Elevator Music

"I've figured out a way to use cats for transportation," he said, and paused dramatically.

"Well?" I said.

"Steroids!" he said. "We give the cats steroids. Oh--and selective breeding. I almost forgot about that part. Steroids and selective breeding. We'll end up with big, strong cats. Certainly they would be able to support a person's weight."

"I have my doubts," I told him. And I did. Imagine!

As if Zeke weren't enough, Becca is here too. She's my ex-wife. She hangs around almost as much as Zeke does. She tells me that she doesn't have anything better to do. I can believe that. This is an interesting place to be.

She talks to Zeke sometimes, and sometimes she talks to me. Mainly, though, she just sits in her chair by the window and plays her flute. It's a slope-backed chair, slung low, and she sits in it with her legs under her, like a bird in a nest. One of the legs of her chair broke off while I was moving it into the apartment, and now that side of it has to be propped up with books. I tell her that she needs a new chair, but she doesn't want one.

"But look at it, for God's sake!" I say to her, when I am particularly annoyed. "It only has three legs! It's a disgrace."

"I am not concerned with its status as a chair," she says, scolding me. "I am concerned with its essence."

That's a fine way to think, and she doesn't need me to tell her so. It's part of the game. And man, can she play the flute!

She used to play mainly from sheet music, rendering everything note-perfect, crisp and fine as though she were pulling it right out of the composer's head adn making it real. Once, when she was playing something especially beautiful, I said to her, "I think you should improvise over that theme."

She looked lost for a moment. "I can't improvise," she said. "I don't know how."

I thought about that, while she continued to play. Then I told her, "All you have to do to improvise is this: while you're playing, try to think of a note that you're not already thinking of. When you think of it, play the note right away, and I think it will sound all right. Your fingers know how to improvise. They just need to be unhooked for a split-second before every note. That's what you need: distraction!"

What could she have thought I meant? It hardly made any sense. But soon she was playing in a new way, trilling and twittering around a little Bach piece that she was scanning, just letting the notes fall in where they wanted to be. That's where I got the idea for how to untrap everybody, and that brings me to where I am. It's funny how things fall into place, and you end up pretty much where you need to be.

The process by which you end up where you are is called entelechy.

I told you I had a degree.

Washing dishes is an interesting job. It gives you lots of time to think. today at work I felt like a snowball inside. I heard Becc'a flute music in my head, and the notes rolled over and over each other and made an idea that got bigger and bigger as it rolled. And every time I wanted to make the idea bigger still, I just thought about something I wasn't already thinking about, and there it was, with more layers and more harmonies.

I wasn't thinking about dishes at all. I picked up cups and scrubbed plates and pie pans without even feeling them. That's how deep the snow was getting. And it wasn't just an idea. Some of the snowball-layers were words, too--the simple words I could say to make the same snow fall for anyone who would listen.

Nobody would have to see what was in my mind for it to work. There would be no fear. I would give them a dressed-up truth that they could undress with my instrucitons, a flute in snow's clothing.

I brought some clean silverware to the dining room, and on the way back I paused to watch everybody eat and to collect my thoughts. It was the middle of the lunch hour. Everyone was frantic with ingestion. They were all on schedules, cramming themselves so they could dart off to be somewhere they weren't already, a place where there was music to read.

I clapped my hands. Only a few people looked, so I did it again. Lots of eyes swivelled onto me.

"Excuse me," I said. "Excuse me, everybody. This will just take a second, and it's very important."

The murmur of voices died down to nothing, and everybody was finally looking at me. It's amazing how polite people can be.

"I was just washing the dishes," I told the quiet people, "and I think I've figured out a way for all of you to untrap yourselves."

The rest of it came out smooth and quick, and everyone listened patiently, not saying a word. I told them about how to think about something they weren't already thinking about, about how to improvise. I explained that they didn't need to follow the sheet music exactly, and that if they would just distract themselves for a minute, beautiful notes would fall in where they wanted to.

I thanked them for their attention. It remained quiet after I was done speaking, while they thought about what I had said.

