Don’t Panic, We Have Music

He imagined the defenestration of the Westfield Shopping Centre’s manager when he was at his wits’ end. The bastard with the smile of a funeral home director and the steel heart of an assassin had told the old man his tenancy offered a product mix that was most welcomed and promised there would be no risk of any forced relocation upon the expiry of the lease agreement. But, Electronics Boutique (EB) came to Australia and Specsavers arrived from the U.K. The American game store was the first to change the game here. When EB offered the Westfield manager close to double the rent, it was bye bye sayonara time for the old man. At a time of his life when he should have been contemplating early retirement – he had bragged to his mother he would be ‘gone fishing’ by 40 – he was in far more trouble than Ned Kelly. The Westfield manager was so dishonest the old man felt he could have stolen Jesus from the cross and then returned to nick the nails. He had no choice but to relocate his shop to the only vacancy he could afford, at the dead end of the mall where it was busier to count the minutes of the day than the number of people who walked past.

‘Relocate’ seemed an innocuous word but it meant weeks of hard labour and cost years’ of potential profit. A shop fit-out in a Westfield mall required the landlord’s approval and of course, the bastards working in the ivory tower for the Westfield clan would only approve the most expensive design and construct package to “enhance the image of your business” but the unspoken truth was to increase the capital value of the mall. That’s right, fool. You pay and we reap the capital gain. ‘Relocating’ to a tight schedule meant working many long days that sapped the energy from every sinew of his body without adding a single cent to the till. To meet incredibly tight deadlines, he forced himself to keep at it even after his staff had left at 5.30 to avoid penalty rates. He spent late nights with petulant ghosts that came out to roam the corridors after everyone had left. It wasn’t deathly quiet all the time of course. There was the distant whirring of a vacuum cleaner or floor polisher from presumably the night cleaner and occasionally the security guard would show his face and ask, “Is everything alright?” One of them was a nice chap, incredibly fair, of Cambodian descent. A short and much younger version of Keanu Reeves. Earlier that evening he had come in with a ‘bachelor’s handbag’ for the old man, what Aussies call a cooked chook from Coles.

“I got you this chook earlier but didn’t bring it in,” young Keanu said.

“I saw you were serving the ugly sheila, so I turned around and left,” he continued.

“My mate said she was so ugly even the tide at Bondi wouldn’t take her out,” he chuckled and looked pleased with his own joke.

The old man did not stop his work. He smiled and paid for the chook. “Thanks for that,” he said as he ripped a leg off the cold chicken.

Throughout the marathon hours, he and his team packed up a shop full of stock, stored them somewhere whilst the new shop was being refitted and then re-displayed them on new powder-coated shelves and glass cabinets. A shop fit-out used to cost as much as building a new house. It didn’t make sense until the shop-fitter whispered in his ear that the bulk of the money in his asking price represented kickbacks to the Trade Union and landlord. Reality hit hard in the next few years. The dead end of the mall remained dead despite the ‘you-beaut’ shop he spent hundreds of thousands on to ‘enhance the image of his business’.

Australia was supposed to be a good country, so good if you planted a feather, you’d grow a chook.

Close to losing everything, the old man was on the verge of throwing in the towel. The thought of losing his life savings was bad enough but the idea of losing their house as well made him choke. And then The Mrs started to play up. He had trouble swallowing suddenly as he told me the tale. She wasn’t playing up, of course. She just wasn’t coping. It began so well, from a half partnership in a run-down store in March 1987 to full ownership of a franchise system eight years’ later. The good times promised so much blue sky but the sky turned maniacal and spewed acid rain and torrential storms on them. They closed their last store, the group’s 16th, in 2011.

Gulp. I need to breathe! He screamed inside his head. His Mrs already had had multiple panic attacks – waking up in the middle of the night, seeing an aboriginal man entering their upstairs bedroom from the balcony had unleashed an eerie howl from her. She went to the doctor’s the next day complaining of a palpitating heart and a rather irregular heart-beat. “What did your doctor say?” the old man asked.

Good, good, keep doing your yoga and meditation, but if you need medication, here’s a script for Kalma to calm your nerves.

