Thursday, August 27, 2009

Now Santa Claus comes forward, that's a razor in his mit; and he puts on his dark glasses and he shows you where to hit

I had just pulled out of the Dunkin Donuts on my way into into work today and found myself behind a car with the words 'Antibacterial Socks' plastered in huge black letters across the rear bumper.

Antibacterial Socks.

No other explanation (apparently none needed).

I pulled around to pass the guy and noticed lots of advertising on the side, albeit none related to foot odor or other similar hygienic or podiatry needs. The adverts indicated the vehicle was a rental - a zip car - nothing odd about that. Some shitty little subcompact thing, it might have been a Toyota but my attention was elsewhere.

Then it got weird. Starting with the driver.

His window was down and we were across from one another at a traffic light.

The dude at the controls couldn't see over the steering wheel, was wearing a very tall blueish top hat(!) , wrap-around Bono shades, a pink t-shirt and was drumming the dashboard furiously with what looked like latex gloves on (the dish washing variety).

This cat was singing, howling at the top of his lungs. But he had no music on in the car that I could hear and no ear buds or other obvious source for his rhythmic inspiration. The words he was torturing weren't English but they weren't exactly not English either. I felt I could almost make them out, but then at the last instant they'd float away, undeciphered. Out of phase, is the best way I can describe it. And there was no familiar melody or recognizable genre to help place his warbling in some sort of context I could understand.

I felt for just a second like someone must have laced my Dunkin Donuts coffee with a potent hallucinogen. But no one had touched it other than the counter person I see every day, a shy but friendly young Indian gal that most definitely did not seem the deadhead trippy hippie type. Perhaps the java is packaged that way, a new marketing angle for the random customer who asks for "Cinnamon Spice flavor". Wink-wink, sly smile. A tie-in to the new Ang Lee Woodstock flick about to hit theaters, perhaps?

I wanted to ask the zip car drivin' cat-in-the-hat next to me about antibacterial socks but I didn't know how to broach the subject given his operatic focus and my dumbfounded confusion. And then the light flashed green and he was off. I slowed down and watched him continue down route 202 South as I turned right onto Allendale Road and the daily grind.

Antibacterial socks were but one of a litany of puzzles I was chewing on as I pulled into the parking lot.

So I started work today in a state of flux and never regained my balance.

As I write this in the evening I'm still trying to shake the encounter from my psyche. Does it portend something ominous to come? Is this some kind of I Heart Huckabees existential calamity? Is this Short Top Hatted Singer to me what the Tall African Man was to Jason Schwartzman?

Or was he just some clown driving through King Of Prussia on his way to work?

Maybe he was freaked out by my lack of a Top Hat and because I wasn't singing along to music he couldn't hear. And primarily because I did not declare my support for Antibacterial Socks, at least not in the overt way in which he was accustomed.

Maybe I'm just listening to too much Leonard Cohen on the iPod these days. Apart from my Beatles jag last night, I've been fixated on the first three Cohen records of late - my "Early Cohen" playlist has been on a continuous loop: Songs of Leonard Cohen, Songs from a Room, Songs of Love and Hate. Especially the Love and Hate disc. Dress Rehearsal Rag, Last Year's Man, Famous Blue Raincoat. Those three are enough to make you existential ... or maybe it's suicidal ... or perhaps both (though in that case you'll likely not know if you've done yourself in or only imagined you have).

Cohen's lyrics do you in for sure. Though the baritone, unceasingly minor chord progressions and spare bordering on non-existent backing instrumentation do their fair share of damage as well. To compare to another favorite of mine with razor sharp teeth, Elvis Costello's words are even darker and more vicious, but he dresses them up in happy major chords, Lennon/McCartney style melodies and keyboard heavy punkish hues. Leonard doesn't let you off the hook like that: there's nowhere to hide in his well of sorrow. Don't get me wrong, now: he's got some wonderful melodies, they're just more oriented toward the shadows.

The rain falls down on last year's man. Indeed.