I'm only about two-thirds into the shoe-box, but a lot of the transcriptions have
found their way into the shredder (mainly, due to illegibility). I could kick myself,
but lassitude prevents such intemperate gestures- too bad, as Bronyard's off-the-cuff remarks were always a mysterious, often incomprehensible treat. At first, I found myself begging him to repeat himself (he never did, as nearly as I could fathom); Later, I learned to listen harder, then write his contributions down, as soon as a chance presented itself.
I came to recognize the difference between what was possible, and what was probable, early. It was hot and filthy, in the shadows of
the antenna towers. It was not possible (nor probable) that I would sprout wings and
whistle arias from Aida; It was probable (and possible), that I'd spend the summer,
mixing and humping mud for a crew of plasterers; It was neither probable nor possible that I would catch peculiar observations from the man on the leeward side of decrepitude, but the days were long, and apart from his periodic, quiet chuckling spells, or these otherwise baffling commentaries, Brownie wasn't one for talking. I
worked shoulder-to-shoulder with him for nearly a year and a half, without his ever opining on the crew he was in, (possible, but not probable) even though the rest of
the crew spent many hours, regaling each other with only the foulest salutations.
Not Brownie. He seemed content enough, chopping sand, portland cement, and finish
lime into grey mud. Said mud, decanted into 5-gallon pails, would then be humped to the waiting mortar boards of small teams of plasterers, by yours
truly. Now and then, pails empty, I would return to the mixing pit, to find Brownie
muttering one of his incantations. Nothing to be done, but chop the mud, then retreat
into the shadows, fire up another Chesterfield, and wait for me to top up the mudslingers. At other times (without breaking stride of his mixing activities),
his enigmatic chuckling issued forth softly, without preamble. As he never revealed
the sources of his amusement, it was impossible to know what tickled his fancy. Just
a baritone, "Hyuck! Hyuck! Hyuck!", to accompany the scraping of the hoe on
the mortar pan.
Our paths diverged; An old colleague told me that the Chesterfields had finally had their way with Brownie. My hod-carrying days have since gone. No more toting pails of mud, myself, though I see others doing it, from my office window. So that's that; nothing but the chuckling memories, and a shoe box full of random scraps of hastily scribbled aphorisms.
Sometimes, it seems like something that happened a world away, and I'm left with Brownie's old spade to
clean up the wreckage of crazy images. It's the same stream of people and events that everyone else is looking at, but the damned lens is out of whack, and it turns
into a cinema for one; one's in the seats one minute, in the cast, the next.
the sepulchral solemnity of the company's throne room, I too frequently find myself
masking the sudden transformation of the commonplace into the irreverent. This is too
exhausting. I've feigned every attack from Pulmonary Edema to Pleurisy, simply to disguise the explosion of mirth that follows life's authentic comedies(to dispel
the notion that I might be plumb loco, in the minds of mystified co-workers). Jezus! The onset is stunning in it's suddenness, and usually, my reactions are completely inappropriate to my surroundings. Why can't one hold oneself nearer to propriety, to respecting reality (without laughing in it's face)?
Maybe that was why Brownie learned to keep his responses to life down to the occasional chuckle- anything more than that was too risky (possibly), too serious (probably), too funny (possibly and probably). Maybe, it was due to one irony supplement too many, or maybe, he couldn't take the increasing amusement attacks. Living is such serious proposition, but life is so fraught with pent-up, sinus-clearing comedy.
I've got to put the shoebox away now, before I blow a gasket.