Not long after that episode, she was so sure she was dying in her bed she sat up using only her abdominal muscles honed from years of yoga crunches and heaved heavily. “Wake up, old man,” the poor old woman squeaked. Her once booming voice had turned into weak raspy squeaks, as if a witch’s wand had demanded that she no longer be heard. It was rare that she would wake him up for anything. The old man stirred from his sweet dream but knowing his somewhat wet dream won’t turn into reality, he fought to remain in the other realm. The real world won the battle and he was abruptly transported back to his bedroom.

As abruptly as being slapped on the thigh.

“There’s no aboriginal man,” he said, rubbing his eyes vigorously to shake away the black floaters. He slipped the dagger that he had instinctively grabbed from his bedside drawer back into its leather sheath. The dagger was a gift from some schoolmates from yonks ago. His Boy Scout days had not taught him the proper way of storing a sharp knife – leaving it in a sheath long-term meant the knife had aged and blemished in the trapped moisture even though it had not been used for any purpose.

“The Aboriginal man was last week,” The Mrs said.

“I am dying,” she squeaked.

“I can feel it. See, no pulse,” she said, lifting her hand for him to feel her pulse like he was a doctor.

Her last panic attack was a few years ago. It almost cost them their marriage because he said it would pass, like all typical panic attacks.

“You’re not a doctor!” she raised her voice but only its pitch and not the volume.

“You never care!”

“You’ve never cared!”

“You’re just so lazy!”

She bombarded him with unsubstantiated accusations. Unjustified. Unfair. Unreasonable. The old man told me, quietly and calmly days after the incident, well away from hearing distance when she was in their garden.

“Take me to the hospital!”

“Don’t just sit there, I’m dying!”

It was winter. The gully winds were angry, smashing the gum trees like wild banshees intent on bringing death to their doorstep as the pendulum clock chimed twice with its rich metallic sound. It was so freezing cold even the moon stayed away. Dark and sinister, the angry clouds swirled violently and threatened to strike with lightning. I am so tired, oh, just let me sleep.

“You’ll be right,” he assured her. “Just breathe deeply, yes, yes, deep breaths now.”

Why panic? We have music.

Feeling a bit stressed? Is it too hard to get up in the morning? Lost your reason to smile? Play Debussy’s Clair de Lune. Sometimes, it is melancholic but most times it gives me peace.

“I like Bach’s Air on the G String; it lifts me when I am down,” the old man said.

“Anything to do with G strings lifts you,” I replied.

The old man smirked and conveyed in silence my silliness.

“I know, I know. Bach’s music lifts me too, it’s incredibly spiritual,” I quickly said to placate him.

Music Should Be Listened To, Not Heard

Leonard Bernstein

“Humans need music – that I have no doubt,” the old man said. It is true we need music, for any occasion. Even in death. There is music even for funerals. Music in movies is especially powerful. It adds so much more dimension to the story-telling. There is music to describe every situation, every emotion, anything that we can imagine can be conveyed by music. It can be inspiring, scary, spiritual, sad, happy, soothing, dark or even sinister. Praising the Lord requires music too; there is never a church service without songs and hymns.

It is true. I saw the old man immediately after rehearsal with his local orchestra last Tuesday night. He is a changed man. Gone are his scowls, his angry eyes and smirks. The sullen man with the unwilling smile has become a distant memory. Well… for that moment in time anyway. In his place was a gleeful, convivial character who displayed a sweetness in his demeanour, a cheerful disposition and social inclination towards his colleagues. He was almost skipping merrily as he stepped out of the building. His niece who plays the cello felt just as elated as he. They both appeared ecstatic, as if they had smoked weed or something. Feeling high, he said to her, “I feel amazing! It’s such a great feeling of joy, so uplifting. What a thrill. I feel like I have been injected with happy hormones.”

That is what music does. It can calm the angry, transform sadness into happiness, transcend earthly desires, bring peace and extinguish darkness. Why panic?

A rare smile!

One thought on “Don’t Panic, We Have Music

  1. CB Yeoh:
    Reading the story(with Jazz music in the background), helped as I had to Google for the meaning of a couple of words…. TTP was where I bump into you when I relocated to Adelaide. I am happy and elated to know that music soothes a raging animal.


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