Waxing Nostalgic

by Nate Nicholls · 0 comments

I heard the worst dance song on the way to work the other morning. It started with a — ummm…I don’t know — synthetic saxophone, maybe?  That automatically makes it atrocious.

And, I loved it.

There air was chilly, misty. It wasn’t raining yet, but the atmosphere was pregnant with rain. It was still dark on the street.

It’s that kind of morning that seems to enforce a strict code of silence. As I boarded the bus, no one spoke. All faces stared straight ahead. Winter is coming. Darkness is already descending.

I found my seat and pulled out my iPod. I found the first song that wasn’t familiar and pushed “Play”.

“Mr. Saxobeat” began to play. That damn synthetic saxophone started to play.  Where did I get this song?  Why?!  I instinctively looked around to make sure no one was looking.  Even though I was wearing earphones, I couldn’t help feeling conspicuous with this music pulsing through my head.

Hey, sexy boy, set me free. Don’t be so shy.  Play with me….

I looked around one more time. Everyone was either sleeping or staring blankly out the window. I was safe.

Despite my discomfort, though, I had to listen. I didn’t understand what my problem was at first, but I soon realized that I was becoming nostalgic.

That sound and those cheesy lyrics were taking me back, many years back. Suddenly, I was in a Moscow taxi on a cold pre-dawn morning just like this one, being tossed about in the front seat as the cabby was barking orders at me to watch for cops so he could run red lights.  Wikipedia tells me that “Mr. Saxobeat” is not even two years old yet, but I swear I’ve heard that song a million times in a million different taxis across Russia and Belarus.  Crap music and taxi cabs seem to be an obligatory pairing over there, at least when I was a teenager.

Suddenly the horrible music coming from my iPod became a soundtrack that accentuated the movements of the track suit-clad driver that I saw in my mind. I could see us skittering down a side street — what would turn out to be an extra-long shortcut — racing against an arbitrary clock.  A photo of a voluptuous, bare-chested woman flops and bounces wildly from the rear view mirror directly over an Orthodox icon of the Virgin Mother that is glued to the dashboard.  The paradox would be amusing, if my life weren’t in danger: the wild exhibitionist flings herself about as though trying to gain the attention of all eyes in the car, while the Madonna sets her gaze stoicly straight ahead, trying to ignore the abomination above her.  Or, perhaps she’s trying to control her nausea, induced by the giant crown sitting next to her — a perfume-filled crown that some idiot might be tempted to call an air freshener.

You, make me this.  Bring me up.  Bring me down.  Playing sweet.  Make me move like a freak.

As the car ricochets off a curb (the cab driver mumbles something foul, as though the curb should have paid better attention to where he was driving), I slide across the slick vinyl seat, trying to avoid an in-car collision with my driver. I reach up and grab the handle above my door. I cling to it, pull hard. I’m back in my seat. I look at the driver. You okay, buddy? I want to ask him, but decide against it. Instead I decide to to play it cool.  Maybe I can calm him — distract his road rage with some questions about his life.  I’ll start it off light.  Who’s this? I point to the radio. He shrugs, mumbles something indistinct while he turns up the volume.  Now the sound is nearly deafening.  So much for making friends!

We thrust ourselves into the heavy traffic of the main drag.  Cars behind us honk.  He growls at his side mirror as he throws up a combative hand.  I can’t quite make out what he said, but it almost sounded like he said “hooey”.  I’ll have to remember that for later.  My friend Dima should be able to help me figure it out.  I collect Russian slang and curses in a notebook.  I save the words and phrases, memorize them all for that one day when I may need to cuss someone out.  You just never know…that day could come, and I’ll be prepared —  Some jerk will be insulting a beautiful girl and I’ll be there, armed with a harsh word and a tough expression.  [Something, something] hooey! I’ll say, and he’ll wilt.  The maiden will be saved!  She’ll thank me with a kiss!  I just know it!  I must remember that word!

As we approach our destination, the driver seems loathe to use his brake.  At the last possible second, he cranks the wheel hard to the right and we screech to a stop.  I swear I hear fenders crunching behind us, and maybe a muffled “…hooey!” coming from one of the other cars.  I throw my money at the man, who finally looks ready to tend to the extremely long ash at the end of the cigarette that’s been dangling from his mouth for the last several minutes.  He grabs the cash with the hand that’s now holding the cigarette, not losing a speck of the ash.  What deft talent!  He could be a circus clown…or a magician!  Maybe a safe cracker?

I teeter out of the car and onto the sidewalk.  I look up expecting to be greeted by people cheering my survival.  No one seems to notice.  It’s just another cab.  I’ll find out as I ride in more of these death traps, that this is just a normal taxi ride in Moscow.

As the fake saxophone fades, I see the taxi blasting back into the congested motorized stream, hunting for another fare.

And, the memory fades, too.

Some memories seem completely pointless.

Random Memories

It seems that the memories I have that serve as life lessons tend to focus on the lessons themselves and not so much on the life I lived at the time those lessons were learned.  In other words, the lessons seem to be abstracted from reality.  The lesson has been learned, but my senses have no recollection of the event.

It’s the random memories that I often find make me the most nostalgic.  Like nothing else, they bring the most smells and sounds back from the brink of forgetfulness.  While the song played through my earphones, I smelled the noxious “perfume” coming from that tacky dashboard crown, I felt the texture of the taxi’s seat.  I heard the noise of Moscow traffic and could see the stubble on the driver’s chin.  These are small details that serve no purpose, in terms of life lessons or even historical milestones.  But, it’s these “pointless” random memories that seem to remind me that I once had these experiences, that I once lived somewhere else.  They bring historic moments back into the realm of experience once again, remind me that these distant memories that I sometimes acknowledge mundanely in causual conversation really happened to me.  I actually lived there!  I actually saw that!  That experience was — is — mine!

I am grateful for these random memories.  They probably mean nothing to anyone else, but they serve to tie together who I am today with who I was then.  Who I am is not static.  I am not who I was, but I am shaped by that person and those experiences.  I won’t be the same person a year from now.

It’s these seemingly insigificant memories that help inform my self-concept, because they get me back into the mindset I was in when I had those experiences.  I can remember my thoughts and my emotions, even my worldview.  They’re subtler than memories of the epiphanous moments; but, when I allow myself time to reflect on them, those random memories sometimes yield more insight.

A person’s life is like a river.  Just like a river can be seen as a series of bends, eddies, and waterfalls; so a person’s life can be seen as a series of events — each one is unique.  But focusing on those individual aspects alone will only give you a small part of the story — a part with little context.  And, context often lends beauty to the mundane.

Life, like a river, meanders where it wills.  The place you are today is not where you will be tomorrow and is probably a long way from where you were yesterday.  Stop for a moment and reflect on the river of your life.  Where have you come from?  What smells and sounds and sights do you remember?  Let your senses be carried off in notstalgia for a few moments.  Where do you see yourself?

And, when you return to the present, has your view of it changed?  If so, how?

Note:  I later discovered what hooey means.  Since this isn’t a Russian slang forum, I won’t get into it here.  Suffice it to say that it made Dima, the guy who taught me so many Russian curses, blush redder than a tomato.

Also, I never did need to use my lexicon of curses to rescue a damsel in distress.  I’m still convinced, though, that it was a good to have been prepared.

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