Truj wrote this morsel tonight: "Tom Waits is like that girl in high school who never knew she was pretty, but then went to college and realized she was beautiful just the way she was."
As a 19-year-old musician at Emerson, Truj is the only human I personally know who plays the ukulele—as in seriously plays the uke—in a classical fashion, not in a Tiny Tim demeanor. She appreciates soulful music that makes you think, that makes you feel, that makes you feel about a thought, as Yip Harburg would say.
Well, her post made me think of you, Mr. B., and how you once looked at me dreamily on a second-story moonlit porch that faced a narrow alley and mothy windows of other $300 a month city apartments. We sat on well-worn wicker with gaps of missing teeth. Candle nubs flickered citronella, and Tom played on a cassette player in your naked living room. (Furniture marked the effects of commitment, just like owning a car, and you were not ready for either.) You looked at me through thick lenses and charmed me with lines of how I symbolized the siren in Ghost of Saturday Night, and this here—this wooden balcony of escape—was Napoleone’s Pizza House.
As he dreams of a waitress with Maxwell House eyes /
And marmalade thighs with scrambled yellow hair.
How could a girl not fall for such charm that deftly masked a bad complexion, an Army desertion, and a college walk-out? You guided me through the intricacies of investigation, of manning up to cover South Philly, to call Vince Fumo and ask tough questions -- even though I had not yet established credentials. You were a writer, one in a series, who would take me beneath your wing and convince me that I, too, would grow to love language, to make it my own. Awards littered your career, but clearly you were no Mr. Pulitzer, nor were you a Stephen Fry.
Fry’s words speak to me like no other: “Language is my mother, my father, my husband, my brother, my sister, my whore, my mistress, my check-out girl... language is a complimentary moist lemon-scented cleansing square or handy freshen-up wipette. Language is the breath of God. Language is the dew on a fresh apple, it's the soft rain of dust that falls into a shaft of morning light as you pluck from a old bookshelf a half-forgotten book of erotic memoirs. Language is the creak on a stair, it's a spluttering match held to a frosted pane, it's a half-remembered childhood birthday party, it's the warm, wet, trusting touch of a leaking nappy, the hulk of a charred Panzer, the underside of a granite boulder, the first downy growth on the upper lip of a Mediterranean girl."
Luring me like Tom Waits came rather close to the dew on a fresh apple.
But like the apple, it too evaporates. And the next week when she walked into the newsroom wearing the Temple sweatshirt I forgot on your porch, I shook my scrambled yellow hair as the core of my fruit turned to rot. I had already known I was beautiful; I simply was someone else’s muse.
People will come and go, but language remains my doxy with Maxwell House eyes.