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November 07, 2008

What's the most effective alternative to silencing a tortured violinist?

November 7. Day 130.

I headed to Twiggs this afternoon to do some dissertation work. I’m on the final phase of this chapter – writing, after months of reading and thinking. I love the feel of this café. Perfect for diving into the world of 19th century dandies and eccentrics: A gigantic wooden carving on the wall – seems south asian, but I’m no art historian. Dark red walls. Interestingly upholstered couches and divans. The latte was one of the best I've had in San Diego. Plus, there’s this:

Books as a makeshift chair support? To funny looks from people studying next to me, I knelt down to see what they were. Swanson on Swanson and Civil Procedure. Love it!! The bluntest review I've ever seen. (I know what some of you might say. A book on the ground? Where's the love? But I think there’s something so decadent-yet-practical about using a book you’ve stopped reading for new a purpose. Gives it life again, in an era when books are so often empty decor anyway (e.g. coffee table materials, collected works that look pretty on the shelf, antique bindings you never touch for fear of ruining them, all that). Why not put a volume to better use if you'll never read it again? And if it sucked, there's the added benefit of being able to rest your feet, or better, upon the offender. Poor Gloria!)
But my bubble of paradise quickly burst when an old violinist set up a donation station on the sidewalk outside and started tuning his instrument. And tuning. And tuning. And then I realized: he was playing something!

To mitigate the immediate reaction to run out there, give him $50 and invite him to stop playing for the rest of the day, I started imagining his back story. He’s come here every weekday afternoon since 1989, when the San Diego Symphony fired him after he slept with an intern. He worked hard his whole life as an airport mechanic, put four kids through college, always dreamed of seeing the pyramids, and now he plays; he learned in high school and found the violin in his mother's attic after she died; he knows he's not that good, he was never really good at anything -- but he's worked hard, he's gotten by, now it's finally his turn to be a little self indulgent, damnit. He used to teach elementary school French, before the budget cuts. Now, all he can do to supplement his medicare check and pay for dialysis is squeak for alms. I mean play. He’s a neighborhood character, loaded, always drunk, and this violin is only of his many caprices. Everyone loves him! Frankie!

Anyway, after a few minutes of trying to turn this obstacle into an opportunity, I realized it was really working against me. Believe me, I support even the meekest attempt at creative expression. But there could be no writing to such a soundtrack.

I sidled up to the counter and put my request in these delicate terms.

“It’s my first time here, and I don’t know if I’m about to break some tradition you have, but could I close the door, or could you turn up the music? That violinist is playing outside, and it's kind of hard for me to concentrate."

The cashier laughed. “Sure! Close the door!” And then he pumped up the volume. After a few people came in and left the door open, he even put this sign on the handle: "A closed door is a happy door!"

Occasionally – when the songs change or someone enters or exits – I can catch strains of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. I hope his wish comes true. Mine did! I can write. I mean blog. I mean dissertate.

Gained: A diplomatic resolution to a territorial conflict of sorts.
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