suburban mozart

Got to the bins just as the huge doors were unbolting, and trundling creaking open, and the small group of coffeeguzzle chainsmokers, idling in flip-flops and shorts, broke out giggling, standing upright from wherever they’d been leaning, shifting their weight from foot to foot and watching the door open wider, wiiider, wider until it’s wide enough to fit through and then they’re jogging, sprinting, giggling toward the back part of the warehouse, grabbing shopping carts as they go, whooping out war cries and cackling as they get closer and closer and then throw themselves into those distant bins, in the last three rows of the building, where it’s all DVDs and books and strange bits of tech; the “hard goods”; and meanwhile the younger resellers, joyless and professional twentysomethings, hang back by the front of the warehouse. Where the rows and rows of clothing are. They’re putting on earbuds and latex gloves. Choosing their shopping cart the way a kitchen manager fondles the 4am fish at market. They will spend the next three hours lifting garments and pulling the sleeves taut and bending them, twisting them, working crusty stains with their thumbnail.  

I keep telling myself gloves are a good idea but then I forget. Pigeons flutter and bump through the huge doorways and the slatted windows all morning and then can’t escape the warehouse such that there’ve now been two occasions where I’ve rached for an article of clothing and slapped my hand into a still-wet dollop of birdshit and then just, “Eugh?”, held my hand up in front of me, “eagh?” trying to flick the whitestuff away.

Today in the backrow bins was a collection of 50 or 70 instructional VHS tapes about how to play bongos, and guitar, and bass; how to read sheet music and write it; how to assemble and then play the drumset you presumably just bought on this sweltering August Tuesday in 1997. 

The tapes were everywhere and obviously came from the same collection. All of them well-preserved, but none of them shrink-wrapped. Which means the person who owned these tapes actually watched them. Or presented them, at least. To students.

So they belonged to a music teacher, maybe. Or this was the tape collection from a high school music dept that finally decided in 2023, 18 years after A History of Violence (2005) became the last major studio film printed in VHS format, to clear some shelf space. I kept picking up an instructional music cassette thinking it was something else and then tossing it aside.

What I got to thinking, with no evidence at all, is that these instructional tapes were carefully and lovingly curated over fifteen or twenty years by some polymathic suburban musician who simply could not stand a crowd, and hated to be looked at or listened to, and so what this person did, this Modern Mozart, is they hugged their prodigious and freakishly diverse musical talent to their heart, the way a nervous kid in a loud room hugs their knees, and honed their craft in total suburban quiet. Every day. Someone out in Kendall probably. Ageing into their mortgage with an ever-stoopening spine, punching clocks at a dayjob where, between the hours of 9ish and 5ish, they sip coffee and walk around with hands in their pockets, eating out of tupperwares, a literal Mozart in disguise, the way Thomas Pynchon allegedly shows up at literary parties in Manhattan—a real rumor—with a shiny black cane and says things like, “Well look at those earrings!” introducing himself only as “Tom” and talking very casually about things like the chips, the dip, and of course everybody is totally delighted by this friendly old man, he’s so articulate and inquisitive and randomly fascinating, “who is this man???”—that’s what I imagine is going on with this Suburban Miami Mozart, who spends 40 minutes in traffic heading home each day, listening to NPR, and then when she gets home she switches into sweatpants, takes a shit, watches her zillionth hour of instructional VHS tapes and then heads to the garage with its soundproofed walls where she picks up her instruments and dazzles the rats into tears.

And now, 2023, the maestro has died. Their whole carefully-kept VHS library, the fodder for their unbounded and ever-sprawling gifts, is handed over to Goodwill. 

And, one morning, ends up in the bins.

Sifted and tossed by resellers. Shat on by pigeons, who came here by accident, mistaking the heat and the noise for nature.

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