Art by Norman E. Masters
someone had really been walking toward the apartment house,
someone in a black slicker with a hood who..."
from PARADISE PLAYLAND
And again it was September and all along the rainy street the leaves once more came down. They fell and, moist, clung to cartops passing by, soon to dry and leave, unnoticed, only their patterns printed on hoods and fenders and roofs. Or landing in the street, identityless, unmemories of their births, the sweet birdsong of spring, the hayhot smell of locusting August, the firefly nights of summer, even of September herself; they were unprotestingly, swirlingly, swept down and down the gutterivulet brine brown and into the sewer where there were no paper boats and not a single brave tin soldier to watch them die...
"It's very good," Roselyn said, looking out the window where there was a September much like the one he had described. Out in a field she could see some boys playing football in the rain. A football soared upward, spinning end over end, then plummeted again to earth. She could not see the scuffed worn leather of the football nor hear the pung as the boy caught it. Turning away from the window she drew the curtain and sat down. There was the burbling sound of water in the Silex set over the warm orange coil of the hotplate.
"You written much?"
"Had any published?"
"Few. Here 'n there."
He changed the record. She recognized the number but not the name of the quartet which played it.
"'Preciate very much your helpin' me fix the place up. Looks a lot better."
"That's okay. I liked doin' it."
The chairs had been rearranged; all the clothing had been put on hangers in the closet; the cigarette butts were still in the sugar bowl. She remembered the first time she'd wanted to get a spoonful of sugar and had scooped up some butts. They listened to the music for a while not saying anything. She poured both their cups full of warm water after putting a spoonful of Nescafe in each.
She watched Waltuh as he took the coffee cup from her, at his yellow knit tee shirt, his long dark arm, the gold band and the Omega at 2:30, his pink-palmed hand touching hers for an instant before he sat down again smoothly.
Waltuh's every movement, she noticed, was done rhythmically, even such small things as opening doors and changing records. It was as if he knew exactly what he wanted to do, then mentally worked out the fewest number movements, and did it. She wondered if the rest of his life was that orderly, especially the way he dealt with other people.
That would be the way to live, taking from people just what you wanted and only when you wanted it, then retreating to a small room with a hi-fi set, perhaps a typewriter, certainly a pencil and some paper where you could forget about the world outside which made little or perhaps no sense and calmly, patiently, quietly, and with as little interference from the world as possible, working only with music, words and ideas which were neither quite music nor words, yet a little of each; you could rearrange the world into a new, your own personal pattern one, which no matter how unusual or lonely it seemed to anyone else, at least made a little more sense than any other.
But she could not do that. People were always getting in her way, not through any intention, but usually through indifference. She was convinced that the opinion of most people toward the rest of the human race was not hatred or even fear, but simply indifference. Yet she could not simply take them or leave them, or at least she couldn't yet, although she hoped to be able to someday. When she woke up in the morning there was that same old world again: its people only slightly and every day less and less promising, and frankly, somewhat disgusting, because they didn't realize what they could do if they tried. Thinking these things she watched as he frowned suddenly, and putting the cup down, placed his head between his hands.
"Is anything --"
His voice was strange. She shivered suddenly. Waltuh frowned in silence for a minute, then, picking the cup up, smiled at her. "Good coffee."
"It didn't look as if you thought it was."
"Oh. That. Prof was going to come up. I told him not to."
"You told --" Her mouth was open.
No, she thought. It's impossible. He can't be a tele-- one of those people who can force others to do things with only their minds. It was all a hoax and the rest of it would happen that night when Prof came up saying he really had started to come up in the afternoon. This is what she would have accepted except that when he'd been frowning she had felt something which made her shiver almost as if someone had really been walking toward the apartment house, someone in a black slicker with a hood who whistling started toward the back stairway, then with his foot on the first step he had stopped -- or been stopped, then pausing, turned, and through the rain walked away.
She got up, thinking that she would open the curtain and look down into the street, seeing...
"Wen' the other way," Waltuh said quietly. "You can't see him."
She sat down.
