I was living in a space that was approximately 4’ x 10’, with a ceiling of the usual height. During the daytime, I would put my feet on the floor and gaze out the window. At night, I put my legs up and my upper body down, rearranging the pillows so there would be one for my head. I would close my eyes, facing away from the windows, and sometimes I would sleep. For the first few nights, I pulled the drapes closed, blocking out the lights from the enormous construction project as well as the blazingly-lit buildings that surrounded my location in all directions. By the fourth night, I stopped closing the shades, finding the idea of the lights gleaming just behind my head to be strangely comforting, a presence I wanted to maintain. Even with the sense of being immersed in a constructed reality – my own personal Truman Show – the lights of this Stepford world flickered just as prettily.
In a city known for its unreasonable hills, perennial fog, and enchanting Victorian architecture, my couch home existed in an area that lay completely outside the farthest bounds of expectation. It was, in other words, completely flat, continually drenched in blinding, bright California sun, and so utterly brand new that the majority of the area was a cacophony of rebar and beams and gridwork.
I knew that I would awaken the following day well before the natural light of morning flooded the room. Sometime between 5:30 and 6:30 am, a voice would pierce the pre-dawn by saying, simply, “I’m awake.” This would be followed by complete silence – unusually complete, for the general layout of the area made for an absence of the routine sounds of early morning, such as birds chirping, dogs barking, a stirring of the natural world. Perhaps ten to fifteen minutes later, once again, “I’m awake.” The tone was neutral, not pressed, or irritated, or perplexed at the lack of response – simply a statement made into the dark void. Then silence once again. Ten minutes later, when the voice returned, there was a difference. Factors had been weighed. Conclusions had been drawn.
Unable to reconcile the possibility that the voice may have been heard, but not responded to, the conclusion was that the voice must not have been heard in the first place. Thus, when the voice cried out again, it was outstandingly loud, and crisply clear, and delivered in the slow, exaggerated way that we often speak to people who are hard of hearing, or have a different native language, or whom we are openly dissing by acting like they are total cretins. “I AM AWAKE. I AM READY TO GET OUT OF MY BED.”
The brand new fake wood floors muffle every iota of sound. There are no footsteps, no shuffling scraping warnings.
A moment later, I open my eyes. A very small person stands two feet from my face. He holds a spray bottle in his mouth, his lips closed around the nozzle while the bottle hangs down.
“You’re starting with the saxophone today, I see,” I say to him.
“Saxophone first. Then tennis racket banjo.”
“What song are you playing?” I ask him.
“Bump.” He says. “After that: Chick Habit.”
And with the naming of his two favorite songs from his most favorite band – a Chicago Punk Marching Band – my day with my 2-year-old grandson begins.