Touchable, Tangible

I was innocently “enjoying” a roast beef sandwich at my local Subway sandwich place when in walked a group of teenage boys, and one of them said something quite unexpected. He said: “I want something …” (yes? pause for effect?) “Something tangible.” He then went over to the counter to order.

I thought it was an interesting choice of words.

Exactly what “intangible” things might you expect from your Subway franchise? (I imagined going up to the counter and ordering the categorical imperative, on Parmesan-Oregano bread.) My sandwich, chips, and soda all seemed solid, real enough. I touched them to be sure. (No, I’m not lying, I really did this.) One of those annoying radio stations is always blaring in there; the walls are electric yellow, riddled with prefab maps and historical pictures; the lighting is odious and fluorescent; and perhaps particularly the tiled floor is the most inexplicable element, ugly beyond ugly… like the floors and the walls are locked in some life-and-death struggle to be more hideous than each other. Indeed, it is no Rothko Chapel, no site for meditation or simplicity, not a likely place to find the great Unknowns.

But of course I was sitting there, Mozart running through my head. The styrofoam sandwich I was consuming was somehow the perfect vehicle for my brain to come off its post-practice spinning, to idle back to rest. As I swallowed (taste had nothing to do with it), different thoughts about how Mozart puts his pieces together–and especially the ways that the opening solos of his concertos seem to really “open things up,” to promise distance, future, invention-to-come–crystallized, became tangible. I was very happy, sitting there, looking out at the sunshine on Broadway, consuming nameless nutrition, singing fragments of phrases, hearing arpeggiated E-flat major chords…

Every day I start practicing with the idea “I must practice.” (Tautology; a performative.) There is nothing less tangible than this “abstract” need for work, the sense something must be done. What must be done? No clue. It is a caveman urge. And I sit down at the bench, and I start to play at something, and it is always painful at first, halting. It is unfocused, my brain goes from one annoyance to another (no you are tightening here, no that sounds bad, no you must start over like this, okay finally, but look over here your left hand is a disaster! aaah!). But gradually as the session goes on something happens and the connection from brain to finger becomes somewhat electric. I “feel” each note (each note is “tangible,” I am functioning as a vehicle for my own ideas.) This feeling grows, and at some point I become a bit cocky about it, it feels too good. Yes, this, and this, oh man, that’s exactly what I wanted! And at that point, the point of maximum enjoyment, it is time to stop. It has passed from intangible to tangible to decadence. And it is time for a Subway sandwich.

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One Comment

  1. Erin
    Posted May 13, 2005 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    I imagined going up to the counter and ordering the categorical imperative, on Parmesan-Oregano bread.

    If you ever decide to do that, can I be there to see it?

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