Zebra Stripes and Brahms

A business partner once said to me: “life is like a zebra, sometimes black stripes, sometimes white stripes”, in one of his colorful picturesque analogies.

Without going into detail: I had typed about three long paragraphs worth of material on numerous neighbor noise and dysfunctional behavior issues, but then decided to delete them again, so as to hold the tongue in check as James advises, or keyboard as the case may be. It was at least somewhat therapeutic. I do however, have even more empathy now with my good friends Carol and Paul, who for years put up with a spiteful neighbor. Walk a mile in my shoes, as the saying goes.

So let us now resume on day two of the black zebra stripe days, about mid-day or so:

Exasperated, I head to the library for some peace and quiet. Picking up a magazine, I sit near a corner window, where the sun streams in to facilitate easy reading. Engrossed in an article, I barely notice someone sitting down in the chair next to me. After a few moments, the guy starts to eat some crackers: crunch, crunch, crunch, in a methodical and utterly annoying manner. Yes, food is of course forbidden here – so I presume he is illiterate. I move to the other corner of the library and continue to read my article. A patron checking out at the front desk then proceeds to talk at great length to the librarian about the book he is just returning, with her listening politely and me being unable to concentrate on my article. The queue behind him looks more than annoyed, and I have had it too with the incessant blabbermouth, as I return the magazine to the rack and leave. So much for the library being a place of refuge. Back at the apartment, the racket next door is still going on, and I can hear it even after closing the front door. I walk into the bedroom, close that door too, and take a nap. That’s two black zebra stripe days in a row.

At night, I eat too much pizza, and pay for it dearly.

The next day, I drive to Vallejo to pick up my friend Gary. I am going to take him out today to listen together to a chamber music quartet. I meet Hans, his son, outside the house who greets me holding up a 9 volt battery which he licks to see if it is “still good”. He grins at me and says: “too bad, I don’t have my kids around anymore to do this for me”, then ponders thoughtfully: “of course that could lead to some trust issues”, as I burst out laughing.

Gary comes out the front door and we get in the car. It is a very windy day, the white blossoms from the trees – courtesy of an early warm February – are blowing and twirling through the streets in a most delightful manner. On the way to the concert, I tell Gary about my two black zebra stripe days. He is familiar with my reprehensible housing situation, but can’t contain himself and bubbles over with laughter when I get to the library part, which does have its moments from an outsider’s perspective, I must admit. It feels really good to share.

We arrive at the Capitol building and Gary ambles up the incline with his walker. I worry about him falling, but let him walk. The ticket taker escorts him inside, while I go to get some coffee down the street, after promising the ticket collector not to spill any of it inside upon returning. Normally food and drink are not allowed inside the Capitol, and I’m happy he has made an exception for us. After a brisk walk, I return with two cups of double cappuccino, and once inside find my seat next to Gary’s.

The ticket collector has some interesting facts for the small audience: He not only elaborates about the musicians, but also answers my question as to why some of the top hats on display on the tables in the Capitol/Museum are turned upside down. It has something to do with how the senators in years past voted – yea or nay – and usually involved distilled spirits of some sort we are told, influencing some of their decisions no doubt. This explanation is concluded with a final remark before the music is set to start, that the restrooms are around the corner to the right, and for the gentlemen not to use the tree next to them, but rather the restroom itself.

The musicians warm up with a beautiful rendition of “My Funny Valentine”, then continue with some chamber music by Mozart. Exquisite. I can tell that Gary really loves the music.

After a short intermission, and visiting the room of rest – not the tree – we find our seats once again, and are treated to some music by Brahms: the String Sextet in B flat Major. What a wonderful Sunday afternoon.

As Gary and I leave, the ticket collector winks at me, and says that next time we come, to bring him some coffee too – with perhaps a bit of brandy in it. “Duly noted”, I tell him. Perhaps he is related to one of the former senators.

Gary and I visit a small restaurant down the street. He has a glass of Lagunitas – he sure loves his glass of beer – and we share some crispy, hot, baked just right garlic bread and I have some delectable Tiramisu. We talk a bit about the music when I drive Gary home, with Gary thoughtfully expounding on the nuances as usual. This was to be my last concert with my dear friend. I am so glad that we went together.

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