
      For some reason, Maxwell was irritated with the DJ's complete incompetence and decided right then and there to call in.  The diner, at 2:30 in the morning, was empty except for one other man sitting a couple of seats down at the counter.  Maxwell pulled out his phone, dialed the number.  The radio was now playing a Doors song, he knew that the DJ would have time to talk.
     "Hello, no, I don't want to request anything other than you stating the name of the songs correctly." Maxwell said. "Yes, you did. Knocking on Heaven's Door was not sung by Jimi Hendrix, but, in this version was Bob Dylan, the man who actually wrote the song. Many people think Eric Clapton wrote it, but they are wrong, just as you are right now." Maxwell was getting more irritated at the tone of the DJ voice.  "And the second song--" before Maxwell could finish, the DJ hung-up the phone.  Maxwell jerked the phone from his ear and stared at it.
     "He's an idiot."  The guy at the end of the counter said in a rather tired voice. "But I can't pay very much for the late night shift and he was the best I could do." Maxwell looked down the counter at him. "He's probably halfway through the bottle he stashes in under the records. And the man has scratched half the collection." The guy at the counter sighed, and took another sip of his coffee, then looked at Maxwell and said.  "You want a job, you seem to know something, at least more than the idiot who works for me, about music."
     "Sure." Maxwell surprised himself at his quick response.
      The snow was really coming down now.  The phone started ringing.  "Hello? Do you have a request?"
       "Yes, yes I do.  It is 3:21 in the morning and I cannot sleep because I have a song stuck in my mind that Guitar Red was singing rather poorly today and I cannot get the song or his voice from my mind."
      "Well, do you want to hear the song or something else?"
      "The song, please, A Stairway to Heaven by--"
      "Zeppelin, yes, Led Zeppelin, no problem."
      "Could you play it at 3:30.  I shall be back in bed by that time and I am hoping that once the song is played, I will be able to sleep.  I must get-up early to get to my job at the retirement home."
       "Of course, 3:30, no problem,  thanks for calling in."
       "You are welcome.  Thank you for playing the song. Remember, 3:30."
       "Got it" Maxwell looked at his phone.  3:27. He quickly moved to the collections, carefully removed the the record, placed it on the player. He turned the volume up on the house speakers. As the flutes followed the sole guitar, Maxwell returned to the window to watch the falling snow. The white blanketed the empty streets covering cars, light polls, curbs. The snow really started coming down as he watched. It was so stark, so beautiful.  He hoped the woman had fallen back to sleep and wished that he could sleep, too. He looked at his phone, 3:36.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Mr. Phelps, Vincent, and all that glitters is gold

He stood looking at his floor that now looked like the night sky.  A small pile of silver glitter lay near the window and trailed back toward the door.  As Maxwell stood gazing in the morning light that filtered through his one, large living room window, he felt like the night sky had miraculously transposed itself onto his floor. Somehow, the night before, the window became slightly ajar and the glitter had gently drifted and spread.  He blamed it on the cat. 

“The Pleiades,” he thought as he wandered around the room looking at the glitter. It caught the morning sun and sparkled onto the walls. He was careful to avoid stepping in it.  “Seven sisters, and… well…” He paused. Stepping over the line that trailed to the door, he decided he needed a tune to inspire the morning’s star gazing.  He carefully put the needle down on Don Mclean’s “Vincent.”  Piano rifts followed him around as he tried to figure out what the line looked like.  “Orion’s Belt, maybe?” He startled himself because he didn’t think he was talking out loud.  “Three kings, seven sisters, seems to fit.” He said, to no one in particular.

His cat, Mr. Phelps, lifted his head when Maxwell spoke.   The music didn't bother him and he could sleep through most of it, but he wasn’t use to Maxwell talking, so he opened his blue, Siamese eyes.  He had just retired to the chair in the sun after the startling events from the previous night.  She came in so quickly and quietly that Mr. Phelps didn’t notice her until she bumped into the corner of the table. He moved with equal silence to the upper shelves of the record collection to watch the intruder.

Maxwell looked up at the cat and said, “Well, Mr. Phelps, all my star gazing on the rooftop has paid off.” He loved the night sky. Most nights, before work, he was up on the roof gazing through the cheap telescope someone had long forgotten.  Today, he was disappointed that the telescope had plunge, inexplicably to it's death.  Maxwell wanted it back. 

As he dozed on the couch, he remembered watching the meteor shower from the night before.  He smiled.  “A starry, starry night, Mr. Phelps, a starry night, Vincent.” Before slipping off to sleep, he looked at the thick swirls from the Van Gogh print hanging from the wall.