Friday, June 24, 2011


Sometimes the Max from Hillsboro is already packed when it takes on the homeward bound commuter swarm at the Sunset Transit Center. Then we have to suck up one another's garlic breath, intense perfume, loud (but private) cell phone conversations, and, now and then, the ranting of a sociopath. But on this particular Wednesday evening the crowd is light and I hit the Trimet jackpot – a seat next to an empty seat. Ahhh! I unfold the Willamette Week and leaf through like a cool breeze.

At Pioneer Square, the train stops. And stays stopped. No matter; even without reading it's going to take me ten minutes to tear ten pages of music ads into confetti. A Wednesday practice of mine. For someone who never learned to actually play music, it's satisfying to virtually destroy the hopes of scads of earnest young musicians, to imagine being Darwin, God and a radio program director all in one. A few geniuses will slip through and have careers, sure, but that's life.

I've reduced a couple hundred band photos to chicken coop fluff when, into the corner of my eye, up the aisle and to the very front of the train just three rows ahead of me, strides a seven-foot tall man tricked out like a tinker from a fairy tale, in swaddling rags and a matchingly grimy but cute hat. I mean King Hippie in layers of motley, multiple scarves and fingerless gloves, a homeless leprechaun with giantism. He takes off the hat, which is bumping the ceiling, and places it upside down on the floor. He faces the half dozen of us he's now trapped. We face back at him as if summoned up for his performing pleasure. He smiles lovingly and says “Hi, I'm Allen. I'm going to give you a music lesson.”

Shit, he's got a didgeridoo. Now I'm pissed off. Isn't this disturbing the peace?

“This is a didgeridoo and I'm going to teach you to play it.”

I remind myself that this guy was once his mother's baby. To calm myself, I read my horoscope. Rob the astrologer says we Virgos should be more open to experience, especially the eccentricities of others. Okay, Allen: You've got one minute.

“The didgeridoo is an ancient instrument of the Australian aborigines. It's basically a hollow reed, as you can see.”

Oh, I get it. Allen's on a mission. He's a white, upper-middle class American who found himself wandering in the outback, had an epiphany and has returned from the dreamtime to “so-called civilization” (as I imagine him saying) with a vision of tribal rituals going viral. Or maybe he's a sophisticated robot constructed at Burning Man.

“To play requires a technique called 'circular breathing.' The player keeps the air flowing continuously through the instrument by inhaling through the nose while exhaling through the mouth.”

He's gesturing circularly, with an arm as long and fibrous as a didgeridoo. A couple of my fellow captives try to read. One young woman, however, is beaming. Smitten. Transported. Well, there's no accounting for animal impulses.

“If anyone cares to give a small donation, please use the hat.”

I have not been transported. In fact, we're still at Pioneer Square. Allen raises the mighty instrument to his lips. I stand. Make my way to the aisle. Allen pauses politely. Loathe to break the delicate trust we've established, I suppose. He gazes at me lovingly but I keep moving, on and out. The deep, crudely modulated mooing begins, and as the train doors close and the Max grinds ahead, I see that Allen's admirer is mesmerized, swaying in her seat like a hollow reed in a desert wind. 

Copyright 2011 by Nick O'Connor

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