Thursday, August 23, 2007

The View From Here: Songball

(the following is part of an ongoing 'column' I did for Suspect Thoughts, and, no, it's not supposed to make sense: only be weird fun)

The neighborhood kids are playing songball again. I don’t mind - except when that poor hydrocephalic kid from down at the Corporate Dormitories plays. His voice just grates on me -- and three times now he’s hit just the right frequency, causing my precious candyglass trinkets from that wonderful Summer at Bronze Beach to explode like kitsch-shrapnel hand grenades.

Last time I thought I’d escaped unscathed, that his screeching rendition of Baldwin’s new hit “Peacocks on my Mind” had somehow bypassed those mnemonic souvenirs of firm breasts and multicolored pubic hairs against a backdrop of pure, blue sands and a crashing champagne sea -- but after one drop, then two of blood on the manuscript pages I was laboring over, I reached up to find a sliver of cheaply spun crystal at the end of a wicked slice of skin.

I have to admit that when I heard their tunes drift up from the alley, I jerked my head to my little shelf of erotic brick-a-brack, waiting for one to detonate -- mentally running my apartment full of crap for something suitably heavy, but not too weighty, to drop on the poor little spud’s head.

Luckily for him and for my criminal record -- the Magistrates being tightly wound that Summer as the League of Handsome Prostitutes had decided to attend their Convention of Postures in unusual droves -- my kitsch stayed intact on my little shelf, the swollen-headed fry obviously having something better to do that screech and therefore inflict minor flesh wounds on lowly writers.

A writer lives for distractions. Anything will do. Messages suddenly crying to be composed, a stubborn pillow under the ass that cries to be fluffed and then fluffed again, a speck of grit on a window, a cup that simply looks out of place, a candletip that needs trimming, a fingernail just a shade too long -- or, in my case that afternoon, the local spawn playing songball in the alley.

I’m not a fan. Oh, sure, I like swingtag like most good Franciscans, but frankly I just don’t have the pitch or pipes to do anything but get teammates and adversaries to gag on their laughter or fall over backwards. So a lot of nuances of the game are lost on me.

But ... writers and their distractions, so I took my favorite cup, full of deepest black and wondered over to sip and stare -- anything but face that damned blank page.

Songball? Really? I had no idea what I was looking at. Oh, sure, I saw the alley, a battered couple of charcoal bins, a few flutters of litter, and the half-dozen or so scruffy (and sometimes not) local kids standing there on the soiled pavement, marked the usual cubic patterns of places and HOME, cheering, jeering, and chanting. I thought I knew the basics of the game, but either somehow I lost what little knowledge I’d had or the game had evolved on the street into something totally unique. The pitch was the same, that’s what I’d first heard, but the delivery, the spin, was strange and new.

I kept looking, listening, trying to figure out the play but just when I thought I had a grip on the rules, the behavior, it slipped away. Songs seemed to change and evolve totally at random as one child skipped forward and another skipped back. An outstanding performance -- like when a copper-headed sprite in Naval Greens belted out what I thought to be a perfect rendition of Carol’s “Death of Summer” -- brought catcalls and squeals of disappointment, and then when one of the little urchins tore up the air with what seemed to be just random squawks and squeals they got applause, cheers and to progress up five, and even seven squares

Fear started to niggle at the back of my mind, as if the world has suddenly twisted out of whack. Had I set down to my work in one world, with one version of songball only to look up somewhere else where the rules were completely different?

I thought about yelling down at the insufferable brats, either to get then to stop playing their game with my mind -- or at least key me in with the damned rules. I also thought about grabbing my shawl and rollers and just getting out of there -- maybe to the library where the books would hopefully still be books and the clerks as rude as ever.

I felt a shiver of panic, imaging a trip out my door -- down suddenly unfamiliar roads, past unfamiliar buildings, neighborhood commonalties having shifted into not-quite right, and what-the-hell? Would menus be nothing but puzzling heliographics and impenetrable encryptions? Would signs become a dance of squiggles and stylish ciphers? Was the city outside the city I remembered?

Just then, right when I was really starting to worry, one of my trinkets blasted away into a rainbow cascade of cheap materials -- and I knew, much to my satisfaction -- that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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