Recently I was presented the opportunity to feel like a truly tiny, insignificant organism. One with the unfortunate side-effect of spewing out CO2.
I went into the country.
And stared up at the sky.
Compounding the night sky’s effect of making me feel ineffective was the fact that, in preparation for this trip, I couldn’t find my binoculars, or the eyepieces for my telescope, and, oh yeah, I forgot a tripod for my camera.
As I sat in a canvas lounge chair, being eaten alive by mosquitoes (which made me feel, as a source of sustenance for them, just a hair more significant), I drowned in the Milky Way.
In urban settings, the night sky is nothing. A few bright stars and the occasional planet manage to break through the light pollution, but most of the sky is an empty gray-blue.
Get away from the lights, though, and…Wow.
Therein lies the problem. One suddenly realizes just how truly unimportant he is in the scheme of things.
Low traffic blogs and near non-existent book sales don’t exactly help one locked in an existential battle with the very Universe itself.
To make matters worse, I noticed glitches in the Universe.
Not very comforting, that.
Stars flickered in and out, as if feeling as insubstantial as I did.
Lines appeared and disappeared across the sky, streaking rends that vanished almost as quickly as they appeared.
And sometimes a star would forget its stage directions, and instead of hanging in the sky, slowly spinning around the North Star, it would move slowly across the sky like a diva cast as an extra and unable to resist the urge to improvise and draw attention to herself.
I know some smart people, and when I called and woke them with the warning that the sky was falling, they were not thrilled.
Primarily because, it turns out, the sky wasn’t falling.
I was educated, in surprisingly coarse language, that stars don’t have crises of identity.
Turns out, atmospheric conditions cause stars to twinkle. And some stars, called ‘variable’ stars for some reason, actually do flicker.
And those lines shooting across the sky? Shooting stars.
Which, it turns out, aren’t stars at all, but I can’t explain that as I’m still trying to get my head around it.
And those laconic divas parading across the celestial stage? Satellites. Possibly even the International Space Station.
Which brings me to Joseph Haydn.
No, not the cruel Communist dictator of Russia. That was Joseph Stalin.
Haydn was a composer who had his own Milky Way to tilt against.
What force of nature made this great composer feel sub-par?
People falling asleep during his concerts.
More specifically, rich people falling asleep during his concerts.
Even more specifically, well-fed rich people falling asleep during his concerts.
Now I know, ‘well-fed rich’ may seem redundant to some of you, but it isn’t if we’re talking about how rich the food the rich are eating is.
Turns out the London well-to-do of the 1790s liked very rich food indeed, and they invariably consumed too much of it, along with significant quantities of alcohol.
Put someone who is very full and slightly tipsy into a comfy chair in a dark room with soothing music playing, and what happens?
Joseph Haydn begins to feel like less of a man.
A lot less of a man.
Now at this point, most composers would have turned to drink, women, and betting on toddler fights to make themselves feel better.
But not my hero, Joseph Haydn.
He decided to stick it to the somnambulistic fat cats.
He wrote Symphony 94, titled, innocently enough, the Surprise Symphony.
As a way of kicking excrement in the face of the people who paid for the privilege of falling asleep to his music, Haydn’s technique wouldn’t be topped for almost two hundred years, when Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower put itching powder in Nikita Khrushchev’s shoes right before the Soviet Premier addressed the 902nd Plenary Meeting of the UN General Assembly.
What Haydn did was add a very loud, very abrupt thrashing of a kettle drum into the second movement of the symphony, just as the hoity-toity crowd was drifting off. It startled them awake, and left them anxious they might suffer a similar indignity should they drift off again.
Hadyn well knew that the rich only brought one extra pair of britches to change into should their drunken gluttony lead to an accident.
And this is what saved me on that dark, mosquito-infested, glorious night. I remembered Haydn startling the crap out of his fans.
I haven’t struck upon my “Surprise” moment yet, but I will.
Until then I eat goldfish crackers to make me feel better. Because they have little smiles on their faces, and what could make a man feel more powerful than eating tiny smiling creatures?
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Marlowe and the Spacewoman: