I, Odysseus

“Heidi,” I grunted into my cell phone, “do you have what I need?” The breeze was stiff and my mind was scattered. At some point in every day, I realized, I reach a mini-crisis contemplating whether someone will, in the long- or short- term, have something I need.

In this case, classical musicians will know to whom I refer: the indomitable guardianess of Frank Music, on 54th Street. She and I have had a mostly mock antagonism for years, since I first glanced askance at her prices. I remember well the subsequent punishment she doled. They say a butterfly in China can cause a hurricane in Florida; and similarly my slightly raised eyebrow (at a Barenreiter price), perhaps the motion of a half centimeter, precipitated a tremendous verbal, virtual storm: off she went about her pitiable situation, and how she didn’t get into this business for money but all she hears about is money money money… and never before or since have I felt like such a miserable, soulless mercenary trampling on music’s sacred grove. I begged her forgiveness, of course. She has a magnificent ability to evoke the miseries of her business at a moment’s notice, threading, like the great composers, masterful variation on top of limited themes; you feel guilty for even noticing the prices she is charging, for imagining that music could ever be expensive. This is just one of the qualities that makes Heidi a paragon of the True New Yorker, and, along with necessity, keeps me haunting her unadorned abode. The shop also smells wonderfully, like Old Library, like the Performing Arts Library when it used to be temporarily in the wilds of way west 43rd street, in an old school building: like must and mold and books and–dare I say it?–it even smells like having a ruler rapped on your knuckles, like a life lived in fear of headmasters and nuns. Somehow I find this smell and its associations weirdly focusing, even addictive; perhaps subconsciously I get some rush of pleasure from the idea of being forced to study … there is some element of lovable punishment in visiting Frank Music.

Upon returning from my visit (which Homeric incident could Frank be compared to–the island of the sacred cows? the lotus-eaters? Hades? Circe? The cyclops?) I found myself oddly drawn into another adventure. Usually ascending the stairs from the 96th St. station is a glum, treading affair–with the tiredness of commuters like a prolonged, silent, surrounding sigh–proceeding more or less in a linear, uneventful fashion. I trod. There was a tremendous violence, suddenly. All around me, suitcases were falling down steps, collapsing onto people; girls were squealing and cussing; I heard a flurry of “ganz schlecht” and “scheisse” and other phrases which I’m sure were less reputable, and I realized I was caught in a maelstrom of visiting, beautiful German students, and it seemed strange to me that all this youth and freshness was able to be significantly bummed out, even stymied, by a flight of stairs. They clustered and regrouped like foreign bees unsure of their hive. It was impossible to walk around them; I was caught in their midst, fearing a suitcase at any moment, crashing from steps above; I was in mortal peril from these clueless youth. There was a TOTAL STOPPAGE; I imagined impatient Real New Yorkers from behind, building up pressure as water behind a dam, and hoped I would not be drowned in some melee. The noise and confusion was terrifying; then, somehow, I broke through; I passed the turnstile, homefree, and jogged by the leader of the pack, the Mother Superior of the young Germans, looking up unhappily, assessing the next and final flight. Would her birds survive? The Germans ate my sneakered dust. Whew, I thought, as I passed the shoal of Starbucks, I must head home and lick my psychic wounds. What suitors will I find there, disrupting my happiness?

A giant pile of unlearned music. A sink full of dishes. A table full of mail.

The suitors all need my attention; I cannot slay them without another Odyssey, more perilous than the last. And the object of their wooing, their Penelope, is my attention, which I must give over to them, willingly; I have to pay their many and varied debts.

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  1. Phillip
    Posted April 12, 2006 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    The thing I treasure the most about Frank’s Music are the bins out in front of the counter, with all sorts of oddities for miscellaneous instruments to be found. In the Internet age, when a specific sought-after item can be hunted down online with ease, random and purposeless browsing is becoming a lost art. Never have been sure why some things end up in the bins there…but I rarely walk out of Frank’s without buying something that I didn’t know I wanted until I saw it…in fact, in many cases, didn’t know it existed until I saw it there in those homely bins.

  2. Anonymous
    Posted April 13, 2006 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    This is why I read your blog. I am cracking up. Next to the recent diagram of your moment at Au Bon Pain and the Passive-Agressive-Man, this one with Heidi was classic.

  3. Steinwayliz
    Posted April 15, 2006 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    Those of us who by necessity have been banished to the hinterland in order to earn a living value Heidi’s personal touch, albeit on the telephone. My music-ordering chores would not be complete without her comments on my choices! Not to mention, despite the prices, her trusting soul–sending the music before getting paid for it. I get a little dose of home every time I call…

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