I see, said the blind man as he stepped onto the roller coaster.
Oh…never mind. Better go put some water on for tea. A few ups and downs for you here, so hang on tight – and beware of things that go bump in the night.
[Howard Shore \\The Grey Havens]
Intermezzo – Madness and the Desperate Flight of aquaTarkus
Part II: The Guitar Man
His dreams came in numbers, and perhaps they always had.
His waking life had been defined by set patterns of being, from the way he ate to his limited means of expression. One morning a physician called it autism, and it had seemed to the boy that his mother was very upset by the word. He was three years old at the time and so he did not understand what the word meant, so when he arrived back at his parent’s house later that day he read one of his mother’s neurology textbooks, at least as much as he needed to understand what autism was.
And he was sure then that he wasn’t autistic, and that the physician’s diagnosis was not even close.
But he had soon been systematically labeled and categorized and, to a degree, studied, all the result of being so defined by an unfazed hierarchy of notably bright neurologists. They knew what he was because that was the way he had to be; square pegs and round holes were not to be tolerated.
Yet by the time the boy was five years old these very same physicians had discarded that diagnosis. Autistic toddlers rarely read medical texts, but Brendan Geddes did and that was that. “It must be something we haven’t run across before,” Brendan overheard his mother telling his father one night after he’d brushed his teeth and climbed into bed.
And night was his favorite time of day. The anticipation, all his impatient waiting about to come to an end. Before the dreams came, anyway. Because when his eyes closed on their own…that was when the real fun began.
His father was a curious sort of musician. He rarely played an instrument, unless of course you considered a symphony orchestra an instrument. Because his father wrote soundtracks to movies, he had become something of a celebrity. He had golden statues on the mantle in his study, and when guests came over for parties everyone wanted to see them. The toddler thought that was very odd indeed.
But Brendan rarely saw these parties, as important as they seemed to be to his parents.
For he was usually contained in an upstairs suite with a nanny, though once he heard one of these girls say something like he was “out of sight, out of mind,” and while he wasn’t exactly sure what all that meant, he was sure that it seemed to hurt more than just a little.
Teachers came to the Geddes house on Foothill Road in Beverly Hills, and they came to teach him about the world beyond these walls, and how to communicate with the people beyond the walls of his life.
There was a very strange house next door to the Geddes house, a house that appeared to have no windows, and as the boy grew he began to look for the girl who he knew lived in the house. Because he was pretty sure he was going to love her one day, and that he would marry this girl and have a child with her. He knew this because his teachers told him this was so. And no, not the silly teachers that came during the day. His other teachers told him that in the deepest part of the night.
One day, and this was when he was seven years old, he heard his father downstairs playing the piano so he went down to investigate. His father was hardly ever at home and never played the piano when he was, so it was a little unusual to find him at home working at his piano. And, as the boy had never expressed any interest in music, he’d never had any lessons. He hardly knew, in fact, what a piano did.
But he watched as his father’s hands moved across the keyboard and he began to see numerical relationships form in his mind, and as his father developed the song’s melody he began to see ever more intricate patterns shift and form in a space beyond his mind.
And then his father saw him standing there and he stopped playing – and the patterns seemed to hesitate then to turn to dust and fall away.
“Hey, Spud, what are you up to?” his father asked.
“I was watching your patterns.”
“When you play I see numerical patterns form.”
His father seemed a little disconcerted by this revelation. “What kinds of patterns do you see?”
“I’m not sure how to describe it, Father. It is like you are playing an emotion, maybe like the feelings you have for mother. I can show you if you like?”
“Yes, of course. I watched you play so now I think I can too.”
“Oh, well then, by all means,” his father said, now very unsure of the moment, “please come and show me.”
And so the boy sat where his father had and he began to play without any hesitation, and while at first he played with his eyes wide open soon enough he closed his eyes and let the music of his emotions out to play for the first time in his life. He played for perhaps a half hour and when he was finished he turned to his father and was dismayed to find him openly weeping.
“Is this how you feel?” his father finally asked, heartbroken. “Have you really been so alone?”
“Yes, father,” the boy said, “but I feel better now.”
