We passed, at twilight, a decrepit mansion where, years before, during a still-famous concert, Kurt Cobain had been shot from the stage in a makeshift one-man glider into the sky, his arms strapped to the crossbars like a blond, beardless Christ. The people aiming him had, however, accidentally sent him to the wrong landing site, and he ended up in the top floor of another large house where, fortuitously, it turned out that the residents revered the arts and were happy to receive him.
A beautiful young woman, her legs temporarily weakened by some affliction, floated therapeutically in the small, square pool that was the front yard of her apartment. As we talked in low, sympathetic tones to each other, she gestured at the corner across the intersection, where a modest old-style movie theater advertised THE BIRDS on its still-handsome marquis. The employees activated some mechanism that made the marquis revolve on a hidden axis and turn inward, leaving visible on its back only a row of shelves where drab-colored socks and legwarmers were laid out for sale. "They're finally going out of business," the young woman whispered. I was filled with disappointment and rage, as I had only just discovered the existence of the theater at that moment.
The hands held a small, flat, silver box, like a cigarette case. It opened to reveal a little keyboard--only five or six keys. One finger of the hand began to pick out a melody instantly familiar but elusive. I felt as though any second I would be able to identify it. Then, as if to anticipate me, the underside of the case's lid spelled out the artist and title in block letters: WILSON PICKETT, DIGGING IN THE RIVER. Of course, I thought. Some words from the chorus became audible:
If you're happy and free
Have a future you can see
It's because unlike me
You're not digging in the river
I began to walk down the street, the music now filling my head, perhaps through earphones. Wilson Pickett's voice continued plaintively:
God loves all human children
Little boys grow up like their mothers
Some joke and laugh for their brothers
It was sunny but raining lightly. A bus drove by, radiant and yellow. I thought about how Wilson Pickett would once have had to sit in the back of that bus, and about how daring and dangerous Wilson Pickett still was, the boldest of revolutionary voices, and how proud I was to have his voice in my ears. My throat began to clinch up, and I struggled to hold back sentimental tears. I was walking under the awnings of quiet midcentury shops on this street with its ambient light in this neighborhood that was both busy and serene, that might have been in late 1960s Modesto, or in a leafy part of Chicago. The people in front of me were walking just too slowly for me to pass them comfortably, and there were just enough people behind me to make me feel enveloped by a small crowd, a friendly feeling. I worried that people could sense my tears, which I tried to cover up by sniffling loudly as though I had a cold. Like everyone else, I was wearing extremely lightweight plastic rain gear, even though the rain only amounted to a few drops on the gold-tinted sidewalk. I felt such a kinship with the people around me, with this street, its traffic and trees and nostalgic hues, that the inexpressible sadness which was part of my happiness began to sharpen and expand: sadness that this idyllic home of mine could not be shared with someone else who was miles away, forced by fate to live in a dull landscape of gray concrete tuna factories and soulless modern convenience stores. But then this aching sadness expanded into the dawning apprehension that it was not really my home either, that the subtly muted radiance of this street scene would gradually fade, that it was fading already with this realization.