I'm only now able to talk about it. Therapists recommend that we share our feelings and experiences to speed the recovery process, but I needed to wait until the flashbacks had settled down a bit.
It was afternoon, the Columbus Circle subway station. He was playing one of those instruments I associate with Chinese Opera, you know, one of those stringed instruments that always sounds like a singing adenoidal cat. Actually it often sounds like someone is just SQUEEZING an adenoidal cat. There are lots of instruments than can have this sort of nasally sound, saxophones, bagpipes, oboes, clarinets, Middle Eastern music often uses some kind of nasal woodwind, hell there even some singing styles that have this quality, and you know what, often I even LIKE this sound. The uilean pipes (the bagpipe's little brother) in Irish music is often a lovely form of cat squeezing (strumming, whatever); I love the Bulgarian Women's Ensembles, and those ladies do a lot of their singing through their noses, sounding sometimes like really resonant kazoos, seriously, I even enjoy this particular Chinese Opera instrument from time to time, especially since it is the only stringed instrument (as opposed to woodwind) that is nasal on purpose, honestly, I can enjoy this sound... but it is a tricky and delicate balance. Oh so very delicate.
This guy, the one playing in Columbus circle, have to tell ya, not hitting that balance so well. But it gets worse. Like many subway buskers, he was playing along to a prerecorded song. Most of the time the recording is just the backing music, or the orchestration, and the live instrument then plays the melody over top. Not this guy. He's playing the melody, so is the recording. The prerecorded instrument is probably a synthesizer, so all the rough edges, all the corners and pointy bits of the notes have been filed away, which is a sound that sometimes works for me (hello Eurythmics) and sometimes not (god, stop with the Bossa Nova). To be fair, this time it wasn't so bad, except it was emphasizing the serious sinus trouble this particular cat had as he was squeezed, but more importantly it also highlighted in GLARING detail all the times the performer was flat. And he was flat a lot. Quite a lot. Oh so many, many times. Not all the time, mind you, which I think would have almost been easier to handle. No, he'd go along just fine for a few phrases, lulling us all into a false sense of hope, then on a particularly soaring, fortissimo note he'd squeeze that poor suffering cat extra hard, shooting for that note... and just not quite make it.
But the horror doesn't stop there. You see, I haven't told you what SONG he was playing. And you know it. We ALL know it. This guy, this no doubt pleasant, fine human being, with all sorts of responsibilites, relationships, dreams and desires, this guy squeezing his adenoidal cat with passion and vigor if not with so much talent, this guy was playing, wait for it...
The Love Theme from the Titanic.
Yup, Celine Dion, I will Go On, and does she ever. Are you getting the full picture here? While I'm listening to the flat nasal cat squeezing and the prerecorded synthesizer, this weird obsessive part of my brain, one of the parts that seems not to like me very much, is playing the tape of ole Leather Lungs Dion wailing away, pounding her chest, pouring her very being into this horrible horrible song.
I debate finding some sharp implement with which to puncture my eardrums. I even consider asking this guy if I can borrow his bow to do it with, but I realize that while this might stop the sound of him and his synthesizer and his cat, it won't do a thing about Celine. Nope, she's in my head, singing away, and what's more, she's going to be in there FOR THE REST OF THE DAY.
So I pull out the songs I use when faced with this dilemma. I sing quietly to myself. I sing Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Kate Bush, Prince, Sting, Peter Gabriel, random TV theme songs I'd forgotten I knew ('Davey, DAvey Crockett/king of the wild frontier'), I am so distraught I even sing another song I LOATHE and routinely get stuck in my head, in the hopes that its staying power will prove stronger:
Her name was Lola
She was a showgirl
with yellow feathers in hair
and a dress cut down to there
.....across a crowded floor
his name was Guido (is it Guido? I think that's right, boy, Barry was really playing some stereotypes here, huh.)
........... he called her Rover
at the COPA
Nope, not even this is working, and I really really hate this song. So I pull out the big guns, my last ditch effort, the one I try not to use too often for fear of diluting its awesome power:
Meow meow meow meow
Meow meow meow meow
Meow meow meow meow
MEOW meow meow meow
MEOW meow meou meow
meow meow meow meow
MEOW meow meow meow
Still nothin', ole Leather Lungs is still wailing away, I'm mercifully spared the lyrics, but that is small consolation, the cat is still screaming through its congested nose, hitting flat on at least 40 percent of the notes...
Then my train came. Sweet merciful heaven. But as I feared, Celine was with me for the rest of the day, and at least half of the next one.
So. I'm still recovering. Even just writing this entry has set Celine off again, though fortunately today the Purina Cat Chow song is proving stronger. Oh, beloved Cat Chow song, thank you for your mind-erasing power. I'm still a pretty shaky though. I may be asking for your help over the next few months. I'm not sure what I'll be needing. Backrubs are always welcome. Chocolate is never a bad idea. Taking me for little walks to rebuild my stamina well help too. Anyone thinking aversion therapy is the way to go should think twice about coming over. Just to warn ya.
It wasn't easy, but I'm glad I was able to tell this story. If I can spare another person this trauma, then it was all worth it.