So music teachers now came to the Geddes house, along with all his other teachers, and soon enough one of these new teachers came with something new, an acoustic guitar. The boy watched the teacher play the instrument and he could instantly see how difficult it was to shape these new chords, yet he was also mesmerized by the purity of the tones he saw in the air dancing above the instrument.
It took him a few weeks to master this peculiar new instrument, and a few more weeks to learn to fully see all the new patterns he could create, and his father watched in awe as this latent ability burst forth like a flower under the sun. Still, as he watched his son play his new guitar, he wondered where the inspiration for all this hidden music was coming from, for he heard emotive expressions that rarely came from such an acoustically limited instrument.
But, perhaps, the boy’s father would have been surprised by the source.
For Brendan had watched people all his life. Their infinite interactions fascinated him, especially the people who came to parties at his parent’s house. Sometimes he had watched from his bedroom window as people gathered below around the swimming pool, and other times, when he was older, he watched people as they gathered around his father. Women behaved one way towards his father, while men operated in other, much more peculiar ways. Men strutted about in puffed up dominance dances, almost like the frigate birds he’d seen in nature documentaries, while the women they sought walked between suitors with coy, measured movements. He loved to watch these women as they sat in muted clusters, their silken legs swishing about in ways that could only be to attract these men, and he began to see these interactions as equations. Equations to be constructed. Human variables to be accounted for, one by one. Variables the boy catalogued as he watched the guests at parties in his parent’s house.
And then one night, a few weeks after he started playing the guitar, the girl next door came to one of his parent’s parties and his world began to change. Because his outlook began to change.
Though she was – by all appearances, anyway – a few years older than he, the boy no longer wanted to observe. He wanted to participate. He wanted to play the dominance games he had only witnessed from afar all his life. So he watched her as she moved about the living room, the equations she presented obvious, her solution easy to render.
She was shy. Her eyes locked on his for a moment but she quickly looked away and he smiled. This was going to be so easy!
But in the end it wasn’t easy at all and he wondered where he had gone wrong. If the solution he’d arrived at didn’t agree with the reality he’d encountered, then that could only be because he’d missed important variables. Emotional variables he didn’t yet understand.
So with guests still lingering he’d gone to the music room off his father’s study and picked up his guitar. He closed his eyes and reimagined the emotions he’d thought she’d presented, and then he reduced his own emotional expectations to a series of equations – and without any conscious awareness he began to play these equations through his mind to his fingers. He wasn’t aware of closing his eyes to the world outside this process, he simply worked through each equation as it presented itself, working towards a new conclusion…
And as he finished he opened his eyes.
And there she was. Staring at him, her eyes full of tears.
“That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard,” Debra Sorensen whispered.
And Brendan Geddes smiled. He smiled because he’d solved her equation. He knew her now, and that was all that mattered.
And so they talked. And talked. For hours that night, and then – in the days and weeks that followed – they talked more and more. He saw something in her, something unusual, something not quite there yet, some kind of power within that was waiting to be released. He learned she was going away to college in a few months and for the first time in his life he was at a loss. No equations came to him. He had found his first null set and he was bereft of a way through the pain he felt.
He saw her differently after that. She was no longer open to him, and while he tried to see new equations he found only emptiness. Yet he discovered that even emptiness can be expressed in equations, and as he found his way into the depths of this immeasurable darkness he formed new chords, and a new music began to take shape.
There were avocado trees in backyard of his parent’s house, and even a few lemon trees, and his favorite thing in the world was to beat the squirrels to a ripe avocado and cut it open, squeeze some lemon into the little bowl made when the seed was removed, and then to grind some pepper into the lemon. He would take a spoon and eat the avocado and close his eyes as he felt a peculiar strength return. He would turn and face the sun, feel the warmth and flake the coldness away, then he would pick up his guitar and resume playing, and in time he came to realize how deeply attuned he was growing to the sun and the earth. And to how deeply attuned the equations he formed were to these cycles of birth and regeneration.
And one afternoon while he was sitting out under one of the avocado trees he began playing his music of longing and loss and he began to sing. Words came, words that seemed ordained by the sun and the simple foods that sustained him, words born of an impossible love for the girl next door…
And his father was videotaping him from inside the house. Recording his son’s otherworldly music, born of his son’s loneliness. Loneliness born, perhaps, from a father’s benign neglect. He finished recording the music and the next morning he drove down to the studio and played the music for a few of his friends.
