Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Frank Sinatra Has a Cold, Does He?

As early as Monday afternoon, you had the feeling you were being followed.  In the same manner some thoughts are difficult to shake off, this particular feeling was easy to overcome, then outright ignore.  You are not, after all, given to paranoia.  On a measurable scale of suspicion, you rank at about five, more a cynic than one who is chronic in his suspicion of the motives of others.

By Tuesday afternoon, however, the feeling of being followed was back.  At one point, as you made your way about on some errands, then toward your afternoon class, you turned suddenly and thought you'd caught one of "them," because by now it was more than one.

You caught a glimpse of a black, knitted watch cap, appropriate for the less-than-mild winter weather.  A dark jacket of the sort sailors and merchant marine personnel wear while standing watch on the individual you saw sent you on a devious route home, even to the point where you had your afternoon coffee at a place you do not ordinarily frequent.

Luck of the draw.  You were observed there by two students.  This being a quintessential small town, they each reported to you that you took your latte to an inside table, along with a banana nut muffin.  If these two could spot you, any number of others might.

After a night of varied and pleasing dreams, you awoke feeling energized and ready to take on today and its two classes.  Your role in each was limited to a ten-minute introductory paragraph or two.  After that, your task at hand was to listen, to encourage, to--dare you say it?--facilitate the collision of two or more disparate ideas or notions in a way we have come to associate with learning.  (If such an approach is engaged with serious enterprise, both student and teacher emerge having learned something positive, although the thing learned in a positive way may be about a negative thing.  Education, after all, should alert students and teachers to potentials for mischief, misapprehensions, faulty logic, and unrealistic expectations).

As the afternoon wore on, you saw more individuals with the black, knitted watch caps, and you began to realize they were now working in teams.

You made your way to the CVS Drugstore on upper State Street, just before the acute angle of intersection with De la Vina Street emerges.

In 1966, a then faculty mate of yours wrote and published a piece that has, approaching fifty years later, become a benchmark of essay writing and profiling of a noted individual.  In some ways, the writer in his own way seemed to want to rival the subject of this piece in stature.  The piece was called "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold."  The writer was--and still is Gay Talese.

You have spent more time in Talese's presence than Sinatra's, although to be as accurate about such things as possible, the combined time of your presence in the company of these two giants was a tad under half an hour.  In the spirit of disclosure, you have little if any personal affection for either, although you consider each, in his way, an enormous conglomerate of talent, discipline, willingness to take artistic chances.

Reading and rereading the Talese profile on Sinatra, you can not help reaching the conclusion that Talese admires his subject on levels well beyond such writing as associated with publicity or paid-for-fluff.  If your writing about Talese's abilities as an essayist and profiler and serious observer of the cultural scene does not reflect your respect, you have indeed failed at building the metaphor of your intentions and the already present gap between your abilities and Talese's is widened even more.

Talese, in writing about Sinatra, is writing about a man whose immense talent and the source of his power is in his voice which, at these moments of his association with Sinatra, is at a low ebb of vulnerability to the point where, as Talese with such skill points out, when Sinatra's voice goes fallow for a time, a portion of the world shuts down.

You, too, have a cold.  The "them" who were following you were virus, wishing to establish a brief residence, squatter's rights, if you will, in you.

In relation to the cold Sinatra had in 1966 and Talese's writing of it, your own invasion is analogous to a drop of water regarding the ocean.  The effect of the cold is not on your voice but rather on your major instrument, which is you enthusiasm.

You have ingested enormous quantities of water, knocked back nasal decongestants, cough suppressants, and immune system enhancers.  As well, you've settled in with an enormous supply of disposable tissue and yes,before anyone asks, you have set a rich pot of chicken soup to simmer.

There are few comforts available at the moment except to reread this stunning portrait of a man whose music you admire (and grew up on), as presented by a former faculty mate who, in your opinion, was abusive to his students but who inflicts no such abuses, in greater fact, only a sturdy and inspiring respect for the language and its ability to convey a presence.

You stop short of saying "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold" is prose to have a cold while reading.  You could, and have got Talese's thundering and bravura effects without having a cold, which in some remarkable way gives you a plan to deal with those virus who are squatting even now in your sinuses.

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