(a chapter within Wonderbread Man, novella, foundation for a film)
He sat at the dining room table in the two bedroom flat on the fourth floor looking out on Avenue de L’Atlantique off a main thoroughfare in the south corner of the city of Brussels, in the country of Belgium, who was the epicenter of the European Community as 12 countries in Europe were working towards becoming one unit, one economy, one trade zone where you could come and go as you please from border to border, from job to job, dollar for dollar or ecu for ecu, from train station to train station with the ease of commerce similar to the contiguous 48 in the U.S.
He took his delicate spoon and wedged the point between the shell and slightly hard egg white in the egg cup. With another pinch of salt, the somewhat gooey orangish yellow yoke and white was on his spoon ready for the next spoonful. It was the beginning of spring. You could hear more and more birds beginning to arrive on the scene, on the balcony rails, in the back gardens, overhead. The sun seemed to begin to flex its muscles with a stronger more brilliant ray even though some light snow and ice remained on the ground.
With the food still masticating in his mouth he said, “You going to meet the Queen today?”
“You know the Queen never comes to the Consulate here,” she said as she came from the kitchen with her plate of two boiled eggs in egg cups, a slice of bread cut into “soldiers” for dipping, and her coffee with two percent not the whole milk as her husband’s.
“How about a Duke or a Baron or a Knight even? Ever have a knight in full regalia come in the office asking for world peace or a post-it note?”
“Very Funny. No, and I should be back at five. There is some hearing I have to attend with Sir M—, and just have to do the dictation, get some notes and folders and later do some short hand based on his remarks, but should be a normal day–did you hear other countries now want to join in the Union?
“I would have at least liked to have met Baron Von Munchausen–though I guess we all meet with Baron Von Munchausen, right here” and he pointed to his brain, “in our little cerveau.”
“Well, we just have to get through these talks first and see if it all comes together. I’m sure Schuman is turning in his grave at some of these silly wranglings.”
“Turkey, right? Poland, I think. How are you all going to join if you don’t even take their currency? That’s like a date without the kiss?
“Not sure, it’s like that. We’re not changing our road system, either.”
“Either,” he said jokingly with a stress on the “E. Once it’s in vogue everybody will want to join in in a couple of years. The Roaring Nineties, they’ll call it.”
They ate silently for a moment looking out the broad window that ran the length of their apartment. The golden rays of the morning sun seemed to have borders and actual dimensions like bands of steel but a cloud quickly disturbed them.
“What’s your plans this week?” she said as she began to finish up her plate.
“I’m teaching at Berlitz three days this week, have two days subbing at the International School of Brussels, American Literature, 10th grade here, and still have the two night sessions, tonight and Wednesday as normal with a few students. It’s a nice little group: one Belgian girl about 14 who looks like a tomboy, another French girl who looks Punk which is pretty funny seeing the two of them together and she’s about 17 I guess, and one guy who’s about 18, Luxembourgish, is that right? and not sure what he does. So I work with the three of them on their English.”
“That’s good, and what about French class. Are we going again? It’s only Tuesdays and Thursdays. It’s only a few hours and it seems like a great group, teacher, and you’re really starting to get it.”
“Remember just three months ago, I couldn’t wrap my tongue around, “Qu’est-ce qu’il y a, qu’est-ce qu’il y a..God, I felt retarded.”
“C’est drole, tres, tres drole…Ecoute, Je voudrais un grand merci pour les oeufs ce matin. Vous etes un grand chef.”
“Tu es une grande chefs, I’m your wife.”
“And listen get a baguette for dinner tonight. I have this awesome chicken curry I got from Delhaize.”
Sounds good to me. He patted her on her backside, and she retorted, with a wave of her hand at his, “don’t be vulgar.”
“O, To be in England
Now that April ‘s there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
Well, not so bad to be in Belgium, Now that March is run, and we have the coming of this glorious Sun..”
“Very nice,” she said as if she was more bothered than interested, as she was quickly getting her hat, coat, scarf, handbag, and heels on. “See you about five thirty.”
“What’s a chaffinch?” he said.
“Just a finch, bye and see you later. Give us a kiss,” as she rushed out the door.
He sat back down to the dining table and finished off his coffee. Cars were coming up and down the avenue infrequently, and a few pedestrians in their lighter overcoats walked up and down towards their appointments or jobs or errands. A bus would intermittently on the hour plow ungracefully up the hill towards the Church at the top of hill. All else was quiet save for twittering birdsong here and there.
Some time passed. He didn’t know if it had been a few minutes or some thirty as he was lost in thought, perception, day dreaming and taking in the scene without so much as a paintbrush in hand.
He had two more hours according to the mantle clock so he went to the back room with its small rectangular window, tiny desk and Mac on it and turned it on. Time to write something. He turned left and picked up his guitar, a 1976 Alvarez with pearl inlays that was light and airy and made of cheaper wood but it hadn’t seemed to make a difference even as an “Anniversary” guitar celebrating 10 years from the company’s inception.
He knew well the process. Like the needle to a phonograph, his mind to his work: the needle would bounce indelicately on the vinyl; he would begin to strum a few awkward chords; the needle would go round five or eight times before finding a groove; he would somehow happen on a few interesting chord progressions, the needle would set itself into some shallow field within the vinyl plate and then the music would begin, and then his musings would begin….
The song took the shape of a blues song but with irregular chords. He had wished he had taken a music class at these times for he knew not the names of chords, 7ths, 5ths, diminished or basic music theory, and it was the same with his poetry for he knew not dactyls, spondees, trochees, and molasses or whatever it was called for metrical feet of some sort. He knew his problem was laziness but he never could find the interest in this kind of learning. Although this would not always be the case.
The words and ideas began formulating. As the Mac had a European keyboard, which he was desperately trying to learn with AZERTY versus the QWERTY mode, he often started with the Mac, then transferred back to the Apple to get the draft down. He also knew that time was always critical as he had a way of creating meaningful rhymes and then forgot them as he went to write them. This one seemed to come easy and play like a swanky, blues song with both assonant and dissident chords and progressions. After some tries, the final draft version came as follows:
“There’s a certain kind of madness start’in here
It happens every April of the year
There’s girls start’in to float around
Like the birds and the bees humm’in round
Each shape starts shak’in its winter blues
And starts look’in towards more verdant hues
Gotta get bright yellow, blue, and pink
And that red just makes you want to wink
Every body every where starts to shake
And hands take hands and hips start to quake
All colors float’in out of March’s shroud
Tast’in the breeze, and listen’in ta Spring’s new sound
There’s a certain kind of madness start’in here
It happens every April of the year
There’s girls start’in to float around
Like the birds and the bees humm’in round”
He liked where this was going and titled it: There’s a certain kind of madness, starting here. He had placed the apostrophes where words should be clipped as to the slang and didn’t like the part of the sentence, Tast’in the breeze, “and listen’in ta Spring’s new sound or while listening, or hearing Spring’s new sound. He’d figure it out later. He wrote DRAFT and the date and his signature, John Leo Cooper which didn’t look right, then JLC, JC, Cooper John, JL Cooper, scribbled over all of them and then tore off the one sheet of yellow lined note book paper to place into his manila file folder called “Works in Progress.” He then, performed a COMMAND S on his computer before closing down another session and setting off to his walk down the street to the Metro.