Then the boy’s father asked him to come to the recording studio.
He’d never been. Not once. In fact, Brendan had almost no idea what his father did for a living, not really. His father wrote music for movies, but Brendan had never considered how to watch a film without music. So he watched that morning, and he saw how his father set about constructing a score. Movies presented life as a series of scenes, and each scene had an underlying set of emotions, but as he watched his father he seemed to get it all wrong. Love was an emotion so his father used a rote deconstruction of love to emote any scene with Love in it. Suspense was presented musically in the same way, with predictable sets of formulaic chord progressions to denote how the director wanted the audience to respond. There was little nuance, little variance, and after watching his father for an hour or so he grew bored.
His father was writing music for a new movie while sitting in a control room. There were several keyboards in front of his father, and he faced a huge movie screen. The movie played and his father responded to the action on the screen by creating an accompanying musical response on the keyboards arrayed around him…but then as Brendan watched, the film stopped playing and a videotape of him playing in the backyard appeared on the huge screen…
And at first he had no idea what he was watching.
Then it dawned on him.
“You taped this yesterday,” he said to his father.
“Because it’s beautiful and I wanted to share it with people.”
“Because beauty should be shared, Brendan,” one of the studio executives explained. “And we’d like to share this with everyone.”
“But it wasn’t meant for everyone,” Brendan sighed.
“Who was it meant for?” his father asked.
“Debra,” Brendan said, looking away – as if he should have been embarrassed to admit such a thing.
“Debra? Sorensen?” his father cried. “Seriously?”
“What’s wrong with that?” Brendan screamed, his ego now feeling raw and exposed, like he was being ridiculed. Worse than that, he felt like the very idea of love was being trampled upon and dragged through the mud and dirt.
“There’s nothing wrong with that,” another studio exec cooed. She was younger than his father, much younger, and she was objectively gorgeous.
Brendan turned to face this woman and equations exploded in the air all around her.
And he smiled.
She wanted more. Always more.
And when she smiled at him he sang the music of her smile.
Her name was Tracy. And she was an enchantress, a chameleon even, and perhaps a little bit of a trickster, but she was also able to read people, especially artists. And most particularly musicians. Yet she had never encountered anyone quite like Brendan. She had worked with the best of them, the Dylans and the Simons of this little corner of the universe, and she thought she’d seen it all. Until she met the precociously innocent man-child that was Brendan Geddes.
She saw his pain, then she saw through it to his struggle to break free. Free of his father.
She had hustled him out of the studio and to her office, and she had let his tears come. She held him and right away she realized the man child had hardly ever been touched. He drank her up and she felt the explosions of pure expression rippling through his body, and she recognized his loneliness. She adapted to his loneliness, then she began to see how she could use his loneliness to her own advantage. To the studio’s advantage. In his loneliness, she saw the key to unlock his genius.
She took him out. To the beach one day, and she was surprised to learn that he’d never been. He’d never seen a ferris wheel so she took him on the wheel out there on the Santa Monica pier. He’d never been to Disneyland so she took him. He’d never been kissed, so she took him there, too, and then to the hidden places beyond a kiss.
And through it all, Brendan was blind. Blinded by the explosions of the endless equations she presented. She took him to the studio and set him free, turned him loose, and her engineers recorded it all. The words and the music of his love. For her. And for Debra. She massaged the music, added strings and horns, diluting the purity, obscuring the implications of her complicity. Making the work of others marketable, as was her lot in life.
She released the album and it exploded onto the charts.
His music from the avocado tree she titled ‘In Her Shadow’ and she named the album that as well, and the single hit number one on the Billboard Top Ten a week after it was released.
But by then Debra Sorensen had left for college, yet when she heard the song she knew where it had come from. And what it meant. And once again she cried.
He left home a year later. He was sixteen years old and he left for Stanford, to study mathematics. Hardly anyone connected the hit album to the stringy-thin vegan working his way through the advanced curriculum in the Math and Physics Department, and though he kept a guitar in his dorm room he rarely played anymore. He’d finally seen through Tracy and even his father seemed suspect now, so all those human things he simply walked away from, and he left all their emptiness behind. He returned to the purity of numbers and variables.
