I can’t even keep up with who’s conducting nowadays. It seems to switch like our outfield, the only consistent guy that I know of being Billy Hamilton. Anyway, this conductor says in his French accent as thick as mashed potatoes, “as you may have noticed we switch up tonight’s program. Instead of Beethoven’s symphony played last, we will play it first.” He goes on to explain why, something to do with a contemporary piece they’ve chosen which fits the program better at the end.
“Don’t you think this is good?,” the conductor asks, referring to his decision. The audience applauds like trained seals. He could have asked, “does not shit smell good” and he’d have gotten the same reaction. Or told the world’s most flaccid joke and they’d still chuckle, cause that’s what they’re supposed to do. They’re conditioned, especially here, to be open and compliant and highly attuned to the tepid. I’ve learned that over the years. It’s how the respectable people behave.
I didn’t applaud. Frenchy Martin fucked up my game plan. You see, you gotta calculate things and the way it usually works is you get a short piece to start off the program, something lasting 5 or 10 minutes, followed by a concerto for piano or violin or what have you, maybe 20 minutes. After that you get to piss and buy a drink. I’d planned on being able to go in roughly 30 minutes. But now they were starting with the symphony. That’s usually 45 or 50 minutes. My bladder had been saying 30 minutes would probably be okay. At 45 minutes, that would be pushing it. I felt a slight panic.
Frenchy goes on to explain how Beethoven’s 4th is typically played with an orchestra half the size of what we’re seeing there on stage, even though Beethoven had scored it for just as many. We were about to hear it as the composer had intended. All this was followed by more awes and applause. I wanted Frenchy and the audience to just shut up. Skip the formalities and niceties and foreplay and get on with it.
The music starts and I try not to think about pissing.
Just focus on the music, I tell myself.
The conductor waives his arms and the music flows accordingly, as it always does, while my mind wanders as it always does too. I look around at everybody else, who seem fixated on the performance. But they can’t all be, I tell myself. What are the rest of them thinking?
I’ve been going to the symphony for years. Problem is I can never tether my attention to the music. I’ve tried to study concert music a bit, hoping it would provide some crucial element to my understanding that would lead to more engagement. But it didn’t work. So Plan B has been Continual Exposure. Maybe over time it’ll finally start to make sense. It’s been 15 years, probably. I’ve sat through those Classical Conversations and Berlioz and Wagner and Beethoven and it’s still mostly the same.
And that’s when it happens, as sure and familiar as Spring following Winter.
“You ever think about fucking an animal?” Reason asks. If the question was coming from outside my head, the music might drown it out. But it’s not from outside.
“Don’t bug me now. I’m try to concentrate, goddammit.”
“What? What the fuck? You gonna start with this shit now?,” I reply.
“Why not. You know you’re only here under pretense. Why not let me wander to somewhere interesting. Again, you ever think about fucking an animal?”
“Maybe in the sense that I’ve contemplated cannibalism,” I defend. “Like what would drive a person to cannibalism? I’ve thought about it in that sense. Not that I’ve ever wanted to eat anybody.”
“You know you wanna think about it.”
On the drive to Music Hall I’d been thinking about the ways in which virtue, taken to an extreme, can turn to vice. It had occurred to me, as it has many times, that reason is generally more of a virtue than, say, emotion. But is that absolute? Is reason an absolute virtue? Are there limits to virtues? If so, which ones? All?
“This is a respectable venue,” I say. “Leave me be. I’m wearing my good shoes and slacks and shirt and sport coat. These are respectable people. Shut up with this animal fucking nonsense.”
“But I’m Reason.”
“Yeah. I get it. You’re a part of me so you know if I think about fucking animals and the answer’s no. So why are you asking? Just to be a nuisance? To distract me from something that could be valuable?”
“Some people genuinely appreciate this stuff. I’d like to understand it. Maybe someday even feel it.”
I try to focus on the strings. And the percussionist, as he always does, obsessively, compulsively, pathologically placing his ear to the copper drum’s skin, long before and after and between a strike.
“Why’s he do that?” I try diverting my attention away from the influence of this perverse Reason.
But Reason interjects again. “You ate that pizza they had at work this week.”
The agency that provides us with temporary employees had given us pizza as gratitude for using their service.
“So what?” I was playing coy. I knew where this was going.
“You ate that pizza with chicken and sausage and ham and bacon. You ate it all. Slices from all those different pies.”
“So,” I admitted shamefully.
There was an old, fat couple in front of me. They were so fat they sat with with an empty seat between them, presumably so they could spread and ooze. They held hands. From my angle, I could tell her glasses were thick with frames of my grandmother’s style of over 30 years ago. The woman’s skirt was of a colorful, floral print. It appeared to be tiny daisies. I tried focusing on it.
“Did those animals need to die so you could eat them on pizza. Did they want to die?”
“I doubt it.” I didn’t wanna think about it but that skirt and my Grandma’s glasses and the sounds of string and percussions wouldn’t do the trick.
“Do you think an animal would rather be killed or fucked?”
“Dude, I’m not thinking about that.”
There was a younger couple several empty seats to my right. The girl was closest. She wore a tight, leopard print skirt and high heels of cork with raw leather straps. She was very pretty.
“You have to think about it.”
“Where’s a crescendo?” I wondered, trying to conceal the hope from Reason, but there was no escaping it.
“You have to think about it,” Reason repeated.
“Because it’s reasonable to think about it. It’s an ethical dilemma that you try to ignore. Ignore with shit like Beethoven’s 4th.”
“Please. Shut up.” I did’t stop to consider if thinking about fucking animals was better or worse in that moment than thinking about having to piss.
“Do you think it would rather feel your dick inside it or that bolt that gets rammed inside its skull? Would it be more terrified of death or your dick?”
“I won’t listen to this.”
“Cause your dick’s never terrified anything. Ha.”
“It might even like the feel of your dick.”
“C’mon. Convince me otherwise.”
“It’s immoral,” I plead.
“According to who? Or is it whom, smart guy?”
“According to anybody. Everybody. Except degenerates. Heathens.” There were always rumors about some of the kids out in the country that did that, but I tried keeping them out of the mix. No point in adding to something I already wanted out of.
“But there’s a logical contradiction here, don’t you see? Killing’s okay but fucking’s not. How’s that work?”
“Maybe it’s just instinctive prohibition. We just know and feel that it’s wrong. And no asshole like you can persuade us otherwise,” I say. “Not doing it keeps us from being cretins. It’s part of what keeps us from descending into…..”
I decide to turn the tables on Reason.
I ask it, “you’d have me believe that fucking animals is okay?”
“It’s not morally or ethically unreasonable compared to killing, is it?”
“Fuck you. I’m done here.” and with that I tried shutting off my reason by taking out my paper and making notes but I could hear it laughing between the chords from the strings and notes of the woodwinds.
“I tried telling you, it’s unethical to kill for no reason. To be a part of that. I lead you there,” it whispered.
“And now you’re tormenting me with it’s denial? All over a few slices of pizza?”
Reason remained silent while the music didn’t.
Maybe there’s a lesson to be learned about it, I thought. It being Reason.
Perhaps there’s simple truths that, when we deny them, our conscience…our reason….torments us with the thoughts and considerations and perhaps even consequences of violating even simpler truths. It’s like bad programming or a feedback loop that goes awry, I thought.
The orchestra continued to play Beethoven and it ended quicker than I expected. It was maybe a 35 minute piece. I was glad so that I could finally go piss and buy a beer.