Friday, February 19, 2010

A story about a stranger, a street, an opera song.

About a month ago, I posted something rather disheartening, about a stranger. Yesterday, I posted about music. (Well, somewhat about music).

So today, I thought I would tell a nice story about strangers, and about music, too. But before I begin, there's something you need to know about me:

I've always had a dream of someone holding a sign with my name on it at the airport.

As in, a suited chauffeur, holding a hand-written, medium-sized piece of poster that says: "MOSELEY."

Such a funny little wish! I don't know where it comes from. But, several years ago, my sweet parents - who knew about my dream - picked me up at George Bush Intercontinental in Houston holding several signs with my name lovingly scribbled across, grinning madly and shaking them to get my attention, while I floated down an escalator, freshly returned from studying abroad in Italy. I grinned back.

I have another wish, somewhat similar, and I suspect both come from being an only child. Always wanting to recapture that feeling of being the most special.

The dream is this: being serenaded. I want to be serenaded.

But properly, I should add. By which I mean, serenaded in a big, cheesy way.  Lover standing beneath a window, strumming a guitar, crooning something heartfelt and cliche like "More Than Words."  And I've gotten pretty close. I had a college boyfriend, once, who wrote a song for me, recorded it, gave me a CD copy. It was gentle and tender, and I was delighted.

Ross also sang Elvis to me on our wedding day, thereby proving that A) he is the best husband in the world and B) karaoke would eventually be a major theme in our marriage. "Are You Lonesome Tonight" is kind of our song, and he rewrote the talking part where Elvis is all, "Act one was when we met..." to instead be about me in grad school, crying over copies of Jane Austen. I nearly tackled him because it was so awesome.

But, no window serenade. Not from a lover.

Strangers, however? That's a different story.

Twice now, two absolute strangers have sung for me. And both times, it has been opera. This is not a joke. You know how some people have recurring dreams? In my life, I have recurring guest tenors and baritones.  I'm not sure why this occurs. Once it happened in the underground parking lot of Ego's, and before that, in the middle of downtown Sacramento. Here is a story about one of them.

*    *    *

So I was walking back to my car after work. It was well past midnight, and I stumbled out of our office bleary-eyed, and slightly pissed off. It was closing week at our magazine, a hip city magazine in Sacramento, and I had been staring at other people's copy for roughly 12 hours. My stomach hurt. A combination of indigestion from too much ordered-in Chinese take-out, and stress over the grad school TA section I had to teach in a few hours.

Now, as a few readers of this blog know, I recently learned my lesson about walking at night by myself. But on this particular evening, it was 3:00am, my car was a few blocks away, and unlike that night at Shangri-La, I strode alone. Strode, incidentally, by from the old boarding house of that convicted California serial killer, Dorothea Puente.

Anyhow - I was I walking down J Street. As I rounded the corner to the block where my car was parked, I saw a tall person in the dark. They were standing at the opposite end of the block from me, and from what I could tell, we were the only two people outside at this hour. At least in the immediate vicinity.

As I walked, this person turned in my direction, but jerkily, like I had startled them. It was a woman. Hair long and stringy. Bulky, faded Army jacket.

That's when she started towards me.

Nothing to be alarmed about, I thought. Still, I sucked in my breath, reached in my purse to clutch my keys. Partly to get them ready for the car door lock, and partly to look...threatening.

I've never been in a physical altercation in my life, but I have years of fear-of-the-homeless bred into me. Not by my parents necessarily, but by comfortable middle-class culture in general, I believe.  We're always either overly naive or overly cautious, this large swath of us, but for once, I opted for cautious. Slipped each key between my fingers. Pesudo-steel-knuckle-self-defense-101 style.

She was ambling deliberately down the sidewalk, and she had a very slight limp. (More accurately: one of her feet walked like normal, while the other hissed along the pavement as she dragged it.) She giggled to herself. I held my keys tighter.

We were about twenty feet apart.

I could see my gray, small car in the dark, about four car spaces up. But she was closer to it than me. I took my fistful of keys out of my purse to indicate, "look sister, I don't know about you, but I'm about to get in my car and drive it."

She stopped in front of me before I got there. Pointed at me.

"Hey. Girl."


"Hey, would you like to hear some opera?"

She started to smile as she said it. A touch mischievously. I didn't say anything, but instead, stepped off the pavement and onto the street, like my car was actually parked somewhere else.

"Hey. Hey, just WAIT."


"I SAID, would you like to hear some OPERA."

Fuck. "Um, ok?"

Keep in mind, it was the middle of the night. Completely silent, except for us two souls, and for the far-off flashes of cars on a nearby highway. Just small urban whispers.

She reached out toward me, with a gesture that said, "great, stay right there." Then she closed her eyes, and took a deep breath.


The first note was raspy.

"Laaaaah." (Deeper).

"La! La!" (Staccato).

"LA!" (Arms raised in hallelujah chorus).

She was warming up, and totally loving this. I felt awkward.


I could tell this was her "number" by the way her arms were going now. They began to get all big and dramatic. Jesus, really? I thought. 

"LA! LA! LuuuuaaaAHH!" 

She was completely going for it, high note and everything, arms up in the air with hands cupped around something invisible, miming like they were holding something precious. Like something you'd see on TV. Something you'd see Celine Dion do.

Then, she stepped off the pavement toward me.

I began walking.

"LAAaaaa...hey! Hey wait! Hey, please."

I stopped. I turned around.

She was lowering herself down onto one knee in the street.  She kept one hand on the ground to steady herself, shakily, and one hand up in the air so as not to lose the momentum.


It was soft. She paused to grunt, smacked her hand on her knee to make it still.


I could tell this was the big finish. She squeezed her hands into fists, raised both arms into the air. Shook them at the sky, but nodding at me too and grinning conspiratorially, like, "right?  See what I just did there? I did the fist shake thing, like opera singers, opera singers and their shaky fists!"

Her arms were tense with the moment. It was her most triumphant note.


God, it was loud. So loud, and in the middle of the night. But she didn't care. She dropped her arms drop down by her sides, breathing, and then the breath turned into a cough.

I was looking down at her. I smiled. And giggled.

She looked up at me. Smiled back, during the cough. Wiped her hands off roughly on her jacket, put both on her knee. Pushed herself up, put her arms out to get her balance.

"Alright I'm going."

She turned away from me, and as she did, I could see her grin, only partially concealed by her clumped hair.  She started limping down the street, in the same direction as she started.

I walked to my car. I opened the door. Everything was, again, quiet.

And in the quiet, I heard her start to clap.


Hipstercrite said...

Amazing! Love it! I really love the part about having a sign with your name on it at the airport. I can just picture it! Great post!

Austin Eavesdropper said...

@Hipstercrite - Thank you, Lauren! That poster was a dream come true. :)

Kristen said...

I once had a highschool boyfriend serenade me with a didgeridoo outside my window. and let me tell you... there is nothing romantic about a didgeridoo.

my favorite part of this awesome post is with your hubs changing up the lyrics to are you lonesome tonight. so sweet :)

Anonymous said...

Tolly have you ever thought about submitting to some short story contests? I think the Chronicle has one.

"Something you'd see Celine Dion do." I can EXACTLY picture it. Loved this story - you are such a talent.

That Chelsea Girl™ said...

Great story!
How long did you live in Sacramento?