Thursday, March 20, 2008


This happened about two years ago.

I stepped out of my door, late for a breakfast appointment. I crossed the street in between two banks of heaped-up snow and walked past the synagogue. A young man sat on his knees on the icy pavement. He was fumbling with the latches of a guitar case. He had curly hair and a goatee and the look of slight bewilderment oftentimes observed in Syracuse residents after five solid months of freeze.

He stopped me with his hand.

"Step back, good sir", he said. "This is going to be ugly."

I inquired via eyebrow; he answered.

"I promised I would smash my guitar in front of the temple. And I will."

So I stepped back and watched as he carefully removed his dreadnought from its case. He held it gently, his hands high at the neck, the bottom of the box resting quietly on the concrete. He simply stood there for a second, still and meditative, his fingers by force of habit caressing the wood -- a baseball player becoming one with his bat. Then, in a blinding flash, he raised the instrument and smashed it down. Hard. As hard as he could. Then he raised it again. And smashed it down as hard as he could. And again. And again.

An acoustic guitar looks like a frail thing.
It is not.
It takes force and determination to break open the seams, to crack the boards.
And it sings while it breaks apart.
At first resounding like a gong, it soon screams like a bag of broken bones. Then it cracks and it's all dry splinters.

That's when I left. This was way too intimate a spectacle.

But ugly? It wasn't.

My breakfast companions only half-believed me when I told them the story. They wanted to know if I had asked the man why. What were his motives?
The thought to ask had crossed my mind, I said.
But I decided I did not want to know.

Sometimes the sheer beauty of a gesture is only marred by explanation.

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