Real Words and Other Solid Objects I Can Recall without Having to Look Back

Photo by Jose Padua
During the drive back from Roanoke yesterday, it was while the overture to Rossini’s The Thieving Magpie was playing that Julien spotted the most cows along the highway. Watching for cows and other animals is perhaps Julien’s favorite part of being on the road, and hearing the overture playing, punctuated by Julien’s declarations of “Cows!” and “More cows” was invigorating, giving me energy at a point in the drive when I would usually be getting tired and ready for a break.

But what was also nice was to have this piece of music associated with something other than a violent scene from A Clockwork Orange, which is what often came to mind whenever I heard the overture once Stanley Kubrick used it in his 1971 film of the Anthony Burgess novel. Not that Malcolm McDowell didn’t deliver an incredible performance as lead thug of the droogs, but it’s not what I want to focus on all the time. And while some people are obsessed with violence in its various forms, I prefer to think endlessly and obsessively about other things.

Happily, A Clockwork Orange is no longer the only thing I associate with The Thieving Magpie. It’s also the music that Toru Okada listens to as he boils a pot of spaghetti at the beginning of Haruki Murakami’s novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. This is a more pleasing association, which isn’t to say that the Murakami book is a much happier affair than A Clockwork Orange. It isn’t (well, not exactly ) and it has some of the most horrifying scenes I’ve read anywhere, but it’s still a much warmer experience than Clockwork’s dystopian satire.

It’s also a book that’s always somewhere in the back of my mind since I finally read it a couple of years ago. And after leaving our hotel yesterday and driving down Route 11 towards downtown Roanoke, there were two things that occurred to me. The first was the revelation that, on this stretch of Route 11, at least every other building looks like something that would be quite at home in a William Eggleston photograph. The second was more fear than revelation–and what I was afraid of was the possibility that at any moment I could find myself caught in the sort chain of events that would be at home in a Murakami novel, and in particular, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

This, I think, says loudly and clearly how this book hit a certain note within me. This is also when I have to say something to Heather or Maggie or Julien and hear them say something back to me, to bring me back to the world at hand. And as we were driving down Route 11, that’s what I did. I don’t remember what they said–it doesn’t have to be anything long and involved–but I came back. From a momentary plunge into extreme sadness, from a brief mental tremor, or from the dizziness that comes from having to consider every possibility every moment that I’m awake. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to cut a fart in the car, and I’m back, in more manageable frame of mind.

And as we drove on down Route 11, we saw, in the distance, the Big Man statue at the old auto shop. I slowed down to take this picture of it. It’s not at all like William Eggleston’s photographs, which to me always seem to make the distant past seem so immediate, as if it’s never gone away, and never even come close to anything approaching change. This seems more like something out of a dream that was dreamt at least a couple of decades ago and can barely be remembered.

And after passing by the Big Man statue on the way to downtown Roanoke, I wouldn’t have been surprised, upon turning around for one last look, to see that all of a sudden it was gone. That in a matter of seconds the statue and everything surrounding it had been replaced by some 21st Century roadside creations–all made quickly and cheaply and without any kind of thought–and that we, on this Sunday afternoon, were the last people in the world to have seen it. Which meant that it was up to us to tell the story of its last moments in the hopes that this story, and everything it contained, would endure for a period of time which–in its slow, beautiful unfolding–approached eternity.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

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