Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Music Man, the Empty Man

At 18, I worked with a chemist who was, even then, emotionally isolated. To put it plainly, he just didn't dig the people he worked with. Somehow, he and I clicked, literally, for we shared an interest in photography, which then of course, was mechanical, chemical, and optical. The closest we came to electronics was the use of flashbulbs. This was the first bond we shared.

I found that what was the world of chemistry could be sterile and unemotional. Many of its practitioners were that way too. I thought of them as a herd of cats, each one pursuing his own tasks and agendas. I did not belong in such a world, yet it was a job and I did it.

My mind wanders and invents. When tied down, I make up humor, say ridiculous things. I tried it with my new friend, my boss at the time. He welcomed such flights of fancy.

Once he assigned me a chemical chore requiring equipment in short supply, such as large chemical flasks and condensers. He told me to check it out in a cabinet of such items. "Kill, if necessary," he instructed me. I understood his urgency and his humor.

Eventually, I was invited to his home for dinner and some photography--developing and enlarging. He revealed his passion for classical music, showing pictures of him with friends in a room lined with music albums on the walls. A friend of his listened to eight hours of music every day.

We shared many interests as time passed. He lived across from a small airport and bought a light plane. We flew together until one day when he collided with another plane while on the ground, ending his aviation career. His friend picked me up when I made a parachute jump. All rather external pursuits.

He described his disillusionment with religion--a classic case really. A preacher had an affair with a church member. Things like this shake those who expect people in the church to be free of sin, whose minds are set on humans and not on the Word. I might add, those who have not read of the life of David. I thought he would recover, but he never did. I was just out of high school, what did I know?

In the following years, my friend became obsessed with music--possessed, really. Guests who came to his home were treated to wall to wall recorded music instead of a friendly visit with him and his wife. After years of this, he caught on. "I have learned not to play music for guests," he told me. "They really don't want to hear it."

But in his private life, recording music came to occupy his hours, his life. It began with transferring radio broadcasts and LP's to reel to reel tape. Eventually he used three state of the art recorders each cued to electronic timers. His whole wall was lined with boxes of tape reels.

I figured he had come to an end of this manic pursuit one day. The recording stopped, replaced with cataloging efforts. This was the climax of years of work, or so I thought. But he found that some of the oxide coating on the reel to reel tapes was deteriorating, peeling off. It was then he decided to transfer them all to DVDs. The process, taking years, was begun again. Once again, the timers went off as he went from machine like a hyper robot.

In the midst of his labors, he told me, "When I die, they'll all end up in a dumpster. No one in my family wants them." The horrible truth is, it was the task of an empty man. My friend no longer conversed or revealed any of his thoughts and emotions.

His friend, who became an English teacher, became obsessed with writers--the arty set. He invited many of them into his home and seemed to prefer their company to that of his wife. She divorced him.

Over the decades I lost a friend. He did not communicate, overcome with desire for an ever-shrinking world. He still is alive, though suffering from dementia.

Nature abhors a vacuum, I learned as a young man. When we are not filled with worthy thoughts and actions, we are like the man Jesus spoke of, who though cleansed, was empty and became the home of demons.

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