Until he met another wayward soul rather like his own.
Susan Watson was an astronomer, or at least she was studying to be an astronomer, and though Brendan was the first to admit he’d never once looked through a telescope there had been an undeniably mutual attraction from the start. She was from the city so she wore denim overalls and Birkenstocks and she was smart as hell, and besides, her explosions were easy to read. She wasn’t a threat. And besides, her mom was a great cook.
He’d not been in the least interested when the blazing pulsar in Sagittarius exploded two summers ago, nor had he been in any way surprised when the pulsar simply went away, but Susan kindled an interest in those seven nights. She showed him a recording of the event and in an explosive instant he’d seen the patterns. Within hours he had deciphered the encoded message. Susan took him to her faculty advisor and this gentle old cosmologist had recognized the genius behind the work and called an emergency meeting of the physics department to go over Brendan’s discovery.
For any number of reasons the faculty and staff decided to keep silent about what Brendan Geddes had uncovered, for the meaning and import could only startle a complacent world into dangerously unpredictable terrain. Worse still, if the government learned about the depth of material in the transmission they would no doubt get involved, and that had to be avoided at all cost.
But while Brendan was credited with discovering the secret encoding within the original message, his interest in astronomy never really blossomed. He continued studying Newton’s and Russell’s underlying Principia while he found his way towards a deeper kind of love for Susan. And oddly enough, he found his way to a new way of thinking about home – through her mother’s cooking.
He soon discovered how atrocious his own parents had been at parenting. And Susan’s mother, a single mother who worked as a para-legal at a small law firm in San Francisco, had proven to be the exact opposite of his own mother. Charlene Watson doted on him. She saw his string bean frame and decided to fill him out. When she learned he wouldn’t eat meat she adapted. She cooked vegan masalas that made Brendan feel like singing with joy. She crafted elaborate tabouli salads and they would sit in her backyard under the sun and for the first time in his life he felt like he was actually loved. Like he belonged. Belonging was a strange sensation, but he liked it. He liked being loved even more, so he was happy.
Charlene had married young and, predictably, the marriage hadn’t lasted long. Her husband, a freewheeling medical student at Stanford, had been somewhat less than faithful and Charlie – as Charlene liked to be called – had divorced him when their daughter was still in diapers. A self-sufficient type, Charlie hustled real estate on the side and had always managed to make ends meet, yet she’d always made time for what mattered most: her daughter. And that inclusivity instantly blossomed to encompass Brendan.
And still no one quite made the connection. The string-bean vegan had once upon a time put out one of the highest grossing albums of all time, a double platinum Grammy award winning masterpiece grounded in a man-child’s love of and for another girl.
Yet Brendan wondered about the absent figure in Susan’s life.
She had “visited” her father once a month all her life – at least until she started at Stanford. She saw him more frequently now if only because he was on the faculty of the medical school, as well as a hospitalist at the Stanford University Medical Center. He had remarried and was happily living up north of the city in a development called Sea Ranch, but it had been a few years since she had made the trek up there.
Her father had noted the change in his daughter and he asked her about it one day over grilled pastrami sandwiches and a beer at The Oasis, one of the local hangouts they liked to meet at from time to time. She danced around the subject for a while then finally came clean.
“His name is Brendan, Daddy,” and Doc Watson could tell she was in love.
“So, this is the real deal? Is he the one?”
When she nodded the Doc smiled. “So, when do we get to meet this guy?”
Susan had smiled and then she’d shrugged. “Whenever,” she said, somewhat cagily.
“Okay, Kiddo, you wanna tell me what’s going on?”
“I think he’s going to ask me to marry him, Dad.”
But while the Doc had smiled he’d done so carefully, mindful of the past wanting to play out again. He felt the burdens of his own past in the smile he saw on his daughter’s face, maybe because she had reminded him so much of her mother just then. He could still see Charlie’s happiness, especially in his dreams, so Susan’s smile left him feeling a little off balance. “And you’ve known this boy how long? Since the semester began?”
She nodded enthusiastically.
“Well, do you know anything about his family?”
“And he’s studying math?”
“What does he plan doing after school?”