I'm not a natural performer by any means, but I didn't feel the least bit self-conscious, because I knew I was getting through. One teenaged boy at a window table gave two short barks of laughter during the silence, and I knew immediately that he had gotten it. I gave him the thumbs-up.

I didn't feel like hanging around too much after that, so I high-tailed it back to the apartment.

Zeke met me at the door. I could tel lby his expression that he had thought up some new scheme, and I couldn't wait to hear it. He had given up some time ago on teh cats-as-transportation idea. Some calculations he had done had finally convinced him that the concept was basically flawed. He wasn't beaten, though. He told me:

"Cats will never be good for transportation on Earth. I admit that. I'm just way ahead of my time again. There's only one place where cat-power can be fully realized as an alternative energy source." He paused, grinning real big like he does. "Know where that is?" he asked.

"No. Where?" I inquired, gamely.

"The moon! The gravity up there is only one-fifth of Earth's gravity. I'm telling you--mark my words, now--some day, cats will be able to take you anywhere you want to go on the moon."

"I believe it," I said.

But that was about a week ago, and his grin meant something new today.

"Whatcha got, Zeke?" I asked him.

"Oh, just the newest thing in video-recording technology!" he said proudly. Becca had been playing flute in her chair, but she stopped in order to hear Zeke's newest idea.

"Wait here," he said, and scurried into my bedroom. He emerged, seconds later, holding my cat. He approached me slowly, the cat held out in front of him with two hands.

"For God's sake, Zeke. Is this another cat idea?" I said peevishly, and walked to my desk to get a cigarette. Zeke pivoted to follow me.

"This," he said, nodding to indicate the cat, "is Cat-Cam, the current pinnacle of video technology."

"How so?" I asked, as though I didn't know what was coming.

"It's really quite simple. Some day, technology will advance to the point where it is possible to retrieve and review the memories of this cat. They'll be played back on an ordinary television set, using a special converter. All one needs to do is aim Cat-Cam at the desired subject, and the minutest details are recorded. A child could use it!"

"I think I detect some flaws in your reasoning," I began, but he cut me off with a shout.

"Disbeliever! You won't be so smug when I make a million dollars." He held up Cat-Cam and trained her on himself, speaking loudly and looking into her eyes. She laid her ears back, unhappily. "Let the record show that I, Zeke, reserve all rights to the Cat-Cam process and any patents or technologies which arise from its development."

"Christ almights, Zeke," I said, and sat down at my desk. He aimed the cat at me and came in for a close-up shot. He moved back and forth, getting me from different angles.

"Nothing escapes Cat-Cam," he said, menacingly. "Everything you say and do goes in, and later it comes out for all to see. I'm getting you! I'm recording your atrocities!"

That finally got me laughing, because I knew he was just kidding around. What atrocities? In her chair, Becca was laughing softly too, and shaking her head at Zeke. I pretended to ignore him, and eventually he meandered away, still carrying Cat-Cam. That's when I started writing this.

I'm just killing time. This is just a little empty space, the end of some entelechy that has decided to die slow. It's just filler, some twittering and trilling around to keep my mind off the nothing there is to do. It's just elevator music.

It's a funny thing, elevator music. You hardly know it's there, but it gets inside you, and pretty soon you're humming "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head." You don't even know you started, but there it is. The notes fall like dominoes from one little push in the elevator, a single nudge from a muted trumpet.

Zeke is prowling around the house with Cat-Cam, aiming her at things and speaking softly in her ears. He says he's making a documentary about my life. Good. "You can be my official cinematographer," I tell him.

"Animatographer," he says, and swivels to train Cat-Cam on Becca, who is playing "Ode to Joy" on her flute, over and over. She is nesting in her chair expertly, as proudly as she would if it had four good legs. She watches me watch her as she plays.

"Can you play 'Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head?'" I ask her, as she pauses long between phrases and un-purses her lips.

She smiles slyly at me and blows the first few notes of 'Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head,' but she turns it cleverly into 'Ode to Joy,' matching the notes up perfectly so that it sounds like one song. I can see her smiling under her flute-face, and I laugh and laugh.

I'm pretty sure things are going to be all right. I can feel my degree kicking in.

Any minute now, I'll think of something.



[game over, please insert quarter]