He was not smiling; if it was a hoax he certainly knew how to keep deadpan.
"Do you read minds too?"
He looked at her. "Like me to try?"
"Yeah." She could not quite smile.
He told her many things about herself, most of which he probably could have found out from Ham. But others -- about Miss Sanderson, for instance -- "You had some trouble on the day your mother died," he said. "But a woman teacher talked to you. Gave you something, a book." He didn't mention her name yet she had a feeling he knew it.
"Upstairs after your 'nitiation," he said, "you wanted me to..."
She blushed. How could he have known that?
"But not really. You only thought you did. Right now you're wondering if that about Prof was a hoax. You want me to tell you about myself. I'll tell you, but you won't know me any better."
He told her of his life out of order in the first place and made even more confused because of all the names and songs some of whom and which she had heard; many others she never had and perhaps never would again.
There was the piano player in the P. P. Hotel in Chicago -- no, Baltimore, his name forgotten as she heard it. This was after he got out of the navy. No. Before, long before. When he was eleven or twelve. Was the man white? Waltuh didn't say. She could picture him:
Twisting the tan wool cap in his hands. Waltuh stepped forward shyly. He was a lanky brown weed in a pair of tattered brown sneakers, a striped longsleeve brown shirt with ribbed neck and cuffs, and khaki pants with lumpy pockets.
The man was sitting at the piano. Over in the darkened corner a man with a gray apron was stacking chairs, turning one over onto another, then lifting them both to the top of a table. There was the smell of stale smoke.
"That was real good piano you was playin' this eevnin'."
The man turned toward him expressionlessly. "You weren't in here."
"Where was yuh?"
"Where'd yuh hear me from?"
"Out back. There's a high window. You won't tell, will ya?" He moved away a little. "Honest, I ain't got no money to pay and I just had to listen to that piano."
"You're not spose ta listen that way," the man said. "You're not gonna do it any more."
"I'm awful sorry. I thought --"
"You got a suit?"
"Wear it t'morrow night. Sit out front."
"I told ya I ain't got no money though mister."
"I know that. Listen to the music. After the show wait around. Tomorrow's Friday. We usually have a little session after."
"Gee thanks. Thanks a lot. I'll be back t'morrow."
"Wait. Don't run away. Come back here. You play piano?"
"Yeah. Not too much tho."
The man got up. "Play."
Waltuh played "Ja-da."
"Where'd you learn how?"
"Picked up a chord book in a music store. Listen to a lot of Tatum, Albert Ammons, Meade Lux Lewis."
"Listen to this. No, don't get up. Sit there." The man played.
"Gee, thass swell."
"Counterpoint," the man said, explaining it to him. Waltuh explained it to Roselyn: it meant an independent melody which was added to the main melody as accompaniment. He told her quite thoroughly why appoggiaturas and chromatic tones were never used in strict counterpoint because it was all based on triads and their first inversions; and about free counterpoint which was more interesting and flexible: the five species: note to note, two to one, four to one, syncopated and figurate or florid counterpoint; at least those were the words he used, but she didn't understand or even remember too much of it.
The man talked to Waltuh about Pine Top Smith who originated boogie woogie, Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton who wrote "Tiger Rag" and claimed he invented jazz. Waltuh took his first piano lessons from Hip and did his first work at the piano. Before that it had been mostly imitation and all play; now it was all work and a lot of attention to the science of the piano rather than a lot of clever improvisations around a weak base.