She shrugged. “I have no idea, Daddy.”
“Oh. So then…you’ve really thought this thing through. That’s nice.”
“So, do you still want to meet him?”
“Well, don’t you think I should?”
As it happened, DD and The Doc picked up Susan and Brendan late on a Friday afternoon two weeks later, and they drove up to Sea Ranch together – after they stopped at San Francisco International to pick up Liz Bullitt, who had come out for the weekend. Deborah Eisenstadt’s birthday was the stated occasion and all kinds of friends were coming up to Sea Ranch for what was shaping up to be a party of legendary proportions.
But two rather funny things happened on the drive up to Sea Ranch.
Liz was of course a musician. And it took her about two-tenths of a second to recognize Brendan Geddes – and so that cat hopped right out of the bag and was now on the loose.
And the second cat to break free?
Well, when Brendan Geddes took one look at Liz Bullitt he was well and truly smitten, and even Susan Watson could see the handwriting on that wall.
The Doc had simply rolled his eyes as he made his way through traffic to the Golden Gate, but DD had quickly surmised what had happened and she had looked at her husband just once on the drive up.
And hardly anyone spoke – except of course Liz. She had a million questions she wanted to ask Brendan, and the boy seemed only too happy to oblige.
© 2016-22 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…[but wait, there’s more…how about a word or two on sources: I typically don’t post all a story’s acknowledgments until I’ve finished, if only because I’m not sure how many I’ll need before work is finalized. Yet with current circumstances waiting to list said sources might not be the best way to proceed, and this listing will grow over time – until the story is complete. To begin, the ‘primary source’ material in this case – so far, at least – derives from two seminal Hollywood ‘cop’ films: Dirty Harry and Bullitt. The first Harry film was penned by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, Dean Riesner, John Milius, Terrence Malick, and Jo Heims. Bullitt came primarily from the author of the screenplay for The Thomas Crown Affair, Alan R Trustman, with help from Harry Kleiner, as well Robert L Fish, whose short story Mute Witness formed the basis of Trustman’s brilliant screenplay. Steve McQueen’s grin was never trade-marked, though perhaps it should have been. John Milius (Red Dawn) penned Magnum Force, and the ‘Briggs’/vigilante storyline derives from characters and plot elements originally found in that rich screenplay, as does the Captain McKay character. The Jennifer Spencer/Threlkis crime family storyline was first introduced in Sudden Impact, screenplay by Joseph Stinson, original story by Earl Smith and Charles Pierce. The Samantha Walker television reporter is found in The Dead Pool, screenplay by Steve Sharon, story by Steve Sharon, Durk Pearson, and Sandy Shaw. I have to credit the Jim Parish, M.D., character first seen in the Vietnam segments to John A. Parrish, M.D., author of the most fascinating account of an American physician’s tour of duty in Vietnam – and as found in his autobiographical 12, 20, and 5: A Doctor’s Year in Vietnam, a book worth noting as one of the most stirring accounts of modern warfare I’ve ever read (think Richard Hooker’s M*A*S*H, only featuring a blazing sense of irony conjoined within a searing non-fiction narrative). Denton Cooley, M.D. founded the Texas Heart Institute, as mentioned. Of course, James Clavell’s Shōgun forms a principle backdrop in later chapters. The teahouse and hotel of spires in Ch. 42 is a product of the imagination; so-sorry. The UH-1Y image used from Pt VI on taken by Jodson Graves. The snippets of lyrics from Lucy in the Sky are publicly available as ‘open-sourced.’ Many of the other figures in this story derive from characters developed within the works cited above, but keep in mind that, as always, the rest of this story is in all other respects a work of fiction woven into a pre-existing cinematic-historical fabric. Using the established characters referenced above, as well as the few new characters I’ve managed to come up with here and there, I hoped to create something new – perhaps a running commentary on the times we’ve shared with these fictional characters? And the standard disclaimer also here applies: the central characters in this tale should not be mistaken for persons living or dead. This was, in other words, just a little walk down a road more or less imagined, and nothing more than that should be inferred. I’d be remiss not to mention Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan, and Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt. Talk about the roles of a lifetime…and what a gift.]
[Joni Mitchell \\ Both Sides Now (2000)]