Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Listener

Marvin was a good listener. And he knew it. People told him all the time. His female coworkers would say, “Marvin? You’re a really good listener.” His male colleagues probably thought he was a good listener, too, but men don’t verbalize that kind of thing. Whenever he received this particular compliment, Marvin would smile, because he knew listening was easy. All you had to do was be quiet for a few moments and let every sound fill your head. At this, Marvin was a natural.

If you’ve asked yourself why Marvin is referred to in the past tense, here’s the answer. Marvin is dead. And this is the story of how he died.


When Marvin awoke on the day of his death, he did what he always did. He listened. He listened to the alarm and wondered just how reliable roosters really were. He listened to birds squawking, chirping, singing and fighting outside his window and wondered why these particular ones hadn’t headed south for the winter. He listened to the static-y snap-pop of his sheets against his skin as he shifted positions in bed and wondered how much electricity he could create just by rolling around with bare, dry skin.

Marvin shuffled to the bathroom with eyes half open and listened to his bare feet groggily sliding through the dust on his hardwood floor and wondered where he could get a good mop. He listened to the reverberant echo of his piss streaming into the toilet and wondered if he could possibly ever have to pee so badly that he could fill the entire porcelain bowl. Marvin turned on the shower and listened to water spurt intermittently for a moment and then steadily pitter-patter against the tub and wondered if this is what it sounded like when Paul Bunyan urinated. He listened to the deep flickering sound of water on plastic as the water splashed the shower curtain lining.

Fully clean, dressed and standing at the counter, Marvin poured himself a bowl of cereal and listened to whoosh as the crispy flakes filled the cheap ceramic. He listened to the milk flood the bowl, drowning the flakes with a slight crackle and wondered if he could achieve the same effect in his stomach simply by eating dry cereal and then drinking a glass. If rice crispies encounter milk but there’s no one to hear it, do they make a snap, crackle and pop?

Marvin stood at the underground platform waiting for the train and listened to a guitar-strumming man play a song of indecipherable melody and incomprehensible lyrics. He listened as the train arrived and buried the man’s tune under a heap of motorized motion and thought that the words made more sense now that he couldn’t hear them.

He entered the train and found a seat across from an excitable woman and disinterested man and listened to their conversation. The man didn’t look like a very good listener but the woman was either oblivious to his lack of attention or was too accustomed to it to care.

Marvin listened as the pre-recorded voice announced the train’s arrival at his stop and wondered how much money the owner of that voice was paid for his recording session. He listened as the car screeched to a halt and the doors rattled open.

On his way up to street level, Marvin listened to the hum of the escalator and wondered why most people treated it as a ride, and not an expeditor. At the top, he listened to the rush of air that swept into train station’s entrance like an invisible typhoon. As he made his way to up the sidewalk, he listened to the struggled grunts of pedestrians as they strained against the icy wind and he wondered why the entire world didn’t just live in San Diego instead.

Marvin approached the crosswalk, stood and listened as a cop blew his whistle signaling traffic to resume and he wondered why there was an officer directing traffic in an intersection with perfectly functioning lights. The walk signal appeared, Marvin took a few steps into the road and listened as the left side of his body cracked and crumpled against the force of a large white catering truck traveling 40 MPH. As his brain began to shut down, he listened to the oddly irrelevant sound of tires squealing on pavement, and the cop’s feet slapping that same concrete, quickly increasing in volume. He lay there, listening as the cop yelled, “I whistled him to stop!” and an onlooker above consoled the officer, “It’s not your fault, some people just don’t listen.