He learned from Hip and his band about the gestalt theory, how all instruments were subordinated to the band yet each retained its distinct individuality. He learned how to work with a group, first a few years after starting with Hip as a fill-in for a second-rate combo in Cleveland. He learned jazz from the roots the only way it could really be learned: by working, playing, laughing, living with the musicians, most of them drifting, one-night-standers; he learned a lot just from talking with the people who made music: talking with them over cream-flecked tan coffee in thick green mugs in a greasy-spoon in a small Michigan town at four in the morning, or in cheap (cheap because that's where the music is and because the color line is about as strong up north and jazz is still primarily an outcast's music) gin-mills of Chicago and New York, cafes with the smoke thick in your lungs and the cafe itself empty except for yourself at the piano and whichever members of the group were still around; on the tables crumpled napkins with lipstick on them, tall glasses with slices of lemon floating in warmwater at the bottom, the moist rings which they'd made, dried on the table-cloths, the tables and chairs unarranged, with one table still tipped over where two men had started a fight; one woman had screamed before the bartender had lifted one of the men, it didn't matter which, simply throwing him away past the banks of eyes which turned to watch as the body sailed to the door and through. The people at the tables turned back to their drinks; the band hadn't even noticed. These were the higher class places.
And the names and the song titles flowed as Waltuh talked: King Oliver. Weathercock Blues in 1923. A real collector's item. McKenzie and Condon's Chicagoans. Liza with its six-four introduction. Eddie Condon and his orchestra. The Eel, with Bud Freeman's sax solo the best he ever did. The Bird. It was Charlie something. And Louis Armstrong's sides after he left New Orleans and King Oliver. Potato Head Blues. Heebie Jeebies (the first example of scat singing). The big names of the twenties, some of Whiteman's murky big band sides and Jean Goldkettle's valuable because of the clarion solo of Bix Beiderbecks. Bix's New York Sides: Sorry. Somebody Stole My Gal, Louisiana, Royal Garden Blues, Ostrich Walk. Commercial things? Rhythm and blues by Earl Bostic, Arnett Cobb, Joe Turner and Tab Smith. Errol Garner? Of course. Some by Dizzie Gillespie, a little Ellington, one or two Barbara Carroll. Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald. Sarah Vaughan. Billy Eckstine's earlier things.
"Now," he said, folding his hands behind his head, "you know me any better?"
"I don't know. I don't think so."
It had almost seemed to Roselyn as if he'd been talking about another person, someone much older than the twenty-five year old Negro who sat before her. Still she knew nothing about what he was doing now to earn money, where the band was which he was playing in...
"Druther not tell those," he said.
"All right," she said. "Want supper?"
Supper was only slices of Spam fried crisp in butter and sandwiches of Kraft cheese and brown protein bread. Cokes. They liked it though.
"Gonna play s'more records?"
"Boys'll be up in a minute."
They arrived soon after shattering with their noise the quiet memories of the rainy afternoon; it was all right.
"Hi cats," Sly Eyes said taking a piece of bread, one of cheese. "Ready for a lil' session?"
"C'mon Dick," Raccoon said. "Slip me five."
They did an elaborate handshake.
"We're not tools are we?" Roselyn smiled.
"Hi Roz. When ya gonna bring your guhitar up and we'll have a li'l pickin' an' singin'. Boy don't you dig this little Jimmy Dickens?"
She had gotten used to this and didn't mind it at all.
"Where's ole Majeski?"
"Someone take my name in vain?" He entered tilting a beer.
"I brought you an album Waltuh," Prof said, entering behind Ham. "Rachmaninoff. His chording is exquisite and the piece itself is superb." He unbuckled his rainhood. It was black. So was his slicker.
"Hiya Prof, howya feelin'?"
"Hi hi hi," he said, frowning. "You fellows certainly go crazy with your greetings."
"Here Prof," Sly Eyes said, grinning at Roselyn. "Let me take your coat. There. Ya'll set? Sit down here. Comfortable? Ham, go git Prof a beer."
"Comin' right up."
"Anything you need Prof just say so. You're our guest tonight. Wanna take yer shoes off Prof. Here lemmee take 'em off for ya."
"Oh git out of here with your tricks." He looked at Roselyn and Waltuh who were both laughing. "Honestly. These friends of yours are crazy. You know," he said to Waltuh, "the funniest thing happened to me this after. I was about to come up here when I remembered that I'd forgotten to get my muhma a birthday card."
Roselyn looked up from the floor and into Waltuh's eyes and he did not look away.
"What time was that?" she asked, not looking away.
"About two-thirty, twenty to three. Why?"
"No reason," she said. "Just curious."