|'Tis not the nightingale, but the lark...|
Hollering Martin Mandible surveyed the alley, filled from edge to edge with mirth and celebratory boisterousness, and it pleased him to no end.
"I can't believe you all came!" he shouted at the top of his lungs. "What a homecoming - I am truly overwhelmed. After all that I've been through, I wouldn't have been surprised to have been greeted by the songs of crickets, and the sad gurgle of the storm drain emptying into the creek."
Most of the assembled revelers let out a cheer of equal parts celebration and sympathy. One of the revelers - the one who was only eight - turned to her mother and asked, "Why is he yelling? Is he angry? And what's wrong with his mouth?"
The child's mother placed a silencing finger to her daughter's lips. "Quiet now, Margaret. He's happy. He's just so very happy to be home. It's been so many years since he's been with his kin - I don't blame him for being a little rowdy. And his bottom mandible hangs a half-inch lower than it ought to, resulting not only in his odd appearance, but also in a ten to twenty-decibel increase in the volume of his voice. Now, mind what your father taught you, and be kind, hospitable, and welcoming. This is a very, very good day."
"Okay, Mama," the girl said, skeptically. "I'll be nice."
The sounds of amorous crickets and the babbling brook carried on at the same volume they always had, but tonight they were overwhelmed by the happy cacophony of reunion, of story and song and drink and the making of merry. It was a rare thing indeed for a hobo to make his way home, but Hollering Martin Mandible had done it, and his friends couldn't help but rejoice. Twice, the celebrants had stopped gabbing, banged on their various drinking vessels, and demanded words from their guest of honor. Twice, their friend had given them mere platitudes, as in the opening quotation, above. By the third go-round, it was clear to Hollering Martin Mandible that they needed to hear more.
"My friends," he hollered, hands extended in surrender to popular demand, "my brothers and sisters in spirit, I stand before you in August of the year of our lord, nineteen forty... nineteen forty... um..."
"Seven!" One of his friends offered.
"Yes - in nineteen forty-seven, I stand before you to say that I have seen another world. It is fully two years since we all wept with joy at the end of the second World War. It is said that we are a nation reborn, and I cannot refute that notion. Now, now. I hear your boos. I hear your consternation. And your misgivings are not without foundation."
"Those of you who know me well will surely know that my jaw became deformed long before I joined the ranks of the hobo nation. I worked at a steel mill in Johnstown Pennsylvania, and I got clipped by a runaway ore car, on account of not looking both ways before crossing the ore car track that I had crossed without looking seven thousand times before. Blah blah blah - yes - sorry, I don't mean to bore you, Barb. Please don't stab me."
"And most of you know about the untimely deaths of my parents - my pop, choking on a soda fountain CO2 hose on a bet, and my mum, by firefly overdose, two weeks later. But what you might not know is that I tried to enter the World, not just this past year, what with all the postwar jobs and all - but also in 1939."
[Oohing and ahhing from the assembled party people]
"Yes, it's true. Twice now have I ventured into the office, suit on back and coffee cup in hand. And let me tell you, brothers and sisters, in 1947, as in 1939, it is entirely the same. I could describe for you at great length the intolerable physical conditions of torturous so-called air-conditioned comfort, the monotony, the degradation, the hopelessness, and the self-loathing, but for one thing - nothing I can say would do justice to the wretchedness of the modern electric office. And for the other, and more significant thing - there is no sky."
"I'm sure a lot of you are thinking, 'Gee, Marty - air-conditioning and ashtrays and a steady income - what's not to like?' And I hear you, loud and clear. But hear this, brethren: No. Sky. There is no sky, in there. There's also no dignity and no honor and nothing whatsoever to be proud of, but think no further than... no sky. That is why I have returned to you, today. It is not that I couldn't make a go of it in that world. It's not that I have something against suits or paychecks, or pretty secretaries or any of that sweet noise. It is simply that in their world, there is no sky."
"We get it, Martin," one of the revelers affirmed. "The life of the hobo is just plain better. We're just wondering why you yell so much."
Martin Mandible thought for a moment. "I... I don't know. I'm just naturally loud, I suppose. Joie de vivre, and all that. Anyway - it's really good to be back. I'll never forsake my stick and bindle for a suit and briefcase again. You have my word."
Tonight's missive was prompted by my friends at Studio 30 Plus, who asked for something with "boisterous" and/or "rowdy."