Happy Mother’s Day

In accordance with the Denk Law of Bags and Possessions, the outer pocket of my new “hip” shoulder bag is now filled with the pulverized remains of a Digestive Biscuit. No blender or food processor, no matter how powerful, could attain the sheer level of dispersion that simple Denkage is able to achieve, through the regular processes of Life. The Law of B&P cannot really be put into words (being one of those mysterious, generative laws of the cosmos), but its essential effect is this: no matter how much Jeremy Denk invests in a new backpack or bag, and no matter the care taken with it, eventually its insides will be coated with the diffused remains of many inappropriate items, sometimes foodstuffs (bananas, muffins, Clif bars, ketchup, stewed prunes, etc.) and sometimes other sundries–provided that these other sundries are able to somehow damage or affect the bag irreparably–for instance glue, indelible ink, or Hydrochloric Acid. One can thus “carbon-date” or “scum-date” the bag’s existence conclusively on the basis of a perusal of its insides.

I have come to accept these accidents, in short, as essential: the ink with which my history is written.

By accident, I became a good guy yesterday, for seven minutes. I was getting off the LIRR from Jamaica, at Penn Station, when an elderly lady with a cane asked me to help her with her luggage. Throughout the slow walk to the elevator, I felt both the pleasures of patience and the unfamiliar glow of simple virtue (helping a lady with her bags, how quaint!), and this glow warmed when she began to talk to me about opera. Her accent dripped Long Island; it was a thousand Greek salads eaten in a thousand diners; she told me she went to Rigoletto and found it “so beautiful.” The word beautiful took a long time for her to say, and its sincerity was unquestionable … so different from the standard formulas we musicians are forced to exchange with each other backstage … beautiful without any reservations, and self-contained, like a flowerpot. As the elevator ascended, she asked me about another opera, “Cavalry something,” and I pronounced it for her in Italian, “Cavalleria Rusticiana,” with a slightly overdone, proud pronunciatory flourish, and she smiled at me such a charming “look-my-son-grew-up-to-be-a-doctor-and-he-also-speaks-Italian” smile that I realized I had much more than recouped my investment of time with her; it was I that was exploiting her; I had replaced a harried luggage-hauler (the Jeremy-who-would-have-been) with a charmed elevator-rider who might as well amble, since time is not money but infinitely more precious.

The scales at least partly came off my eyes. We emerged onto the concourse, and she started to ask me “when are you playing in New York? Can you…” I told her I wasn’t playing really much until October, or December in New York… she asked me where and I told her and her eyes googled in amazement. “Can you…?” she began again, and I assumed she wanted my name and contact info; I asked her if she had an email address, and then the terms of our dynamic changed. “Goodness no,” she said, as if it were the most absurd thing in the world, and her eyes hinted vague distrust. A nice lady like her, using email? I offered my number, and she looked even stranger … I thought I saw my error, and wrote my name on a Harrod’s receipt and gave it to her, told her to look for me in the concert listings. This crumpled inscribed receipt, especially, did not impress her. This was understandable; I had no card, no official thing; I wracked my brain. But the source of her disappointment was elsewhere: “What?” she said, “You don’t have any tickets?”

I laughed. What else was there to do? It is so nice to laugh in Penn Station, a relief from the linear harassment of the concourse. Yes, I was carrying around free tickets for all my upcoming concerts, and giving them out like candy? I saw in her eyes that while I had once impressed her, I had already travelled deep into a ravine of disappointment. I was also slightly disillusioned myself; she was, after all that, like the rest of us, looking for a free ride. In that short space of the elevator ride, I had travelled the full gamut of a parent-child relationship; from the first mysteries of her discovering who I am and what I like to do, through pride in my accomplishment, to the inevitable coloring of disappointment; the drawn boundary inevitable, as the child asserts its own self, finds its own way, and begins to see the parent as human too. Was this a pre-Mother’s day message? Or just, in the immortal words of Homer Simpson, “a bunch of stuff that happens”?

I laughed, and we parted ways, and I could tell she wasn’t going to keep my receipt for very long, but it was all good. I ate a Red Sicilian slice in honor of her, and thought of her sitting through Cavalleria Rusticiana, smiling and clapping …

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  1. Christina
    Posted May 14, 2006 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    such an amazing story. life is an adventure, jdenk, and it’s nice to know that someone is having his share of them 🙂

  2. Anonymous
    Posted May 15, 2006 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    One of my favorite blogs! Thanks!

  3. hari
    Posted May 15, 2006 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    what a great indy short movie that whole scenario would make. you covered a whole relationship, ups and downs in minutes; that’s terrific. i did a good deed one day and helped a very sweet little old lady to her building and carried her groceries, but we never got past another stage; it remained a lovely, rewarding experience.

  4. Anonymous
    Posted May 16, 2006 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

    The little old lady got home to her lover and
    said “what a total dork I met at Penn Station today!
    He even helped me carry the bag you told me to give to Giacomo….I thought he’d guess what was in it but luckily I kept him in orbit by asking him
    to pronounce the name of that infernal opera
    your grandaddy wrote…….if he went on one more minute I was going to do the old shoe routine and see if I could get him to slide with all his bags back down to the Police station”.

  5. Anonymous
    Posted May 18, 2006 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    I was in Penn Station, in a harried sort of way this past April; chasing the dreams of my son during our “college visit tour”: 2 continents, 9 colleges, 2 coasts, 7 cities, 2 trains, 3 rental cars… many many good deeds along the way, and as much as I loved it, I really missed my “Boston”. And I neeeeed a teacher. Can you recommend someone that can teach in Quebec this summer (a short hop from Montreal airport)? Please come have pasta with us in London!

  6. TCho
    Posted May 30, 2006 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

    My birthday is May 14, and everyone keeps asking me “Were you born on Mother’s Day?” I’m like “Um, you do know that Mother’s Day is always on the 2nd Sunday in May, right?”

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