I'm not known to be a person of violence, but I'm still capable of issuing a voluminous and prolonged bellowing from deep within, completely without warning amid an otherwise peaceful evening, sending the housecats scurrying into closets and under beds and waking the neighbors from their winter slumbers.
There is no anger in my hollering, but that's beside the point. As far as the cats know, I'm really ticked off. Why else would the house shake like it does? Furry animals don't buy into the narrative that the ferocious expelling of air and noise is entirely beyond my control. They've met enough humans who successfully rid their lungs and nasal passages of unwanted irritants with miniscule snorts that are barely audible to the naked ear, so why does a guy like me need to be so damned loud? It's like I'm having a heart attack, as my eyes shut tightly, my head is thrown back, and I explode four or five times. Quick, someone get this man a defibrillator!
Meanwhile, I question how the cats can sleep through the running of shop-vacs, power saws, and backhoes, but a sneeze sends the fur flying.
I don't know why I'm having this argument with myself. It's impossible to understand the behavior of cats anyway.
Years ago, when I was fresh out of school, I managed to get my foot in the door at Mass General Hospital, which I hoped would lead to a long career in medicine. I was hired to order supplies for a research lab but fancied myself a surgeon and had a way with self-promotion, and before I knew what was going on I was handed a hammer and chisel and invited into the operating room.
You can't imagine the things you see in people's brains when you're doing surgery on them! Honestly, people put tons of stuff up there and then totally forget that they did. Sometimes writers use the metaphor of an attic in an old house to illustrate the middle-aged brain, and it turns out to be a lot closer to reality than you might think. Lots of stuff sits in the corners of people's brains for decades completely undisturbed, swathed in cobwebs and random furfur. Average Americans rarely bother to do an annual spring cleaning of their brains, so the gray matter just gets more and more packed with useless junk until there is barely any room for new stuff. I'm convinced this is the reason that dads in midlife repeat themselves over and over. They want to store away their mostly boring tale of trying to obtain a cotter pin at the hardware store to fix their grandkids' wagon, but with all the cranial drawers and boxes full to the point of bursting, the anecdote sits there in plain sight for weeks and months so that friends and family can't get away from it.
As you can imagine, mixed in with the detritus are a few gems that a less-principled surgeon might have made off with. Noteworthy are bits of wisdom passed down through the generations that some people never paid attention to. Also, passwords to bank accounts. As an ethical person, I leave this stuff right where I found it.
Anyway, I got tired of doing brain surgery after a while. It started to get depressing. I tried for a few years to coax people into letting me clean out their brains for them, the way ENT surgeons I know upsell deviated septum patients by suggesting that they get full-blown nose jobs, but the resistance was fierce. People don't like to part with old stuff, no matter how useless it might seem to you and me. Truth be told, my brain still contains keepsakes from my own childhood. Few of us want to throw away the little bit that we manage to retain of life with mom and dad.
Now that the damnable pandemic "is over" (I actually found myself uttering that phrase recently), I can finally take in a good old-fashioned rock show again. And I deserve it, having had 18 months of my precious early-mid-life stolen from me by the evil virus.
Prior to the unwelcome arrival of the bug in spring 2020, I was in possession of three sets of concerts tickets, including the horn-driven afrobeat New Yorkers Antibalas, and that Australian bad seed himself, Nick Cave.
And also Pussy Riot! Having by that point in late winter spent many an hour pedaling my bicycle while wearing an un-mandated mask not unlike the variety of balaclava used by those rocking Muscovites, I could not imagine myself donning one on a sweaty rock club stage, as the anti-Putin collective did nightly whilst hollering undecipherable epithets into microphones.
These days wearing a face covering indoors in sweaty nightclubs is pretty much required. Look, if that's what's required, I'm in.
Tickets started going on sale in late spring,and I snapped them up for Thee Oh Sees and The Mountain Goats, even though it seemed entirely unlikely that these shows would ever happen, given the rise of the malevolent delta variant of COVID-19. The tickets represented hopes and dreams rather than actual plans.
But those awesome concerts really did happen, as did a recent show by the Garden State punk outfit Titus Andronicus at the Sinclair in Cambridge, the best venue in the history of small rock show venues. Playing their second album in its entirety, Patrick Stickles and his bandmates brought back the energy that had been missing from my very late nights for a year and a half.
Unlike Pussy Riot, Titus band members didn't bother wearing balaclavas or any other face coverings while bellowing into mics, but for obvious reasons indoor mask mandates don't extend to touring punk bands while they are on stage.
Back in the old days (like, 2 years ago), I could conduct a team meeting and be completely certain that no one was listening to me. They'd be talking amongst themselves, surreptitiously passing love notes to one another, launching spitballs at the crown of my head when I would look down at my notes, and so forth. This would leave me with no choice but to clear my throat and bang my gavel, shouting, "there will be order in this meeting room!"
Now, with only the sounds of Jeb from communications munching on potato chips and Gail from finance trying but failing to squelch nervous laughter, I'd return to the topic of whether the annual employee summer outing should be held at a newly established ax-throwing pavilion, or instead at a beer garden. Or both (ax throwing first, needless to say).
But now, over Zoom, I get silence, even though there is collectively more noise surrounding my team members than ever: dogs are barking, kids are screaming, spouses are running the blender in the next room over to make smoothies. I hear none of it because everyone's audio is muted. Which means I also get zero reaction to anything I say. "Any questions? Thoughts? Opinions? How are things going? Does the lack of any discernable reaction indicate that everyone's doing OK? Is that a yes? Would you please raise your hand to indicate that you're alive?"
Hands go up. People are still alive, if maybe not entirely well.