Saturday, August 24, 2013

Speaker Case Monkeys

There is a structure like a giant orange slice propped up on the west bank of the Arkansas River, just south of the 11th Street bridge in downtown Tulsa.

It is an amphitheater and it reminds me of the Hollywood Bowl – same art deco style, but in miniature. Also, the acoustics would have to be different. The Hollywood Bowl abuts the Hollywood Hills, but the Tulsa Amphitheatre lies in a little cove, technically an oxbow lake (or semi-lake), created when the river changed course and deposited sand into what used to be a channel, effectively cutting off the old channel and creating a calm little body of water.

One muggy summer evening, I made my way through the clouds of gnats to check out the look and feel of the place. It was very relaxing - perhaps the retro feeling of it made it that way.  Spectators could watch the concert as they regarded the art deco and futuristic neon Tulsa skyline and contemplated the buildings reflections in the water.

Up the slope from the stands, was a large putting green. Lost balls tended to roll downhill and end up on the banks of the river, sometimes next to where people liked to fish.

That evening, the Amphitheatre was open, and it appeared that people would come around eventually to clean up and prepare it for the next evening’s scheduled conference. It was open, but the boxes atop the side pillars that held the speakers were locked shut, and the walkway that connected the stands to the sidewalk had been retracted.

For the first time, I noticed that the Amphitheatre was surrounded by water. How did people keep from electrocuting themselves?  I seem to remember wires and cords draped over the walls.

I’m not sure if the guy I saw walking up to the Amphitheatre was a fisherman or a swimmer. He had the look of a person who spends all day outside. I wondered if he was one of the ones who lived in a tent on the banks of the river. I wondered if he was one of the guys who liked to deliver sermons to the flowing waters and the birds. It was hard for me to say. I had tried to follow the sermon one day, but gave up. It was completely scatological.

“Did you notice there are no walkways to get from the sidewalk onto the Amphitheatre?” I asked idly in the way of a polite greeting. “I guess you have to be able to jump well if you expect to perform. And, you’d better not be carrying anything hooked up to an electric cord,” I commented.

He looked at me and seemed to be mulling over what I said.

“I think that there is a bridge,” he said.

“No. I don’t think so,” I said. “Look. Water all around. It’s a moat. Perhaps the performers have to defend themselves. They can send flaming arrows across the moat. Maybe even pour large jars of boiling oil on anyone who is assaulting them or who is still insisting they play their moldy-oldy hits from the 70s rather than their brilliant new compositions.”

“I think they have a bridge,” he repeated.

“A moat. Yes. It would be a great way to deal with hostile audiences. And then, you could get the monkeys they keep up there in the cages…” I waved at the locked metal boxes atop pillars where they kept speakers and perhaps displays or screens.

“Yes. You could unlock the lids, so the monkeys could fling anything they could get their hands on through the bars of their cages,” he said.

“I think that’s where they keep the sound system,” he said.

“Oh no. I don’t think so. I think they’re monkey cages. At the University of Oklahoma, they used to have monkey cages – okay they were different – but they held monkeys they were teaching sign language. No one likes to hear monkey chatter. Everyone wants them to sign. It’s quieter.”

I was on a roll.

“I’m coming back for the concert tomorrow. I hear it’s a band really popular in the 70s, and they’ll be performing new work and none of the old stuff. You know no one will like that! I can just see people leaping across the moat and falling into the water. I can just see the boiling oil, and the monkeys hurling old golf balls and fishing lures.”

“Are you a nurse? Do you work in the hospital over there?” He gestured to a hospital that specialized in psychiatric care. It was about a half mile from the river, and I could see its lights and signage.

“No. I’m – ah – working in other things,” I said. The more I spoke to him, the more convinced I was that he was, in fact, the river preacher of the scatological apocalypse. I wondered if it was wise of me to speak to him.

Clearly, he was having the same thoughts of me and wondering if he had put his safety at risk by speaking to me. The idea took me aback. I’m a boring workaholic who punctuates work with exercise. I have a few friends, but to tell the truth, not many.

Well. Was it the first time I had been confused for an outpatient? A deranged homeless person?  I regretted that I had stopped writing in an experimental way.

“Have you ever tried deliberately not to make sense?” I asked.  I mean – keep a journal of free associations and absolutely refuse to let yourself stop and censor?” I asked. “It’s not as easy as it seems. It’s actually easier to create collages of random words you find from different sources.”

I fell silent.

“Guess I should keep moving on,” I said. He took advantage of my pause to start a free association ranting worthy of Kerouac fired up on whatever it was that enabled him to type nonstop on his manual typewriter and one endless paragraph - single-spaced and typed onto a long scroll which allowed him to keep going and not stop to replace sheets of paper.

Oklahoma history, Cherokee nation lore, politics, petrochemicals, casinos, Superfund, ducks, economic history, development projects, assassinations, conspiracy theories, the future of the planet.

Eye opener moment.

He and I at that moment were one of a kind. I wondered what would happen if I burst into imprecatory sermonizing that would rage at the fallenness of consciousness.

Probably not much. Probably everything.

Well. I guess I seek closure.

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