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They used to claim that you could brainwash a guy and turn him into a perfect, cold-blooded assassin, subjecting him to the same stimulus over and over until you burn a new pathway in the wiring of his brain. Then, you release him into the world, let him go on with life as usual, until it's time to call him back.

I'm no assassin, as best as I can tell, but my brain is swimming with little sticky notes from higher powers, tucked into music and art and everyday conversation, and they appear sometimes from completely out of nowhere.

It's a curious sensation—a state of unexpected alertness, or a little itch, or something akin to deja vu, in which you just know that something important needs to happen, and soon.

Standing in a shop where the proprietor kept classical radio running at all times, I recognized a familiar piece of music, though it didn't really register as much more than the pleasant sensation of revisiting an old favorite. I picked through the selection of meaningless objects around me, the orchestra played on, the singers belted it out, and, almost without warning, I had the most intense flash of desire to burst through a doorway.

Shit, that's my cue!

I looked around for a moment, jolted out of a shopping trance by the sudden, overwhelming urge to barge through a flimsy door into a grey, decrepit rooftop artist's garret sometime in the century before the last, where Mimi would be lain out in a cot, succumbing to consumption.

Are you kidding me? I thought. It's been twenty-nine years since I stood at that doorway, listening to the music, waiting with a kid from the chorus, waiting for the cluster of notes that meant it was time for us to burst in, bringing important things to suffering bohemians.

"Push!," the kid from the chorus hissed at me, as I stood there, yanking on the shiny shed door handle on the side of the door the audience would never see. I felt a wave of panic hit me as I yanked on the door, my cue receding into the ornamentation of the sheet music like someone falling off the Chrysler Building.

It won't open it won't open it won't open!

"Push the door!" the kid snapped, and it was like a rubber band shot into the folds of my brain. I changed direction and the two of us lurched through the door, nearly falling straight down the stairs there, then charged down the steps into the glaring light and into the scene.

"I love your urgency," the maestro remarked, singling us out in his notes for the performance. "You really convey the sense that you know how much you are needed by our principals."

Well, I do my best.

Sometimes, you just have to take credit for the things you didn't do on purpose, because it's all about what comes of those things, and how they're seen by all the people perched on all those red velvet seats hanging in the darkness on the other side of the universe.

I stood there in a shop, just looking around with the slight squint you have when you look of from a book that's completely absorbed your attention. I smiled at the cashier and walked out, into the sunshine, and dug out my little mp3 player.

I dialed up La Bohème, scrolled through options and menus until I'd found that perfect scene in the perfect act, that one specific moment when I realized I knew for certain that being a nobody kid playing in a crowd of professionals was something I'd want to do for a while.

The triumphant brass notes sounded, the chorus erupted, and on cue, three window washers rappelling on the gleaming glass gridwork of a hotel all dropped down to the floor below like a team of precision spiders, moving on to the next row of windows. I smiled a broad smile and made a little note, posted somewhere in the thicket of sticky notes on the assassin side of my brain.

I love your urgency. It really made the scene!

Stay tuned for Part 2: Dad, That Guy's Wearing Clogs

© 2010 Joe Wall


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January 2013

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